NASHIZA SPEAKS

Durian and Murmuring

I received this particularly provocative email this morning and remembered our little conversation as we were savoring the sweet and unnerving Durian one melancholic afternoon by the gazebo overlooking Davao gulf. I recalled insisting for us to be frugal in giving the limelight and making spokesperson out of just any Muslim intellectual or self-claiming religious authority, in what I fear could be a careless if uncritical move, in our earnestness to solicit their male endorsement and approval to our advocacy for sexual and reproductive rights and women’s human rights. I must admit my jealousy and protectiveness, wanting to believe that having spent my half-life mothering this cause is not for naught. And, yes, I still maintain such battles must be waged principally by women. I understand that any program always aims for “social acceptance” (don’t all Ford Foundation and USAID projects carry that motto of “social acceptance” and want it carried out, in whatever way, however much it might cost?). We might regret and not want it at all, should our wishes be granted that ulama be sanctified as the official counselor with exclusive right of providing illumination on matters of sexuality and gender rights of Muslim women.

Of course, there are few exceptions like Asian scholars like Dr. AsgharAli, Dr. Chandra Muzzafar, etc. But we must remember that there is a very thin line between the right and the righteous, and sad to say the ulama in this country, although some may be starting with the right intention, often don’t have any qualms about crossing the bounds and turning around to be the righteous. This is dangerous, as we may not be ready with the antidote as yet, because not only is healthy intellectual dialogue and critical thinking unknown, as a matter of spiritual and political intercourse among Muslims, but in this country where democracy and freedom ought to be prided as tradition, only half of the minority Muslim citizens could really be proud to claim having privileged to exercise that right. Has anyone questioned why Moro nationalism and politics, for instance, remain mostly a male discourse? Or why the so-called alimas and ustadzas (sic) (i.e. female Muslim scholars and religious) still need to confer and double-check with their male counterparts before they take as authentic of such and such surah (Quranic verse), otherwise, they generally speak their thoughts in the same patriarchal voices? Much less has any lay group or common thinker come up with clear and credible dissertation of what exactly is the “islamic view” or attempted to develop a discourse on it, or, if at all, were accepted and listened to. It may be a good idea to import the “minds” of so-called progressives. Yet, owing to our traditional brand of Islam as largely revolving around folk consciousness and social rituals — and I am talking here of that Islam of the ordinary Moro masses, of that apolitical Islam known to those faithfully filling up the mosques on Friday congregations and, later in the day, would silently resume their posts in the fish markets, in the dimly-lit barter traders stalls, in the lazy coffeeshops, in the public school classrooms teeming with hungry children and in the droning lethargy of government offices — which are among the few things I could sigh and be grateful for, by Allah’s grace, Muslims in the Philippines could still savor that mystical/esoteric religious tradition. What blessing in disguise has been this unspoken protocol of not disturbing the smoke curtain separating the being-religiously-intellectual from the being-religiously-spiritual or we might lose our sanity winnowing the right and from the righteous. Most folks are indifferent (and often suspicious) of theorizing, hesitant to raise what is perceived to be spiritual to the level of scholarly endeavor. Not borne out of ignorance or for lack of faith or intellectual capacities, these, I believe, stem from the fear of condemnation by the righteous — that dread of omitting to acknowledge that which is unknown, and of committing error of misinterpretation or misrepresentation of what is perceived to be known. So people would rather believe in raw paradoxical feelings, which seldom lie to them and confuse them, as these are strictly personal business between them and God. These feelings become their expressions of faith — these feelings of pain in love, of ecstasy in sacrifice, of reverence of the unseen, of awe over the unknown — because there is where the power of Almighty God is most manifest. Thus, they tend to pay little attention or adopt the “so-what?” attitude when it comes to the works of scholars or of the learned who try to rationalize and be scientific in presenting God’s truth. Maybe we also owe this non-articulated non-intellectualized Islam to that long history of colonialism and of exclusion that resulted to this self-censorship. Perhaps it was that defense mechanism that we have mustered and mastered so well to safeguard our source of strength and identity from foreign contamination and annihilation; to insulate us from the repeated historical experience of betrayal and the camouflaged Islamophobia so pervasive in the educational system where we were told that theirs is better than what our forebears reared us. And now, we have to brace ourselves and unmask the same betrayal in so-called peace agreements and post-conflict reconstruction and confidence-building in Moroland.

Rendering even dimmer such possibilities for the masses’ opening up to religious-intellectualism is the ulama’s hoarding the production and distribution of that truth. So unless there is developed from our Mindanao soil Muslim theologians and progressive scholars who know how to integrate all these historical and social experiences and blend it with the Islam as we understood it, only such ulama would thrive and be acceptable and really listened to by the community. And only such ulama should and must the women put their trust on to counsel us on sexuality and gender justice. For such ulama shall neither carelessly dismiss nor blindly endorse this emotive, non-articulated and non-intellectualized faith, as it is both a vitamin that maintains the vibrancy of old values and perpetuate simple yet pure piety that the women and the rest of marginalized masses understood; but it is also an opiate that, should it fall on unscrupulous hands of reactionary and conservative forces to exploit, our community could eternally be addicted to it.

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About Mucha Q. Arquiza
Supports the preservation and promotion of indigenous knowledge systems

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