Shaykh Yusuf da Costa: Women, do not silence yourselves

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Once a month, we get the ladies together for them to give a short talk on one or other aspect of Islam. Most of the ladies have responded wonderfully on the matter and to see their growth, especially the handling of religious ideas, is really fantastic. I’ve never thought that our ladies could be that innovative with regard to public speaking. To be quite honest, some of the performances by these ladies easily outstrip similar performances by others.

In a certain sense, this is a worry. Public speaking on Islam has to a large degree been a male prerogative. Occasionally women would be allowed to do this but only to a group of women. It is very seldom that a woman would address a mixed group or a males-only group. When I listen to our women delivering talks on Islam, I ask myself the question: “Have we been depriving our women from performing certain tasks, which they are quite capable of performing? Have we deprived them? Have we deliberately silenced them?” I am not referring here to the primitive displays of Islam in parts of this country where women are not allowed to go to mosque or to say anything for other people’s ears. In these parts of the country there is a heavy silence that is imposed on women, and I see that in Afghanistan they have been classified as second-class citizens. It appears that many people have an interpretation of Islam that teaches that women have no brains or vocal chords or if they do have that these are just unnecessary appendages. Brains and vocal chords belong to men. They are masculine organs. This is what happens in certain parts of the country. In our Tariqah, we have tried very hard to overcome the silence imposed on women and so we allow them to deliver small talks on one or other aspect of religion. I do not think that there is anybody who listens to the ladies doing this and who has not listened in surprise. Allowing ladies to speak on aspects of religion is part of our attempts to restore their God-given humanity.

But there is a major problem with this. Many women do not want to be part of this restoration of their humanity. Many women participate in their own silence. They see themselves as the government of Afghanistan do; second-class citizens who are good to breed and occupy domestic positions in their kitchens or spend half of their days in shops. I find this extremely strange, that women, despite what Allah Almighty has given them, do not wish to see the restoration of their humanity or whatever the case might be.

I have on numerous occasions spoken about the special graces that Allah Almighty has given women and the intellectual and spiritual roles that they have played in Islam. Some women, like Sayyidatuna Nafisah (r.a.) whose grave is in Cairo, was a spiritual giant; to such a degree that when the bier of Imam Shafi’i (r.a.) passed her home, they placed it down so she could supplicate to Allah Almighty for him. Islam is rich with the names of women who have attained special spiritual and intellectual graces from their Lord. And all of them started at point naught. Some of the ladies in our Tariqah do not even want to start at point naught, whatever their reasons might be. Our Lord has not deprived any woman of the special graces that He had granted men. It is sacrilege to think that Allah Almighty is unfair and that He has granted certain things (except Prophethood) to men only. These ideas of the preservation of only certain Heavenly stations for men only was imported into our religion, and today even prominent scholars speak about women in derogatory terms. Every time I think of women and their cosmic function of receiving souls from the Heavenly domain, I cringe because of masculine ignorance. And every time I think of the processes involved in the wombs of mothers, I cringe when I think of what many men think about women. Some even use the words “inferior” or “second-class” when it comes to a creation of our Lord. All our Lord’s creations from the minutest to the gigantic each one is an expression of our Lord’s perfection. Through His perfection and the generosity involved in that perfection, our Lord has only created what is perfect of all different species and all different forms of life. We have no understanding of the Workings of our Lord that is why we use degrading categories for those who our Lord has blessed with special graces. When I think about what women have achieved in the variety of educational and spiritual disciplines throughout the world, then I can only say: “Allahu akbar” in recognition of our Lord’s Greatness for what He has done. Wherever there are genders in living matter, we see the extent to which our Lord has put into operation a creative process that recognizes such genders. Genders are not there to give recognition to differences between people to inferior or superior differences amongst living organisms but they are there for the continuation of different species. Allah (ﷻ) has created males and females in different forms of life to allow the species in each form of life to procreate and to continue its existence.

I cannot understand why we use differences in gender to declare people “second-class” or “inferior”. I’ve asked the question before, and I will ask the question again: “Tell me in what aspects of a woman’s personality, involving the intellectual, spiritual and emotional sides does her inferiority lie? Tell me, is she inferior because of aspects of intellectuality? Is she inferior because of aspects of her spirituality? Is she inferior because of aspects of her personality? Where does her inferiority lie and where does her “second-class” status lie?”

When we think of our Lord we must think of our Lord as being Absolute Perfection or All Perfect or Subhan, and what our Lord has created, in whatever form, is an expression of His Absolute Perfection. The fact that human beings, especially women, have degraded themselves and that this degradation has impacted on the perfection of the creative process, is not our Lord’s doing. It is our doing. I find it extremely sad that scholars who should know better know so little of the process of creation that they issue religious decrees that insult Allah Almighty’s Absolute Perfection, His being Subhan.

Those women who hide themselves when their intellectuality or their spirituality is challenged should ask themselves: “Who are we?” You see, ladies, if I may call you such, we provide for you in this Tariqah a wonderful opportunity to give expression to what our Lord has granted you. When you deny this, then you are denying the perfection of human creation. When you silence yourselves, you are in fact saying: “My brain is just an unnecessary appendage. It is just there to see to matters other than intellectuality”. I feel ashamed because of what you think of yourselves. I feel ashamed by my Lord, because of what He has granted you and what you are prepared to accept. I feel ashamed because you have accepted the degradation imposed upon you. Some of you should also feel ashamed of yourselves.

[Unpublished 2012]


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