Wednesday, April 29, 2009

feminism vs. islam?

I've been reading a few blogs and articles over the past few days, and a lot of them brought up the issue of the so-called contradiction between feminism and Islam. Is there a contradiction? Can a Muslim woman be a feminist, and can a feminist be a Muslim? I'd say yes, since I would describe myself as both.
I think one problem is the negative image feminism has in the Arab/Islamic world. People see it as a Western import that has no place in Islamic culture. It probably brings to mind images of women in short skirts burning bras or women trying to act like men. This is, of course, stereotypical. To me, feminism is simply giving women equal right. EQUAL, not the SAME. No one says that men and women should be doing the same things or playing the same roles, but they should get EQUAL value for what they do, i.e. a woman should be valued for raising children just as much as a man gets valued for being a C.E.O. (provided the woman chose to become a mother).
In this sense of the word feminism, is it really incompatible with Islam? I don't think so. As many scholars have said, the Qur'an out of the 3 holy books gives the most rights to women. The Prophet could probably be described as a feminist, considering that he was pro-women's rights and often spoke out against unnecessary cruelty against women, such as when they were beaten by their husbands. His actions alone were very progressive: he didn't beat his wives, his wives often spoke out against him publicly, and he clearly loved them, especially Aisha. Khadija in particular is a good example of the kind of man the Prophet was: she was older than him, economically independent, and she proposed to him! Can you imagine many Arab men TODAY marrying a woman like that? I definitely can't.
If anything, the Qur'an and the Prophet put forward a case for women's rights that has gradually been diminished over time, with women becoming more and more oppressed across the Islamic world. This is why I'm very interested in the idea of Islamic feminism: the idea that we can get equality for women through Islam, since Islam does advocate that women's rights are important.
It really gets to me when Muslims (especially women) get upset at feminists. Another example of women bringing their own sex down. You can be a Muslim and a feminist: there is no necessary contradiction, unless you have a radical defintion of feminism OR a radical definition of Islam, and since I have neither, I find it easy to be both.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you feel you can be both but I can't help but disagree because as long as there are gender prescriptions for dress code, behaviour etc, there cannot be real freedom.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

That's definitely an important point and something I've struggled with for a while. Personally I do not believe (from my interpretations) that the veil is a requirement in Islam. Regarding behaviour, there is no doubt that Islam overall requires women to be modest. However, everyone has their own definition of modesty, and mine allows me to be comfortable with being both a feminist and a Muslim.

Every religion has restrictions and requires you to give up some things. If you think it is worth it, then those things won't mean much. If you don't, then you'll constantly obsess about those things you're being required to give up, which is what I did for years.

A final note is that everyone means something different by gender equality. Does it mean men and women should have different but equal rights, or exactly the same rights? God makes it clear that pious men and pious women are exactly the same in the eyes of God; at the same time women do not have equal legal rights in the Qur'an: so in one sense their is gender equality, in another there isn't. This whole topic is something that still bothers me and that I'm still grappling with.

Aynur said...

ITA with you! I also think that one of the problems is some of the "sahih" hadiths that put women at a lower level than men. Of course there are those hadiths that show that women have a high status (i.e. paradise is at the feet of mothers) but then those that say women are deficient in intelligence/religion, because of their periods...
I think many feminists would be against women displaying their bodies like the media shows ...

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Yes, exactly! I think there are different forms of oppression...being forced to wear mini skirts and act slutty is also a way of being oppressed, something feminists should be against too.

Aynur said...

Yes!!! :)
You know about the veil issue - I had a discussion with my MIL (actually she didn't listen to me it wasn't a discussion hahaha), she was saying if I cover my hair and ask Allah for forgiveness I can be forgiven for not covering my hair. I said that the Qur'an doesn't specify cover your hair/head, but that it's implied. I said the focus is on the bosom (and I even get distracted by women that have cleavage showing & I'm not even a guy!) My MIL (and my BIL since he was there) said "you don't know Arabic, how can you say that". ???!!!! I also said people were covering their heads anyway but their headcovers were hanging down their backs when the verses were revealed and she said that they weren't. So, I was kind of shocked that she said those things b/c I know from reading different books (i.e. Khaled Abou El Fadl's + the commentation in my Qur'an) that both of those things I said were facts.

My husband was saying something to me last week about following rules and how he follows the "rules" to be safe (meaning religious rules) - unlike me. I said "what do you mean" (knowing what he was hinting at). He said "well, you're not covering your hair, are you?" - and I said, why were Muslim slave women not allowed to cover their hair? I also brought up a few other issues and he backed off.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Aynur I have to say, your point of view is very refreshing! I was starting to lose hope about there being more open-minded Muslims out there. I don't know why today the veil has become almost the 6th pillar in Islam, and until you veil you're not considered a real Muslim. There are many scholars who have studied Islam extensively that say the veil is good but not required-there's a big difference.
And like you said, historical facts make a big difference: a lot of historians say that no women veiled at the time of the Prophet (pbuh) except his wives.
I am not against the veil at all. I respect and admire women who veil. But I'm so sick of being judged on this ONE thing: the fact that I'm not veiled means I'm in denial about being a real Muslim. It's ignorant, shallow, and annoying.

Aynur said...

That's the thing that bothers me so much too ... for example, I can tell my MIL judges people based on whether they cover or not. Many people are like that.
One time I was with my MIL visiting one of her hijabi friends, (Canadian lady who wears hijab/abaya), and I overheard my MIL saying to her friend that it's good if she's around my daughters so she can be a "good example" of how a Muslim lady is "supposed" to dress. Mind you, I don't go around wearing skanky clothes - but I wear jeans and a sweatshirt or jeans and a top. Not even short-sleeved, the shortest is 3/4 sleeves. I don't let my bosom hang out either. So that comment really really irritated me.
I also do respect women that cover. And believe they should be free to do so. Especially here in the US, you stand out like a sore thumb - people will stare at you. One of my Pakistani American friends said that women shouldn't be wearing hijab in a non-Muslim country because it attracts attention to you and that's against the purpose of the hijab (those are her words).
I know I'm not considered a "real" Muslim by many - but, I have to remind myself that only Allah judges - thankfully. :)

And I think that what I'm going through now is good for me - even if some day I decide to take up the hijab maybe after reading something that convinces me - so that I can better understand my daughters as they get to adolescence. I'm sure they'll have questions (hopefully they'll come to me) and I'll be open to discussing different viewpoints on the hijab.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

As long as you decide to wear it because you're convinced religiously, then that's great.
Like you said, God will judge in the end, not other Muslims (although judging is something a lot of Muslims love to do).

Mrs. S said...

Interesting post. I learned in college that there are different "types" of feminism, but I've often felt that the reason why feminism in the Western sense is so off putting to me in that it does not make allowances for cultural or religious differences. The word feminist has such negative connotations, though, I think in general. Unfortunately I can’t help but find the whole concept a form of cultural imperialism. Almost a “four legs good, two legs bad” sort of mantra pops in my head when considering it. Sort of a mob of all those classic ‘70s feminists icons bleating that men are oppressing me and that essentially I don’t know enough to make my own choices. In the same way I have a strong distaste for men who write books or give lectures espousing the most extreme ideas regarding women’s roles, etc.

Regarding al-hijab, I have yet to hear a fully convincing argument as to why it is not required in Islam. That’s not to say that I have not heard some compelling ones, but Islam is a relatively literal religion and it is clearly stated that interpretation in the loosest sense is not allowed. We are able to form our own opinions, however, I’m wary of taking too many liberties when it comes to language. In any religion no matter your opinion you’ll find some “scholar” or whomever to support your view. It is important for women to feel comfortable, whether or not hijab is in the cards for them. It is just as important to not discourage other women from wearing it in the same way that it is unacceptable to judge women for not. Only Allah knows what is in our hearts, and on Judgment Day we will stand alone to answer for our deeds.

Sorry for the long comment. Once again very interesting. I enjoyed the comments just as much as the post. I look forward to reading more. Thanks!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Thanks for posting Mrs S.!
I agree that Western feminism has made a lot of mistakes, including the fact that it is often racist towards non-white/Christian women. Another mistake is that they made it hard for women who wanted to stay home and look after their kids to do so without being labeled "oppressed".

Great comment about the hijab. Like you said, a woman should feel comfortable, whether veiled or not, and unfortunately it's been my experience that I'm usually judged a "bad Muslim" or not a Muslim at all because I'm not veiled. Like I said before, God will judge in the end, so why do so many Muslims feel they too have to judge each other?

I agree that everyone can find a scholar who will support their own views, and this goes for liberal as well as radical interpretations. At the end it is also up to us to do some of our own research and thinking, and not blindly follow scholars/sheikhs/interpreters. Many people seem to have forgotten this.

Thanks again for posting!

Aynur said...

I do agree with Mrs. S about not discouraging someone who would want to wear hijab - I think it has to be what's in your heart. When my daughters are old enough if they want to I will support them.

I think it's interesting that Sa'id b. Jubayr said that revealing the hair was reprehensible, but also stated that the Qur'anic verses did not explicitly say anything about women's hair.

I think too, one of the issues I have is that men only have to cover between the belly button to the knees, while women are supposed to cover everything except for the face & hands. Men get to go out and enjoy the beach, the hot weather, etc., while women can't.

Sarah said...

Interesting post, and comments. I think one thing that often attracts female converts to Islam is that it allows them to be feminine in a traditional way, which modern "western" society does not. It distinguishes between men and women much more and allows women to feel good about being mums and home-makers. A lot of women love the hijab, even plenty of women who don't want to be Muslims! I agree with you that none of this should be in conflict with feminism, but it becomes more difficult to be sure of equality the more different men and women are encouraged to be. When you are not comparing like with like, then what does "equality" even mean?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Thanks for your comment Sarah. I really think the Western feminist movement made a mistake by making it difficult for women to be respected for staying at home and raising a family. The point of feminism isn't necessarily for women and men to do the exact same things, but for women and men to get the same VALUE for the different things they do. If a woman is a CEO and her husband is a stay at home dad, they should get equal respect for it. Similarly, if the man is a CEO and the women is a stay at home mum, they should be valued equally.

Sarah said...

Value is easy to measure in the workplace - it basically means pay and promotion opportunity and things like that - but harder to measure in life in general, for example the value of a person's efforts in the home. But I agree with you in principle.

I think that women and men should have equal opportunities, so that those women who want to be CEOs and men who want to stay home with kids should ideally be able to do that. But I don't think it should be expected that equal numbers of men and women will want to do these things. Companies are always being pressured to equalize gender numbers at all levels of employment... so silly.

Sarah Elizabeth said...

A short comment regarding the hijab. I myself do not cover for the same reasons you and Aynur have mentioned, nowhere in the Quran is it mandated.

What has caught me as interesting as of late is how political the veil is now. In fact, many women who wear it are not necessarily religous, but following the laws of their country..

I myself have no problem with women who choose to veil, what I do have a problem with is enforced veiling, and also enforced unveiling (france).. Each side is an injustice to women..
It is all politics it seems. Power and control at play on women's bodies and women's choice.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah Elizabeth: I completely agree - women being forced to dress a certain way is always wrong.
The veil certainly seems very linked to politics and identity. In Egypt many women veil/wear niqab to show support for the Islamist political parties. In Holland many women veil to show that they are Muslim. So in these cases it is about politics and identity first, religious mandate second.

Anonymous said...

Its not western feminists who dont respect homemothers, i think its a lie thats spread and mostly made up by white western men who dont like feminists at all. There is so much more hate from homemothers, religious or not, against feminists than the other way around.

Feminists are murdered for talking about womens right to take part in society on equal terms, homemothers are not. and so on.