#lifeofamuslimfeminist and the Legitimacy of “Muslim Feminists”

If home were a Twitter hashtag, I found mine this week at #lifeofamuslimfeminist.  This hashtag that started on Friday by @YxxngHippie unintentionally picked up momentum by gathering voices of Muslim Women from around the world.  The tweets intersected a variety issues that reflect the diversity of the Muslim women identity.  I found solace in the wave of mentions via retweets, favorites, and supportive interactions from other Muslim women who opened my eyes to another dimension of activism and sisterhood.  I realized first, and most importantly, I am not alone in these layers of battles and how desperately the voices of Muslim women need to be directly heard by Muslims and non-Muslims, men and women alike.

Along with the support came the unavoidable twitter mentions from islamophobes hijacking my voice to convince myself and others that Islam is the root of these evils; white-saviors telling me to “preach” and “hang in there” as though Muslim women have just now begun to resist the structures working against them, including those of the white saviors themselves; and orientalists messaging me how fascinated they were by my tweets, as though my hijab somehow hinders my ability to think critically about the world both within and around me.

However, the interactions that struck me the most were those coming from respectable Muslim figures, both men and women, arguing that identifying as a Muslim feminist is inherently redundant because of Islam’s history that revolutionized gender roles and expectations and granted privileges to women.  To support this argument, facts were thrown at me that I am sure every Muslim is aware of, such as Mariam (Mary) being mentioned more times in the Quran than the Bible, or the significance of the contributions from women like Khadijah, Fatima, and Aisha that literally and ideologically gave birth to Islam. These facts, regardless of the intention behind them, were exploited as a method to silence me and normalize inexcusable experiences of Muslim women blinded by male privilege.

These facts are true, but very limiting when trying to understand what feminism is about.  Feminism, like Islam, is more than incorporating women in our historical narratives and granting them privileges — because these are basic human rights that everyone should be entitled to regardless.  Feminism is about fighting, challenging, and criticizing structures of dominance that enable and maintain the status quo — an important part of Islam.  Islam fought and challenged female infanticide; a form of misogyny at the time that, though seemingly blatant to us now, was a normalized practice 1400 years ago.  Today, misogyny has taken on different forms and disguises, but nonetheless a normalization that we are required to work against by constantly thinking critically and working against them.

To say that Islam is inherently feminist,  as if to say that being Muslim means you are doing enough for women’s rights, disregards normalized injustices happening in our countries, mosques, and homes.  That rhetoric is as defunct as if it were applied to poverty: Islam fought poverty by mandating charity as a pillar of Islam and forbidding certain financial risks and involvements, yes.  But, just because Islam fought against economic inequality does not mean the world resembles close to a place of economic justice.  That is why we continue to resist existing systems that exploit and restrict the underprivileged while making our charity requirements as part of our duty as citizens of the world, as followers of Islam.  Feminism should be no different than any other social challenge we fight as Muslims — by giving women egalitarian platforms and simultaneously fighting to dismantle the patriarchy.

To dismiss feminism because of the injustices done in its name — especially to Muslims — such as imperialism, torture, and orientalism, is a form of harmful stereotyping that stems from the same ignorance and lack of critical thinking generated from Islamophobia due to the injustices done in the name of Islam.  I do not believe the some Muslims’ resistance of feminism is solely a sexist perspective.  Western feminism has harmed the lives of both Muslim women and men, especially within the last twelve years, which can to an extent justify the stigma associated with the word feminism and why Muslims are reluctant to embrace it.  It becomes difficult to distinguish how much of Muslims’ issues with feminism has to do with the mainstream feminist movement not being relatable to Muslim women, its justification of occupying and invading Muslim lands and lives, or whether the stigma’s root is a sexist fear of the process of women’s liberation itself.

Whether the stigma comes from feminism’s agenda or the injustices that part of the movement is responsible for, it is up to Muslim women themselves to decide whether they want to reshape the movement or create their own. Regardless of which they choose, their decision must be respected, and never must their voices be dismissed or silenced in the name of Islam.

By Neda Kit