Manal Omar’s Journey of Crossing Red Lines
For most of my life, I avoided difficult questions that seemed to pit my gender against my religion. I could not truly wrap my head around everything from the permissibility of marrying four wives to the concept of “what the right hand possesses.” I knew in my heart of hearts that my love for Islam was stronger than any question that I had.
And so I chose not to ask, and to follow devotedly. After all – I would tell others haughtily – that is the very definition of faith (Deen). But as I struggled with my deen, I realized that I hit a religious plateau. I could not enhance my spirituality without going back to the questions that plagued me.
It was time to ask the difficult questions. It was time to have faith – in my faith.
Repeatedly, it became clear to me: for me to truly be the Muslim woman I so desperately strived to be, I need to look at the shadows within our societies. And for me – the shadows centered around Islam’s view of a woman’s sexuality.
And so in the midst of working in conflict zones around the world with a focus on conflict resolution and peace-building, I began to devour every book out there around both Islamic jurisprudence, as well as women’s sexuality overall.
And I was not disappointed. If anything, I was rewarded with the knowledge I knew instinctively from birth: any message from the Divine is going to be enlightened and transformative.
And such Islam has proven to be.
'Islam has and always will be an enlightened and revolutionary religion for women. Almost every Muslim knows the basic rights afforded to women – many of which were light years ahead of other religious traditions. Women have always had the right to vote in Islam, to own property, to divorce and to be financially independent, to name a few. Not to mention, Islam was built on trailblazing women.'
Indeed, 20 years in humanitarian work and peace-building across the globe leads me to believe that better times cannot be upon us until we talk about women’s sexuality. We cannot hope to see the changes we want in the world without the power and strength of women, particularly women who are connected to their sexuality and life for energy.
And for women like me, it must be done within an Islamic framework, or there simply is no traction in how it applies to my daily life.
Let me be clear. This isn’t about reformation. This is about an Islamic revival.
Islam has and always will be an enlightened and revolutionary religion for women. Almost every Muslim knows the basic rights afforded to women – many of which were light years ahead of other religious traditions. Women have always had the right to vote in Islam, to own property, to divorce and to be financially independent, to name a few. Not to mention, Islam was built on trailblazing women.
And the question of sexuality is no different. In fact, Islam not only was known for its erotic literature, but also for specific Islamic jurisprudence around sexuality and pleasure. The reality is that somewhere down the line we have been sold the story that sacrifice and suffering build character. That this is the only way to the Divine.
Yet the teachings of Islam show the opposite, especially when it comes to sensuality and pleasure. Islam is one of the few religions that does not emphasize procreation as the primary motivation for marriage. Sexual fulfillment is the primary motivation for marriage, our early scholars explained.
I pray that women do not have to struggle and discover their rights on their own. The hope is that through an open dialogue on one of the most essential human subjects, we can create a safe space where women can turn to other women for guidance. The time has come to bring back the traditional rituals where women would support and uplift other women. This by no means replaces the need for a strong communication between partners as they work to build a life together. Yet the first step is to know yourself.
At the end of the day, the overarching theory of change for Across Red Lines is that inclusive societies can only be formed with the full participation of women. For women to access their full leadership potential, they must master all parts of themselves.
So I hope you will join me, as I continue to explore this topic, and I invite you to come Across Red Lines with me.
Check out Manal's TEDx talk to learn more about her extensive humanitarian experience, her theory of change, and the power of the feminine and the divine.