N. Jerin Arifa: Islamophobia Encourages Violence Against Women

There is significant and well-justified concern within the feminist community and beyond about Muslim women's rights. Just look at what is happening in countries like Afghanistan.
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Violence doesn't happen in a vacuum. To address and to end violence against women globally, we must consider the factors and circumstances that contribute to it, from the local to the planetary. That's why V-Day has collected a series of articles for One Billion Rising from some of the great thinkers, activists, voices around the world.

We asked them: How do poverty, economic policy, politics, race, class, the environment and other forces influence violence against women?

This week we hear from N. Jerin Arifa, chair of the national and New York State Young Feminist Task Forces for NOW.

by N. Jerin Arifa

There is significant and well-justified concern within the feminist community and beyond about Muslim women's rights. Just look at what is happening in countries like Afghanistan. As an anti-violence activist who has worked professionally and as a volunteer with victims of violence since childhood, what troubles me is the form this concern can take. Our own U.S. government used this concern as a justification to invade Afghanistan, using arguments chillingly similar to the colonial powers' "white man's burden." As I learned during an event with Eve Ensler, bombs in Afghanistan have done nothing to elevate the status of Afghani women. They only added one more obstacle these women must face, in addition to surviving the warlords and the Taliban, groups with whom our government is willing to negotiate.

I was hesitant to write this piece. When I tried to make the same argument on feminist listservs, I was accused of being un-American and unable to think for myself, and told not to bring my "Islam crap" to the forum. This was after I explained not wanting to live anywhere else, because I love America as the greatest country in the world. I was taken aback at the accusations from women who have known me for years and are aware of my feminist activism, including proposing and helping create a sexual-assault policy for half-a-million American students. I am used to being called racist and sexist slurs by non-identified feminists, especially after someone almost ran me over in front of my NYC home following 9/11. I expected better from within the movement.

These "feminists," who have spent decades working in the anti-domestic-violence field, are using the same tactics as abusers to shut me up when I point out oppression. They minimize and deflect their racism, accusing me of bringing up Islamophobia too often, although I work on everything from sexist Halloween costumes to the labor movement. Coupled with the racism, they tell me I am misguided because of my young age and just need time to be enlightened to leave my faith, since being "a religious feminist is an oxymoron."

If these "feminists" truly want to help Muslim women, the first thing they must do is stop telling us how to live our lives. They must not acquiesce with the media's portrayal of Muslim women as oppressed, which takes away agency from us. It alienates potential feminists willing to join the American-feminist movement, which has long been criticized for being ethnocentric. These women believe, their understanding of feminism is the only correct one, and women in the rest of the world must follow their examples to gain equality. With rapists and abusers victimizing one in three American women, and America ranked at 69th in the world in terms of gender parity in national legislatures, this racist view doesn't stand up to reality.

The Qur'an makes multiple statements denouncing violence against women. However, just like extremists in other cultures that hijack religions to enforce patriarchy - such as the Catholic Church hierarchy forcing raped nuns to get abortions when the rapist is a priest - extremists have hijacked Islam to serve misogynistic purposes. As this post from The Guardian explains, when violence against Muslim women is discussed,

"Instead of focusing on the victim or the steps that need to be taken to prevent such a crime from happening again, the crime becomes upheld as a reflection of the otherness of a disdainful culture...affiliating a manifestation of abuse with one culture or community above any other doesn't solve any problems. It divides, spreading hate and fear,"

making possible hate crimes like the fatal beating of a Muslim-American mother, whose killer left the note "go back to your country."

In addition to harming non-American women, the false notion that other cultures treat women worse interferes with the attempts of U.S. women to fight sexism at home, because it makes us believe as if our fight were somehow less worthy.

As a young feminist, I have heard too many of my American peers tell me that feminism is irrelevant because we have already achieved equality. If you need further convincing why racism against Muslims or any other group might be un-feminist, here is a thoughtful explanation by Men Can Stop Rape on how racism is like rape. Let us understand these similarities to unite us with our sisters worldwide in the fight against patriarchy.


It was brought to my attention that the husband of Salma Alwadi is being charged for her murder. I have my reservations, since this would not be the first time someone was falsely accused - especially a man of color. However, to counter arguments against those who would question the rise in hate crimes against Muslims, there are many other documented cases by the FBI where there is no doubt about the perpetrators. One documented case is the burning of a young woman in England.

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