FaithMAKERS: Can Faith and Feminism Coexist?
MAKERS is sparking the conversation that no one is having around the two F words: Faith and Feminism. Join us for a candid discussion about how faith is feminist and how these two seemingly opposing worlds shape one another.
NONA JONES: Hi, Thank you for joining us for "FaithMAKERS," exploring the question, can faith and feminism coexist? "FaithMAKERS" is hosting this conversation with the goal of allowing women of faith to make space for feminism while also allowing feminism to make space for women of faith. My name is Nona Jones, and I'm so pleased to join this conversation. I'll be wearing several hats to guide it. I leave faith-based partnerships at Facebook, where I work with spiritual leaders around the world as they strive to build communities of faith.
Today, I am joined by incredible, incredible women of faith across all belief systems. We have representation from the Christian faith, the Muslim faith, and the Jewish faith. So joining me today is Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. She's the founder and pastor of House For All Sinners and Saints, located in Denver, Colorado. I'm also joined by Amani, who is the founder of Muslimgirl.com. And we're also joined by Rabbi Lauren Herrmann, who leads the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in New York.
Now I, myself, serve alongside my husband, and we lead a church together called Open Door Ministries in Gainesville, Florida. So thank you so much for taking the time to join us today and this is going to be a very rich conversation. So I want to just jump right into it because we want to make sure that we give everyone ample time to talk. So we want to fully excavate this in 30 minutes or more, or less.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: [LAUGHS] Way, way more.
NONA JONES: To kick things off-- exactly. To kick things off, I'm going to ask you, Nadia, just tell us, what's your definition of feminism?
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: To me, feminism has to do with-- being unapologetically who I am is, to me, a feminist act. And the love that I have for myself as a woman, and then the love that I have for other women as well, and centering my female friendships and centering the work of women, promoting women, loving women, supporting women. To me, that's what it's about-- believing in the strength and power of women-- that, to me, is what feminism is. It's a celebration, to me.
NONA JONES: Thank you. So, Rabbi Herrmann, how would you define feminism?
LAUREN HERRMANN: Call me Lauren. That's fine, thank you.
NONA JONES: Thank you, all right.
LAUREN HERRMANN: Feminism, to me, is a struggle for the dignity, justice, and freedom of all people. Feminism needs to be intersectional and take into account all the multiplicity of identity that we're bringing to the table, and be radically inclusive. And to me, it's about social transformation. It's not just about equality. It's about transforming society through a feminist lens, about restructuring power, about restructuring priorities in our society-- it's that big picture.
NONA JONES: Thank you. Amani, what do you think about feminism? What is it to you?
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: I mean, it's funny because people always label me as a Muslim feminist, but I think that that label is just an oxymoron because I think it's redundant. I think for myself, being a Muslim inherently means being a feminist because gender equality was one of the founding principles of our religion. So you know, to me, just saying that I'm a Muslim equals being a feminist. And I think that feminism means equity for all, equity for all, and not just equality.
NONA JONES: So-- so building on that a little bit, can you tell us about your faith journey? I think you're right, when people hear that you're a Muslim feminist--
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: Yeah, just like, "what?"
NONA JONES: Like, what does that mean?
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: Yeah, it's an anomaly or something.
NONA JONES: So tell us about your faith journey and how it complements your feminist journey.
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: Yeah, I mean, I think that really, it's just-- feminism and my passion for it is actually what really helped me grow a lot within Islam. And if anything, I think that my religion really informed just my heart my passion and commitment to feminism in general. You know, when it comes to that, I feel that within my religion, where oftentimes said to be oppressed as Muslim women, that our religion is compulsory, that we are forced into it, these decisions aren't on our own.
But very early on, I decided to really just use my practice of Islam to kind of take down those stereotypes, whether it was just the way that I carry myself, the way that I choose to express myself, you know, that is outside of the box of what a Muslim "woman" is supposed to look like or sound like to people. But even just in my decision to wear the headscarf-- you know, I decided to put a scarf on my head because of the way that I felt like it empowered me, which is like mind-boggling for some people because people want to believe that it's oppressive and that it's forced on us and things like that. And I think in any society, anything can be used as a tool to oppress women, and it just so happens to be in different cultures it manifests in different ways.
But for myself, I decided to put on a scarf when both of my parents were traveling outside of the country because I knew immediately people would say, oh, your parents force you to wear it, and stuff. And I wanted it to be on my own terms. But ultimately, I decided to wear it, one, to defy Islamophobia and really just own my identity that I was being forced to shun my entire life. But also, to me, it was my rejection of the male gaze, putting my body back on my own terms and deciding what I wanted to put out there.
So when people ask me, like, what is a Muslim feminist, I'm just like-- [CLICKS TONGUE]
NONA JONES: In the flesh.
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: Right, exactly.
NONA JONES: Tell us a little bit about your experience and how your faith journey has intersected with your feminism journey, as well.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: I think it's sort of realizing that a lot of the things about Christianity that I rejected from my youth because I was raised in really conservative Christianity, really came from very male, patriarchal interpretations of the tradition itself. And sort of when I said, OK, I'm going to actually go back to the text, I'm going to actually study the Bible for myself, there was so much in there that felt revolutionary to me.
And this woman, Sarah Bessey, wrote a book called "Jesus Feminist," which is brilliant, which talks about the feminism of Jesus. And so for me, like, that's my main guy. And I look at the way he hung out with sex workers. And women were funding his ministry, and women were the ones who didn't hightail it out after he died, right?
Like, there's this-- it's in the entire story that he chose a woman to be the first witness of the Resurrection. So to me, if I needed to figure out, hey, where am I going to draw my authority as a female preacher? That feels like enough, right? That feels like enough to me.
NONA JONES: Mm-hmm, thank you. Lauren, tell us about your faith journey and how that's complemented your feminist journey, as well.
LAUREN HERRMANN: I resonate with a lot of what you said in terms of reclaiming the tradition and recognizing the beauty that's inside of it. And that so much is tainted by interpretation, I needed to go back to the source and find those core values, and that they complement, they feed off of each other, and they're feminist. I specifically connected to Judaism through the holiday of Passover. I grew up in a culturally Jewish home. We were not religious. We did some ritual, it was very perfunctory.
But something about that holiday, or very specific things about that holiday gravitated me. I was so drawn to it. I would prepare for months. And by the time I was 10 years old, I was leading our family Seders and I was talking about social justice.
And it was that core message of freedom-- freedom from oppression, the possibility that people can leave a dictatorial society and become free, go from slavery to freedom. And so it was a really a social justice core message that drew me to Judaism. That was the fundamental part.
That said, I-- and by the time I was 17, I decided I knew I wanted to become a rabbi. At that point, I had never had a conversation for more than five minutes with a rabbi, and I had never met a female rabbi. But somehow I knew that I wanted to become a rabbi. It really felt like a strong calling.
I also grew up my whole life as a feminist. That was just-- that's just who I am. It's just part of who I am. And for a long time, especially in my kind of high school and college years, like, that was a real ongoing struggle-- how do I be a Jewish woman? How do I be a feminist woman?
And I really struggled a lot with that question. And it was only when I discovered reconstructionist Judaism, which is the denomination that I'm part of, that I found a group of people who weren't just tolerant of feminism, but were embracing of feminism, and that took a feminist lens, and were radically inclusive, and included a social justice mission with what it means to be Jewish. And that's really when it all came together for me, that I could live this integrated life as both a person of faith and a feminist.
NONA JONES: So it sounds like the three of you, and I certainly resonate with this, were able to reconstruct what it means to be a woman of faith as well as a feminist. And when I think about both concepts, a lot of times, people who are against feminism will say, well, that's because feminists hate men. And then, the feminists who don't like to talk about faith will say, that's because it's oppressive. So it sounds like you were able to redefine what that means and fully walk into that new definition for yourselves.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Yeah, and I think, actually, it's important to make that move, for me, because, you know, like, Christianity was the symbol system I was raised in. And it's a really recent idea in human history that you can choose your own symbol system. And so for me, to go back to the one that formed me, that formed my idea of myself and the world, and to do it on my own terms, felt 10 times more liberating than having left it to begin with.
And also, sort of deciding to dive deeper into scripture, deeper into tradition, I think you have to be deeply rooted in tradition in order to innovate with integrity. And so that was my move. And that's the move of a lot of feminists of faith that I know.
NONA JONES: Mm-hmm, I think something that's particularly interesting to me is when I think about the traditional Christian creation story, and how, you know, Eve was created out of the rib of Adam, signifying by his side as opposed to the foot, or another part of the body. And a lot of times, people think, oh, well, you know, that symbolizes something. What does that symbolize to you? And I'm interested in the different faith traditions and how that level of equality is represented in your faith?
LAUREN HERRMANN: If you look at-- if you look at the Torah, there is actually two creation stories. There's the story where-- and there's two authors, in my understanding of it. There's two authors that author these two different stories.
The first author is a story of radical equality. There's one person that's created. And it actually says, man and woman, created in one. This is according to the rabbinic tradition, literally, an androgynous creature who has both male and female genitalia.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Like, it's just basically, like, earthling.
LAUREN HERRMANN: Like, it's one person--
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Like, an earthling.
LAUREN HERRMANN: "Ah-dahm," and "Ah-dam" means-- "Ah-dahm" isn't Adam, there.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Yeah.
LAUREN HERRMANN: "Ah-dahm" is "Ah-dahm," that's the name. And "Ah-dahm" comes from "adamah," which is Earth. So it's one person. That's one model.
And then you have the faith-- you have the second story, which is another author, where the, you know, with the rib and the famous story that comes to sort of define how all of these text-based religions are patriarchal, right? Well, if you go back, there's two versions of the story. And we get to just decide, you know, how we want to play with that and what we want to do with that, and what we want to elevate and what we don't.
And on top of that, for Jews, there's a whole rabbinic interpretive tradition around all of our text. We don't look at our text in isolation, and this was part of my reconstruction. Once I realized I don't have to look at the text in isolation, I want to see the vantage point of thousands of years of tradition-- unfortunately, predominately male interpretive tradition-- but at least to see, wait, they take a lot of liberties. They go a lot of different directions.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Oh my gosh.
LAUREN HERRMANN: That's-- wait, I can do that?
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: That's right, yes.
LAUREN HERRMANN: I can do that? I can do that?
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Yes.
LAUREN HERRMANN: And it doesn't-- I don't-- I can take-- I don't have to follow what they say. I can follow the pattern that they can-- that they set out for me. So therefore, it's on me to figure out what that means and it doesn't-- and I don't have to get stuck. And the rabbinic interpretation of Adam and Eve, the second story, is actually kind of cool because there are some people that argue the sin had nothing to do with sex. It had nothing to do with it.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Oh, God, of course not.
LAUREN HERRMANN: It was actually, like, they were hanging out, having sex in the garden the whole time, and the sin was something completely different. So it's like--
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: 'Cause they weren't idiots.
LAUREN HERRMANN: Right, they weren't idiots. They were-- they knew what they had. So I think recognizing, like, the multiplicity of voices in the Torah, for me, and recognizing the multiplicity of voices of the interpretive tradition is an invitation to become part of that interpretive tradition.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Oh, girl, absolutely-- if they can do it, we can do it, right?
LAUREN HERRMANN: Exactly, exactly.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: I absolutely agree. And the thing about the creation stories is that, for Christians, a lot of us don't realize that the things we associate with, like, the Garden of Eden, are not in the text. The Garden of Eden doesn't mention sin. It doesn't mention the devil. It doesn't mention temptation. It doesn't mention "a fall from grace."
There's, I mean, all of these things that we think are in there, aren't in there. It's literally this guy named Augustine who was, like, genius, but also super damaged like the rest of us. And so, Augustine, if you look back, he was trying to figure out-- he was trying to work out his stuff by looking at scripture just like we're trying to do.
Well, it ends up that Augustine had this original shame about his own sexuality because when he was in puberty, was in a bathhouse with his father, and got an erection. And his father saw it and commented on it, and that is like, his original shame. And so, surprise, surprise, he writes 20 volumes, or whatever, the end of his career, about the Garden of Eden saying all of this stuff-- fall from grace, original sin, all the stuff we think is in the Bible is Augustine.
And saying, before "the fall," a thing he made up, the condition of paradise, surprisingly-- Adam could control his erections. This is him, like, theologizing his own stuff, working it out with scripture-- fine. Everyone gets to do that though, right? We can't take-- you can't take one guy's stuff.
He basically took a dump in the third century and the church encased it in amber, and then went, this is God's will for all people for all time. I'm like, I think it's one guy's-- some stuff, right? Like, that's not God's will.
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: Yeah, no, I think what's really cool is-- that I love about Islam, for example, is that with the creation story, Eve wasn't made from Adam's rib. She was created in her own image. They were both created from the Earth, right? He made Adam and then he made Eve.
And you know, it just speaks to, really, the foundation of how we are intended to treat and view women. But I think that along the way, you know, historically, a lot of, like, fatwas, for example, have really been issued by male scholars, right? Historically, the only fatwas that have been, you know, designated as, like, this is the end all be all, have been the ones that were backed by political authority, right? So--
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Surprise, surprise.
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: Right? Yeah, exactly. So even though Islam itself has, like, a long lineage of Islamic feminists and women scholars and things like that that contributed to what Islam looks like today, I mean, even the prophet's wife literally was responsible for the vast majority of the scriptures that we have from the prophet's time in general, right? It's like she's the mother of Islam.
And so I think that right now, we do disservice in that there's still, today, this understanding or expectation that to interpret Islam, or to have any type of opinion about how it should be practiced, you need to be a scholar. You need to have the right license for it. You need to have gone to school for it, this, and that.
And what that does is it really just restricts the religion to the most privileged facets of society, right? To the men, to the affluent men, the ones that can afford to get, like, whatever affirmation they need to claim that authority, and of course, the political backing, as well. But just today, earlier today, I was just talking about this. I had posted a video about my interpretation of nail polish as a woman, right, because a lot of Muslim women feel that nail polish is impermissible because it creates a barrier on your nail from ablution water, and thus, it invalidates your prayer if you can't perform ablutions and stuff like that.
I posted my opinion about it, which is I believe that that's not true, that I can wear nail polish while I'm praying because in the prophet's time, the men wore turbans, and he told them that they don't have to go through the trouble of unraveling their turban whenever they perform ablutions because it was too difficult, and they can just wipe their hands over it. And so why can't women be afforded that same pass, that same privilege, right? I think that it's largely because the people issuing these fatwas and our understanding of how to practice Islam, it's coming from a male experience.
And of course, that's going to disregard how women feel and how they can implement Islam within their lives. So I think that really just making sure that more women are in these spaces, that are gaining access to that scholarship. And that we actually listen to what they have to say and give space to those conversations, I think can completely transform the way that we apply our religious standards to today's lifestyles.
LAUREN HERRMANN: I think a theme is being rooted enough in the tradition that we feel that we have the authority to speak as a woman to it, and to connect to it, like exactly what you were saying. And for Jews, a lot of that is, like, knowing enough of the Hebrew that we can go back and unpack, like, translations or interpretations. So what does that actually mean?
"Ezer kenegdo," in the story of Genesis, is traditionally, a "help meet." But there's actually a lot of nuance in that Hebrew, that that's not really clear that that's what it means. It could also mean an oppositional partner, a equal partner who's opposite you. So it's like you need the tools, the basic tools. Not to make it too inaccessible, but we need to give women the tools to be able to feel that sense of empowerment to recognize what's in there, what's not, and and add their voice.
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: I mean, that is a defining aspect of faith and feminism for me. Like, if you're to ask me the definition of feminism in faith, I think it absolutely has to do with access.
NONA JONES: Yeah.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: I like your creation story. I might borrow that one.
LAUREN HERRMANN: Right. We can't add back to the text, though, that's the problem. We got to deal with the mess that we got.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Eve's like a male made out of leftovers in ours, you know? So I like yours.
NONA JONES: So we have a special-- we have a special treat for everybody. There is a new MAKER series that will be coming up soon, featuring our dear Nadia Bolz-Weber, who will be delivering daily inspiration that will make you think, certainly laugh, and feel more whole, and maybe even more holy. And we want to give you a sneak peek just to take a look. So have a little faith.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: As a clergy person, I'd like to welcome you all to the apocalypse. Pull up a chair and make yourself uncomfortable. If when you think of an apocalypse, you picture a scary, doom-filled punishment from above, you're not alone.
Originally, though, apocalyptic literature existed not to scare the bejesus out of children so that they would be good boys and girls, but to proclaim a big, hope-filled idea that dominant powers are not ultimate powers-- empires fall, tyrants fade, systems die, God's still around. In Greek, the word apocalypse means to uncover, to peel away, to show what's underneath. That's what this country has been experiencing in recent months. There's not been a sudden uptick in sexual misconduct and assault in our country. The Me Too and Time's Up movements are simply exposing what was already there.
The male domination at the center of the sexual harassment issue is being revealed apocalyptically and in prime time. Wokeness and policy change are a start, but not enough to dig out the full infection. This is why I welcome our moment of uncovering. We need to see how deep the heresy of domination runs, and then remind one another that dominant powers are not ultimate powers.
So if those who came before looked to the Bible to justify their dominance, then let us look to it to justify our dignity. It's in there. Theology and liturgy are just too potent to be left to those who would use them, even unwittingly, to justify and protect their own dominance. And sometimes, the origin of the harm really can be the most powerful source of healing.
NONA JONES: So, very powerful and we want to try to dig a little bit deeper into that, and so I'm going to ask you, Nadia, to talk a little bit about-- you know, I think there's been a lot of conversation around how faith needs to embrace feminism, like there needs to be more feminism in faith. But can you talk to how maybe feminism needs to embrace faith more?
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Mm, yeah, I think that's really powerful because especially women who are active in the struggle in some way, it can feel as though everything is up to us, that social progress relies solely on the excellence of our efforts. And there are a million crushing ways in which our culture is all about worthiness. And to have something in our lives that tells us, you are already worthy, there's nothing you can do or not do that's going to change your worthiness, lovability, your relationship to the Almighty, is a great comfort to those of us who are engaged in struggle, and also to know there's a source that we can draw on that's not us, right?
I mean, as a recovering alcoholic, that's a huge part of being in a 12-step program, that there is a power greater than you. And so when it feels like we don't have what it takes, when we're tired, when we're exhausted, when we are delving into negative thoughts about ourselves, into exhaustion, to know there's a source, like, our origin, our source is greater than us and it's something that we get to draw upon for strength, for meaning, for love, for identity, and it has nothing to do with our efforts-- I find that to be very useful in a world in which we are struggling to make a difference in our society.
NONA JONES: Amani, you said at the very beginning that you have experienced where-- that the feminist ideology has been such that it, like, well, you must be oppressed because look at you, right? You must be oppressed. So how then can feminism make space for faith, especially for Islam?
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: Yeah, I mean, it's really interesting. I think that there's a lot to do with it. I think that not only is it a feminist issue, but it's just all these different variables of privilege, racism, classism that are impacting brown women that look like me, and that are excluding faiths from different backgrounds, so we might not necessarily understand.
Like, I think back to 2001, that was a really defining moment for me when Laura Bush gave this iconic radio speech where, you know, she was heralded as this feminist icon because she was saying in this speech that we need to go to Afghanistan and rescue these Muslim women from these backwards people, and these uncivilized people, right? And so it's kind of like that's always the dominant narrative that's elevated in feminism-- literally, historically. I mean, backstage, we were just talking about how early on, even with suffrage, black women were completely neglected from the picture.
So I think the most important way that we can change that is for feminists to take their own advice, you know, and really just allow women of different backgrounds to speak for themselves, and for us to just shut up and listen. You know, like, a lot of times, I feel that feminists kind of have this-- you know, like a Savior complex, where it's just like, we need to give a voice to the voiceless. We need to, like, help them out and stuff.
And I always answer that there's no such thing as people that are voiceless. Every person has a voice, but there are those that are just systematically silenced more than others. And so it's really important for us, if we are claiming ourselves to be feminists, to not only empower and embolden those individuals to be able to use their voices, but then for us to also acknowledge and give those voices the space that they need to really be heard.
NONA JONES: That's good. Lauren, what are your thoughts on that?
LAUREN HERRMANN: I think faith has several things that can offer feminism. I mean, first, I want to say, community. If we want to change the world, we can't do it alone. Like, fundamentally, we cannot do it alone. And you can find community in many different places, but there's something especially unique about a community of faith that shares your values, shares your goals, shares your hopes, and shares your dreams, and is going to be in that work with you.
The second thing I want to say is joy. I feel so strongly that it is so easy, especially right now, in this world where we're living where we feel daily attacks on us, on our values, on our country, on who we are, it's so easy to lose joy. And for me, prayer, Shabbat, fellowship, all of those things, ritual-- they make me stop, be grateful, and cultivate joy. And I don't think we're going to get through this work unless we have some of that. We need it to sustain us in the work.
And the last thing I would say is just some perspective, that we have this model in Judaism and other faith traditions, of Moses. Moses doesn't go into the promised land. And truth be told, I'm not going to likely see the promised land in my lifetime.
But knowing that I'm a part of something that came way before me and is going to continue long after me is something that gives me deep, deep comfort, but also a significant amount of hope. This does not end with me. This continues and the work continues, so I think it's like-- however you define faith, like, whether you believe in a God or not, or just spirituality-- you know, spiritual but not religious, all these terms that are floating around, whatever it is, just having some kind of spiritual connectivity that can provide that kind of joy, community, and perspective, feels essential in doing the work of moving our world forward.
NONA JONES: So making that personal, then, can you share-- have there have been times when you found yourself conflicted between your faith and feminism? Have there have been times where you had to, you know, I hate to say pick one or the other, because it's really not necessarily, you know, a dichotomy, but where you felt like you were just conflicted?
LAUREN HERRMANN: I want to go back to a long time ago, which was when I had my bat mitzvah, which is the rite of passage for girls and boys, or--
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Why don't we have a picture?
LAUREN HERRMANN: I know, right? Oh my gosh, OK, I just want say I had a puffy hair and a very pink dress.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: OK.
LAUREN HERRMANN: It was the 1980s.
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: All right, visualizing, yeah.
LAUREN HERRMANN: So just FYI, you can visualize--
NONA JONES: Oh yeah, that's all 1980s.
LAUREN HERRMANN: --like, extraordinarily puffy and very pink. So, at the bat mitzvah, I went on Friday night and I sang some songs I had prepared. And I sang them in an off-key voice because that's what I do. And I got off this-- you know, after the service, some one of my friends' parents said to me, or a father said, you know, you did a really great job. You did-- you don't have to do as much stuff as the boys do, but you did a great job.
And it was the first time that it really hit me that I was in a synagogue that did not actually have equal roles for girls and boys. I think I knew it, but I didn't really understand it. And I was-- so the boys got to read Torah and have a big celebration. The girls got to sing some songs. And it made no sense to me because I lived a secular life where I felt like boys and girls, at that age, could do anything that was the same, there was no difference other than your interests.
So the contradiction between my religious school experience and that mitzvah experience and now, I mean, and what was going on in my regular life, was such a wide gap. And I would say I also realized after that that there were no women clergy, obviously, in that kind of environment, and really, no women lay leaders, either. I never really saw women in any leadership positions.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Me too.
LAUREN HERRMANN: And I realized-- and I left that synagogue and I rejected that kind of brand of Judaism. But it did leave a damaging impact, and I had to kind of recover what does it mean to be a Jewish woman? Like I said earlier, I struggled a long time to integrate those two things.
But I am proud to say that I love the irony of the fact that I'm now serving at the congregation that had America's first bat mitzvah in 1922, so it's like God's payback for me for having that bat mitzvah in 1980-whatever it was. So that now I'm serving this congregation that was really on the forefront of women's issues in the 1920s.
NONA JONES: That's cool, that's cool. What do you think about that, Nadia? Like, have you found yourself conflicted somewhere between the intersection of faith and feminism?
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Not currently, but it's definitely in my story. You know, I never heard a woman pray out loud until I was in my mid to late-20s because of the gender roles in the church I was raised in. And I remember we had this-- after age 12, we couldn't even have female Sunday school teachers if boys were in the class. So even the Sunday school teachers had to be men.
And it was sort of Socratic method in Sunday school, so they would ask us questions and we'd respond. And they'd teach and they'd quiz us. And it took a few months before my male Sunday school teacher, when I was 12, took my parents aside and told them that I was answering the questions too quickly and it didn't give the boys a chance to answer.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Now to their credit, my parents quietly thought that was awesome, so they didn't shame me for it. So I had a lot of stuff like that in my upbringing. And now, not so much, I mean, people online will criticize me for being a female pastor because they don't think women should have authority over men. And let's be honest, there are a million reasons I should not be a pastor, but being a girl is literally not one of them.
NONA JONES: Thank you for your transparency. So building on that, then, Amani, can you tell us about any times you felt conflicted between your faith and feminism?
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: Yeah, for sure, I mean, I've always felt affirmed by my faith when I felt conflicted by Muslims, you know? Like, the Muslims are just like, this is your place, this is how you need to practice Islam, this is whatever. Every time-- kind of like what you were talking about earlier, like going back to the scriptures? Every time I chose to take it upon myself to dig a little deeper, I would find the affirmation and the defenses that I need to be able to look answer back to that.
But that kind of stuff is really alienating, like, it can push people away from faith so early on and so irreversibly. Like, I, immediately, when you were talking about that, when you asked that question, I, like, flashbacked to when I-- we had, like, a Quran class in my hometown, like in our hometown mosque. So I enrolled in, like, this Quran class. It was every Sunday and it was me and one other girl in this class, and another student, or whatever-- it was very small.
And we had an imam, a male imam that was our teacher, our instructor. And there was this one day where he had, like, the stack of our notebooks in front of him, he was grading our Quran, like, whatever practices and stuff. And I was sitting with my friend, like, the other classmate in the back, and she said a funny joke, so I burst out laughing. And when I did that, he immediately was like, hey, you're not supposed to-- a women's voice is awrah. You're not supposed to raise your voice like that.
And in Islam, awrah is the concept of what qualifies with your modesty, right? So like, you know, my private parts are my awrah, for example. So now, in that situation, this imam was claiming that my voice, as a Muslim woman, just because I'm a female, counts as awrah and is something I need to be modest about and conceal, and like, whatever. And he was defining that and kind of imposing that term on me when it is absolutely not defined, by any means, in the scriptures like that.
And even at that age, I was like, 14 years old, and I immediately knew how effed up it was, even though that at that time, I probably didn't have the Islamic knowledge that I needed to back it up. But it felt wrong and not what Islam was about. And so I remember, I literally, like, shouted back at him. I was like, no, I will not lower my voice.
And I went up to his table, grabbed my Quran notebook, and like, stormed out and never went back again. And I was just like, I'm over this. Like, I'm not--
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: That should be a graphic novel. Like, I could just see the frames of a graphic novel about her.
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: But see, that's what happens. That's what happens when--
NONA JONES: "The Adventures of Amani."
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: When men are defining these terms for us, they keep on approaching even closer and taking away more and more from women. It's just like, OK, yeah, you have to cover this and that on our terms. And now you have to make sure your voice is lower and make sure that we can't see you when we're in the mosque and we're all praying side by side. And make sure, like, your kids can't make noise now. And it keeps extending more and more, you know what I mean? It's just like, that's not where-- it's going way too far off base.
NONA JONES: So what I'm going to do, because first of all, I know this conversation could literally take days and we only have a few minutes left, is I want to give you each-- just take 45 seconds, 60 seconds-- what message would you like to leave people who are watching about you, and just whatever you feel they need to know as they walk away from this conversation? Misconceptions, misunderstandings-- what would you like to address as your last thought? And let's start with Lauren.
LAUREN HERRMANN: Ooh.
NONA JONES: It just looked like you were ready.
LAUREN HERRMANN: Ah, that's so not true, but OK.
LAUREN HERRMANN: I guess I would say, be willing to have-- to be a feminist and to be in faith means being willing to have hard conversations, but that is the juiciest, most beautiful part of religion, and that that's a wonderful opportunity. And that we shouldn't shy away from difficult conversations. We shouldn't shy away from parts of our text that embarrass us. We shouldn't shy away from parts of our tradition that go too far.
And really, to recognize that, we need to have this conversation so we can interrupt the cycle, but also to really engage it. And then the last thing I would say is that for anyone who's struggling with faith and feminism, and not sure how to integrate it, I'd just say, don't give up and keep looking for your people. Because your people are there and you just haven't maybe found them yet-- people who share your values, the people who want to do this work with you, the people who want to be creative and innovative and thoughtful and transgressive and holy, and all that good stuff. And just to keep looking, and if you can't find them, to build something and they'll find you.
NONA JONES: That's good, OK. Amani, what would you like to leave people with?
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: I would like people to know that Muslim women come from literally every single walk of life on the planet, speak every language, come from every culture, and so it's impossible for us to really talk about them like they're one homogeneous group. One thing I always like to tell people is that the global Christian population, what is it, like 2.2 billion?
NONA JONES: Mm-hmm.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: OK.
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: Yeah, so 2.2 billion Christians, last I checked, at least. And the global Muslim population is 1.8 billion, so it's like 1.8 billion Muslims, 2.2 billion Christians-- like, it's really not that far off. So imagine attempting to talk about Christian women the same way that we talk about Muslim women.
NONA JONES: Yep.
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: It would be literally impossible and super-offensive and just, like, completely off base, and that's just as impossible as it is to try to talk about Muslim women in one way, as well. So when you hear a Muslim woman speak and speaks to her own experience, try not to, you know, like mansplain to her, or correct her, or try to tell her what her experience is or how it should sound, or look, or whatever. Every woman is entitled to that on her own terms.
NONA JONES: Mm, that's good, that's good. Nadia, what would you like people to leave with?
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: I guess that our faith, our life of prayer, our relationship to a power greater than ourselves, is an essential piece of who we are and that it shouldn't have to be separated from the other pieces of who we are. And that salvation-- like, the Greek word is "sozo," which is, like, wholeness. So I interpret that as integration, so I guess I would encourage people to seek integration of who they are spiritually, sexually, gender-wise, culturally. To have that be a whole and not to be separated out. That's a powerful place to be, when these things can be unapologetically integrated.
NONA JONES: Yeah, well, we have had a very rich conversation over these last 40 or so minutes, and I think we all know that there's simply no way to fully excavate the depth that is this conversation. But this is conversation one, and so we really want to invite you to continue the conversation in your own way. And I think you're absolutely right, Lauren, this is an opportunity for you to begin to question your own beliefs around whether faith and feminism can coexist.
And so we invite you to not only to have that conversation yourself, but invite others into the conversation because that's how we will grow together. So--
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: The patriarchy's coming to get us. You hear the sirens?
NONA JONES: Yeah, I heard the sirens. The sirens are coming down the street. That's why we're wrapping up. That's why we're wrapping up.
LAUREN HERRMANN: No, we can handle them. Are you kidding me?
NONA JONES: We're about to make a quick getaway. But we really do want to thank you for joining us. You could have spent your time in many different ways, but you decided to join us today for this conversation. So thank you for being here and thank you, MAKERS, for hosting us.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Thank you, Noni.
NONA JONES: Take care, guys.
LAUREN HERRMANN: Thank you, MAKERS.
NONA JONES: All right.
LAUREN HERRMANN: And thank you, Nona.
NONA JONES: Thank you.
MAKERS amplifies the dialogue around harassment, equal pay and other urgent issues, pushing the women's movement forward. #RAISEYOURVOICE