The Afghan Women’s Writing Project

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project was conceived by Masha Hamilton after her last trip to Afghanistan in 2008. She became concerned that we were losing the voices of Afghan women and came up with the Project as a way to have access to their hopes, fears and dreams not filtered through men or the media. All of the women write at least partially in secret and often go through a lot to gain access to a computer.

The Afghan women work with women writers from the U.S., who teach and encourage them in online workshops. Women writers are used because of cultural inhibitions about working with men. Submissions are edited in a back-and-forth process for grammar and clarity, but remain the works of the original authors. All the work done on behalf of the Project is done pro-bono.

Here is a particularly poignant excerpt from one of the pieces:

“Afghan women have wings for flying. Afghan women want to be free like other birds that fly into the blue sky. But ancient cultures and old thoughts have clipped their wings and, like birds alone in cages, they remain looking out, waiting to fly to the highest point in the sky.

“Afghan women quickly become old, their wishes carried with them to the grave. Still, their children remain, becoming brave women and men. Afghan women want their children to complete their wishes. Then the souls of Afghan women are happy.”

In addition to letting the voices of Afghan women be heard and instilling a sense of pride in them, the hope is that readers will gain a broader and deeper understanding of what life is like in Afghanistan for all its inhabitants.

Please take the time to leave a comment for the writers. They work in such isolation and under such difficult conditions that any feedback or commentary helps them know they are being heard and is greatly appreciated.

Donations are also welcomed for the purchasing of laptops and thumb drives for each of the Afghan women writers. They can then write in private where they will not attract undue attention and a sympathetic male can take the thumb drive to an Internet cafe and email their writings.

Here is a Fox news story about readings of these women’s writings done by professional actresses at the Museum of Tolerance.

Thursday Thoughts: Women In the Mosque

Last Thursday I wrote a post called “Muslim Feminism: Women at Prayer.” It was about a group of Muslim women who dared to pray in the men’s section (which is really the main hall of the mosque and should be open to every Muslim) as a sort of protest. Today I found an insightful article on altmuslimah which gives more background on the “pray-in.” I’ve recently had the privilege of getting to know Fatima Thompson, one of the women who participated in and who is interviewed about the protest. She is quoted as saying:

The Greensboro Four broke established, non-constitutional, yet explicit rules to break down the barrier of the implicit idea that blacks weren’t as privileged as whites…. and this is what we are doing with women’s rights in the mosque,” Thompson explained. “It’s implicit in the space available to women that they aren’t deserving of the same privileges as men in the mosque. It’s in the mindset.”

She added: ”Women need to be communicated with when designing mosques. Women are clearly cut off from being part of that community when they are corralled into areas that cut them off from congregational prayer.”

In the first woman-designed mosque in the world (in Istanbul), women are still separated from the men on a balustrade above the main hall (which is still reserved for the men), but the leading architect, Zeynep Fadillioglu, vows to make their area every bit as beautiful as the men’s. Too often, the women’s section is a dingy, neglected room behind a partition from which the women can’t even see and often can’t hear what is going on in the main hall. So, although there is still a separate space for women, it is integrated more fully into the mosque’s design. (For pictures of and more information about this mosque, go here.)

I was talking to a Muslim man last night to whom I confessed that I’ve only been to a mosque twice. He teased me, “Once women find out that they are not obligated to go to the mosque for jumaa (Friday) prayer, they stop going at all.” I couldn’t help but think that it might be because they dislike the experience they have when they do go. If Muslim men truly cared about the spiritual lives of Muslim women, you would think that they would want to do anything possible to make their mosque experience as uplifting as it is for the men.

Insha’allah.  (God willing.)

Read this article by the religion reporter for the Statesman, Joshunda Sanders, about her visit to a mosque.

Muslim Feminism: Women At Prayer

Photo by Reuters

The main question I’ve been asked since I became a Muslim has been, “How do you reconcile being a Muslim with being a feminist?” The answer is complex and I won’t go into all of it today. But one part of the answer is that any woman can be a feminist, if being one means that you want to see women find self-fulfillment on whatever path they choose to travel. That doesn’t mean that every journey is easy. Certainly if you come from a culture where women have been traditionally marginalized and you want to continue to be a part of that culture, you’re going to find the going tough. Does that mean that you shouldn’t try? No, but it might mean that you have to weigh your options carefully and be sure of your convictions before you proceed.

I decided to write about this today because of an article by Tracy Clark-Flory I ran across on Salon.com in its Broadsheet department: “Muslims protest sexism with prayer.” In it Clark-Flory recounts the story of Muslim women who dared to pray on the main floor of a mosque in Washington, D.C. Why is that a big deal? For one thing, they were praying with the men and not behind a partition in an area reserved for women. For another thing, they risked arrest to do so. I would say that this is Muslim feminism in action, whether or not these women would identify themselves as feminists.

Segregation during prayer

What is my take on their actions? While I haven’t prayed often in a mosque (yet), when I have, I’ve been relegated to the women’s room along with the other women. The main negative feeling I had was irritation, because it was sometimes hard to hear what was being said on the main floor (which of course is the men’s area) and as a result, it was also hard to feel that I was a part of what was going on, which after all, is supposed to be a communal act of prayer. At the same time, it didn’t bother me all that much because of the feeling of sisterhood I had from being there with the other women. Not to mention that I was more intent on getting my own prayers right than on where I was praying.

Women are too noisy

One Muslim man once told me that women make too much noise during prayer and that’s one reason why men don’t want them praying in the same room. But maybe women tend to be noisy because they don’t take what they’re doing as seriously as the men do, exactly because the men don’t take what the women do as seriously. What does it really matter if the women make a little noise if they’re not even supposed to be there? (There are a few mosques that don’t allow women to even enter the building.) Then there is the problem of children who are of course with the women (at least until the boys are considered old enough to pray with the men). Children tend to be noisy, too, but the men don’t have to and don’t want to deal with that. They don’t want anything to distract them from their prayers.

Women are distractions

Women are also considered to be distractions because they might cause the men to think impure thoughts when they’re supposed to be praying. I get that. Women can be distracted by men as well. If the goal is total concentration, then there is something to be said for the separation of the sexes during prayer. Having said that, I don’t see why adults can’t be trusted to try harder to keep their minds on Allah instead of on each other. Then again, one of the things that attracted me to Islam is that it is so pragmatic about human nature. We do tend to get distracted, pretty easily as a matter of fact. So why make it harder for us to concentrate?

I’m still a feminist, so now I’m a Muslim feminist. That doesn’t mean that I advocate crashing the men’s prayers. I don’t think at all badly of women who sincerely feel that their spiritual lives are made fuller by being able to pray in the main hall of the mosque. I may be one of them someday. But for now I’m content to follow my path to spiritual fulfillment. And to concentrate on my prayers, without distractions.

The Hijabi Monologues Are Coming!

Woman wearing a hijab

A hijabi is a term for a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, or headscarf. I believe that it is important to see the women beneath the headscarves and “The Hijabi Monologues” are one way to accomplish that.

The following announcement only applies to the Columbus, Ohio performances in April but I’m including it here because that’s where I’m from and because I wanted to alert my readers to the existence of “The Hijabi Monologues.” If you want to know more about “The Hijabi Monologues”—maybe even bring them to your area—see the information below.

ANNOUNCEMENT

Try-outs are being held on March 31, 2010 at the Ohio State University for performers to participate in “The Hijabi Monologues.” There is also a need for organizers, writers, photographers and so on. (See full list of positions available here.) Please note: You do not need to be Muslim to participate!

What are “The Hijabi Monologues”? They are a take-off on Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” The difference between them is that “The Vagina Monologues” takes something private and makes it public and “The Hijabi Monologues” take something public (the hijabs, or headcoverings) and show us the private lives of the women who wear them.

Go to the OSU website for more information about the Columbus, Ohio performances as well as links to other performances which have taken place elsewhere. Any questions or concerns should sent to the email address: HijabiMonologues.OSU@gmail.com

To RSVP go the the Hijabi Monologues at OSU page on Facebook. For more information about the Monologues themselves, there is another Facebook page here.

The video below is an interview with some of the people involved in “The Hijabi Monologues.”