A letter to Indian Muslim men:
Dear Dads, Husbands, Nanas, Dadas, Mamoes, Ghales and our male cousins,
We want to talk to you about male supremacy in our communities. More than certainly some of what we touch on applies to men whether they're Indian Muslim or not. But as they say, speak from your experience. Which is what we're doing. We're women who grew up Indian Muslim who always struggled to reconcile what the faith taught us about women's place in Islam, cultural customs and how we are actually regarded in our homes and community.
Some of you may say that you have no idea what we're talking about. So let us hold up a mirror. Women and girls, and only women and girls, must make you tea and serve it like docile maids to British aristocrats, bending over, tray in hand while you take it and scoop in your sugar.
While we do this, boys are playing outside, or gaming. When we have family functions, women and men are segregated in more than just space. Men hold court, having discussions on "important" matters of the day (often centred on conflicts that affect Muslims). Women are expected to talk about "womanly" things: babies and families and what grade Muzammil is in now, and how he's doing.
There's no consideration given to a man who would prefer to be talking about his kids, or fashion – or a woman who would rather discuss political economics, especially when all the uncles are spouting ignorant nonsense that reveals a basic misunderstanding of economic fundamentals. Teen boys at the edge of adulthood are allowed in, but a woman with a postgrad in finance is in the kitchen somewhere, or running after her toddlers while her husband sits back.
As we grow up and start becoming professionals in the world of work, this aspect of us is never really acknowledged – except as bragging rights when someone graduates. We are not doctors, or directors, or actuaries, or business analysts only, of course. But in our family spaces, these sides of ourselves are ignored – even willfully suppressed – so that we don't upset the community hierarchies.
Worse, women who perform most of their labour in the home are erased even further. No one asks them anything beyond family and kids; their opinions on politics or global affairs is assumed to be absent, irrelevant or nonsensical.
In our marriages, it's still expected that women do most of the work inside the home, even if both spouses have full-time jobs. Men either don't know how to do basic kitchen tasks ("What is chopping, and how is it different from dicing and quartering, and how do you even know all this?"), or you feign ignorance, hoping to turn back time to when mom did everything – right down to washing and folding your undies well into adulthood. How often have we heard jokes about wives needing to learn to cook from their mothers-in-law? The way we socialise men has long been noted as problematic.
Yes, #NotAllIndianMen – and you will no doubt have marginalia to present. But the larger trend stands, and you need to address it.
This is especially true for Indian men because in contrast to young Indian girls, Indian boys are raised to believe they can be masters of the world. This creates dysfunctional husbands and fathers. Men still proudly, for some reason, proclaim that you will never change a nappy, or cook for the family, or clean up. Reasons for this vary – "I earn more, so the missus must do it," "It's not even up for debate in the first place," or "No guy wants to 'lower' his standing by taking on women's work."
How do we reconcile this with our faith, when in the history of Islam women have always played key roles in society and the faith? Khadija (RA) was a successful merchant who was the first to accept Islam, and was the first person to stand with the prophet, even when he doubted himself, especially around others who would not believe him.
The prophet Muhammed (PBUH) worked for Khadija (RA) who was 15 years his senior and much wealthier than him. Yet in our modern communities, this is seen as unfathomable; an emasculation. Additionally, Aisha (RA) comes forth in theHadith and was sought after as one of the leading Islamic scholars of her time. Aisha (RA) opened the first ever school of fikh (jurisprudence) in Islam. She had more than 100 students including men, women and children, among them contemporary sahabah of Muhammed (PBUH).
Worst of all, we see how you treat us – which isn't great – but it's better than the way you treat coloured or black domestic workers. Or black staff at a restaurant. Or just a passerby. In a country like SA, where Indian was placed below white and above coloured, you do this because in the grand scheme of things, life didn't shake out so badly for you.
Yes, #NotAllIndianMen – and you will no doubt have marginalia to present. But the larger trend stands, and you need to address it. Indian men randomly and routinely still use racial slurs against coloured and black people – especially in the safe spaces of large family functions.
There is a common misconception that Muslim Indian communities are not affected by gender-based violence, when in reality parties are encouraged to mediate without fully grasping the complexities regarding the issue. From what we have seen, when there is public outrage, it affects the beautiful, fair-skinned Indian woman.
Islamic teachings of feminism, social justice and equality take a back seat, while patriarchy poisons and degrades our values.
You continue to enforce colourism by making it so that dark-skinned women and girls are told in many ways that they're undesirable, and you expect wives and girlfriends to look like someone out of Bollywood – with no mutual expectation that you make an effort to look like Dev Patel. Some of you walk on the beach in shorts and sleeveless tops, while your wife trails along wrangling her purdah and your kids.
Islamic teachings of feminism, social justice and equality take a back seat, while patriarchy poisons and degrades our values. More inclusive aspects of Haadith that promote these teachings are disregarded, because patriarchal men are often the only ones who have access to resources and platforms to speak.
So grown men will have no problem delivering entire lectures policing the dress code of young girls, but are nowhere to be seen when young girls need to figure out or share tactics to deal with that one uncle who doesn't know personal boundaries.
This has got to stop. Islam is as much about social justice as it is submission to Allah. We are not things;
we are not robots at your domestic service.
This may surprise you, but we are people, with feelings, thoughts, ideas, suggestions. At whatever age. Whether we work inside or outside the home.
Ayesha Fakie is the head of the sustained dialogues programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, and Khadija Bawa is an intern in the sustained dialogues programme.
A previous version of this article incorrectly referenced Imam Bukhari - this has been corrected.