My Lips Are Sealed

I think I speak for many of the Muslims in Dunedin when I say the last few days have been incredibly stressful. It is Islam Awareness Week (IAW) and the days that have been leading up to this event haven't only been physically and mentally tiring but also emotionally draining.

As the Ameerah I'm given a certain amount of responsibility to ensure IAW runs well and every year MUSA holds a session called 'Converts Night' and we usually have a couple of men and women who converted/reverted to Islam and they speak to the audience about why they chose Islam as their religion. Converts Night is my favourite event out of everything because it's always interesting to listen to other people's experiences with Islam. As a person who was born as a Muslim there's a lot that I take forgranted and when I learn about how much strength and faith others have, it never fails to inspire me to become a better Muslim.

However, this year's Ameer (President) of MUSA decided that no Muslim sisters should speak during Converts Night. He informed us 3 days before the event was going to take place. As you can imagine, many women were furious with his sudden decision. For the first time ever we were told that women are not allowed to give speeches in front of non-mahram men because it would create too much attention towards them. The didn't consult any of the sisters and there was no discussion about it. He simply said no and referred us to the Imam of the mosque to justify his decision. In effort to obtain a clearer understanding of this problem the girls, some aunties and myself decided to consult the Imam ourselves. To cut the long story short this is what he told us:

A woman's voice is her awrah and she shouldn't give speeches or make presentations where non-mahram men are present.

So what about us going to Uni, attending lectures and tutorials, working in group projects not only with non-mahram men but also non-Muslim men?

That is permissible because it is a necessity.

But isn't it a necessity for women to take part in da'wah and share their stories with non-Muslims so they can have a better understanding of the religion? So what about the sisters being at the exhibition. Wouldn't it be wrong for us to speak to non-mahram men then?

No, it's not and no, because they are seeking knowledge.

But isn't it the same thing???

We asked all sorts of questions but his answer was still the same and the women were very upset at the way the situation was handled. Why were we told on the eleventh hour? Why didn't the men discuss this issue with us? I personally thought it was quite hypocritical as well. Despite how we felt the members of MUSA peacefully agreed to disagree on Monday. The sisters decided that they weren't going to speak at Converts Night because they didn't want to cause further problems as the whole idea of Islam Awareness Week is about educating non-Muslims regarding the beauty of our faith.

The girls who were going to speak wear hijab and dress modestly. Furthermore, they will be speaking in a non-alluring manner about a serious matter - their faith. Why are some men making such a huge deal out of it? At the same time, I also didn't want to disrupt the peace within the committee and community so that's why I came to the conclusion that we should set the problem aside for now and discuss it after Islam Awareness Week. The boys agreed and that was that.

However, the word got out to some of the older members of the community and that's when things started to get ugly. Some of the older men and women were adamant about the girls rights to be able to speak. Honestly, I completely understand where they were coming from but I just didn't think this was the time to continue arguing. A group of women threatened to stage a protest and to contact the media and the police if the Ameer insisted that the sisters don't speak. I didn't think that they would actually do it.

Oh but they did.

You can read about last night's protest here. It took place just outside the room where the Converts Night was going to take place and things did get a little heated up but no one got physical and hurt anyone. However, a lot of people think that because it got out in the media the Muslim community will now bear a bad reputation. A couple of emails were sent around about how people should be punished for going against the Ameer, yadda yadda... come on, get a grip! He made a mistake and he needs to own up. And while the issue became larger than it should have and the media shouldn't have been informed about this internal conflict, I believe people had every reason to be upset.

If a woman is modest in the way she dresses and behaves and a man still thinks she's too seductive then don't you think the problem is actually HIM? Why do women have to compromise their rights, identity and beliefs all the time?

In the past few days, I've been questioning so many things about myself and my religion. I had to keep reminding myself that what happened was stemmed from differences of opinion and it shouldn't be attributed to Islam because you can find Muslim female scholars and leaders in many countries around the world not just today but during the time of the Prophet (pbuh) as well. God knows best.

So where do we go from here?

In my opinion, the conflict wasn't handled properly from the beginning right until the end. I know that a forum will be held after this week so we can finally talk it over and get the issue solved in a peaceful and respectful manner but I think the most important thing is to make sure that we learn from this experience. This is an opportunity for the Muslim community to improve the way they communicate. Ignoring different opinions will only make people feel marginalised and angry. If there's anything that I've learned from yesterday it is that we should always choose our words wisely and be tactful because by not doing so is precisely how this entire problem began.


Sajida said…
Firstly, something was done to resolve things internally and only with no success did it go further than that. This issue getting out and the media publishing it, is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, it shows dis-unity (if thats a word) of the community, but on the other hand, it shows that even in this society, there are men who take things out of proportion and use islam to shut women up. i personally believe that by brushing things under the carpet, nothing's achieved. Once people know, especially non-Muslims, they realise that yes there are men who try to enforce their ideas onto women, but Muslim women will stand up against them because God has given them that right to.
Sisters protesting isnt only for the men to realise they are wrong (about this), but it also allows people to understand that when things are wrong, Muslim women will fight for the right thing.
hurun een said…
it's tough being an ameerah, but u did a great job and i am proud of you...well, things should have been settled properly among ourselves (before leaking it out like this), but everything happened for a reason.

maybe this way, more people will come to the masjid to know more about islam...(tho they might come with some mistaken thoughts from this newspaper article)...lots of work to do! need to read more about women in Islam in order to better explain things...wish the Prophet S.A.W. is here with us, he will show us the right way ~ thanks girl for this sharing...c u at the masjid this weekend iA ^_^
Sxoxo said…
"women are not allowed to give speeches in front of non-mahram men because it would create too much attention towards them" hahah..what a pity somehow shows that they have no strong iman..easily "distracted" when they see a woman in front of them. come on!!!
Anonymous said…
Good for everyone who protested! The problem is the power difference. It is not the women who are able to force their opinions, it is the men, and then their opinions become rules that are enforced, and this is how oppression of women begins. Good for all those women who protested!

This is how women are treated unfairly, and if the men are so serious about their "opinions" then they shouldn't care, and neither should anyone else, if it gets leaked to the media. The fact that people felt upset about it being "leaked" says everything you need to know about what a problem that "opinion" actually was.

How utterly and incredibly sexist. When Muslims want to know why Islam has a bad reputation, the example you just were subjected to is the exact reason why.

I hate the argument of "let's keep it to ourselves." Keeping it to yourself is how opinion becomes rules and subjugation. What would have happened if noone protested? Would you have been ok being forced not to speak, would you have been ok knowing that you and your girlfriend's "opinions" were completely ignored, were not even seen as debatable? This is more than an issue of opinion, when one group is able to subjugate another by the whim of "opinion."

I would never step foot in that Masjid again. Now you see the power play, now you see that there is a difference. So next time you step foot in the "women's section" of that masjid, I bet you will be feeling much different than you did before about "segregtion." Now you know how the leaders in your masjid really think about women. Opinion is enforceable when it is coming from a man, imagine that.
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…

So the one who changed the rules is the Ameer, and you are the Ameera, no? Yet, they trumped you completely!

I hope you speak your mind on this when you all have your forum to discuss this issue.

I think your sisters need your leadership now more than ever. How you react to this scenario will most likely effect all of the women around you who look up to you.

Don't let some guys opinion change your religion for you, show them what Islam really is!

I am here supporting you in spirit, you have an amazing opportunity in front of you Shahirah.
Anonymous said…
Haha. 3rd comment!! WOW... lol

Just wanted to let you know I am going to put your post on my blog and give a trackback to your blog.

salams sis
SKL said…
Sarah i absolutely love the way you put it... agree with every word..
Shahirah Elaiza said…

I completely agree with what you said, Saj. Sisters protesting isnt only for the men to realise they are wrong (about this), but it also allows people to understand that when things are wrong, Muslim women will fight for the right thing.

To be honest, I felt like I didn't do much. All I did was arrange a meeting between the Sheikh and the brothers and sisters. And I also tried to negotiate with the Ameer (who by the way spoke to me for the first time in.... gee, almost 6 months?!).

I was scared people would say, "The Ameerah is such a trouble maker!". Plus the sisters and I have never faced anything like this before and even some of the brothers on the committee who were on the girls' side started to switch sides and agreed with the Ameer and the Sheikh.

I think one of the words to describe how we felt at the time is LOST. We felt lost, confused and scared...especially after 2 brothers approached us and said:

"Sisters, the situation has become really bad. Someone just called us up and told us to go to hell. There's more evidence that proves what the Sheikh said is right, but we need to come to an agreement now before things get worse. We'll discuss this issue after IAW but for now we need to agree on something."

But after thinking about it properly I truly believe the aunties did the right thing by protesting. For how long are men going to justify what they did by picking out surahs, hadeeths and fatwas that are to their advantage?

We found fatwas that supported our opinion but did they even consider them? NO. We tried our best to negotiate with the Ameer but his decision was final.

Sarah, your comment is a hit on my friend's Facebook page =) She's the daughter of one of the protestors.

"This is how women are treated unfairly, and if the men are so serious about their "opinions" then they shouldn't care, and neither should anyone else, if it gets leaked to the media. The fact that people felt upset about it being "leaked" says everything you need to know about what a problem that "opinion" actually was.

I never thought of it that way but you're absolutely right! And you know what? The father of the Ameer actually told the reporter that he had no idea about this issue. He wasn't aware of it at all apparently, PFTTT!

One of the guys even wrote in an email yesterday...

"We have lost everything, our unity, our dignity and solidarity of muslims community after this event. Don't forget the important point that we did not obey our ameer (president). if there is difference in opinions then he is the finally authority to decide and that what was decided the night before, there was no need of raising the issue again in public. this was totally a MUSA affair not outside that. Neither we paid due respect to our imam's opinion nor to the president of OMA. We have disobeyed every ameer of us after that we elected them to be our leaders. We will be punished for that UNLESS we don't repent sincerely.

May Allah forgive us"

WTH? Way to go! You are totally fixing the situation... not. Definitely the wrong kind of mentality to have during a crisis!

Hurun, Saj, Sum and Sarah...I feel like I should've done more but I guess there's no point in dwelling on the past. And thanks to you girls (and some guys) I feel more confident about my opinion now. This is something I can work on now.
Shahirah Elaiza said…
And yes, the whole "bad publicity" thing had to happen otherwise these men will never ever learn!
SKL said…
its aite shah.. i guess some girls sometimes feel like they dont want to be in a situation where they have to argue about something coz it might result in ppl not liking them or fighting with them.. so they stay away.. but it would be great if girls stop following the girly image and really not care that some people might end up hatting them... you just have to stand up for what you believe in.. its good that u guys have gathered fetwas and stuff.. u dont wana go to the meeting with brothers not properly prepared! see if u can find hadith or rulings that sort of go against/over rule the ones that they use. coz there are alot of hadith like that.. but they are aimed at specific situations.. ppl just take them of context...
Anonymous said…

Thanks! I also agree with what you are saying, it is ok to confront people, to cause "trouble," and even not be liked, if it means we are standing up for what we think, feel, and believe in our hearts. This is true strength, and we sisters need all we can get! It is hard to go against the status quo, but us women need to use our minds or someone else will tell us what to think, and someone else will tell us what our religion is.


I think you guys have all learned so much from this, and also found out something about yourselves. Now you know how you react in times of crisis, and you can learn from it. What an excellent journey for you!

Nubenegra said…
Hmm, interesting issue... I do not think women did bad when they made the public protest. As a non muslim living in a non-muslim country, I can assure you that this behaviour is seen as a sign of non-sumission, I think it helps a lot to change the vision we have about Islam and about how women are subjugated to men without protesting. On the other hand, I cannot understand why the Imam and the Ameer changed the rules after you had already celebrated the IAW other years. Talking about women provoking men... I think that it's a question of men. I mean, depending on the society or the culture you live, we dress up in a certain way, and this ALWAYS provokes men. They're used to it and they like it so we're always at the point of provoking them. The thing is: do we really think we're dressing bad? In that case, right, we will change but we have to be careful in order not to end completely covered or hidden at home just to avoid provocation. Maybe some of them will have to go to the doctor to be checked...
I like very much your blog Shahirah!!
Ace said…
That seems so ridiculous! I am the VP sisters of my university MSA and I can tell you that although he has a point, it doesnt apply to this situation and it wasnt approached in the right way. It's funny how people consider worldly education more important than the ISlamic education and the Imam is fully justifying it by saying the same!

The Ameer should have consulted the board, and if he still had an issue with that (and in Islam we are supposed to respect Authority, so the Ameer's words should be taken seriously) then I'm sure an alternate arrangement could have been made where sisters had a separate session. I dont know why he was being so unreasonable.

May Allah guide us all! Ameen
Shahirah Elaiza said…
Nubenegra: You are right, some men do need a mental health (and spiritual, might I add) check up!

Ace: Well, I think there's a huge reason why he did what he did - family background and sectarian beliefs. He should've consulted everyone including the sisters because it affects them the most but I guess he neglected to see it that way. I suppose he thought he was doing the right thing as a leader but it was selfish of him to only consider his point of view.
Denise Bomfim said…
Ramadan Mubarak!
May the peace be your company forever.
Your blog is amazing, go on writing!
Greetings from South America!
Anonymous said…
i am sorry to say this but the ameer was right in his decision but wrong in the way he handled it. A womans voice is awrah in front of a non mahram. There really is no alluring or non alluring way to talk and i still don't quite understand why the convert night thing wasn't just gender segregated then? this way both the women would be able to speak and the men.
Shahirah Elaiza said…
Dear Anonymous,

What do you mean by there is no non alluring way of speaking? I think a woman's voice is awrah when she speaks in a seductive and feminine manner, and when she sings. E.g. Haifa Wahbe.

Are you telling us men are so weak that even the sound of a woman's voice can excite him?

And if it really is awrah when women speak (seriously and professionally) then how did all those female scholars and leaders exist during Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) time to help educate both men and women about Islam?

I don't get all these people who say a woman's voice is awrah but then say, "oh it's okay for her to go to school and work because it's a necessity". Are you kidding me? A woman can easily say she doesn't want to go attend school or go to work. Why? Because it's a choice she makes! If women aren't supposed to speak to non mahrem men, why don't we all just stay home and depend on the men in our family to run our lives?

Islam is about living life modestly and honourably. It's not about making life impractical.