Opinion » Guest Commentary
I often wondered what it meant when someone shouted, “be a man,” especially a Muslim man. I grew up in a large family that was very much Pakistani at home but grappling with Scottish society on the outside. I am part of a large family that I’d say was pretty traditional in its outlook on Islam. Going to the mosque was (and still is) confusing for me. Seeing only men lead prayers and women segregated sparked my interest in understanding what was and is an Islamic masculinity.
Being a Scotsman in Ithaca, N.Y., was never my ambition as a young lad growing up in Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow. However, I found myself in that reality as I graduated in a Scottish kilt with my doctorate in theology and religious studies from Glasgow University this summer, having spent the last few years slogging away on a thesis. I looked at constructions of masculinities in Islamic texts, societies and cultures with a specific focus on India and Pakistan between the 18th and 21st century.
Having studied women in traditional African religions and women in Islam during my studies, I began to ponder why “Men in Islam” remains a nonexistent focus of Islamic Studies. It was this question that pushed me towards many questions. My thesis worked through the intersection of masculinity studies that anthropologists and sociologists focus on and the relationship that such studies have on Islamic texts, traditions and cultures.
Of course we cannot forget that Muslim feminists have already started the debate on such matters, but how many Muslim men have added to the debate? I guess the privileged (men) have no reason to question the status quo. And to make matters more distressing for me, there are numerous examples of gender inequality that are found throughout the world and in my experiences in Islamic societies. Communities that I visited when I studied Arabic in France, Syria and Jordan were not dissimilar. I was always unsure about gender roles and the centrality of family in the lives of Muslims, and so I began to question the significance of family to spirituality and subservience to God. Such a challenge needed a mighty challenger, so I focused specifically on the Quran, a text rich in stories of men and women. But I wanted to strengthen my theory of Islamic masculinities with lived realities and with my own background from Pakistan, a location that has seen many changes in the last few centuries.
Sexuality and gender are secondary constructions in relation to the key concern of the Muslim faithful, which is submission and obedience to God. In turn, I argue that the Quran upholds an illustrative and progressive image of gender and sexuality, but only when human beings place themselves under God’s divinity. Such conclusions aim to push heterosexual male Muslims to the fact that the Quran has not provided them a dominion superior to all else, let alone God. Many ugly images of Islam that have emerged from the world push me to state that the issue is Islamic masculinity.
This, of course, will not stomach well with the upholders of defined gender constructions of the male (namely heterosexual male, married and procreating), as it is those Muslim men, and they usually are men, who try and have succeeded to indoctrinate and cement enculturation of patriarchy into Islamic traditions, societies and cultures. To now challenge such notions is earth-shattering for the powerful Muslim man who has been living a fantasy of superiority in the world.
It gives me great pleasure to join the department of philosophy and religion at Ithaca College, and I look forward to establishing a strong profile in the learning and teaching of Islamic Studies and other world religions.
De Sondy blogs at www.progressivescottishmuslims.blogspot.com.
Amanullah De Sondy is an assistant professor of philosophy and religion. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also in Guest Commentary
- Arizona immigration bill repeats history
- Post-graduation life calls for hard work and patience
- Students should act on injustices in society
- Inside Look offers fair portrayal of college’s diversity
- Hip-hop lyrics indicate homophobia in industry
- Foreign investments often prove harmful
- Returning soldiers need more than medals
- College should compete with top-ranked teams
- Ethnomusicology adds new dimension to academia
- All Guest Commentary articles »