I am a Pakistani Muslim who advocates anti-racist, anti-colonial feminism. I often write anti-racist feminist critiques of media representations concerning Muslims, Arabs, Iranians, South Asians, and other communities of color, but also like to write poetry, short stories, and spiritual prose. I studied social psychology in undergrad and am also an independent filmmaker. I’ve always been inspired to implement spirituality into my efforts for social justice and believe in a politics of mutual accountability and interrelatedness.
In 2010, a chapter I wrote on the vilification of Muslims in mainstream American comic books was published in a textbook entitled “Teaching Against Islamophobia.” As described by the publishers, the book “contends that teachers must have the tools with which to combat unilateral politicization of Arabic and Muslim peoples. ‘Teaching Against Islamophobia’ creates a pedagogical space for educators to engage with necessary issues and knowledges regarding the alienation of Islamic culture, religion, knowledge, and peoples.”
In 2013, a short essay of mine was published in the zine “Totally Radical Muslims Volume 2: Karbala Fired Resistance Stories.” This volume is “inspired by the yearly traditions of muharram and the stories of Karbala which exemplify social justice; resistance to oppression; courage to change and strong solidarity.” The zine demonstrates the “strengths of our backs and the power of a determined heart.” It is available for purchase on their website. I also wrote another chapter on the objectification of women in mainstream American comic books that will appear in a forthcoming publication.
The oppressive interlocking systems of white supremacy, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, imperialism, colonialism and other manifestations of violence affect all of us in different ways (sometimes privileging us over others in more ways than one), but our struggles are interconnected. I believe all of us have the divine spark within that can give us the courage to decolonize and imagine a better world that ensures the liberation for all peoples, irrespective of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, ability, etc. I believe in a unity that isn’t conformist, but rather appreciative and respectful of all human beings. Islam has always recognized human diversity as fact and a blessing. As the the Qur’an says:
“And among Allah’s signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your languages and colors. There truly are signs in this for those who know. [...] O humankind, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.” – Holy Qur’an 30:22; 49:13
I believe in connecting our spiritual teachings to the Love we express for our communities and others in social justice struggles. The 17th century Punjabi Sufi poet Bulleh Shah once wrote:
Parh parh ilm hazaar kitaaban
qaddi apnay aap nou parhiya naee
jaan jaan warhday mandir maseedi
qaddi mann apnay wich warhiya naee
aa-vain larda aye shaitan de naal bandeaa
qaddi nafss apnay naal lariya naee.
[Yes, you have read thousands of books,
but you have never tried to read your own self;
you rush in, into your Temples, into your Mosques,
but you have never tried to enter your own heart;
futile are all your battles with Satan,
for you have never tried to fight your own desires.]
This message of self-reflection, humility, and holding one’s self accountable captures the compassionate heart of Islam and reminds us that when we judge others or perceive ourselves as “more pious” or “superior,” we fall into arrogance, hypocrisy, and failure to see our own faults. I believe these lyrics are not just about spiritual purification, but also relevant to social justice struggles and how self-critique and accountability is needed so that we don’t reproduce oppressive forces in our own movements. It is respect and compassion for every human being that makes Bulleh Shah’s message so beautiful and Islamic. There is a way to coexist, not just as human beings and created things, but also as mind, body, and spirit.