After the recent mixed-gender prayer controversy and the subsequent Internet debates, it is clear that the Muslim community has a great deal to say about feminism.
In today’s day and age, it seems that everyone is stating the need for and impact of feminism on Muslim women while sidelining Muslim women themselves. So, we here at Muslim Girl decided to share our thoughts and opinions about feminism, and take back the narrative.
How are Muslim women defining feminism in 2017? Do Islam and feminism go together? What about the headscarf? And what can Muslims and non-Muslim allies do to empower Muslim women, whether they consider themselves to be feminists or not?
The MG Army has a lot to say about this subject–keep reading to find out how these strong and talented women feel about feminism.
Feminism, as author and feminist bell hooks put it, is “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” So feminism as I understand it is a movement to end all systems of oppression because they are all tied into each other. Therefore, I’m definitely an intersectional feminist.
Islam is such a just religion in the way Allah prescribed for all people to act, like being modest and doing righteous deeds. Islam has incredible racial diversity and gives women more rights than in the other Abrahamic religions. Sadly, in life, the dominant group gets the noun and the rest get adjectives so that’s why people usually use the term “feminist” with Islam but if more people understood Islam correctly, it would be implied.
I think that everyone who wants to empower Muslim women needs to work actively to remove the systems that put us at a disadvantage. We need long-term solutions, so people should let us speak for ourselves and let us do our own thing without unfair obstacles.
I actually don’t like to label myself, unless that label is Muslim. That doesn’t mean I don’t consider myself a feminist — but I don’t know if it falls in line with what others may define it as.
Feminism to me means to defy stereotypes, to speak out against injustices against women (and not just the ones that fit my category of a woman).
It means that I believe in empowering others to strive for excellence, to pass the mic, to offer them that ladder for true equity, and to understand how there is power in numbers — meaning to end backbiting and shaming within our own sisterhood first, because we have a long way to go to transform ourselves from a culture of shame to a culture of honor in who we are and what we have the ability to bring to or share at the table.
It means that I take my pride in being a woman and share that with others – so they in turn can and will acknowledge who they are is and always has been a blessing.
It means that the first word in the Qur’an, “Iqra,” (meaning “read/recite”) is said by all who utter the word, including women, and we should seek knowledge, spread knowledge, and retain knowledge.
It means that I take responsibility in showing others through my own actions how impactful we can be through the choices we make, our ability to be humble, our persistence to fight against injustice, and our perseverance to carry on when our legs feel week.
Oh man, this is such a loaded topic! I could talk forever about what feminism means to me, but basically, it’s the never-ending fight for equal rights and equal treatment in a world that denigrates and abuses women.
Feminism is something you’re handed as a female/femme person, a mantle of struggle you have to take up. It’s passed to you at a very young age: the first time a boy pulls your hair and everyone says “it’s because he likes you.” The first time you’re told you MUST wear pink or have long hair. The first time you’re told to “act like a lady,” which is often short for sit still, look pretty, and don’t talk.
Feminism also needs to be intersectional, trans-positive, and inclusive of all classes and cultures, or it isn’t true feminism.
Feminism and Islam are not mutually exclusive: without Islam I wouldn’t be the feminist I am today, and without feminism I wouldn’t be a good Muslim. Equal and just treatment of women and dismantling of toxic patriarchal structures was the aim of early Islam: to destroy anti-woman culture of Jahaliyya, the days of ignorance. When people today tell me, from either side, that I can only be a Muslim OR a feminist, it makes me realize how much work there is to be done.
As far as how I define feminism, I believe it would be more accurate to use feminism(s), because a singular implies that there is a unified, coherent definition to the term that everyone agrees, on when it actually means different things to different individuals and movements.
As a Muslim woman, I understand feminisms to be the fight for political, economic, social, educational, and social rights and equality for women against patriarchal oppression and all forms of violence.
The term “feminist” makes me feel uncomfortable and confused. I do not say this to undermine the extraordinary work and historical progress of feminists movements. But I have always struggled to reconcile my beliefs as a Muslim with feminisms.
As a Muslim, I know my existence in this world is temporary and I am destined to have tests and tribulations in whatever form or shape. There is divine wisdom and moral transformations to be acquired from practicing patience in calamities and after death, I shall be resurrected and questioned on Judgement Day for deeds and choices I made in this world, and only then will absolute and divine justice prevail. This does not insinuate that I should become passive in the face of discrimination, violence, and inequity. In fact, being silent in the face of injustice is a sin. But it adds a different dimension to discussions surrounding rights, justice, and equality, and I have yet to find a space in feminists circles where I can address these issues and bridge the gap.
Islam and Feminism? Well, Feminism(s) are a western construct. Right now, I am reading and learning about the colonization of knowledge(s) and decolonization of Muslim intellectualism, which is making me seek alternative ways of knowing and interpreting the world. I want to find my “feminism” through the Qur’an and Hadith. This is where my heart and mind find comfort. I appreciate the learning that feminisms and feminists offered me, but I don’t want to speak someone else’s language.
We often say Islam is the religion of peace, and Islam means voluntary submission and surrender. Who are we submitting and surrendering to? Allah ﷻ. That submission is defined and guided, so why seek someone else’s rules? Yes, we can work with others and learn from them, but we should never let their priorities and their ideas displace our own.
Wearing a headscarf and being recognized as a Muslim is a constant spiritual jihad. It is something I do solely for Allah’s sake, and in line with submitting to Him. No one has the right to dictate whether I should wear it or not, or how/when/why. To quote from an article I wrote about the topic titled The ‘Nudity’ of Westernized Feminism, “I still believe it is every woman’s right — Muslim or not — to choose a garment that makes her feel comfortable, whether it covers her face and entire body or her breasts and private areas only.”
In terms empowering Muslim women, we, Muslim men and women, need to start with holding ourselves accountable. We are constantly taught to be critical of everything else in the world except ourselves. We need to develop tolerance, respect, empathy, and constructive dialogues. We ought to lead by example, develop a moral compass, and uphold the high ethical standards of our prophets and Muslim women role models. I wholeheartedly believe this is the way to true empowerment.
To me, feminism is about acknowledging the inequities that so many face while working towards elevating and centering the voices of women in comparison to men. As a Muslim woman and a feminist, I choose to acknowledge the intersectionality between my two identities and help create more equitable institutions in my community and beyond.
I’ve chosen to identify as a feminist, but only if I get the opportunity to define what that means to me. That may be a little confusing to understand, but the term is sometimes coined so loosely that I’m unsure if someone who identifies as a feminist truly understands what it means for all women and not just oneself. It means many different things but essentially the foundation of what it means to be a feminist is to construct a more equitable society that respects all individuals who identify as anything that is non-male regardless of race, ethnicity, nation of origin, sexuality, faith, etc. in comparison to individuals who identify as male.
By my choice to identify as a Muslim feminist, I generally believe that the the principles that I have chosen to interpret and abide by in Islam are defined by my way of feminism. By western Islamophobic rhetoric, I have only heard that Islam and feminism do not coincide. It’s a bit hypocritical of someone other than myself to tell me that my faith contradicts my choice to identify as a feminist. If you can’t even name the five pillars of Islam to me, I’d rather you not tell me I’m contradicting myself. There are so many generalizations and literal interpretations that non-Muslims believe without having a conversation with even one Muslim woman.
The hijab, to me, is a headscarf. It’s not an abstract form of oppression. It’s not a sole representation of Islam. The hijab has become so politicized that many still do not understand the purpose of it. While in some cases women are still mandated to wear the hijab, the intention of the hijab was and still is to make a sacrifice to Allah. It wasn’t a sacrifice being made to another man, woman, society or any earthly entity, it was a meant to be a decision made by a woman (and man, most forget this) to cover themselves up. I wish more people just understood that.
I want to see the Muslim community recognizing its faults and where it can progress while simultaneously taking a public position on items that relate to everything that can affect the lives of Muslim women, which is everything. The name calling and Western-ideology shaming gets us nowhere. We must acknowledge what we have been doing that may have suppressed any woman, and that means reassessing global practices, the conversations had in the masjids, and the conversations we have yet to have on the issues we still don’t want to speak on. We are supposed to believe that Allah is the Almighty and that He may forgive us of our sins, but we don’t acknowledge the fact that in some parts of our community, we still fail to provide charity to a community of people due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. We have a long way to go, but I commend all the individuals who are working towards building more equal platforms and sustainable initiatives to ensure a more fair and impartial society and community.