“I’m a feminist, and I converted to Islam” by Theresa Corbin was published in CNN OPINION on October 14, 2014. In the hours that followed, some three hundred people hailing from inside America itself and abroad joined in the discussion and comment boards.
Suffice to say, Theresa Corbin’s journey into Islam and her identity as a Muslim feminist has managed to provoke really strong reactions. Yet again, the events hint a brutal reality that Muslim women continue to face increasing hate attacks for well — just being follower of Islam.
In these weeks, the article has been republished and discussed on many social media forums and caught the attention of media in Europe, Jewish media in Israel, Middle Eastern and academics at prestigious varsities. In this follow-up, we will try to address both the after-math and reactionary experience felt by her.
The lady behind this storm is here with us today at The Human Lens for a better understanding of what really happened after the publishing of “I’m a feminist, and I converted to Islam.”
Thanks for joining us Theresa; we can see that you have been really busy.
Saadia Haq: “Islam is not the religion that one would equate with women rights” as deemed by many academics who have discussed your CNN article. What do you have to say on that?
Theresa Corbin: I would have to assume that the academics in question are Westerners who have an Orientalist understanding of Islam that is mixed with an understanding of some Majority Muslim countries’ treatment of women.
I would ask these academics to do the due diligence in understanding Islam as they would any other academic topic. And take a closer look at women’s rights as they are presented in ISLAM and not as it is presented in the media, in Orientalism and not or as it is presented in some Middle Eastern and Asian cultures.
When I say that I appreciated what I saw in Islam as far as women’s rights go, I was talking about the religion and not what some Muslims superimpose from their culture on the religion.
When these academics do not equate women’s rights with Islam, they must ask themselves is if their reading of Islam is superficial in nature. Is their understanding of Islam within historical and textual context? Or do they take verses and traditions out of context to prove their own confirmation bias?
When they talk about the women’s testimony being only half of that of a man’s as proof that women are thought to be lesser than a man, do they understand that is only in cases of witnessing legal documents and any litigation that come out of the document. And then only so that the woman can have a second chance if she does in fact purger herself- something not afforded to men.
When they talk about inheritance of a women being less than that of a man as proof that Islam is somehow oppressive, have they also understood that a woman has no financial obligation toward her family as a man does and therefore can be free to do with her inheritance as she wishes where a man must spend on his family?
When they talk about Muslim men being allowed four wives as “definitive proof that Islam hates women“, have they also understood that the there is no other religious book that instructs men to have only one wife. “Marry woman of your choice two, three or four, but if you fear that you will not be able to deal justly, (with them), then only one. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice].” [Al-Qur’an 4:3] And that Islam did not invent polygamy, but restricted (men used to marry hundreds of women at a time) and regulated it so that women in these polygamous relationships would be treated equitably. And that in some instances polygamy can and has been beneficial to women.
I recommend that they read Asma Barlas’ “Believing Women in Islam”.
Saadia Haq: Well, said and a lot of points to ponder. America, a country where it affords its citizens to have freedom and equality, some critiques have pointed that as an American citizen, you could do it because of your privileged position. Do keep in mind that many within Islamic countries have really no choice or say for choosing a different religion, then what they were born into, this within itself is appalling. What is your take on this?
Theresa Corbin:I think this is, as you say, appalling. Without a doubt, 100% appalling. And it saddens me to know that my fellow human beings, my brothers and sisters in some parts of the world and specifically in Muslim majority countries are having their basic God-given human rights taken away.
I have done some in-depth research on the topic of apostasy in Islam and have found significant evidence that it is not at all what majority Muslim countries who apply the death penalty for apostasy will have you think. There is little evidence to believe that this particular application of “Islamic law” was ever really Islamic. Check link at http://wp.me/p37ZvK-8q
Furthermore, many majority Muslim countries who wish to claim that they apply Islamic laws only do so on those whom they wish (the poor and weak) without even first building the proper foundations of society. These countries cling to harsh interpretations and mercilessly apply these interpretation of Islamic law on countries of people who are still trying to find the most basic of life’s necessities. All while those in power excuse the rich and useful to them of the most heinous of crimes. To me this is a sign of insecurity in faith or insecurity in the right to rule. Either way it is a farce.
I would have to agree completely with the latest research coming out of George Washington University that says, “[…] the Qur’an’s teachings are, in fact, better represented in Western societies than in predominantly Islamic countries. The reason, is that countries with significantly Muslim populations have overtly failed in embracing the values of their own faith in the spheres of politics, business, law and society […]” http://politicalblindspot.com/report-western-countries-are-more-islamic-than-middle-eastern-ones/
As the researcher, Hossein Askari- an Iranian-born professor of International Business and International Affairs- himself says, “Muslim countries used religion as an instrument of state control. We must emphasize that many countries that profess Islam and are called Islamic are unjust, corrupt, and underdeveloped and are in fact not ‘Islamic’ by any stretch of the imagination.”
Haq: Some haters said Islam has nothing to do with feminism and that feminism is a contradiction to Muslim women’s feministic ideals, what advice you have for them.
Theresa Corbin: First, I like how you called them haters. But really I think the term should be those in need of illumination. My advice to them would be to check themselves. If you call yourself a feminist and say that someone else cannot, by way of their religion, be a feminism, you have failed to grasp the concept of feminism. And I would direct them to read our recent collaborations on diversity in Feminism at see part I and wp.me/37ZvK
Haq: Many of your sisters living in Islamic States are not so liberated and suffering from the traditional Sharia understanding of Islam that continues to affect their lives adversely. What sort of reaction if at all, have you got from those groups?
Theresa Corbin: I have only heard solidarity and support from these women after my CNN article. While writing my “Take Back Islam” series, I have had some different reactions from my sisters living in majority Muslim countries. They voiced concern that writing on topics like honor killing, rape punished as adultery, FGM (this article is coming soon) and denial of sexual rights under the guise of Islam, falsely portrays their lives as if these statistical outliers is the norm. Which it is not.
One bright, young Middle Eastern woman called my attention to the fact that many Middle Eastern women living in many of these countries are highly educated and do not suffer from oppression. There is so much diversity in these countries that is unfair to say that what happens in some parts of Afghanistan as to denying rights to education and what happens in Saudi as to denying the right of mobility and so on is representative of the lives of all women in the Middle East or in Muslim majority countries. Because it is not representative of the whole.
But the reality remains that if some women are being oppressed and Islam is being used as the tool, we MUST talk about it. We must stop it. And we must take away the legitimacy in doing so because there is nothing about oppression that is Islamic. And for this, the Middle Eastern women completely agreed.
Haq: What has been the reaction of Muslim audiences? Was it all negative or you have been made welcome and supported? Tell us more.
Theresa Corbin:Many Muslims have contacted me to thank me, congratulate me, or just to say they liked what I said. By and large I have received a huge amount of support from the Muslim community. There have been a couple of Muslims who were curious as to how feminism could be claimed by a Muslim, but upon speaking further with them they came to understand that women’s rights are paramount to establishing successful societies and that we must work toward ridding barbaric cultural practices and misogynistic readings of religious texts in order to prosper as a community. Alhamdulillah.
Thank you so much Theresa Corbin for agreeing to be with us today, on behalf of The Human Lens and its readers, our very best wishes for your future journey, amen to that.