Muslim sisters stand up for their rights

April 26, 2008

I have been a feminist for as long as I can remember and have always stood up for women’s rights.

But as soon as you mention feminism it has certain men raising their eyes heavenwards and creates an ‘us and them’ division.
Actually this irrational male fear of feminism is pretty much universal and crosses nationalities, skin color, cultures and religions, so we can’t blame the usual suspects. Sadly, the Western feminist movement of the 70s neglected the needs of Muslim women and failed to address cultural differences.
The net effect excluded non-Western women or forced Muslim sisters to compromise their beliefs to fit in with a lifestyle at odds with Islam.
There are so many misconceptions about feminism but I would suggest that false male superiority is more evident in the Christian church than in Islam.
For instance, the Reverend Pat Robertson, a man who has the ear of the president of the United States, is horrified at the thought of empowered women.
He has his own TV station with a following of millions and is one of the most powerful figures in America’s Bible Belt. He said: “Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism….”
The term feminism was first used in France in the 1880s by writer Hubertine Auclert to criticize male domination. She was merely trying to highlight the fact that the women’s rights and emancipation which had been promised by the French Revolutionaries had not materialized.
Ever since then the term feminism has inspired many movements and continues to do so today.
There are those who believe that Islamic feminism is a contradiction in terms. I would humbly suggest that Islamic feminism, has nothing to do with those poor, confused sisters like Irshad Manji, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Amina Wudood -- who talk endlessly  of Islam’s need to modernize.
I would say to them if you want to go off and start your own movement, just do it. The Islam you talk about never has and never will exist. There’s no compulsion in religion.
They are as deluded as those backward brothers who simply do not see an equal when they look at a sister.
Strive as they might to treat all women as equals, they simply can not shake off their mentality or culture.
I did not embrace Islam to become a second class citizen as anyone who tries to treat me as a lesser being will discover.
Islamic feminism derives its understanding and mandate from the Holy Quran, which offers a blueprint for the rights and justice of women, as well as the men.
The Quran states quite clearly women are equal in spirituality and worth and education.
Our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) clearly revered and adored women for their strengths and their weakness.
But he insisted that paradise was under the feet of the mothers and told us that the most important person in the home is the mother -- the mother -- the mother.
The first revert to Islam was a woman, the first martyr for Islam was a woman and the guardianship of the first ever copy of the Quran in book form was entrusted to a sister. Sisters fought alongside the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) and his companions on the battlefield as well as tending to the wounded, promoting dawah work and even sacrificing and offering their children as scholars and martyrs of the future.
Muslim women continued to take part in jihad over the centuries… in Iraq, for instance, they fought alongside their men during the 1920s against the British Army.
As a feminist I was aghast at the rights bestowed on Muslim women 1400 years ago -– these are rights which have only come into the gift of Western women in the last century. Inheritance, home ownership, business and trading was inconceivable 100 years ago for our sisters in the West.
It took until 1928 for all adult women in the UK to finally be able to vote.
As a point of interest, in the Muslim world Kenyan, Palestinian, Iraqi and Pakistani women became eligible to vote in the mid to late 40s followed a decade later by their sisters in Egypt, Tunisia, Malaysia and Algeria.
Swiss and Portuguese women -- remember these are part of Europe -- had to wait until the 70s for the privilege.
Margot Badran from Georgetown University, who specializes in women and gender in Muslim societies, says Islamic feminism is, in many ways, far more radical than secular feminism.
I’m not sure if we are more radical, but as I stated before, we have the perfect mandate for equality in the pages of our Holy Quran, the word of Allah, and there isn’t a Muslim man alive who would be reckless enough to challenge the word of God.
Consider the ayat affirming mutuality of responsibilities and equality as stated in sura nine, verse 71 of the Quran which says that “The believers, male and female, are protectors of one another.”
The Holy Quran maps out a perfect blueprint for feminism and this has not gone unnoticed by Western women like myself who started reading the Quran and were amazed by the contents.
That is why, I believe, more women in the West today are choosing Islam above any other faith. Everything that the feminist of the 70s strived for is embraced in Islam. I believe that Islamic feminism will soon become a global phenomenon and is neither a product of the East or the West… it was created by women for women -- sisters across the planet.
Some believe there is a “clash” between “secular feminism” and “religious feminism” but again this is largely the concept produced by mischief makers -- after all, the thought of solidarity among women terrifies some men.
This solidarity was never more evident than when student Vida Samadzai was crowned Miss Afghanistan and later paraded around at a beauty pageant in a bikini.
Organizers hailed her emergence as a victory for women’s liberation… a silly statement which received universal condemnation from feminists of all faiths and no faiths.
Islamic feminism advocates women’s rights, gender equality, and social justice but now we need to get the message through to the media that Muslim women are not silent, oppressed creatures.
Journalists need to be able to separate the difference between male-dominated cultures and Islamic practice. Forced marriages, honor killings and little or no education for women are simply not Islamic.
Sadly, Islamic feminism is subverted by patriarchal influences and practices in the Muslim world.
But I would remind these men of the farewell address made by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) which has deep relevance to the sisterhood. He said: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white (person) has no superiority over a black (person) nor a black has any superiority over a white except by piety and good action.”
For instance, there is not a single woman who will go into the hellfire simply because she is a woman. Women, like men, will be judged on their piety and not their wealth, power, good looks or position in society.
There is also nothing in the Holy Quran to say women must be servile to men, cook the dinner, wash his clothes or wait on him. Marriage is a partnership and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) made that extremely clear in his last sermon.
Critics of Islam are quick to mention subjugation of women’s rights and freedom of speech as Islamic law’s main failures. They would do well to remember that 1400 years ago the Holy Quran established that women could gain separation from their spouses -- English law realized this in 1857 and other Western societies followed later.