This page is a work in progress. Discussions like these need to continue and be revised and updated. My training is actually in Islamic law and medieval history, not post modernist feminist movements. So if you have anything brilliant to add, like an author or concept you’re in love with, feel free to leave a comment.
Here’s some suggested reading to get you started:
So who is a Muslim feminist? First of all, let’s make a distinction between Islamic feminism and Muslim feminism.
Islamic feminism is rooted in the textual scriptures of the religion: the Quran, Hadith, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, and the sharia, legal history. Some of the aims of Islamic feminism is to provide positive discourse on women from within the religion, to offer female readings of the scripture and to strive for equality between the sexes. All from within an Islamic framework.
Muslim feminism also works within an Islamic framework, noting for example, that violence against women is not accepted in the faith, but is nuanced because of exposure to the larger feminist movement, is expressively and culturally varied, and contextualizes scripture to promote equality.
So for example, you may find an Islamic feminist arguing that wearing the niqaab brings her closer to God. The wives of the prophet practiced a form of veiling, were strong, assertive and powerful women. Following their example as the “best of women” is liberating. A secular Muslim feminist may argue that wearing the niqaab helps to support an underhanded misogyny. Because veiling isn’t overtly found in the scripture, it has therefore been twisted to ensure that women are silenced.
I’d like to think that I fall somewhere between the two. And I’d like to think that a Muslim feminist is one who works toward the betterment of Muslim women and promoting the equality that is an intrinsic right of the religion. And in my super-duper-happy-gummibear-and-lemon-drop-OMG-is-it-raining-chocolate-kisses world, that this work is accomplished respectfully — so that yeah, if you want to wear the burqa because you feel it liberates you, go for it. As long as you’re happy and not hurting yourself or others in the process.
I’m a believing Muslim, a woman and a feminist. This means that I believe in the tenants of Islam, I am concerned with issues affecting women in relation to my religion, world culture and in general and I believe that much of religion has been interpreted, written, commanded, used, abused, and seen through the male lens. Feminism is an intrinsic part of Islam as much as patriarchy. Islam teaches equality, but it was revealed to pagan Arabs in “a language they would understand.” That language was predominantly male-centric, and has since been used by men (and women) to help promote patriarchy and oppressive realities for women. Which is why I also believe that it is necessary to have continued feminist readings and interpretations of the Qur’an.
So my all-time favourite examples of feminism in Islam are:
- God has 99 names, such as: al-Rahman, the most Merciful. This word comes from the root: rahm — meaning womb.
- The Prophet Muhammad championed women’s rights and supported the first female teacher in Islam, Shifa bint ‘abd Allah. She worked as a healer and passed this knowledge as well as reading and writing to other women. The second Chaliph, ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, appointed her as controller of the market in the city of Medina (the second major Islamic city after Mecca). She walked around town with a bull whip to keep the money lenders in line. A bull whip.
- Qur’anic selections. It’s a win-win situation when a scripture commands pagan Arabs to stop the practice of burying their infant daughters.
- Scholars like Farhat Naz Rahman who argues:
What is interesting is that [God] has not specified any particular role for all men or all women. The Qur’an does not propose or support a singular role or single definition of a set of roles, exclusively, for each gender across every culture. This thus allows individuals the freedom to decide on their functions and roles best suited to their contexts.
- Film maker Zarqa Nawaz. Little Mosque on the Prairie — small town fundamentalists go head-to-head against big city imam, a fun femjabi, quirky convert and her secular husband. Hilarity ensues. But do check out her other films if you have the chance!
- The Sufi Saint, Rabia al-Adawiyya. Who was self-sufficient and who consistently handed her contemporary Hasan al-Basri his lunch. She influenced centuries of male scholars.
Do you have any readings that you’d like to see added? Quotes or thoughts regarding Islam and feminism? Problematic issues?
Let me know via the Contact page.