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(s) and Muslim feminism(s).

Islamic feminism can be 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.

And then you have those who say that being a “Muslim Feminist” is redundant — since Islam is inherently feminist with the Qur’an extolling the virtue of providing equality to all persons. Kind of like ordering a Chai tea from your favourite barrista — you’re actually ordering a Tea tea.

Then there are those who reject the term “feminist” outright — because adopting it would mean rejection from within the Muslim community.

It’s… complicated.

I’d like to think that I fall somewhere in-between. 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.

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 or in the comments.

24 Responses to “islam and feminism”


  1. Salaam Alaikum,

    What a great blog, masha Allah. I think I’ll be back for more!

  2. holly Says:

    Hi K,

    I am a friend of your Dad’s (he teaches Tai Chi) where i work. He suggested your blog to me. Although not a muslim myself, I wholly support what you are trying to do with your blog. The only way we will ever understand each other or change the world is to communicate. Great blog K, interesting reading. Will be back.

    1. woodturtle Says:

      Hi holly! Thanks for stopping by :)

  3. Serenity Says:

    Salaam, Woodturtle!
    Great blog you’ve got here!

    I have lots to share on Islamic feminism, and it’ll be a delight to do so! I’ll be back here frequently, inshaAllah.

    Found this very fascinating and sweet; had no idea about it: “God has 99 names, such as: al-Rahman, the most Merciful. This word comes from the root: rahm — meaning womb.”

    Wow!

    Zarqa Nawaz is a phenomenal woman. I love, love, LOVE the episodes I’ve seen of “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” and I deeply appreciated her film/documentary “The Mosque and Me.”

    I wasn’t before aware of Farhat Naz. Thank you for providing her comment. Very true and a great reminder to all Muslims to verify what they’ve been taught as men’s and women’s “natural” and “Islamic” roles.

    By the way, do you know of Sukayna bint Husayn? She was a great-granddaughter of the Prophet (peace be upon them both) and an excellent example of a feminist. Let me quote Mernissi:

    “The most powerful men debated with her [Sukayna]; caliphs and princes proposed marriage to her, which she disdained for political reasons. Nevertheless, she ended up marrying five, some say six, husbands. She quarreled with some of them, made passionate declarations of love to others, brought one to court for infidelity, and never pledged ta’a (obedience, the key principle of Muslim marriage) to any of them. In her marriage contract, she stipulated that she would not obey her husband, but would do as she pleased and that she did not acknowledge that her husband had the right to practice polygyny” (Fatima Mernissi, The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam” (1991), p. 192).

    Doesn’t she sound like someone you’d looove to have a long discussion on women’s rights in Islam with?!

    1. woodturtle Says:

      Thank you so much for sharing that! I’ll be adding her bio to the list!

      And Zarqa is great — brilliant and an all around really nice person. She once made me spaghetti with soy meatballs for dinner while I was visiting my aunt in Regina.

  4. erna Says:

    This page was a great discover for me! Thank you for inspiring and deconstructive thoughts now we can share.

  5. PB Says:

    We need more blogs like this. I think American women do not like veiling because it forces us to face the fact that we were once deemed second class citizens..we did not have the right to vote, to own property, to go to schools, etc. When we hear that a woman refuses a legal request to unveil we have a knee jerk reaction. Hiding ones face has negative implications for us. Bank robbers hide their faces, not law abiding citizens. I assume few people would have problems if a woman goes to the Mosque veiled. But now when she strolls down the street covered she flaunts her difference and tells me that she believes she does not have to comply with the laws of my land as she believes the law of Islam takes precedence. America is a land of promise and I hope people come to this country because they believe in democracy. Democracy is a fragile concept and it takes all of us to protect it so it can protect us.

    1. Zeina Says:

      I always thought of the veil as a Muslim tag for people to recognize the women; and I believe this much has been said in the Quran.
      I think of it as taking pride in the religion “I am a Muslim” that plays a big part as well.

      I don’t see the correlation of choosing to be veiled all the time with not believing in democracy. How did you manage to link the two?

      This blog was a great read!

  6. Tammie Yak Says:

    As a new convert, one of the things I have been having trouble with is how to fit the “feminist” values into Islam. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They have been helpful. I hope there will be more discussions to come!


  7. Great blog! I just stumbled upon your page today and It’s great that your addressing these issues!! Keep posting! :)


  8. Thank you for this blog. I just found it an like it a lot. I am non-Muslim but love learning about different religions. This explained Islam and feminism very well. Thank you!

  9. Omar Bahar Says:

    This is great and DUA (Pray) that Women will find equality in their life which is currently one-sided. If the Great Prophet Mohammad (May Peace Be Upon Him) extended great Respect, Love and Kindness to women why not the men, followers of Islam follow suit.

    This blog will be very useful especially for women to be confident, fearless and to be positive in their approach. Honesty and being faithfull to the religion will pave the way with the blessings of bounties in your day to day life since the hearts are linked to Almighty Allah.

    Assalamu Alaikum WaRahmatullahi WaBarakatuhu!

  10. ayen Says:

    Thank you! As a convert, one of the things that attracted me to Islam was social justice and with that feminism, within the Qu’ran. One of the things that continues to frustrate me as I seekout an umma in Canada since returning from East Africa is the crossover of, and misinterpretation of culture into religion especially when it comes to this topic, as a feminist parent this becomes especially problematic. Your blog is a refreshing change in the dialogue :)

  11. mezba Says:

    If someone EVER asks you about women Companions who worked, saying it is better for women to stay at home, give them these names:

    Asma bint Abu Bakr (a water carrier and labourer, wife of Az Zubair), Umm Atiyyah (also known as Nusaybah bint Al-Harith – a soldier and nurse), Shifa bint ‘abd Allah (controller of the market in the city of Medina during the time of Umar), Asmā’ bint Yazīd bin as-Sakan al-Ansāriyya (soldier), Khansā’ bint ‘Amr bin ash-Sharīd as-Sulamiyya (poet), Ash-Shifā’ bint ‘AbdAllāh (healer), Umm Mihjan (sweeper and janitor), Umm Sharīk (also known as Ghaziyya bint Jābir – a teacher).

    And then say, “Google!”.

  12. Trista Says:

    Salam sister – I can’t believe how happy I am to have found this blog!! Thank you!! I will be back!

    1. wood turtle Says:

      Wasalaams and thanks for stopping by!!

      I WANT YOUR BOOK! Where, how can I find it?

  13. Trista Says:

    wasalaams back! Elisabeth is still finishing up the illustrations. We hope to have it out later this year – there will be updates on our facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/thegirlgod.

    1. wood turtle Says:

      Veeeeery interesting paper. Thank you so much for sharing it with me.

      I especially am intrigued by the notion that “By enforcing certain definitions of who can be a feminist through the idea of reinterpretation in a modern context and in equivalence with existing norms of women’s equality from the West, Islamic women’s groups and advocates find themselves muted – unable to discuss liberation on their own terms, and instead, forced to speak in a meta narrative that is defined by power and the hegemonic norms of Western civil society.” I suppose though, this is why I feel it’s important to make a distinction between Muslim and Islamic Feminism. Especially if Islamic feminism is rooted in the feminist ideals of the religion and actions/deeds of the Prophet. The author makes sense then that, for example, a secular movement, or Western-Islam looking to assimilate within a secular environment would undermine the religious/political goals of an Islamic feminism.

      There’s so much to unpack — it’s something I think I’d like to do in a seperate post.

      It also reminds me of this brilliant piece: White women and the privilege of solidarity

      Have you seen it? And what did you make of this paper?


  14. [...] Wood Turtle https://woodturtle.wordpress.com/islam-and-feminism/ [...]

  15. Hyde Says:

    So it is the definition of the word feminism that is the problem ?

  16. Faiz Says:

    Pictures and artwork about Islam and lot more interesting information:
    http://majesticart.wordpress.com/

  17. Faiz Says:

    Thousand of beautiful Islamic pictures, Hadith, Sayings, Wallpapers, Picture Quotes and lot more!
    http://majesticart.wordpress.com/

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