In Muslim countries and across the world, Muslim women have always been at the forefront of protest and social change.
After the immensely successful Woman’s March on January 21, several observations regarding the participation of Muslim women made their way into my consciousness. On Twitter, critics of Islam questioned why Muslim women marched in the U.S.A. when our counterparts in many countries remain severely restricted. On Facebook, religious conservatives questioned the wisdom of Muslim women exposing themselves to criticism by marching with those who often don’t share their views.
Why Muslim women marched this week in Washington and other cities throughout the world is not a uniquely different question from why Muslim women march anywhere. Why did they join the protests in Egypt and Tunisia during the Arab spring, despite the serious risk of sexual assault? Why do they march in processions against government policies in Pakistan, Bangladesh and so many other countries?
The answer is, of course, social activism, which Muslim women know well.
In Muslim countries and across the world, Muslim women have always been at the forefront of social change. Sometimes the protests are in the streets, such as the Arab Spring, and at other times behind the wheels of cars they are forbidden to drive, such as in the women’s drive campaign in Saudi Arabia. They are punished, arrested, beaten, divorced for protesting. Yet they go on. Such are women, regardless of religious affiliation.
So it’s no wonder the when the call to march in D.C. began, Muslim women wanted to be at the forefront. Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian American leader, was a co-chair of the Women’s March. Muslim women from all walks of life, in every city of the country, and in every country of the world, participated with a gusto that’s not unprecedented by any means. Sarsour’s speech of why she marched is eloquent and moving:
Muslim women all over the world shared their thoughts on social media. Meera Cader, who participated in a sister march in Brussels, explains:
“Women of all colors, religions, political affiliations and backgrounds came together despite the differences they may have to say that love matters, solidarity matters, raising your voice, speaking up and just showing up matters.”
Soniah Kamal, award-winning novelist and essayist in Atlanta, GA, tells us:
“The time for sitting in front of the TV weeping or screaming is over. Each of our voices is important and every body counts and I went to stand in solidarity perhaps to comfort myself as much as add my voice and body to the movement that dissent matters and freedom of speech and the first amendment is crucial.”
Sarah Haider Alam, Houston-based activist, says:
“I march so my daughters won’t have to fight for the rights the previous generation marched for and won in the U.S.”
Sounds familiar? Their responses are similar to those of all women, of all religious backgrounds and cultures, who marched this week. If there’s one lesson to learn here, it is that Muslim women have more in common with the rest of their gender than we can imagine. We all have the same hopes and dreams for ourselves, the same fears and aspirations for our children and families. We are active in social issues because they affect us all. We are working quietly in our communities, and marching in solidarity with others.
Of course, Muslims have a big stake in this new administration. We have been maligned and hated, threatened with a registry and extreme vetting. We’re the ones who have the most to lose, and therefore it is only right that we march together for our own sakes, as well as for the sakes of our American sisters. Stronger Together.