Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reconciling Islam and Feminism

Feminism, equity and being a Muslim have social justice in common

Fatemeh Fakhraie – WNN Opinion
Women with the Building Bridges program Seattle, Washington, May 2011
Two women from diverse religious backgrounds work for social justice and rights with the Building Bridges program sponsored by UUSC (Unitarian Universalist Service Committee), Seattle, Washington May 2011. Image: Fatema Bannazadeh

(WNN) Portland, OREGON, U.S.: People, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, often tell me that I can’t be both a Muslim and a feminist. At a recent book reading in Oregon, for example, a male audience member asked me, “How does that even work?” These questions demonstrate some of the rigid misconceptions individuals have about Islam and feminism; many people think that they’re mutually exclusive categories. In fact, as a Muslim feminist, I have found them to have more in common than people realise, especially when it comes to social justice.

Ethos – the fundamental spirit that guides my faith– is more important to me than edicts, or strict dogma, and so when religious questions arise, I defer to big-picture themes. One of Islam’s major themes is that of equity and justice. The Qur’an details equitable divorce proceedings, fair treatment of orphans and just conduct when it comes to prisoners of war — situations that differ in details and circumstances in our modern times, but which are often fraught with unfairness and injustice. When I read the holy book, the themes of justice and dignity for humanity stand out to me.

These themes are the same ideals I take from feminism. Some assume that feminism is concerned only with the protection and advancement of women. But as a bi-racial Muslim woman, I can’t ignore the ways that different socially constructed categories, such as gender and race, interact and interrelate. My feminism is concerned with the dignity and rights of every person. Regardless of gender, race, religion, ability, or anything else, we all deserve to have control over our own destinies, earn equal compensation for our work and have the same chances at happiness and success.

For these reasons, I don’t see contradictions between Islam and feminism at the big-picture level. There are echoes of Islam and feminism in each other; though Islam is about submission to God, an important facet of that is submission to what’s just. Thus, both Islam and feminism guide my outlook and my work.
In 2007, I founded Muslimah Media Watch, a website dedicated to critiquing global media images of Muslim women. I also write for Racialicious, which looks at pop culture and race, and an alumnus of the American Muslim Civil Leadership Institute, which works with civic leaders in the American Muslim community. I use my writing and editing skills as a way to advocate for what I believe is right.

There’s a wealth of scholarship on Islam and feminism. Margot Badran, an author and academic, has published extensively on Muslim women and Islamic feminism. In an article for Egypt’s Al-Ahram Online, she wrote, “Islamic feminism, which derives its understanding and mandate from the Qur’an, seeks rights and justice for women, and for men, in the totality of their existence…. Islamic feminism advocates women’s rights, gender equality, and social justice using Islamic discourse as its paramount discourse, though not necessarily its only one.”

Academics aren’t the only ones blending Islam and feminism in their lives and viewpoints. Dr. Amina Wadud is an Islamic scholar who has written several books on Islam from a feminist perspective, as well as an activist who works to break rigid roles for women in the mosque by leading prayer.
Sisters in Islam, a non-profit group of Muslim women in Malaysia, advocates within legal and media frameworks for women’s and children’s legal and social rights within Malaysia. A student-owned independent network, Mideast Youth, embarks on projects using digital media that fight for the rights of marginalised groups in predominantly Muslim countries to “amplify diverse and progressive voices advocating for change throughout the Middle East and North Africa”. These people and organisations understand that egalitarian scholarship and ideas are essential to battling different types of oppression on the ground.

Writing and engaging with the media through Muslimah Media Watch has been my biggest step in blending my Islam and feminism. There are plenty of different ways to be Muslim and feminist: people write, rally around causes and live out feminist interpretations of the Qur’an. But one thing is for sure: Islam and feminism are not mutually exclusive.

Why do you think stereotypes of Islam as a sexist/misogynistic religion persist?

The authors focuses on the "Big Picture" of Islam to incorporate her Muslim and feminist identities. Why do you think she chooses to ignore smaller details from Islamic texts that someone with an opposing viewpoint may reference? What does this omission do to the strength of her argument?

Can adherents to any specific religion take a fundamentalist approach while also espousing the rights of women, LGBT individuals, AND other oppressed groups? If so, which religion(s)? If not, what steps may be necessary to reconcile these two value/belief systems?

1 comment:

  1. (1) I think the reason why Islam gets called out for being misogynistic/sexist more than any of the other Abrahamic religions is strictly political. For one, I feel like the stereotype discourages non-Muslim women (especially those interested in women's rights) from supporting the Islamic community and accepting Islam as a non-violent religion in general(as they may perceive Muslim men to be outwardly violent and aggressive towards them), it contributes to the idea that Muslims are more primitive and backwards than their non-Muslim (particularly Christian counterpart, although I think the same applies to other groups both religious and secular in their beliefs), and it is also due to sensationalist coverage of particularly the Middle East in the extreme cases of penalties involving the honor modesty code. There are multiple reasons... those are the first few that came to mind.