Reflections on Islamic feminism

In some Muslim circles, the “f” word (feminism) raises as many tensions as eyebrows, immediately conjuring images of the dominating, angry, family-hating woman, writes Rachelle Fawcett in todays Al Jazeera.images

“But like other images that come to mind upon mention of any label – including the image of the oppressed woman that often comes to mind when one hears “Muslim” – this gut reaction is based on stereotypes that may be true in a very specific historical and social context, but does not hold water when compared to a larger reality, and therefore does not justify the hostility that follows.

“While popular Islamic rhetoric touts the liberation of women with the coming of Islam over 1,400 years ago, to continually return to this story does nothing to alleviate women’s suffering today except by going back to the beginning, starting with Islam’s foundational text, the Quran.

“So what is “Islamic feminism”, how is it evolving, and who are the players? Dr Margot Badran, a graduate of al-Azhar University and Oxford University, defines “Islamic feminism” thusly:

…a concise definition of Islamic feminism gleaned from the writings and work of Muslim protagonists as a feminist discourse and practice that derives its understanding and mandate from the Qur’an, seeking rights and justice within the framework of gender equality for women and men in the totality of their existence. Islamic feminism explicates the idea of gender equality as part and parcel of the Quranic notion of equality of all insan (human beings) and calls for the implementation of gender equality in the state, civil institutions, and everyday life. It rejects the notion of a public/private dichotomy (by the way, absent in early Islamic jurisprudence, or fiqh) conceptualising a holistic umma in which Quranic ideals are operative in all space.

“This is an important distinction. “Islamic feminism” is not simply a feminism that is born from Muslim cultures, but one that engages Islamic theology through the text and canonical traditions. A distinctly “Islamic” feminism, at its core, draws on the Quranic concept of equality of all human beings, and insists on the application of this theology to everyday life. Stemming from this basic definition, we encounter a plethora of different interpretations, movements, projects, and personalities, creating feminisms that have diverse faces. Often, women’s issues are trivialised into whether or not to wear the veil or shake hands with men outside their family, and while larger issues, such as domestic violence, are being strongly addressed, the central issue of what “equality” means and how it is expressed go largely ignored. For example, domestic violence is wrong because it creates pain and suffering and is unjust, but the central belief of a man’s right to rule over his wife is not always part of this discussion.”


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