Why I Left Altmuslimah

Many months ago, I met a Muslim with a very compelling, grounded, and soulful take on sexuality. Thinking that her view needed to be aired, to be shared with the world, I asked her earnestly to write for Altmuslimah.

Without a pause, she shook her head. “There are a lot of people saying a lot of things,” she said. “But it’s the people who matter who need to say them.”

* * *

Last week, I resigned from my position as editor of Altmuslimah. As I went through knowledge transfer tasks and goodbyes, I found myself thinking of that woman’s words.

My Altmuslimah career began when they picked up a post of mine and I became an on-call writer for them. In December 2012, I joined their editorial team. I found myself in an epicentre of a fascinating discourse on being Muslim today. I reviewed books, got acquainted with talented writers, and interviewed amazing women such as Tayyibah Taylor. I even flew to D.C. last year for our annual retreat, hosted graciously by the Editor-in-Chief, and spent two incredible days with my highly intelligent, talented, and insightful colleagues.

Recently, however, I started to realize that this role didn’t mean to me anything it itself; rather, I wanted it to mean something for me. I started to think a lot about the limits of what I can offer and of certain mediums themselves. This tweet is a perfect illustration of the kinds of issues I pondered:

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 2.31.59 PM

The “more than a hashtag” part is tough for me, both theoretically and practically. There is a world of people out there–most depressingly, community elders –who see online platforms like these as just a group of subversive women chattering amongst ourselves. Whatever their reasons are, the reality is: they will keep calling the shots for generations to come. Part of my wake-up call was realizing that such individuals and the communities they influence will never take endeavours like Altmuslimah seriously. If I ever thought they would, it was because I had socialized myself, through my work there, into being around people who talk and think like I do.

I’m ready to be de-socialized now, whatever that means in cybersphere. I want to join the land of the living, of Muslim friends who have never heard of the Mipsterz video or the storm around the Abu Eesa controversy, or don’t make such a fuss about every hijabi athlete or the Muslim marriage crisis. For a while, it was cool to be hearing about everything Islam and gender in its glory and ugliness. But exposing myself so much to that discourse was draining. I don’t doubt that there are hundreds or thousands of seeds being planted via Altmuslimah’s work. I just don’t think I’m meant to do the planting anymore.

I think back to the woman that I talked to, how she, just like me, struggled to have her faith to align with her lived reality to what she knew to be true in her deen and spirit.

There are indeed a lot of people saying a lot of things, and maybe I should not worry about helping everyone say those things. Maybe it’s time for me to just be, and to embrace whatever fills up the space where Altmuslimah used to be.

It’s a delayed farewell, but one I deliver with relief.

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As I Am

“Ya Allah, we come as we are,”
She said,
Adjusting her large spectacles,
Her large dupatta hugging her shoulders through her abaya,
Large, burr-covered men’s socks in bunches around her feet.
“However we are,
We come as we are.”

Her words glimmered from afar,
For I now think I know.
When I wash to pray,
The pigment used to cover the darkness beneath my eyes dissolves.
And I go back to work.
As I am.
Ya Allah,
I come as I am.

Ableism in South Asian matchmaking

I once overheard a conversation that revealed so much about attitudes towards disabled individuals that I was profoundly shaken.

The topic of discussion was a young man of a decent earning and standing. The catch? A childhood illness permanently affected the functioning of the left side of his body, and he had onsets of mild tremors from time to time. According to the conversers, his tremor was enough to mark him as “spoiled goods.”

Impressions of the disabled seem to be fraught by flawed assumptions about their forever-compromised worth. As a result, those with disabilities are tucked away out of sight and spoken of in pitying terms, as this man was.

Surely we can do better.

Here are some of the ludicrous sayings floating about, and some responses I would like to everyone to consider:

Myth: We want our children to have healthy spouses, can you blame us?

Response: The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Let’s be honest about how “healthy” “normal” individuals are. Given this age of rising obesity, diabetes, and cancer, there is no telling whether those perceived as “normal” will outlive their disabled counterparts. There’s not even a guarantee that they’d have a decent quality of life.

Those with disabilities face a different set of challenges in achieving full health, yes, but that does not make their state inferior. We all are struggling to be healthy in the truest definition of the worth, and that makes us more similar than different.

Myth: Children are out of the question.

Response: This foolish and automatic assumptions in play: (a) the traits the person possesses can be passed on to their children, or (b) disabled people aren’t “interested” in reproducing; they’re asexual, or (c) their disabilities render them as inadequate potential parents. The only response I’ll give to this nonsense: Just because someone is disabled does not mean they do not want to or cannot have children.

Myth: if there’s a physical condition, who knows, there may be mental condition as well

Response: This is the absolute worst. First of all: no, people who are physically disabled do not automatically have mental health issues that affect their ability to have a relationship. Also, what’s being implied is that if someone has an invisible disability such as a mental or learning disability, that’s fine. What kind of a double standard is that?

Is disability a non-issue? No. Is extra consideration required when making such matches? Yes. Should people be absolutely certain that they will love and support their lesser-abled spouses for as long as they can? Yes.

Here’s what not to do: treat and regard them as subhumans to be pitied.

The conversation I overheard that spurred me to write this ended on an interesting note. One of the people (you’ve probably figured out by this point that it was a well-meaning but ill-informed matronly matchmaker, a.k.a the rishtaa aunty) said: “Perhaps the only way [those with disabilities] can get married is not by arranged marriages, but by finding someone themselves. The families don’t have to make the decision, so the children will make them themselves and settle down.”

This impression is a double-edged sword. It gets precariously close to acknowledging that everyone is deserving of love and lifelong companionship, while at the same time disavowing responsibility for such a match. For when it comes to status, beauty, and wealth, rishta aunties are blazingly confident in making the right matches. But they stutter and flail helplessly at the prospect of someone with a tremor.

May we be redeemed for transgressing against the vulnerable and underprivileged members of our community. May we get over ourselves for thinking that normality exists.

Note: I’m blessed and privileged to be able-bodied, and I hope this little rant doesn’t come across as self-righteous or a claim to speak on someone’s behalf.