Hot Off the Press: Voices of Resistance - Revati Chawla

Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith and Sexuality | 

by Sarah Husain (Editor) 

Seal Press


Revati Chawla

Voices of Resistance is just that: the voices of long silent women writing about the issues they fear the most, matters closest to their hearts. Over 40 women have contributed to this anthology that is a collection of narratives, musings, drawings, poems and prose by Muslim women from across the globe including those from Palestine, Israel, Yemen, India, Pakistan and even Thailand and Malaysia in South East Asia. These diverse far flung nations bear little commonality and this is clear from reading this anthology – Muslim women are not homogeneous. However at the heart of this book is the desire to learn how to take these differences and use them as strengths.

Common elements throughout this book include stories of war. Expressed as collective wars and individual struggles; the individual desire not to fight a war and yet once the decision is made, being dragged into it against one’s will and being forced to take sides, to choose between black and white when in reality a woman’s life is brown. Particularly post 9/11, Muslim people and indeed anyone mistaken to be Muslim, across the world have been subjected to increased discrimination and violence against them arising, most times, out of ignorance. ‘Hate crimes filed shortly after 9/11’ describes in poetry, attacks on Sikh men mistaken to be members of the Taliban, and a 21 year old woman of native American heritage; beaten; mistaken to be a Muslim American. Resulting from the twin tower attacks, the war on terror is being fought in the name of protecting America, but tens of thousands of people, Muslim women in particular, bear the burden of the war. Those that profess the war is not in our names, are given little option but to accept and embrace it. Shadi Eskandani writes, ‘my role as a woman in the struggle has become clear to me. I have thought about different ways to resist, like writing or teaching or working for some aid organisations. But I know now the only way to resist a state of violence is through violence only. Armed struggle is what this intifada is about. We fight their state terrorism by resisting with our blood. By resisting with our bodies. Flesh and blood is resistance.’

It is this flesh and blood that is the subject matter of a number of other essays in the anthology. One writer questions, ‘Why are we not taught that to love our bodies is to love ourselves? Why were we taught that sexual pleasure is forbidden in Islam? Why were we taught to be ashamed of our bodies and sexualities? How do I struggle for self ownership when my body is not my own but the property of religion, family and community?’ Frustration at the pressure of a patriarchal society comes out clearly in many of the essays. A woman’s body is not her own; it is used as a weapon of war, as a means of control over families and society, it is inescapably linked to honor, shame and guilt, all the burdens of which fall on women. To claim your body as your own and do with it as you wish is haram. But what is haram and halal, permissible and punishable, is defined by men. This too is a war which many women wage; sometimes silently.

At the heart of this anthology is questioning; questioning one’s identity and the perception of one’s identity by society and the media. It also questions the privileged position the contributors occupy as women living in the West and how this position can be best used without ostracising families and communities. Often the most severe critics of Muslim women are other Muslims, women themselves, such as in the story of moral policing by a grandmother, in ‘Haram! Haram! Haram!’, and other religious guardians, as Samia Saleem sketches the words ‘The literal word of god is the antithesis of my being’. Whereas religion should be a foundation that protects and gives comfort to women, it is today used as an effective ‘tool’ to oppress and subjugate women. In this subjugation many Muslim women are increasingly marginalized and one of the most fundamental elements of human security i.e. beliefs, faith and religion are being ripped off them.

Published in 2006, Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith & Sexuality is edited by Sarah Husain. In her introduction to the anthology she encourages the reader to read. ‘Iqra’, she says – read and understand a different view point, and arm yourself with knowledge; knowledge that is fluid, contextually engaged and dynamic. Aim to create a new world order, one that is against wars, Islamic in its principles and feminist in its ideology.

Revati Chawla is an activist working on and HIV/AIDS, gender and sexuality issues in the Asia Pacific Region. She is based in Sri Lanka.