VANESSA RIVERA DE LA FUENTE
THIS is an excerpt of my intervention in the interreligious days for women, held in Santiago de Chile in May:
I am grateful to the Interfaith Group of Feminist Theologians and Women of Faith for remembering my spiritual affiliation and giving me the opportunity to address this audience in this month of Ramadaan, which is full of blessings.
My dear sisters, I want to invite you this evening to reflect on what it means to be a radical woman of faith in the context of extreme upsurge of violence against women and minoritised groups, and in which we live.
What does it mean to be a radical woman?
To be radical is to be outraged enough to fearlessly and tirelessly claim and work for the total end of all kinds of oppression. You heard it right: the total end of all kinds of oppression.
For women of faith, like us, who believe in social justice as the prime duty and principle of living in creation, the current status of abuse, violence and exploitation to which a part of humankind is subjected must provoke us to rage, anger and outrage.
Religious patriarchy has historically exercised and endorsed, until today, violence against women and those groups defined as ‘minority’. This religious patriarchy, composed of priests, imams, lamas and rabbis, legitimise multiple forms of exclusion of women, sexism, control of our bodies, misogyny and rape culture.
There is a verse or ayah in the Quran, in the chapter or surah called An-Nisa, ‘The Women’, that talks about this radical commitment to justice for people of faith: ‘O you who believe, be persistent, standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it is against yourselves or parents and relatives.
‘Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it] then indeed Allah is ever acquainted with what you do.’ (4:135)
Stand firmly for justice even if it is against yourselves! That is a radical call against all oppressors and on behalf of all oppressed. In times where injustice is our daily breakfast, a firm stand on behalf of justice, a stand above everything, including our own comfort, is a must for people of faith.
I think it is not a coincidence that this verse is in the chapter that Allah dedicates to women. There is wisdom in this and the social sciences have confirmed what God already knows: women are important actors in building communities based on social justice and well-being for everyone, so this call of the Quran is there, in a chapter that talks about us and to us.
We have to be brave enough to admit that although we believe in the compassionate message of our revelations, there are other passages that can be used to justify unmerciful actions and the violation of our human rights.
We can’t be blind to this. Religions have an actual impact on the lives of people, and it is our duty to promote an impact rooted in human dignity and equality, and challenge those discourses and stances that are contrary to them.
Many women around the world are leaving religious spaces, tired of the mistreatment they suffer at the hands of male chauvinism. But, patriarchy and its narratives of exclusion and death won’t stop if we leave.
One of its strategies of domination has been by keeping us out and silenced, with endless idiotic arguments like ‘menstruation brings impurity’, ‘women can’t speak on theology’ or that our ‘bodies are tempting’. What fragile faith, what fragile masculinity, what great fear by those men.
My call is to organise because there is nothing more radical than staying in and fighting for the spaces that also belong to us as God’s children. We have enough faith to: demand loudly the end of this misogynist complacency and arrogance of God-male ego; challenge the narratives and practices that are an expression of male domination; advocate tirelessly for the establishment of inclusive and compassionate understanding of scriptures and leadership.
We have enough faith to claim the right of everyone to develop our spiritualities in safe spaces, free from abuse, free from hierarchies and free of an unmerciful god; build a movement of people on fair relationships and practices rooted in inclusivity, gender justice and authenticity, and talking openly about spirituality, weaving our stories as women with the mystery of the divine.
Let us follow the core message of our revelations as we are believers and, as the Quran says, ‘Stand firmly for justice.’ Let us be warriors for life. Let us profess bravely the religion of love; wherever its caravan turns along the way, may that be the belief and the faith we keep.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a social educator and communication specialist, journalist and research consultant. She is also an independent scholar on women’s studies, religion and politics. Your comments and feedback are valued. Email her at: email@example.com