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Shanzeh Khurram Headshot

God, Science and Feminism

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To say that I'm confused about religion would be an understatement. In just the past few years, I've gone from Muslim by default to agnostic to devout Muslim to a confused believer trying to make sense of faith on my own terms.

The greatest hindrance I have when it comes to believing in God is the unscientific nature of religion. As a lover of science, I like graphs and statistics: objective data published in reputable scientific journals that helps me to make informed decisions. And faith in God is necessarily blind -- irrational, unprovable. So at the age of 15, I turned away from Islam -- the religion in which I had been raised -- because it just didn't seem logical to me.

But I found that when I didn't believe in God, I didn't believe in anything -- I couldn't make sense of the suffering that I saw around me. Agnosticism is, at heart, a belief in uncertainty, and I like being absolutely certain about what I believe. And even this disbelief seemed forced -- when stuck in an elevator, my first instinct was to pray to God, even though I didn't think I believed in him at the time. This led to a full-blown existentialist crisis: I thought the world was absurd and meaningless and that perhaps nothing was real.

At 17, I tried to re-establish meaning in my life through the outward practice of religion -- I donned the hijab, kept extra fasts and read Islamic books. Fundamentalist Islam is nothing if not certain. But after a month of super-strict religious adherence, I started to hate God. I thought he was harsh and sexist since He gave men the upper hand over women and set down rigid rules, which, if not followed, would result in Hell.

As a radical feminist, it's especially hard for me to reconcile my religion with my feminist beliefs. Islam, while granting women many rights, still reinforces traditional gender roles, which I find hard to accept.

However, I've come to realize that the Qur'an is like poetry -- its meaning changes depending on how it's interpreted. Patriarchal readings produce patriarchal results, and since I live in a patriarchal society, most scholars' interpretations are automatically colored by their sexism. But scholars like Amina Wadud, Khaled Abou el Fadl, and Leila Ahmed provide interpretations of the Qur'an that are liberal, progressive and feminist. While many traditional scholars claim that women must be obedient and subservient to men, these feminist scholars argue that women can take charge of their own life and are completely equal. Their readings make sense to me -- a God who created women can't be sexist.

It might even be possible to balance my Islamic beliefs while maintaining my feminist values. It's hard to reconcile such opposing viewpoints, but I hope that these three threads (science, faith, and feminism) can be woven together to make my connections to everything in the universe, and beyond it, that much stronger.

I still have doubts about the existence of God. And I still struggle with some of the more misogynistic strains of traditional Islam. But I'm getting closer. I know I won't find God through scientific reasoning or Anselm's ontological arguments, but it will be my heart and intuition that will get me there.