The Questions:

Who are you speaking for? Yourself? Other people? What gives you the right to speak for other people?

As an ex-Muslim aren’t you just a defector? How are your views not xenophobic or Islamophobic?

What do you mean by a reasoned critique of Islam?

Why do you advocate a critique of Islam? You’re not  a Muslim, we get it; what does that have to do with critiquing Islam when people freely choose it and it’s their right?

Wait, hold up. Aren’t you just assuming that Islam is at fault or complicit in the problems of Arab and Muslim women? How can you make such a brash and serious assumption?

You talk about ‘Islam’ a lot as if it is a blanket term. Isn’t that severely reductionist? Islam is not a uniform thing, nor are its manifestation in sect and practice. What gives?

Why did you take off the veil?

So what do you miss or appreciate about Muslim culture?

What do you dislike about American culture?

How do you self-identify? Is it a negative or positive self-identification?

The Answers:

Who are you speaking for? Yourself? Other people? What gives you the right to speak for other people?

I’m primarily speaking for myself, but this is not a blog of personal anecdote. I make the assertion that I want to give a voice to others like me, and maybe in that sense I’m speaking for other people, I don’t know. I don’t think of it by any means as speaking for those who do not want to be spoken for. But there are people, so many of them close to me, women I love, who have suffered through and continue to suffer through oppression parallel to mine, instigated by the same system, rooted in the same causes, the same ideologies, and they support and encourage and bless my endeavors. It is not so much speaking for other women of Muslim and Arab birth as creating a forum where the ideas of a suppressed subset of women of Muslim and Arab birth are given space, are given voice because it is the case that effectively, so few of us have voices. So few of us are in a position to speak publicly about forces that are still governing our lives.

And here’s the thing. This is not a blog of personal anecdote attempting to create an inductive parallel through extrapolation. I hope to host many voices, and I hope to make arguments based on larger, wider experiences, aspiring towards objectivity. I am open to listening to other perspectives, and responding to those publicly. I am open to being corrected, challenged, and expanding my outlook. I want this to be educational for myself as much as anybody else.

As an ex-Muslim aren’t you just a defector? How are your views not xenophobic or Islamophobic?

I am a defector from an idea-and-belief system that I was born expecting to subscribe to and ultimately rejected. The notion that we are free to choose and reject beliefs and are not bound to them by our birth is not a radical one, and does not entail that we have irrational or unfounded biases towards the beliefs we reject.

Islamphobia is the irrational fear and hatred of Islam based on misconception. My rejection of Islam is based on reasoned understanding and not on misrepresentation. I am open to this being challenged.

Xenophobia is the irrational fear of the other, the strange, the foreign. I do not reject my people, my culture, my language. I am an Arab woman, I am from Beirut, and it is my home, my heart, my love, joy, pain, nostalgia. There are many things I value about my culture. Rejecting other aspects of my heritage does not mean I am othering it, and certainly does not mean that I fear or hate it.

What do you mean by a reasoned critique of Islam?

I will make this a simple answer. A reasoned critique will be primarily an accurate one. One that is not based on misrepresentation, and whose premises are acknowledged by those who advocate that which is being critiqued. Obviously one that does not fall into fallacy. One also that stands up to challenge and engages challenge.

Why do you advocate a critique of Islam? You’re not  a Muslim, we get it; what does that have to do with critiquing Islam when people freely choose it and it’s their right?

Because harm is being inflicted upon people and things need to change, and part of my critique is that Islam is responsible for much of this suffering, and I believe the first step to changing harmful ideas is to highlight why and how they are problematic.

I advocate a reasoned critique of Islam because I strongly believe that the right to free choice ends where harm to others and coercion begins. There is a verse in the Qur’an that states that there shall be no compulsion in religion [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 256], often cited in defense of Islam being non-coercive and its coercive elements being mere human misapplications. The full verse, however, as follows:

“Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth has been made clear from error. Whoever rejects false worship and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 256]

Along with the claim that you shall not be compelled to choose to embrace Islam is the assertion that it is the only truth and a clear one and those who have grasped it are in a sense, protected, in the right. This is normative and exclusionary, and the Qur’an makes no pretense about mandating what is proper and correct behavior as a Muslim towards other people; your family members, women, foreigners, apostates and defectors, and non-Muslims in your lands. This has lead to the very real circumstances of Islamic interpretations of truth being mandated by law or socially enforced. Until it becomes effectively the case that people are free to choose ‘error’ over ‘truth’ without it being wrong, false, shameful, or criminal, then Islam in practice and Islam in scripture will not be impervious to critique.

Another point is that people can freely choose to subscribe to ideologies with misogynistic or violent aspects (assuming their status as such can be demonstrated), but their free choice doesn’t negate the possibility or the need to critique these aspects, regardless of whether or not being a Muslim entails behaving according to Muslim tenets towards other people. That is, the status of a belief system as religious does not make it impervious to critique even if it were not causing external detriment. Although I do have a positive reason for critiquing Islam, I am bothered by the assumption that I need to have one in order to highlight the aspects of an ideology that I find problematic (barring such a critique itself causing undue detriment, which would need to be established).

Wait, hold up. Aren’t you just assuming that Islam is at fault or complicit in the problems of Arab and Muslim women? How can you make such a brash and serious assumption?

I do not want to assume this. I want to demonstrate this, and the FAQ page is not where I will give my strongest arguments in support of this claim, but regular blog posts are. Also, please refer to my answer to what a reasoned critique is. I want my critique to be accurate and not based on a misrepresentation. Straw-manning helps nobody.

You can ask whether what I’m doing is really reasoned critique to which I’ll answer this:

You can either assert that there is no such thing as a reasoned critique or rejection of Islam, which is a dogmatic claim in itself and one that I am willing to discuss, but that I ultimately find ludicrous. Or else you can assert something along the lines of my personal experiences leading to incongruent bias against a misapplication or misrepresentation of Islam that violently hurt me and what I am critiquing is not true Islam. I certainly hope I am not setting up a straw man. My arguments aspire to present a critique of Islam qua scripture and practice and not a misrepresentation of it, but in any case I welcome challenges to my arguments that attempt to highlight avenues of bias and fear. I am open to all of my claims about Islam being openly discussed and challenged.

You talk about ‘Islam’ a lot as if it is a blanket term. Isn’t that severely reductionist? Islam is not a uniform thing, nor are its manifestation in sect and practice. What gives?

I’ve used ‘Islam’  in this FAQ page as a shorthand for those aspects and permutations of it I believe deserve strong critique. I hope that my blog posts will be specific and focused enough that I will not be generalizing and will set out in very clear terms the specific context I am discussing. I am trying to say that the manner and method and content of my critique will indeed be variable depending on the specificity of my focus.

Why did you take off the veil?

Simply put, I don’t believe in it or in what it stands for. But I feel like this is a backward question, because I feel like you need to have good reason to don the veil and that it should not be a default state you need to justify moving away from.

But I feel like this question can be understood in two ways.

I understand this question, when it is formulated as an earnest one by some people, to be asking other things such as ‘Why do you reject your morality and your modesty?’ and ‘Why do you think you have the right to disobey your creator and disrespect your family?’

And here’s the thing, questions of this sort bother me because they assume a universal morality that I am being challenged for moving away from, and they also overtly censure me. They assume that I am being immoral and I have to explain why. This sort of challenge bothers me because any answer I give to these questions will ultimately reject their implicit premises. The long answer is detailed and complex. The short one is, well, I don’t have the same ideas about morality and modesty that you do, and your ideas about morality and modesty are *not* universally correct, and it is okay for me not to subscribe to them without being shamed and denigrated for it.  That they *are* universally correct may continued to be asserted, and I will gladly and openly challenge this claim.

I recognize that not everybody who asks this question asks it from within that belief-system, so here’s my answer to the other version of the question: What is it about the hijab that doesn’t mesh with you and that you ultimately reject?

And I will probably make a blog post directly addressing this question quite soon, but the short answer is that I feel like it misrepresents problems of human sexuality by unnecessarily demonizing the bodies of women and human sexuality. It claims to fight against the objectification of women by assuming that same objectification. A woman commonly wears the hijab from conviction because she wants to be treated as a human being and not as a distracting sex object. But this contains the assumption that women’s bodies are consumable and shameful objects that must be protected by hiding them. I simply can’t mesh with this sort of thought.

Why so focused on the negatives? There are plenty of Muslims who are happy and healthy and free and who have very positive experiences. There are plenty of non-Muslims who are horribly oppressive and misogynistic. Why not highlight what people are doing right and why demonize this particular problem in exclusion to others?

Because addressing a very real problem that is important does not need to be justified beyond it being an important problem .

Yes, there are other oppressive structures and systems in various places and cultures and connected to various religions and ideologies. Yes, there are also plenty of Muslims who do things the right way and who foster peace and love and faith.

But you know what? The suppression and oppression of Arab and Muslim women coercively is valuable in its own right, and has become pandemic (a claim I am willing to justify in an actual post) and focusing on it to the exclusion of the happy, the safe, the non-problematic, or focusing on it to the exclusion of the suppression and oppression of women due to other non-directly-relatable systems in different areas should not be offensive because it is an important enough problem to deserve focus.

To make a simplistic analogy: if I’m blogging about dogs and somebody comes along and asks me ‘what about cats?’ I am going to say, well, yes, cats are important too, and you can blog about them if you want, but I’m talking about dogs here, and it’s okay for me to talk about dogs without being accused of implying that cats are not important. It’s hard to talk about dogs if you can’t focus on them sufficiently.

That being said, I am willing to continue to clarify and assert that I am not speaking about non-oppressed and free-choosing Muslim women in order to avoid detrimental confusion.

There is another argument I am sympathetic towards but that I do not want to make very powerfully at this moment in time until I have thought it through very well because I am unsure of its implications and applications, but I kind of want to put it out here to get thoughts. It is that even non-complicit Muslims need to no longer be excluded from a radically Muslim problem and need to become part of its solution, and that non-complicit Muslims are in fact only seemingly non-complicit. I am not sure of this argument because I am not sure how effectively true it is given that it is my experience that non-complicit Muslims are among a minority that lack influence and political power, but I will put it out there that I thought of this by creating an analogy to how men need to be responsible for feminist issues in very dire ways, even if they themselves are non-complicit, as presented in this TEDx talk.

So what do you miss or appreciate about Muslim culture?

I don’t think there is such a thing as a uniform Muslim culture, even within the same country, but I’ll take this to be asking me what I miss about my homeland and the culture I became an adult in, which is a Southern-Metro-mesh Lebanese Shia guerrilla-esque culture. To start with smaller things, I miss the food, and the enthusiasm about it, the meat-positive, lush, encompassing, generous, olive-oil drenched ecstaticness of it. I miss, surprisingly, communal cooking, though I thought I hated being under my mother’s supreme will in her kitchen. I miss enthusiasm and lushness in general, this wonderful mesh between lightheartedness, passion, vitriol, and matter-of-factness that stems from living under war and aggression and at the same time being used to war and aggression. I miss the intimate chaotic urbanity of Beirut. And despite the lack of privacy and being utterly controlled, there are aspects of the close familial intimacy of my culture that I value very highly. I miss Arabic like nobody’s business. I miss certain aspects of the righteously defensive attitude a culture bred under foreign occupation and war has–the furious commitment to defend, to stave off, to be independent, even if I am troubled by manners in which it manifests itself.

What do you dislike about American culture?

Again, I want to discount the claim that there is a uniform American culture, but I’ll try to highlight the things I strongly hope to see change and improve in my lifetime. This will probably sound surprising and possibly ungrateful given the drastic changes my life has undergone since moving here, but I think that pervasively in America there is not enough liberalism and too much liberalism all at once. I do believe there is a strong rape culture here, and very strong cognitive gender bias and gender-normativity that young people need to fight being socialized into. We know what the arguments are. We know that women are disadvantaged in the job market. We know that slut-shaming is prevalent and that our reproductive rights are challenged. We know that LGBTQ rights have a long way to go. We know that not everybody acknowledges these as problems. I would point to things like quality of science and math education and systematic racism as also quite bothersome. I also am troubled by liberal tendencies to avoid critiquing harmful ideologies for fear of being offensive or paternalistic or causing greater harm or being unintentionally yet very violently racist or assuming, because I believe this obscures the possibility of inciting real change and helping people who are already disadvantaged.

And here’s the thing. I just listed a whole lot of things here, and I am full-well expecting raised eyebrows at how critical I am towards a country that has afforded me freedoms I never had and wonderful opportunities and resources fitting my abilities and credentials. But I am violently opposed to the sort of rhetoric that assumes you cannot be grateful and appreciative yet desire betterment and change and further fulfillment at the same time. The issues that concern me here in America very directly have to do with fundamental human and political rights, and they directly pertain to me as an American citizen, as a woman, as a person of color, as an LGBTQ individual, and demanding the realization of rights should never be problematic and should always be a valid standpoint no matter how privileged you are or disadvantaged you have been.

How do you self-identify? Is it a negative or positive self-identification?

This is such a difficult question to me because I feel like it is asking for a uniform answer, or to join a camp with already-established norms and I am wary of this because I am an amalgam. I also recognize that it is important to identify by what I am not, what I reject, what I used to be. I identify as an atheist quite strongly in most circumstances, and as an ex-Muslim less often, although when I think about my atheism I think about it as growing and progressing from the challenges my birth religion posed to me and the challenges I posed to it. I think as myself as an ex-hijabi and a non-hijabi and both of these things are distinct and powerful because they indicate what I refuse to be and what I have been and what that has done to weaken and strengthen me. This is the sort of model I have in mind when I think of identity labels, and knowing this, I will give a few, in no particular order (beyond perhaps aesthetic; I am fond of lyrical lists!):

Atheist. Ex-Muslim. Woman. Mostly-liberal. Arab. Bisexual. Beiruti. Arab-American. Sex-positive. Apostate. Writer. Polyamorous. Secularist. Philosopher. Ex-hijabi. Logician. Academic. Lebanese.

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