Asma T. Uddin is a contributor to Tikkun Daily, but she’s more widely known as the founder of Altmuslimah.com. Since 2009, Altmuslimah.com has been fostering online dialogue on the highly emotional and difficult to define subject of gender roles in Islam. This online magazine-style blog “looks at the intersection of female and male sexuality and gender identity with society, politics, economics, and culture” and uses personal, individual narratives from contributors to do so.
Uddin is a Legal Fellow with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) and an international law attorney with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit, non-partisan, public interest law firm based in Washington, D.C. But it was her own experience growing up as an American Muslim, and her own evolution as a Muslim woman which inspired her to create an online space for free expression and intelligent debate which welcomes Muslims, non-Muslims, men and women to participate.
In a recent interview, I spoke with Uddin about the impetus for founding Altmuslimah.com. “In many ways, Altmuslimah is a playing out of a lot of internal issues and struggles–spiritually and otherwise–I experienced back when I was in college,” she told me.
Up until she went to college Uddin had had a warm and fuzzy view of religion. Growing up as a Muslim in Miami, Florida she was fascinated by comparative religion at a young age and engaged enthusiastically with people about Islam. But after arriving on campus she found a great deal of conflict between American-born Muslims and those who were from other cultures who had vastly different ideas about Islam and women’s roles in the community.
“To them women should always be covered, they shouldn’t have a part in leadership positions, they shouldn’t be head of the MSA–and if they were they should definitely be wearing hijab. It was just scandalous to them that we had a non-hijab wearing female president, or that we had co-ed meetings where everyone was able to speak freely and together. So that was my first introduction to the idea that there were really different interpretations and that not all of them are peachy-keen.”
Throughout college and law school Uddin went on to struggle with trying to find her place in Islam as a woman, seeking to define her own role in the community. During her self-proclaimed “Gender in Islam Crisis” Uddin suffered from guilt and fear, feeling alone through the entire process. She went through the proverbial fire, even going so far as to question her faith but finally came to terms with her interior conflict. “It occurred to me that our natural disposition is one of equality and equal dignity and there’s no way a God could have created me to be less than men…to be subservient to anyone.”
After college she started a discussion group related specifically to gender issues in Islam. The group confirmed for Uddin that she was not alone in her journey to self-discovery, and it became the inspiration for her founding the Altmuslimah.com community.
Unlike many other Muslim sites devoted to gender studies in Islam, Altmuslimah.com is not about religious legal rulings. Rather, it’s about the individual experiences, struggles and triumphs that women (and men) go through as they identify themselves within Islam. “While it’s easy to write a blog about the ‘Ideal Muslimah’, the ideal doesn’t exist in reality. It’s just so much more internally complex than some caricature that you can draw through your writing and that complexity of being can teach us so much,” Uddin told me.
She went on, “What makes Altmuslimah.com very special is that it’s the playing out of a very organic process.” Rather than creating strict editorial guidelines and attempting to control individual expression, Uddin invites contributing writers come from all over the country to cover a wide range of issues and topics on their terms. The feedback has been phenomenal. Muslim readers have written in to tell Uddin and her editorial staff how much they see of themselves.
Non-Muslim readers have also expressed their appreciation for Uddin’s vision. Altmuslimah.com. is now a featured blog at the Washington Post, and Uddin has announced future sister sites will include Altcatholica.com and Altjudaica.com. “When it comes to issues of gender and sexuality, many people of faith [from all religions] are going through the same thing,” Uddin declared. Indeed.