Common topics discussed in the Islamosphere tend to appear and reappear cyclically. It’s like a wave that spreads through the many talented voices dedicated to grappling with the more “uncomfortable” discourses in our nuanced communities – where suddenly, Muslim bloggers are all talking about the same thing at the same time: the “beating verse,” hijab, gender segregation at mosques, hijab, women’s rights and roles, hijab, polygamy, hijab, menstruation, hijab, domestic violence, hijab, and on it goes.
This post was supposed to allow me to daydream myself into a faerie-tale discussion of the “perfect” mosque – but a reader sent an e-mail requesting my thoughts on the recent Goatmilk debate: Islam is incompatible with Feminism, and I decided to throw my two cents in.
Two respectable minds entered the debate – only one emerged victorious … though, the jury is still out, and will probably be out for a very long time on this very complex subject.
Debater Mohamad Tabbaa favoured the motion, and argued that Islam and Feminism are two different and irreconcilable ideologies:
Muslim feminists must now make the choice between the Islamic paradigm, which is centred around God, or the secularised modern theology, which is based almost exclusively around (white) men.
In his rebuttal, Tabbaa nuanced his arguments further with the idea that merging Islam into Feminism colonises “Muslim spaces and voices” and that, “Islam already has within its paradigm the language and tools with which to deal with women’s issues.”
Arguing against the motion, Katrina Daly Thompson took the position that there are some Muslims who simply don’t understand Feminism (just as there are Feminists who don’t understand Islam is open to interpretation) – and that Islam and Feminism are fundamentally linked:
Feminism and Islam both need Muslim feminists—Muslim men and women who believe in the full humanity of women—to fight against gender discrimination within Muslim cultures and spaces.
Guess which one I sided with.
Reading the articles and subsequent comments (with lots of eye rolling and victory air punching) started me thinking about my own feminism and how I view myself as a religiously-oriented, Muslim feminist.
Sometimes I like to imagine Feminism and Islam existing on a spectrum – with Muslim feminists on one end and “Islamic feminism” on the other. For me “Islamic feminism” refers to the idea that Islam is built on a foundation of social justice and equity that is clearly laid out in the Qur’an and prophetic traditions – an inherently religious, Divinely-guided, pro-female-empowerment ideology. Muslim feminism recognises the same by working within Islamic beliefs – but is expressively, politically and culturally varied – aiming to contextualise scripture that has been misconstrued by patriarchal systems. You could be an Islamic feminist, a Muslim feminist, both, or neither and recognise that women have rights within Islam.
Perhaps I’m oversimplifying or still wanting to daydream. My thoughts on how to define the two and relate to myself are constantly evolving. The above paragraph cannot encompass the vast history, diversity and development of both Islam and Feminism within a Muslim context. Neither is *only* concerned with “women’s issues” – but includes righting the wrongs of classism, racism, discrimination and oppression. I also believe that there are a variety of understandings, extremes and interpretations along the spectrum – and when reduced to intention, you can imagine both sides working toward similar goals.
Depending on the topic at hand I can find myself at either end – occupying spaces that make sense to me – allowing me to feel comfortable reconciling my faith with whatever I have perceived as offensive to my rights as a Muslim woman.
A Muslim feminist may adhere to traditional feminist notions of social justice and equity, just like a believer in “Islamic feminism” may adhere to traditional Islamic notions of social justice and equity. So, if both sides work toward the same goals and base their ideals on similar sources, why would there ever be an impasse between the two?
Being known as a Muslim feminist has its share of interesting conversations. There are some feminists (Muslim and non) who believe that by wearing the headscarf, I’m participating in and validating a patriarchal construct aimed at monitoring women’s bodies and that supports arguments for the exclusion of women from the public sphere. That my reasons of “spiritual identity” and “tradition” empower misogynists and are tainted with the hijab’s historical memory of privilege and slavery.
Others tell me that Islam and Feminism are incompatible and are quick to point to cultural practices of child marriage, polygamy, segregation and human right’s violations in Muslim countries as proof that Islam is inherently misogynist.
On the other side, there are those who do not want to be associated with Feminism at all. Perhaps because they believe it’s rooted in a Western, secular philosophy, aiming to supersede Divine Will and the “perfected religion” of Islam. Maybe, as has been pointed out brilliantly by Katrina, they just don’t understand Feminism.
And while my views on homosexuality and gender equity sometimes shocks my more “traditional” friends – we can find common ground when it comes to recognising women’s Divinely-guaranteed Islamic rights, with me standing by my sisters who find true spiritual fulfillment and happiness in traditional motherhood roles.
For whatever reason feminism is rejected, when a Muslim recognizes and holds on to the concepts of social justice and equity inherent in Islam, (in my mind) it’s proof that Islam and Feminism can be compatible and are in fact, a necessary partnership.