Published in The Herald - Monday 18th April 2016
Copyright - All Rights Reserved
I have arrived back to the city I grew up in, Glasgow, to attend and
present at a conference being held at the University of Glasgow with
support from the Royal Society of Edinburgh on ‘The Unthought in Islam:
Gender Perspectives’. The presentation topics are quite varied.
The opening address today comes from Juliane Hammer from the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill USA on Muslim women and
prayer and how American Muslims negotiate gender, practice and space.
Subsequent papers will look at women’s Mosques and women Imams amongst
the Hui Muslim communities in contemporary China, Eve as a paradigmatic
feminine figure in Muslim tradition, Muslim women in Scotland and Shi’a
women and self-flagellation.
My own paper will explore Scottish Islamic masculinities which builds
on my first book on ‘The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities’. Rigid notions
of masculinity continue to cause a crisis in the global Islamic
With current debates on British Muslims at an all time high this conference is both timely and critical.
The recent poll results from ‘what British Muslims really think’, the
issues that Glasgow Muslims have faced at the Central Mosque and the
killing of the Ahmadiyya, Asad Shah, in Shawlands push Muslims to have
open and frank discussions on thorny issues, especially gender and
Many of the issues facing Scottish Muslims are connected to gender or
more precisely masculinity. Religion does not flourish in a vacuum. It
is only a ‘thing’ because of the people that embody it and so we must
begin to appreciate how understandings of religion are connected to
gender. Muslim communities continue to be deeply male-dominated and this
in turn shapes, and in fact shaped, the way the entire faith is seen
and understood and the way in which the institutions are structured.
These gendered struggles are not specific only to the Scottish Muslim
context but my six years in the USA gave me a first hand experience of
this in the American Muslim experience too. However, I did arrive at the
conclusion that there is more visibility of diverse approaches to Islam
and Muslim life in the USA than in Scotland.
The question is how does one resolve these issue? In my view, the
problem may be in attempting to ‘correct’ the situation. The liberal
Muslim may like to believe that they can convert the conservative Muslim
but realistically that is not always possible. ‘My Islamic is more
Islamic than yours’, I hear myself think when seeing these tussles take
place amongst Muslims. There needs to be a new approach to strengthen
Firstly, there needs to be a realistic understanding on how deeply
patriarchy is infused within not just Muslim communities but also wider
society. And second and most importantly, ‘Islam needs a reformation’
talk needs to stop. The problem with this statement is that it loses
sight of the different denominations that exist within Muslim
communities. We must also appreciate that one person’s reform is
The Islamic traditions from the very outset allowed differences to
exist and has always been supportive of counter examples to keep the
religious traditions alive in submission to God.
The biggest challenge for Muslims is how to feel comfortable and
confident in their own religious understanding and allow for a radically
different approach to also be tolerated, equally. So what is needed is
the appreciation and acceptance of pluralism. That there is more than
one ‘Islamic’ is both an act of social cohesion but, in my view, the
very essence of a God fearing submission that appreciates ones own
humility and doubt.
When we listen and bring forth the visibility of marginalised voices
we begin to see that individual Muslims form and reform their religion
every day. What we see today is the visibility of different voices
within Muslim communities that have often been invisible.
The heterosexual, male dominated hierarchy is being challenged by
voices from the margins from women and those from the LGBT communities.
These voices make up the beautiful colours of the tartan of Islam that
Muslims need to appreciate even if they disagree with them.
Dr. Amanullah De Sondy
Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam
University College Cork, Ireland