(Hold on a second! The dialogue actually starts here. )
Ahlam: But why not? We believe many of the same things as the People of the Book.
Safiya: Yes, that’s true: but the Qur’an, by its very nature, won’t allow it.
Ahlam: Why not? The Qur’an repeatedly refers to the same narratives contained in the Old and New Testaments.
Safiya: Yes, yes, that’s true—but only tangentially. You have to examine the way the Qur’an is set up. The capacity for self-transcendence—the thing that enabled the Bible to overcome its own patriarchy—just isn’t there. The Qur’an, for Muslims, is the final word from Allah on how to live one’s life. In the Qur’an, all narrative is subverted to the moral and ethical commands of Allah; in the Bible, it is the other way around. The commandment of the law gives way to the story of the Gospel. In the Qur’an, Allah has orders; in Scripture, Allah has plans! See, I’m not simply talking about the individual narratives which make up our different Scriptures: I’m talking about metanarrative, that overarching story in which we move and breathe and find our footing. The Muslim metanarrative is simply different, Ahlam. There is a Creation and a Last Judgment, certainly—but habibi, you don’t have Iesa. Without Iesa, there is no reconciliation between humans and Allah, and none between men and women, either. The gap is too great for even our best prayers to fill.
Ahlam: I wish you didn’t have to bring him up, Safiya. Iesa was more than a carpenter, to be sure, but you should know that Allah has no son–nor daughter, for that matter!
Safiya: All this time I have been talking about my feminism as one of the reasons I left Islam, Ahlam—
Ahlam: —Yes, and that has concerned me greatly, Safiya. Is it really wise to leave something like Islam for the sake of any ideology? Surely in my case, if I must choose between Islam and feminism, it will be Islam, without question.
Safiya: See, that’s the thing. It wasn’t because of feminism, really, that I left Islam.
Ahlam: What was it?
Safiya: Habibi, it was Iesa.
Safiya: Ahlam, when you pray, where is Allah?
Ahlam: Allah? Well, he is . . . what an odd question. Allah is above me, I suppose. He is above all of us.
Safiya: Is He near or far away? Think about it.
Ahlam: He is far away. In heaven.
Safiya: Would it be fair to say, you think, that there is a great distance between you and Allah, then?
Ahlam: Sure. I mean, I believe that Allah is looking out for me, is providing for me, but yes.
Safiya: And Ahlam, when you pray at mosque, where are the men?
Ahlam: They are . . . upstairs.
Safiya: Would it be fair to say, then, that there is a great distance between you and Muslim men?
Safiya: Ahlam, when I had been doubting Islam for a long time, fed up with the veils and the violence and the sexism, with the disapproving glances from men I didn’t even know—the first time I went to a Christian church, do you know what I saw? I saw men and women worshipping in the same room. They took it for granted, I think: but for me, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I didn’t have to cover my head—I could be who I was. I cried in the back the whole time. I didn’t know what else to do. I had bought a New Testament a few weeks back, when I got home, I read this—well, here, you read it:
Ahlam: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
Safiya: Paul was talking about the division between Jew and Gentile, but at that time, I see now, Allah was speaking to me about a different wall, the wall between men and women, which He had also broken down in Iesa. I didn’t decide to follow Iesa because he subscribed to my own philosophy or because of any kind of argument at all. I decided to follow Iesa, to worship him as Allah Incarnate, because of the way His reconciliation of all peoples was taking place in that church. I believed that Allah had reconciled himself to humanity in Christ because I saw the way that men and women had also been reconciled in Christ. That was it for me. I knew then that I wanted to be a part of that story.
Ahlam: Do you suppose, Safiya, that that kind of community could ever exist among Muslims?
Safiya: If I did, I wouldn’t have left Islam, habibi. I think, ultimately, you’ve got to answer a big question if you’re ever going to work this out: can Islam ever transcend its own culture? Can it overcome its seventh-century, Arabian moorings? I haven’t seen a lot of evidence that it can. But it’s something you’ll have to answer for yourself.