By Sara Shafek, Malaysia.
The number of shackles society places on women is crazy. People go to great lengths proving their point by using science and history to make sure women get denied from bastions of opportunities. But most of all, the biggest ‘justification’ that often hits home is on the basis of religion. For a great number of women including myself, religion is important. It is arguable that my profound belief in religion is harvested from years and years of indoctrination at home and in school but it doesn’t take away the fact that I genuinely find solace in opting into religion. Religion gives me purpose in life, to wake up, to study and simply enough, to live.
However, there exist tumultuous obstacles and grave hindrances that I face in intersectionalising religion and my ability to grow and progress. A lot of people, from educators to friends and family members, hide behind the veil of religion and use religion to continuously bark out orders as to how I should live my life, what dreams I should pursue and how I should act because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be a proper Muslim. They tell me all of these as if they were God themselves, the one to determine who enters Heaven and Hell. That the correct way to view religion was their black and white, one dimensional way of viewing it.
"The power to interpret what God's revelations are is up to me."
So I thought, this can’t be right. I started picking up the Quran and really digesting the values it teaches. And the conclusion I got was simple; men and women are equal, in a sense that they both have their own values as well as their own hardships and challenges. That the ones God truly appreciates are the righteous. That the gates of heaven was opened wide to whoever that worked for it and none of it rested on what gender you were arbitrarily assigned with. This conclusion I reached was also backed up by numerous scholars around the globe. But at the end of the day, what I truly realised was that the power to make religion meaningful rests in my hands. The power to interpret what God’s revelations are is up to me.
Diving into the depths of knowledge opened my eyes to new horizons I never thought was possible of accessing. It unlocked new doors I never even knew existed within my mind. I felt enlightened and it was as though I was reborn into a new person. With this new state of mind, I was able to do so much more. My grades got better, my health got better, and generally life become a much more calming cruise on a river. To top it off, I had reason not just to live each day but to also break barriers and fight the overbearing oppression of the patriarchy that for long enough not only denied the plight of my suffering but also made it significantly worse. So here we are today!
"Knowledge is power."
The primary force that drives the patriarchy back to its sad bedroom of entitlement is the existence of knowledge. For years the subjugation of women occured because women were systematically kept out of acquiring knowledge. Because even amongst men themselves, the hierarchy that existed was premised on how much knowledge you possess and how remarkable you are at using that knowledge. Dating back as far as Machiavelli’s the Prince, one of the most important notions he grounded was that a ruler will not be able to keep their reign if they are foolish. It is literally no joke when people say knowledge is power.
It was a woman, Margaret Heafield that crafted Apollo 11 into something more than just a mere dream. What we know about radioactive materials today would be far less progressed if it weren’t for a woman, Marie Curie, who not only pioneered but even risked her life in the research of radioactivity. One of the richest people and most successful merchants to ever exist in the Middle East was Khadija binti Khuwaylid, who eventually became the wife of the Prophet Muhammad. Currently described as the de facto leader of the EU and easily of the most revered and respected women in politics is Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany.
The journey to the top of the world is anything but easy and many of these women faced struggles as well as obstacles that would do anything to hold them back from grasping the fruits of glory but the secret weapon that all of them utilised to perfection is the usage of knowledge. It is only when you know and understand, is when you are able to assess what lies in your hands right now and in the journey ahead. So don’t be afraid! Seek guidance and let your road be lighted all the way to the end.
"What parts of myself do I hide?"
Further beyond knowledge is ownership, and this is where it gets difficult. A lot of times, as women, we don’t really feel like our lives belong to us but rather we are bounded by what our friends family, society and religion as I have mentioned earlier. Often the identities we subscribe to hinders our ability to take ownership of our lives but rather these identities persist us to follow a certain framework of what life is supposed to look like. Be it from the way you dress, what sort of education you pursue, what kinds of jobs you seek, to even how you’re allowed to think and perceive this world. The biggest harm to this is we often trade off the values we might otherwise believe in just to fit in the so called guidelines society places value in.
While it is true that some of these identities provide us a place to belong, we should always take a step back and ask ourselves, by joining this group of people, what traits of myself do I trade off? What parts of myself do I hide? What qualities that reside intrinsically in me get shunned if I abide by this identity? A lot of times, a vast majority of women don’t ask themselves these questions because of reasons such as fear or being fed with lies saying these questions don’t matter. And the sad conclusion we arrive at the end is that a great number of these women aren’t able to take ownership of their lives. Rather they spend the rest of their days floating around what seems to be the way of living.
"Real growth happens when you can look at yourself in the mirror for the person that you really are, not just the person society moulds you to be."
Well, I say we stop it. In the growth and progression of ourselves and our ever changing identities, these questions need to be engaged. And engaged seriously. Potential is often lost when we take life just as it is rather than how it should be. We get stuck in needless puddles with little ability to find cover from the rain. Real growth happens when you can look at yourself in the mirror for the person that you really are, not just the person society moulds you to be. And it is in this acknowledging of the real us, that we are able to feel comfortable and confident with ourselves. So what if its different that what we are initially taught. The world evolves and so should we.
Another important factor is willpower. As overrated and overused this word is, a lot of times we don’t truly take it to its greatest meaning. Willpower is the drive and hunger that keeps the fire in your soul burning. It’s what gives you strength to get out of bed and make the sweet dreams you just had an out and out reality. Willpower is important because in embarking the road to success, tumultuous rains and gut wrenching torrents lie at every corner waiting to devour you up. Willpower will be the light that guides the way.
In gaining willpower, a clear heart and mind is needed. One of the easiest ways to break down strength of the will is when the pillars that hold it up aren’t strong. Therefore, a clear heart and mind will make sure that your goals are firmly in sight and nothing can get in your way. In addition, confidence is also key. Lacking belief will only prove to make things easier for the people who are out to get us and in most cases, this allows the patriarchy to trample over any progress we strive to make.
"I believe that you have the power to grasp those dreams of yours -- it's time for you to believe in it too."
Being driven is also what often leads us to innovate and be creative. It’s the mindset that ‘I must get over this obstacle by any means’ that pushes people out of their comfort zone and have the courage to try new methods. And in our quest for a better tomorrow, we should never be afraid of trying new things. More importantly, the extent to how effective these new methods are lie heavily in how much effort we put in doing it. Effort that leads to success only ever truly comes when there exists willpower.
But willpower is also important in keeping us in check. With the existence of many hindrances and possibly many smaller goals that would pop up along the way, we need this willpower to come forth and remind us of what is the most important. It’s very easy to get carried away with little success because short term happiness is always a favourable gain. Willpower is necessary in making sure we realise that the long term, far ending road is the one we should prioritise because the dreams we set at those ends are the hardest but sweetest.
The ability to break away from the shackles that bind us due to our gender is tough. With every turn on the road, predators lurk and try to hunt us down but we should always remember that we are strong and very much capable of defeating these demons. ‘Step outside, ’cause summertime’s in bloom’ really embodies that. We are all capable of seeing the beauty of summer’s bloom but we won’t get there without first stepping outside. Even though stepping out strikes fear in many hearts, we shouldn’t stop ourselves from actually doing it. Anything and everything can be done but it all goes back to us as individuals. I believe that you have the power within you to grasp those dreams of yours – it’s time for you to believe in it too.
What experiences have you had with religion and feminism? Let us know in the comments, or send us a message using the contact form!
Issues on this page include a recollection or commentary on events that occur in a local, national, or international setting.