“But how can someone be both a Muslim, and a feminist?”
I remember this question being posed to me, seemingly ill-fitting during the course of a job interview. Sure, I’d brought it up – I thought it was important to mention these two labels when talking about the intersectionality of my identity, and how it could be an asset to their media company. I was a young, Muslim feminist, wanting to work for an outlet that catered to women and issues pertaining to them. I felt my demographic would help explain my interest in working there, and my excitement for the stories I would hope to write with them. But then I got asked this question and suddenly, I was reminded that for many people, Muslim women aren’t included in the conversation when it comes to feminism.
This notion often stems from the perception that Muslim women are oppressed, dominated, and bound by the laws set by the patriarchs of their family. That we cover without choice because – ‘Well, why would someone want to dress like that?’ I’ve had women stop me on the street to say “Honey, you don’t have to do that for your husband,” while vaguely gesturing towards my Islamic attire. And others who’ve asked if someone “made me do it,” half expecting that I’d blink twice and signal the need for my rescue.
These moments made me question if I and my veil were included when it came to talking about feminism. And as it turned out, I wasn’t alone when it came to these concerns. The word feminism, loosely defined as having equality amongst the sexes, has held different meaning depending on who’s asked. The definition of which, we hope, will continue to evolve over time, becoming more inclusive of narratives from communities that aren’t cis, white, and able-bodied.
Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and Other Lies) by Scarlett Curtis is a collection of stories where women from different backgrounds reflect on the F-word and what it means to them. From young activists to notable actresses, it shows how feminism is a word that many women are still grappling with, trying to figure out whether or not they fit the infamous label. And while this book does a great job of getting a diverse range of responses, I wanted to know how the rest of the MG staff felt about the F-word and whether or not they ascribed to it.
“To me, feminism is a layered topic. There is the overall premise of feminism that promotes equity for women. Underneath that layer, or rather what is interwoven in that layer, is the definition of feminism that captures how women relate to one another. That feminism, ideally, would inspire each woman to do what she sees fit for her life. Then there is the personal layer where feminism becomes a matter of how each woman sees feminism play out in her life. For me, my feminism is where I have the freedom to be myself. Simple as that. I like to be free from gendered expectations but still pay respect to everyone. This brings me to a critical point about feminism: it is respectful. Across all layers of feminism, it should be respectful.” – Nada Mousa
“As someone who had never had qualms recognizing with the feminist label and the idea that it symbolizes equity, I recently came across someone who pointed out that they didn’t want to identify with the label, mainly because the origin of the movement (or first wave feminism as it’s called), didn’t offer intersectionality and particularly excluded People of Color. Going forward, I do think it’s important to acknowledge the fallacies of the origin of the movement to value the contribution of those who were negated to what’s such an important movement now. Also, I think it has to be recognized that just because one’s feminism is not the same as another’s, it doesn’t necessarily imply internalized misogyny, and it’s important to realize the complex dynamics of feminism as a public discourse.” – Saniya Hamid Ali
The Importance of Agency.
“What does feminism mean to me?
For me, feminism boils down to the very basic concept that a woman has the right to choose the way she moves through her life (gasppp, groundbreaking). Feminism means every young woman has the right to her own agency, irrespective of her socioeconomic and cultural barriers.
Having said this, it’s tough to move through life unencumbered if you feel imprisoned by societal norms or expectations, or by your own financial limitations. And for that reason, I believe the feminist fight is all about fighting for equal access to resources, so that we may all rise to our true potential. It’s not an easy fight, but so long as we are relentless in speaking up for those whose voices need elevation, we are certain to march on in the right direction.” – Manal Moazzam
Feminism Isn’t About Convenience.
“Feminism, to me personally, was something that just seemed natural. I always thought that women’s equality was something that needed to be pushed, even as a child. I grew up in a household where feminism was more like “yes, men and women ARE equal but….” There was always some reason or a situation where girls were held back because of the fact that they were female. And that never seemed right to me. I would vocalize my feelings on the matter and my opinion would get squashed down, but my inner voice didn’t let up. That itself is empowerment. The very voice of feminism. Instead of pushing my own daughter’s opinions away, it is my goal to make her feel like it is her RIGHT to express her opinion. I want her to grow up knowing that women are changing the world, making their mark, making history especially in this country. Feminism shouldn’t just come at convenient times; it is about women everywhere standing up for what they believe in no matter what the circumstances. And I say this because I have witnessed people bring up women in powerful positions to make a point about how Islam empowers women, but they themselves do whatever they can to push women down.” – Mariam Tanvir
Breaking out the History Books.
“For an Arab American Muslim female, feminism means a lot. However, some would say feminism and Islam don’t go together. I, on the other hand, beg to differ. I consider myself a feminist at heart, and pro women’s rights. I realized this at an early age when I would hear stories of the prophet’s wives, and their activism. I learned that feminism was a huge part of Islam, and we as women were entitled to many rights. Even though the world around tried to bring me down and tell me otherwise, I held steadfast to my beliefs and stood my ground as much as possible. Feminism is being true to your heart and loving who you are, and having the safety to be yourself. Khoula bint Al-Azwar was a feminist bad ass who believed in her heart and listened to no one. She didn’t ask for permission to don the outfit of a commanding officer, so that she could ride into battle to rescue her brother. She just did it, and received great respect from the soldiers and their general. Khoula was accompanied on a successful rescue mission to free her beloved brother after being captured by the enemy. This is just one story that fuels me, and reminds me to follow my heart and never let anyone tell me different. Feminism can mean different things to different people, but to me, it’s being myself, loving myself and setting an example for other women that it’s safe to be you. Don’t apologize for being yourself; be proud! Keep your head high and remember, Islamic history taught us feminism!” – Gameelah Alsamah
White Feminism and Exclusivity.
“When I first identified as a feminist three years ago, I had a very simplistic view of the movement: that it was the social, political and economic equality between men and women. I was thirteen then, and hesitant about how feminism was portrayed in the media – as being man-hating (which I now know isn’t true) and it being a taboo topic to actively talk about. Whilst my basic definition of feminism is true, I was grouping the experiences of all types of women: black, trans, Muslim and white together into one bubble. Unknowingly, I was a follower of white feminism, until a year ago when I began researching the history of feminism, learning that the movement was not intersectional at all and excluded women of color from its conversations. At the same time, I started to understand that Islam gave women rights, but countries have warped religion and culture together to fit their own agendas and views on women. Now, at sixteen, I am more open to discussing feminism, but I hesitate to say that I am a feminist because there are so many layers and so many histories attached to the movement, I question whether modern day feminism has space for women like me. I understand the concept of building a seat to sit on when no seat is offered, but for now my focus lies with promoting the idea of equity between all people.” – Imaan Asim
In Need of a Reboot.
That deviant invention.
1400 years ago Islam liberated you.
Sisters, don’t play into dissension.
No, thank you.
The Qur’an is our guide —
until it’s an inconvenient truth.
Sisters have sabr —
please suffer in silence,
gain that ajr in the akhirah.
Your rights are waiting, culture permitting.
– we need a mosque reboot” – Jessica Daqamsseh
* * * * * * *
In reading the responses, it’s clear that, like the women in Feminists Don’t Wear Pink, each of our writers has a different relationship with the word feminism. Some are concerned that it’s grounded in exclusivity, leaving little room for women like us, while others argue that that’s a trope of the past, and that the movement is much more welcoming now. And though that may be difficult to believe, if we continue to respect one another’s agency, root for each other’s happiness, and help create opportunities for all women to thrive, we might be able to get that much closer to equity.