Ramadan Lesson #7: Oppression Is Not Always External


Earlier today a fellow halaqa attendee and I rode down to jummah (Muslim sabbath) prayers in another venue than we typically frequented: the basement of a church, which also doubles as a soup kitchen throughout the week. As an aside and a shameless plug for a DC community service opportunity, check out this place; it is called Miriam’s Kitchen. Anyways, back to the main focus of this post; my buddy and I arrive pretty much as the khutbah (jummah sermon given by an imam or member of the community, usually an older male figure – I wish a sister would deliver one instead). For individuals familiar with sermons in any faith tradition, let us be honest they can be very dry, filled with cliches, and outdated thinking, but thankfully this one seemed to start out on a unique note I had not heard mentioned elsewhere.

The 20-something looking brother who delivered this particular talk chose to focus on the concept of oppression, both in its external and internal manifestations. My ears definitely perked up as things got started. Islam’s social justice/liberation theology is one of the main reasons I initially fell in love with the religion. Divided into three main sections, the speaker began his speech with explaining how shirq (associating partners with God, i.e. worshipping/valuing something more/equal to loving God) and its relationship with oppression. I admit it, I was kind of puzzled by how the two things related, but sure enough as the talk progressed a lightbulb went off in my mind. Externally, oppression is fairly easy to identify if we look closely; we see it daily in lopsided power dynamics, be it racial, politically, familiar, romantic, etc. While this khutbah did not mention it, I would argue that for all the social justice we as Muslims preach about we sure allow for a lot of oppression within our communities. I wanted to raise my hand and ask, for example, why is it that I continually hear male Muslims say that Islam protects females from the “filth” in the outside world, yet we do not actively acknowledge the oppression we subject sisters to ourselves? Or why do we so quickly point the finger to the external world as the source of our problems? Darn it, much of the oppression we create on our own through a desire to control and not checking our intentions before acting! The speaker did touch upon this a bit, but my reflections were quickly overwhelmed by the talk’s subsequent negative turn into talking about Christians performing shirq as a result of their association with Jesus being seen as God on earth. It was a shame that such an opportunity to possibly engage the hearts of those gathered for prayers and instill some concrete ways to overcome oppression was wasted on this stuff.

As my friend and I exited the basement, we both chatted about how we were simultaneously inspired and repulsed, but you know, maybe the latter emotion is a blessing. Perhaps out of this negative reaction my commitment to combating ignorance and speaking up in the future will be emboldened. I have had enough life experiences where initially I just want to say, “Screw these people; they are hopeless cases,” but after some time I realize that response is immature, does not accomplish anything, and is self-righteous. If I do not strive to understand others’ mindsets or why they feel some particular way, how can I ever hope to see potential change in the future? Fighting ignorance with ignorance does not work – I cannot revert to that.

Salaams for now.



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