It is still considerably concerning the fact that we are grouped like that. And I must say that I have nothing against my fellow Muslim sisters. However, we are a variety of souls dealt with in a uniform way.
Western media does not help much. With the recent debates on the niqab and the hijab issue, we talk about “women in Islam,” “the needs of women,” “the status of Muslim women.” Especially as a convert, these expressions are completely neglecting of diversity in Islam. The same way there are Muslims in the Arabian Gulf, there are Muslims in Latin America, the West, Asia, etc. In addition, just like women who belong to “traditional” communities there are those who don’t, and who have decided to practice Islam.
Yes, we share a common view, we self-identify as Muslims… nothing else.
Our ways of practice are very different, and our ideologies compile and intertwine with all the ideologies existing in this world. You may have Muslim women who favor niqab and don’t pray five times a day, women who identify as socialist Muslims, women who believe in the biblical revelation but also believe in Muhammad’s message, women who identify as gay but are practicing Muslims, women who do and do not identify themselves as feminists, etc.
There is not such a thing as US.
If there is nothing that entails all Muslim women… then who are the Muslim women? There is no simple answer to that. Thus, generalizations and assumptions cannot be made. Somehow, “Muslim women” are usually portrayed in the media as weak, voiceless, powerless, abused, victimized, oppressed, etc. However, this reality is neither unique to women who practice Islam, nor true for most women in the religion.
The same way there are women who are voiceless and powerless, there are women who freely express their opinions (whether feminist or not); similarly, although some women are abused and oppressed, there are Muslim women who abuse and oppress others. Are we all the same, then? No.
Sometimes people like to make the following generalization: Muslim women believe in the Qur’an, who was revealed to Muhammad, in a patriarchal society, in a paternalistic context, in a non-women-friendly environment, in a time when most women were abused… therefore, Muslim women must be oppressed and voiceless because the Qur’an is a text influenced by Muhammad’s sexists ideas, that are founded in a patriarchal society, under a paternalistic context, where women were all abused.
Well… no! The same way radical, fundamentalist, essentialist Islam has developed, socialist, feminist, liberal approaches have been created. Some of the women in the religion choose to liberate (or condemn, depends on the opinion) themselves through conservative doctrines, while others choose to seek Allah through engagement in feminist activism.
The wide range of Muslim personalities cannot be encapsulated and cannot be studied as a general category, where women are bounded to their biological characteristics and condemned because of the status of others.
To say this is not to deny the existence of problems within Muslim communities; however, neither are enigmas the same for all Muslim women… nor are all the Muslim women the same enigma!