God Given Rights: The delusions of Islamic feminism

6 years ago

By: Rushi Jae

On May 28th, 2016, a Huffington Post article with a bombastic title “Muhammad was a feminist” appeared in my newsfeed. The article became quite popular among the people of my country, and it was shared with me by one of them. Reading it, and absorbing it made me realize the “Aha! moment” which my passionate Muslim folks must have had, when they first read that piece. It looked like, everything they had wanted to say about the status of women in Islam and the overly negative light in which their views are usually expressed on popular media forums, just got a voice, in the form of a sensible, nicely written article; which could be aimed at the bigots, the right-wingers and the new wave of Trumpists.

The article, however, was not about something new. It was just a flavor of the larger, stronger and more popular movement of “Islamic feminism”, which I came across during a talk at my college. In case you don’t know its premise, it sees “Islam as a theology which is inherently feministic which have only been interpreted in distorted ways by Muslim politicians, religious leaders and institutions. The current state of women in Muslim countries hence, is solely the result of culture and politics and not the tenets of faith”

The aim of Islamic feminism is plain and simple. Standing for women's rights in the Muslim world. I know this because I had long associated myself with this movement, partly because it was appealing to me as a young woman, but mostly because it seemed to work. It did make people talk about feminism and paved the roads for discussions which seldom used to happen before in Muslim countries. However, there was a fundamental flaw in my approach and the larger approach of Islamic feminism. A flaw so great and obvious, that I regret not seeing it earlier.

The rhetoric of Islamic feminism was trying to legitimize feminism by the use of religion, as if feminism needed the validation of a theology or ideology to stand and get its voice heard in the Muslim countries. A closer observation of the origins of Islamic feminism would reveal that it began to gain pace during the increasing friction between Muslim countries and the Western world in the 21st century, which had been described by Huntington as the “Clash of the Civilizations”. When feminism emerged as a powerful global movement, and gradually casted its steps into the Muslim world, it faced such a backlash, and still does, in ways that are gruesome to describe, with women ending up jailed and expelled, their writings getting banned and social media pages and forums getting filtered out. In the amidst of all this, a movement seeming to “soften down” the stance of feminists, and attracting much less backlash arose, which now has solidified into “Islamic feminism”, whose lines of thinking has also become part of mainstream liberal feminism in West. Its evidence is the article I mentioned above and many others like that which continue to see the daylight on blogging platforms like these.

The problem with Islamic feminism is not necessarily the flaw in its premise, but its practical implication as well, that is women‘s rights are pretty much at the discretion of wisdom of Islam. Where Islam supports the rights of women, it might work. Where it does not, what about that? What are we supposed to do in that situation? What if after playing all the mental and lingual gymnastics, we still could not find a single verse which could save us? I am raising all these questions because this has happened before and still continues to happen. Islamic feminists will enthusiastically give speeches about the inherent feministic nature of Islam, and will bring abolishment of burying females in 6thcentury Arabia; they will talk about the status of respect for the mothers and sisters in Islam as if other women do not deserve one, they will talk about the use of polygamy to shelter women without questioning why those women need the shelter of marriage in the very first place, they will talk about the role of Muslim women in wars during the expansion of Islam but won’t bring their status as a material possession in the events after hijrat from Makkah to Medina, which is celebrated as a great example of brotherhood and fraternity which was achieved by exchanging food, clothes, utilities and women. They will talk about the non-religious basis of hijab, but emphasize modesty of clothing as if that’s an idea not rooted in misogyny and control of a woman’s body. And lastly, which happens to be my favorite one, is when they talk about “respect” of women in Islam. The same respect which lead many Muslim men to compare women’s bodies to gold or candy. I mean, you are free to compare women with diamonds in the hope that you are showcasing respect for them, but how I see it is that it’s a gross example of objectification which fuels the culture of ownership, ‘protection’ and honor. And we are talking about pretty basic things here. When it comes to homosexuals, transsexuals and expression of genders, where feminism has played an unprecedented role, Islamic feminism miserably fails, like it fails in addressing concerns about pre-marital sexual relationships, the verse about beating wife on dissent, the Sharia laws which no sensible woman can take seriously and “the second sex” status of women in Quran.

Voicing these concerns in conversations with Islamic feminists, as I have done many times, will often get you this response every time, which according to me is a cheap tactic to deflect criticism,“Oh, but what about Christianity? Hinduism? Buddhism?Why don't you look at them?” as if some oppression rat race is going on to see which religion oppresses women the most. This is a major downside of basing the arguments for human rights on religion, which has mostly been fruitless in this regard. It’s for the same reason that democracy has not thrived much in the Muslim world, because many well-intentioned Muslims are still stuck on the debate of whether democracy is Islamic or not.

The appeal of Islamic feminism, especially among the liberal Western feminists, arises from the fact that the movement’s most loud and forefront voices are Muslim women speaking for themselves, rather than someone dictating them about liberation and freedom. But it is also not a far-fetched truth that a lot of bullshit passes down as “feministic” and without much questioning or scrutiny just because the person saying it has brown skin. Using the placard of culture or religion, and thinking that it somehow immunes you from criticism or ending the debate with “But that's part of my culture” rather than beginning with it, is a grotesque example of moral relativism, which in my eyes is a feministic sin. Saying a practice is fine as long as it let's you celebrate "diversity" and multi-culturism does not make you a liberal; it makes you an intellectually dishonest person who needs history lessons. 

If a Muslim woman is okay with the Sharia laws or glorification of hijab and modesty culture, it does not really mean anything. I don’t get why these women are used as propaganda tools to basically say “Oh look she is fine with this so that means this must be feministic or nothing is particularly wrong with this practice”. I mean there are women who support Trump, and there are women who support Al-Sisi in Egypt. Interestingly, those same women are often used by MRAs and right-wingers in West to discredit feminism. The point is that for the most part, women have been used to upheld and justify their own oppression. There is no shortage of deluded women, and just because a woman is “okay” with a practice or a norm should not prevent it from criticism. This is why the popular MRA argument “So many women in West are okay with disliking feminism, that means it’s wrong” resembles so closely to the argument of Muslim men “So many Muslim women are okay with the hijab and modesty, that means nothing is wrong” which I am tired of hearing.

All and all, seeing Muslim community as a monolith and taking the narrative of dominant, Sunni Muslims and allowing it to shape your perception is a marked example of anti-liberalism. The Islamic feminists' voices are loud, because they form the mainstream Muslim societies, while women who raise conflicting voices are silenced or labeled as 'bigots' thanks to toxicity of political correctness. If you seriously think feminism needs the approval of a religion to validate itself, or you grossly cherry pick and choose the parts of scripture and try to forcibly white-wash and suger coat it, or if you see hijab as a tool of empowerment but fail to explain the slut-shaming, harrasement and rape which women face on the streets because their clothes were not modest enough, then I have nothing to say except gape at your hypocricy.  You cannot fight patriarchy unless you fight religion which continues to be the justification of many misogynistic practices. If in 2017, you are writing articles about how 7th century women in Arabia had more rights, you are basically naive about the decades long struggles of women in West who have fought along the civil rights movement, liberal principles and democracy of the 20th century to stand against the Church and question every fringe of culture, religion and politics. 


Originally Posted On themindgasmers.blogspot.co.uk


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