What does it mean to be a Muslim feminist? Are Islam and feminism compatible? Liberal societies say they believe in freedom of religion; however, they constantly undermine Islam. Listen to the podcast
They sow the seeds of doubt in our minds by intentionally misrepresenting Islamic laws relating to Muslim women. Feminism is presented to us as an alternative viewpoint, it’s progressive, empowering and liberating whereas Islam is archaic, restrictive and authoritarian.
What does it mean to be a Muslim feminist?
If you grew up in Liberal secular country you have been drip fed ideas such as freedom, equality and individualism. Without realising we became convinced they are universal truths and live by them. So, when we want to defend Islam’s record on women’s rights, we say, “Islam is a feminist religion” and “Islam does believe in equality” and before you know it, you’re declaring “I am a Muslim feminist” We use the principles of feminism to defend Islam. That doesn’t make sense. Let me explain.
Feminists say they want women to have the same rights as men i.e. political rights, property rights, inheritance rights, right to divorce. Muslims hear this and say, before Islam came to the Arabs of Mecca, women had very few rights and then Allah revealed ayahs of Quran to prophet Muhammad (saw), which gave women all of these rights so therefore, Prophet Muhammad (saw) was a feminist and Islam supports feminist ideals.
But this reasoning doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. If Islam really believes in equality, then why according to Quran and Sunnah. Is the husband the head of the household and it’s his duty to work and provide for the family? Whereas the wife is given the role of homemaker and has no obligation to spend her wealth on her family? This well-established Islamic view of family structure is the opposite of Feminism’s stance on equality. We can find many examples, and non-Muslims also point out Islamic rules that do not coincide with equality. For example
- Allah chose only men to be prophets?
- Why can a woman not be the leader of an Islamic government, Caliph?
- Women have to wear khimar and jilbab, men don’t?
- Male imams lead salah in masjids and women have to pray behind men?
What does it mean to be a Muslim feminist?
Do you notice anything about these questions? It’s not a coincidence that they are all topics that Muslim women in the 21st century are questioning as well. So how can a Muslim square this circle?
Some Muslims try to resolve this obvious disparity by re-interpreting or denying the existence of Islamic rules unless they conform to feminism.
- For example, Muslim feminist Amina Wadud, has written a book, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, she delivers Friday Khutbahs (sermon) and has led prayers of mixed congregations. She is also part of Musawah.org who are calling for the reformation of traditional family structures.
A US, third wave feminist website called Muslim Girl advocates a liberal individualistic version of Islam. In 2018 millionaire, Gary Vaynerchuk, invested in this progressive Muslim website so that their “mission can have a chance.”
- Also, in a well-known, Tedx talk titled ‘What does the Quran really say about a Muslim woman’s hijab?’ Samina Ali, who is not an Islamic scholar, denies the obligation of hijab.
Unless I’m mistaken, these Muslims are taking equality, personal freedom and individualism as their guiding principles and they want Islam to adapt to these liberal principles.
They are the same rights that John Locke, the father of Liberalism and feminist philosophers, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Betty Friedan demanded. It would be disingenuous to not acknowledge that since its inception the feminist movement has helped some women gain political, social and economic rights. But as Muslims we must also recognise feminism is an inherently secular movement that proselytises moral autonomy and therefore disobeying our creator.
Justice not equality
We all know, our core belief is submission to Allah, our creator. That is our starting point. The core belief of feminism is to gain equal rights with men. In contrast, absolute Equality is not a goal for Muslims rather, Islam says justice is a fundamental idea that Muslims need to strive for.
In Islam, men and women and their actions are equal in the eyes of Allah, Allah says in the Qur‟an “Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; one of you is as the other” (The Holy Qur‟an 3:195).
Islam primarily addresses men and women the same because men and women, by and large, share the same human characteristics – men and women are addressed separately only in relation to the few areas where men and women differ.
The Islamic system is not based on selfish individualism but a God-centred world view promoting mutual reciprocity. In Islam, women do not serve men, nor do men serve women. Rather, we serve God by helping each other and giving to each other based on human needs, with the understanding that humans are not all the same.
Islam guards the female from the moment she enters the world, by rebuking and prohibiting the practice of female infanticide as one of the gravest crimes to be committed. Such a religion can only go on to challenge the ill-treatment of women, and secure her wellbeing, at every stage of her life. Through property rights, marriage contracts, political participation, inheritance laws, and dress code, it advocates complementarity with men and not competition.
The importance of marriage
Marriage is the bedrock of family life and the fundamental unit of Islamic society. Giving us rights and duties to one another. As a wife, she has the right to be provided for, including her own living space. Is guaranteed financial safeguards should her marriage not work out. Yet Islam does not straitjacket women. It allows women to enter the workplace – but not out of the necessity of the struggle to support herself, but out of choice, to be pursued at her leisure.
In Islam, nobody has a right over her earnings. However, Islam mandates that a man’s earnings must be used to provide for the women of the household irrespective of whether they work or not. Furthermore, as a mother, the woman is given preference for respect from her children over their father. Such is the esteemed role she plays as the heart and soul of the family and, by extension, society.
Islam provides a clear, natural and just solution to ensuring justice for all humans and has no need for feminism’s vain attempts to reinvent the wheel that Islam set in motion over 1400 years ago.
In Islam, power is not a virtue – it is a burden and responsibility. Instead of seeking to empower ourselves, we should empower justice. In Islam, women are liberated from the servitude of men, and liberated from the expectations of other women. It is virtue, which all human beings, regardless of gender, career or social role, can equally strive for. In the end, true self-worth and contentment does not come through submission to any aspect of creation but rather, by submission to the Creator Himself and all that He commands.
The Allure of Muslim feminism
I think it’s necessary to address the reasons why some Muslim women and men are turning to secular feminism in the first place. As I have already briefly outlined, the teachings in the Quran and Sunnah are perfect, however we must admit we are imperfect. Globally, we cannot point to any Muslim government that advocates for justice for all people by applying Allah’s laws comprehensively.
“So, we can’t neglect the underlying issues which drive women towards the feminist camp to begin with. For example, there are few spaces committed to, encouraging Muslim women to reach their full potential and make meaningful contributions. Oftentimes, they turn to non-Muslim organisations that take their concerns seriously. Placing those concerns within the context of a broader feminist struggle against patriarchal systems. What is often attractive here is not necessarily the ideology itself but its goal of tackling some of the injustices faced by Muslim women. A goal that is not seen to be on the agenda in many Masjids and community centres.” Is Feminism the Problem? Why Ideological Bandwagons Fail Islam
Injustices must be challenged in our communities
Muslim women, like many women, face challenges at home and in society, including domestic violence and sexual harassment. Sometimes the perpetrators of these abuses use religion to justify and legitimise their actions. A problem certainly not unique to Islam.
We have to stop accepting unjust practices in our communities that are not rooted in Islam. We should focus our efforts to understand the Islamic approach to gender. Implementing it in our families, majids and organisations. Finally we must hold ourselves accountable for failing to behave in ways that are not consistent with prophetic teachings.
Bizarrely, we are living in a time where it has become cool for Muslims to identify as feminists. Most people blow whichever way social norms take them. However, we know Muslim Feminism will not comprehensively resolve the problems that Muslim women are facing. So, in its place we need to embrace the alternative Islamic narrative to secular, Liberal feminism. We must stand up for what we believe in, even if it is unfashionable or politically incorrect.