I Am Home

The moment I saw the forty-two women at the workshop, I thought, “I am home.” I could be myself, relax, and fight for my liberation. It was safe to work on anything. No one would judge my culture or religion. I felt that I did not have to explain anything because everyone understood. As a Muslim Pakistani woman, I haven’t found it easy to work on the sexism and male domination in my life. I’ve worried that I am reinforcing the prevailing stereotypes of Muslim men.

I loved witnessing Azi,1 my brilliant Iranian Muslim sister, leading these amazing women from all over the world. The fierce duo of Azi and Diane2 reminded me of the centuries-long connection between Muslims and Jews and gave me hope for our future.

Working on sexism in groups defined by religion was groundbreaking for many of us. It was my first time being with so many Muslims at an RC workshop. I was able to work on how furious I am about Muslim men taking over Islam and maligning it by promoting male domination and the oppression of women. I could discharge heavily about the attempted assassination of fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, an activist working for girls’ education in Northern Pakistan. The first words of the Quran ask Muslims to “read” or “seek knowledge.” This is a message for us all, not only men. I believe that the basic ideals of Islam are intended to combat sexism.

I was on a panel about war and its impact on women. The safety of the workshop allowed me to show how terrified I feel all the time, how I worry a lot about my family and loved ones. For the first time I was able to discharge, without first giving a long explanation, about the drone attacks carried out by the United States on Pakistan. I felt that everyone knew what was going on3 in my part of the world, which is not always the case. Since I came back from the workshop, I have been discharging terror.

Azi’s talk on sexism and feudalism enabled me to look at the effects of that economic system on me and especially my mother. In some ways, parts of Pakistan still operate under feudalism. I was able to understand more clearly why certain male figures in my family had behaved in particular ways. My grandfathers on both sides were landlords (one still is). I unearthed an image of everyone stopping what they were doing and standing up quietly and obediently when my mother’s dad entered the room. When I was as young as four or five, I figured out that something was wrong with this and I would not do it. My grandfather did not allow my mother and her sisters to go to school (they were homeschooled.) As a result, my mother wanted my sister and me to have all the opportunities she didn’t have and encouraged us to spend more time with our dad and his side of the family as opposed to her and her side of the family. This drew me apart from my mother. I had huge sessions about how upset I am about all this.

Diane led a topic table on being allies to Palestinians. It was powerful to see a Jewish sister leading liberation work for Palestinians. She asked us to work on our connection with Palestinians and what it would take for us to reach out and make Palestinian friends.

Late Saturday night it dawned on me4 that the workshop would end the next day and I wanted it to go on forever. On the last day we worked on how we could break the isolation in our lives and bring home with us the connections we had created at the workshop. Azi reminded me of the life I had left behind in my country of origin, in which women were close to each other, and not judged for their closeness.

Nazish Riaz

Arlington, Massachusetts, USA

(Present Time 171, April 2013)


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Last modified: 2017-05-31 15:32:38-07