Words Matter

Words Matter

It was 6:45 a.m. and I took my first sip of the freshly brewed cup of coffee. The minute it splashed my taste buds, my brain switched on. I dipped a square of dark chocolate into the coffee, then delightfully bit off a semi-melted portion. A quiet “ahh” escaped my mouth. My mom, sitting next to me, read aloud. This is our morning ritual, by the way–a Bosnian one to start the day. We drink coffee slowly and chat about life, books, plans for the upcoming day.

But then? My pure joy melted away.

She proceeded to read a new paragraph . . . from one of many religiously-themed books written in the Bosnian language. (The title is irrelevant; chances are unlikely you will have read it.) The brief excerpt had been offering a handy-dandy list of the big sins to avoid, including disrespecting parents and coming into any contact with alcohol (using, touching, gifting it, etc.). Nothing I have not heard previously. But this new paragraph? It took me off-guard: How it is sinful for a wife to reject her husband’s invitation for intimacy? What? That sounded incomplete. The author somehow managed to leave out that this would be equally true the other way around as well. Islamically, both wife and husband ought to please one another in order to avoid one of them looking to satisfy his or her sexual appetite in impermissible ways.

This author’s audience is generally older and traditionally-minded. However, if a young woman happened to read this, she might draw the conclusion that she must be submissive to her husband. And a young man might conclude that his “needs” have to be met, but that he does not need to meet his wife’s needs.

My main issue?

Oft the conversation is one-sided regarding most of the traditional, conservative, and/or religious conversations. Usually a man preaches about the rules. The women’s behavior and dress code are put into the spotlight, while the men get the free pass. Even though the rules exist for men, too. At least, Islamically speaking they do. If we are going to address religious rules then . . . a woman should dress modestly, but a man should also treat EVERY woman respectfully and lower his gaze. A man needs to find an example in the prophet Yusuf pbuh (peace be upon him) and have enough discipline to do what is right, even if a woman were to throw herself at him. Yes, a woman should guard her chastity, but so should a man.

We have to hold men equally accountable as we do women. We have to put the same amount of attention on the rules for men as we put attention on the rules for women.

In another portion of this same book, the author writes that the only woman’s role is to birth and raise children. Giving birth is unique to a woman, yes, but a woman can have other roles as well if she chooses to pursue her academic and career goals. What about women who are naturally sterile? Does that leave them without a role, without a purpose? If he left out the word “only,” I wouldn’t mind what the rest of the sentence said. . . .

Words matter. How we phrase our thoughts and interpretations of religious texts greatly matters. The audience matters as well. His book reminded me yet again how incredibly powerful and dangerous words can be.

It also reminded me how the public incorrectly makes assumptions about me as a Muslim woman.

Ninah Nova



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