CW: domestic violence, female genital mutilation. Why does calling out the abuse of women and girls result in questioning of my faith? Is the abuse and coercion of women and girls this normalized that fighting against gendered violence is considered anti-Islam? Being anti-Islam is a personal choice, but systems are more powerful than deeply held sentiments. Systemic oppression is perpetuated by those who have power. Islamophobia is denying someone employment opportunities because of their hijab. Islamophobia is erecting private prisons to house refugees exiled by U.S military conquest. It’s enduring family separation, deportations, and imprisonment in an attempt to escape your deathbed.
I met a woman named Mariam* who was detained inside of a private immigration detention center in 2015. She survived being smuggled through Latin America from Somalia to escape domestic violence. Mariam was forced to remove her hijab upon entry into the private prison. She broke down in tears after describing the horror of her violation. She cleaned bathrooms, cooked meals and sewed clothing for $1 a day. According to U.S immigration law, domestic violence is not one of the protected classes for asylum into the U.S. She was granted asylum after undergoing a medical examination that determined she was indeed a survivor of female genital mutilation.
Asylum is one of the most difficult ways to gain legal permanent residency in the U.S because you’ll have to prove “credible fear” while belonging to one of the protected classes (race, political opinion, nationality, and religion). The U.S immigration system does not recognize domestic violence as a credible fear. Mariam knew she wouldn’t have won her case if she admitted to the judge that she feared being killed by her husband. Mariam also knew she wouldn’t have been granted asylum because she survived the aggressive Colombian smugglers, border-crossings into war-torn Honduras, maximum security prisons in Mexico, and sexual assault before arriving in the U.S.
Islamophobia is forcibly removing the hijabs of detained female inmates. Islamophobia is profiting off of Mariam’s suffering while exploiting her labor. Private prisons were making at least $160 per day from Mariam while she waited months for her trial to begin. Islamophobia is coercing Mariam to undergo an invasive examination to prove her credible fear. Asylum-seekers from five of the seven banned countries (Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iran, and Somalia) experience even greater difficulty when fighting for asylum because of racist immigration laws. Islamophobia is dismissing the imminent threat of patriarchal violence in Mariam’s life by nearly refusing to grant her permanent stay.
Normalizing the abuse and coercion of women and girls should be anti-Islam, but it’s not. This is just one example of how patriarchial Islam can be insidious towards women. By insinuating that I am anti-Islam, you are implying that the plethora of violations we experience as Muslim women are justifiable. The validity of my faith is questioned more often than that of male abusers and predators in our communities. I am writing to speak truth to power against the systemic violence I experience while navigating blackness, womanhood, Islam, and immigration. I embody stories and legacies that have yet to be shared. I am writing to liberate myself from patriarchal Islam and white supremacy because neither system wants to see me free.
*Mariam is an alias name to protect her real identity.