Islam Doesn’t Treat Women Like Slaves. It’s Worse.






Learn more about Islam's Origin Story

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Excerpt from Chapter 2: Genesis of an Idea 

Supremacism and divisions are forms of separation seeking distinction from and superiority over competing ideas. Supremacism in part arises from the fragmented timelines of constructed human history, the borders parceling time and movements into distinct eras and people under the fantasy that they have not been influenced by nor influence another. The truth is, all is connected and nothing about that is secret or particularly enlightening.

It’s not just how our identities are connected, how one bleeds into another, but how those identities inform who we are. Do they move us toward a deeper understanding of the human experience, or do they parcel us away from our authentic experience of life on earth, selling us into an ideological cage. Every experience brings you closer to interconnectivity, if you’re removing the veil of partition. Let’s remove that veil. 

In my twenties, I was one of many women who began finding her voice to rage against the arrogance and ego that thinks Islam is the only path. Turning that voice into a blade took a lot of practice, going over the tongue again and again to sharpen it as something that can both cut and heal. Yet your voice can only take you so far. Voice is powerful, voice is a weapon — but experience is a conductor. 

As much as we speak out against the horrors of Islamist supremacism, within the cracks of our everyday life there is a thing far more sinister. Being able to see the cracks and then look closer to what lies in those cracks, the veins of oppression that run across the landscape of identity and culture, that have penetrated into your heart and mind in ways you don’t even see — that is another odyssey. 

In 2017, I was working on a campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM). While I’m not a victim of FGM, I empathized with the women and girls brought up in communities where the brutal practice was carried out often as a means of control over a woman’s sexuality. But long before an emerging woman’s sexuality is controlled, her voice is controlled. Listening to the stories of survivors brought something very old to surface in myself — something I didn’t know was there or maybe long forgot ever existed. 

Author Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes would call that which rose in me the Wild Woman — a savage, a witch, an outlier. For Dr. Estes, the Wild Woman archetype is a force that lives within every woman, a woman with ageless knowing, instinctual with passionate creativity.

During the 2017 anti-FGM campaign, She came out. In an issue that had nothing to do with me or my life but connected me with women because of the shared cracks in our skin, where deep in our bones we hear the rattle of something older resisting, She came forward. 

And she, in the healing ways of wise women knew what to do, brewed voice and words, mixing story and experience into resistance. She brought restoration of a sacred feminine knowledge, one who sees that FGM is about more than a cut. Most girls are cut before they ever part their legs, the tongue behind their lips snipped long before an older voice rooted between their legs is torn out. Whether we’re victims of FGM or not, most women in regressive cultures are victims of belief systems that have forgotten the sanctity of what it means to be a woman. 

Resistance is reunion. Resistance is restoration the divine feminine, removing the brackets that separate the women of one era from her ancestors. Resistance is reuniting the self with broken archetypes of powerful women destroyed because there was no space for them in the realm of people who have forgotten what it means to be human, to be whole. 

We have been made broken, separated from the knowledge of self, lost to the meaning of what it means to be mother, wife, lover, and sister — most importantly, sister. We are birthed into this realm where what is not understood is demonized; where what is challenging, is broken. Every woman in Islam is heir to destruction of female power. 

We see this history repeated over and over again. Long before the Bamiyan Buddhas fell to the Taliban and a millennia before ISIS “destroyed thousand years of culture almost overnight” in Iraq, Muhammad killed the goddesses of pagan Arabia: al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat. 

Islam’s first verses that honored the goddess were quickly branded as “satanic verses” as prophet Muhammad in more or less words said "the devil made me do it.” And with that he broke the only powerful female archetypes in early Islam, pushing the new faith far from its spiritual predecessors. Islam was no longer tethered to the sacred feminine, nor was it tethered to the Jewish and Christian tradition of womanhood. The ‘satanic verses’ instead anchored an entire new civilization in the broken idea that female power and authority are abominations — a belief that is largely still held today.

The roots of Islamic supremacism want you to believe Islam is a feminist religion. Their propagandists will point to Khadija, the prophet’s first wife. They’ll point to Aisha, the prophet’s youngest wife and devout companion. They’ll point to Fatimah, the prophet’s youngest daughter. None of these women stand in equity with the men in their lives. Each is little more than a side kick, a supporting actor, a camera woman whose existence shines a brighter spotlight on the real star of the show. Their standing in society as equals was destroyed with the goddesses. There was no space for such women in a society hand crafted for men seeking domination. Those who briefly stood self-possessed, like Khadija, had their story pivot and their mark fade to make room for the dominant narrative: the prophet. 

Modern day Islamists propagandists will say that through Islam, Muhammad gave women the right to marriage contracts, property, inheritance, and so forth. Yes, he did. It was a wonderfully progressive first step for that society, but without something more spiritual, these are transactional exchanges that reduce the rights of women to a business dealing, and even then in the eyes of the law they're are not fully equal. It does not allow for seeing a woman. The freedoms recognized within the sphere of civil society turned women’s rights and place in society as a commodity to be bargained and maintained. Without a full framework of understanding the feminine, it is not possible to develop a society that embraces the gifts women carry -- often because that society has disembodied women from those gifts. We have been disconnected from the lineage of matriarchs in our ancestry, from the history of women who saw, bore, created, fought, loved, lived. 

As daughters of the monotheistic tradition, we didn’t inherit the Jewish belief that wives complete the faith of their husbands. We didn’t grow up being taught that men sit on the throne, but women are the power behind the throne. Our bodies are still seen through the periscope of reproduction, service, and control. The Islam of men tells us that men can alternate between wives, that heaven is ripe with virgins. It doesn’t speak to female sexuality in the way Judaism does. 

Both faiths see sex as contained, for example, but only Judaism sees the marriage bed as an altar that involves the whole being. 

“Judaism does not believe sex to be a mere physical act, solely for procreation, but an encounter that involves the whole being. The word used in the Torah for sex between husband and wife comes from the root ‘yod-dalet-ayin” meaning ‘knowledge.’ This indicates sex is more than physical encounter, but involves a thinking act that requires responsibility and commitment.” 

Judaism also believes sexual fulfillment is a woman’s right, along with food and shelter. Islam has no equal guarantee for women because it doesn’t see women in any framework beyond the clinical approach of a business dealing. Islamist supremacists, for example, tote Islam’s polygamy laws as a solution to cope with infidelity. The supremacists who support this view as a win for civilization don't see the scarcity mindset these sorts of 'arguments' rise from.

The arguments are not much better when they come from women in Islam. Annexed from the memory of what it means to be a woman, women often tote the rights and protections a woman has in an Islamic marriage. 

“A woman has a right to her own earnings. She has a right to be provided for…” — these are all phrases I grew up hearing. But a woman has a right to know what it means to be a woman. She has a right to understand what that means outside of the context of basic survival needs that depends on relational stability while forfeiting her relationship with herself. 

But it's not just alienation from Judaism, a faith that I have some connection to from my Afghan heritage, from a last name that translates to "holy fire" in Hebrew. Islam also alienates itself from Christianity. 

Said to be heir to Christianity, Islam pushes away from the Christian message of forgiveness and divine love for all, the latter being a strong theme in Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah that I cannot find anywhere in Islam. 

In the spirt of absolute love, would a Christ figure have allowed slavery in Islam, or would he have destroyed the marketplace of slaves as savagely as he did the marketplace in his own time? Would economic need and slow transitions toward freedom have justified human indignity and abomination? Would Christ have said faith allowed men to possess slave women to do with as they want? Slavery justified in faith as an economic necessity is only possible in a system that divorces womanhood from the spirituality womanhood carries — a right inherent to every woman and not just Muslim women. Yet, if Islam failed Muslim women what hope was there for any other woman. 

Nowhere is distortion of the feminine more prevalent in what Islam became than in Islamic marriages. At the end of the day, even a slave knows she’s a slave. But a woman married in Islam has been sold a lie. 

For starters, fighting for women’s rights as an ideal is different than understanding the subtle ways in which we’re stripped of our dignity as women through culture and regressive religious practices. 

It wasn’t until I went through with an Islamic nikkah (an Islamic marriage) that I realized something was terribly wrong. It wasn’t a marriage; it was a contract. It wasn’t a wedding; it was a transaction, an arrangement, a barter. I felt nothing when I ‘got married’ in Islam and I thought I was the problem. 

The problem was this: I entered into one of the most important stages of my life not knowing who or what I was. I grew up in a culture that dispossessed the beauty and importance of rituals that carry two people across the threshold into a new shared reality. The heart has no contract. It knows no limit, it has no conditions. It knows no bounds. It understands only boundless love — a language that a contract cannot speak to.

And despite all my smarts, I wasn’t smart enough to see that — at least not until experience became a conductor. This is not just my story. It’s our story. It’s the story of every woman who feels the rattle of something older and deeper within her waking. 

The architecture of who we are as women is coded in our genes, into our collective memory, into our heritage. My ancestors explored the world, they built the world, they were noble and savage in their pursuit of freedom, they were medicine women, warriors, and kings. All that courses through my veins. I had forgotten that we carry within us a history far older than a punctuation in a timeline, a dot marking the beginning of Islam across the remarkably grand breath of human history and human potential. 

Long before Islam arrived on the horizon of human civilization, my ancestors were Hindus, Greeks, Mongols. My heart carries the same wild drum beat of Tengrism, an ancient religion of my people that honored ancestors and blended monotheism with shamanism. Coded in my genes lies an invocation of the goddess Kali, the destroyer and liberator. And the adoration I have for the man I love I could not share in Islam, in the transaction of marriage. Here Hinduism is home, and the absolute devotion women have for their husband with the reverence of a deity would be rejected in Islam. To love a man so profoundly that you bow in reverence for the place he has in your life, a submission so pure that you lose yourself in that love is something strict monotheism can’t give shelter to. 

Instead, the Islam of men says, “Welcome, but leave who you are at the door.” 

We will no longer abandon who we are for that belonging. We already belong to the stunning tapestry of human history beyond the border of time and space. Awakened to that, we cannot go back to something so small that it has to destroy a competing idea to survive. 

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