Gender & Sexuality in Islam
Sabir: Invoking Agency & Promoting Islamic Feminism
Damla Isik’s ethnographic research in Konya, Turkey studies groups of Muslim women, who work as carpet weavers, and their particularly unique role throughout the capitalistic economy of the area. Isik’s research provides and complicates previously stated feminist analysis by delving deeply into the true meaning of sabir and the role it plays throughout Muslim communities. Isik’s thorough research allows her to look past the common notion that sabir solely liberates or oppresses women who experiences patriarchal oppression (Isik). The research allows one to look at the ways in which sabir liberates a defining sense of self by encouraging moral and ethical decision making (Isik). Furthermore, sabir encourages feminist ideals within these Muslim women because it promotes an inner and necessary sense of agency. In turn, this inner self discovery resulted in the strength of the Muslim women to develop and stand up for better working conditions, while also forming crucial relationships that created a stably unified and supportive community of weaving Muslim women.
Throughout every ethnographic interview or study Isik performed while in Konya, the idea and cultivation of sabir was extremely crucial within each Muslim woman’s sense of agency not only in the workforce, but throughout day to day life. Looking at the idea of sabir throughout the religion of Islam in general, sabir “‘permeates the entire life of a man of faith and manifest itself in all his acts and attitudes’ (Yahya 2004)” (Isik 529). In other words, those who follow sabir attempt to embody ethical practice throughout all aspects of their life. It is crucial to note that sabir is not used when there is only “hopelessness or lack of choice” (Isik 529), but should be used when they are happy as well. That being said, sabir’s ability to promote ‘the good’ throughout actions furthers a strong sense of agency, especially within the Muslim women in the Konya neighborhood. For example, Reyhen, one of the many weavers Isik met while in Konya, practiced sabir for her own “perseverance and belief in Allah” instead of “putting up with hardships” (Isik 519) in her life. More specifically, Reyhen’s belief in Allah and her practice of sabir does did not restrict her to be silenced under the patriarchal society. Instead, sabir invokes a sense of inner agency to promote positive ethical practice in order to deal with all of the varying adversities throughout one’s life.
The weavers throughout Konya showed their sabir inspired sense of agency throughout the work they were able to collectively handle as a community. The Muslim women were conjointly able to embrace life and the hardships that come along with being a Muslim woman “with determination and resolve” (Isik 520). Furthermore, each weaver was able to form close bonds with other fellow weavers because they were all unified by their common practice and appreciation of the Islamic idea of sabir. This familiar solidarity soon formed a bond, making it possible for the women to complete increasingly large amounts of “carpes and kilims ever faster for the global market in order to meet deadlines set by clients” (Isik 520). The women also invented a process called “borrowing,” where women helped other members of the community by “borrowing” each other’s labor during difficult times, such as family death or illness, in order to collectively meet the demands of the carpet weaving business (Isik 528). Furthermore, this solid community of Muslim women are able to collectively complete every difficult task put in front of them due to their strong sense of agency to promote the common good, which is ultimately inspired by their belief of Allah and the simultaneous inner practice of sabir.
One of the anecdotes throughout Isik’s ethnographic research illustrates how seriously women take their work of weaving, and how important it is to follow and live by sabir. One of the weavers which Isik’s ethnography focused on, Halide, had a particular interaction with Osman, a carpet manufacturer, which illustrated her very apparent sense of agency and responsibility towards her work through the practice of sabir. Even though Halide is a woman, she was able to bargain effectively with the manufacturer through the use of sabir’s agency. Halide tells Isik that she takes her job seriously and how “‘weaving takes sabir, dealing with Osman takes sabir, learning prayers takes sabir, yet one can get real good at it all!’” (Isik 533). Halide was able to effectively bargain for a better working condition with the use of her agency. She also compares almost every aspect of her life to the practice of sabir. That being said, the women take their work extremely seriously because their contribution to the capitalistic economy proves that a Muslim practice, such as sabir, enriches feminism.
The practice and acknowledgement of sabir not only encourages the sense of agency in the constant strive to promote the common good, but the practice of sabir throughout the women’s weaving encourages elements of feminism and agency by blurring the socially constructed ideas of what Islamic gender roles are. The work as weavers provides these women with an important sense of independence because of their ability to contribute to the household income (Isik 520). Typically, the job of a Muslim woman within a conservative Islamic community is to tend to their home, children, and husbands. Amina Wadud, a well-respected Islamic studies professor, claims that “the particular place where [Muslim] women experience oppression most: as daughters, wives, and mothers in the private domain” (Wadud 48). The group of women weavers in the Konya neighborhoods are actively promoting feminism because they are attempting to equalize the gender role of a Muslim woman to that of a Muslim man in the workforce. But, what is important to note here is that the sense of agency to defy these historical gender roles originates from the women’s practice and mentality of sabir. Moreover, the common practice of sabir provides the Muslim women with the special agency they need to actively promote feminism.