Islamic Feminism: What You Need To Know (Essay in 1900 words)

Islam and feminism are heavily discussed topics, especially with the current social conditions that are affecting a diverse amount of people all over the world. The two words put together might seem like an oxymoron,  however, the more one looks into it, the more the movement and its importance makes sense. One might ask how Islamic feminism differs from the western movement of feminism, and the answer is that it looks to extend the ideas of gender equality by showing the people of the Islamic faith that feminism or gender equality is not a western concept but actually propagated by their own religion. Islamic feminism is feminism that accepts Islamic doctrine through text and canonical traditions, rather than feminism created out of Muslim culture. At its core, uniquely Muslim feminism is based on the Quranic concept of human equality and is concerned with applying this theology to daily life. Moreover, it aims to show people that Islam doesn’t want their women to suffer, it doesn’t believe men are inherently superior to women.While serious concerns such as domestic violence are hotly debated, the essential topic of what equality involves and how it is communicated is usually disregarded.

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In Islam, metaphorization is a common practice; it is the process of interpreting the Quran’s phrases and due to this, it plays a big part in the religion and helps them understand what it requires from its believers. The issue that has led to the rise of Islamic feminist women in the Middle East is that select women have started to believe that the interpretations of the law by hadiths are not always right or flawed. Carla Powers who is a Middle East Correspondent studied the Quran with an Islamic scholar and learned how the Quran in actuality does not advocate the oppression of women and that it contains a history of a major amount of forgotten female figures. Islam says that, before Him, men and women are equal. Based on the Quran, women are also granted inheritance, fundamental rights such as marriage, social and property rights, and mainly are allowed to reject proposals and instigate divorce. Even forming a prenuptial agreement before marriage for safety that is widely acceptable in American societies is also something that’s supported by the Quran. In the early period of Islam, as many today are, women were practitioners and property owners. Although it is well known that women of the Islamic religion have more difficulties compared to women from the western culture, it should be noted that this is solely due to the function of generations of patriarchy intertwined with the governmental institutions and laws and does not originate from the Islamic values. Muhammad himself often repeats importance of taking care of wives and daughters. He mentions how “you have rights over your women and your women have rights over you.”

Several exceptionally strong and intelligent women-headed this feminist movement in Islam. One of them is Asma Lamrabet, a well-known Moroccan feminist, who was forced to retire recently because of her support for women who wanted an equal share of a man’s property. Inheritance laws are a major problem in Islam based countries. They have been picking up steam in several countries and Ms. Lambert is one of the activists trying to overthrow patriarchy in relation to these laws. She explains that the main reason why patriarchy is still prevalent is due to the fact that they are not allowed to have authority over religious texts. This causes them to divert the verses of the Quran to be more from a man’s point of view which is the originating cause of deep inequality. The women who are fighting for authority over religious texts demand that women’s readings of religious texts should be accepted and that women should be allowed to have religious authorities. When Habib Bourguiba, president of Tunisia, raised the issue of inheritance and inequality in 1974, it was considered blasphemous and was forced to backtrack. Even though the laws of Islamic countries are obtained from the Quran’s verses, the domination of men causes the discrimination between men and women and their laws. Men continue to receive double the amount of shares women get. Even distant male relatives can override wives or sisters, so women are usually left with no financial independence.

Asma Lambert defends a progressive, contextual interpretation of the Quran. She does not assert, as do Islamists, that Islam already grants women full equality. She claims that it might if centuries of misogynist interpretation by male historians were removed. Her rejection of behaviors like polygamy, uneven access to divorce, and a husband’s dominance over his wife demonstrates that these practices have no textual basis in the Quran. She claims that while reading what the text means, the historical context must be considered. Islamic feminists understand the inequities that Muslim women suffer today under Islamic law, and in most regions of the Muslim world, they refer to family law or personal status law. According to Suad Joseph, family law has become “a symbol for feminist resistance” throughout the Islamic world. Islamic feminists, on the other hand, do not advocate for the repeal of Islamic law in terms of personal status; rather, they say that the solution to women’s empowerment lies in a reinterpretation of Islamic principles.

The primary argument of Islamic feminists is that the Quran upholds the principle of equality and justice for all human beings, but patriarchal attitudes, rituals, and practices have distorted women’s and men’s equality in today’s Muslim societies. Muslim feminists did not come up with this idea. Islamic groups, including those in Sudan, backed it as well. Hasan al-Turabi published Women between Religion Teachings and Society Customs in 1973, advocating a revision of women’s rights under Islamic jurisprudence –fiqh. In it, he stated that many components of Islamic law were implemented in order to accommodate Sharia to traditional norms. Male Islamic attorneys view the rules that give men control in a liberal and expansive way, while reading the rules that limit women literally and severely. As a result, women’s basic rights and the basics of justice, as defined in the Sharia, have been abandoned in Muslim culture.

Turabi says that women played an important role in public life throughout the Prophet’s lifetime, and they were instrumental in the election of the third Caliph. Women were only later denied their rightful place in public life, but history had strayed from the ideal.

Nonetheless, Islamic feminism can be seen in a variety of settings. As a result, many people talk about Islamic feminisms or Islamic feminism in its various forms. Some, especially Islamic feminists, have contended that it has become too wide to characterize local women’s action and too politically loaded. Which bases its reinterpretations of the Quran and perceives the idea of patriarchy as flawed in relation to the islamic values and belief in god. Islamic feminists are employing the concept of ijtihad to create Quranic interpretations that highlight the Quran’s gender-egalitarian urge. These new interpretations therefore serve as the foundation for pursuing gender equality in Islamic law in today’s Muslim governments. The project encapsulates the concept of an Islam free of patriarchy, in which women have equal legal and social rights to males. In her book Quran and Women: Re-reading the Sacred Texts, Amina Wadud, an African-American scholar, advocates for female equality and female empowerment, specifically in relation to sanctity, or taqwa.  According to Riffat Hassan, a single Arabic word can have a variety of meanings. However, because the interpreters were all men, the readings were skewed toward men. Take, for example, Surah an-nisa 4:34, which is always mentioned when the subject of equality arises. The word qawwamun is used by the Quran to describe the man in this verse. It has been translated to the term ‘male guardian,’ which indirectly gave men the power to undermine and control women in all aspects of society. But Hassan believes that the word might simply just mean breadwinner, so this explains how the verses were so distorted and so misread that it gave men an immense amount of  control over the lives of women. The efforts made to produce new interpretations of Islam take time and necessitate a great deal of specialized knowledge, both in Arabic and in Islamic law. Although every Muslim has the freedom to interpret the Quran in theory, it is not accessible to everyone on a local level for a variety of reasons, including the political environment, exposure to Islamic feminist literature, financing, time, and resources. Reinterpreting a source material may also elicit a lot of vociferous criticism, especially in circumstances when Salafist actors are prominent.

As Ziba Mir-Hosseini points out, the interpretation of Islam that is represented in modern state laws is largely determined by the power balance between those players whose view of Islamic law is literal and restrictive of women’s equal rights. She refers to them as “traditionalists.” And there are many who believe there is no conflict between Islam and women’s equality as defined by international human rights accords. It also largely is determined based on women’s political affairs and their abilities with consideration to all discourses. According to her, Islamic law reform is not simply a theological or religious issue, but also a very political one. When campaigning for legislative reform to improve the position of women, Islamic feminists and other self-declared feminists and activists are sometimes accused of doing the errands of the West. As a result, they are accused of compromising religious and cultural ideals as well as posing a threat to society’s order.

This isn’t to say that Islam doesn’t have a role in national debates over women’s rights and legal change, whether from the standpoint of Islamists or women activists. On the contrary, most current discussions of the muslim based family laws and their reforms are direvtly framed through the lens of their religion, which again shows how the movement differs from the western movement. However, the most typical technique for Islamic law reform in national contexts is to choose use existing interpretations, including minority views and lesser-known hadiths, rather than inventing new or feminist readings of the Quran and the Sunna in their entirety. People part of the Islamic feminist movement have alreay made an immense amount of progress pushing for women to be part of all aspects of the society and to have equal amount of rights as men do. In Saudi Arabia, women were able to fight for their right to vote and women in 2015. Their push for driving without a male guardian also was a huge win for the movement in 2018. Around the same time the National Parliament of Syria contained 12% of women officials, which is definitely a huge change from the generations of domination of men in the government. Overall, the movement has gained international attention, aiding muslim women to attain the independece and equality that they deserve.


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Neha is currently pursuing a degree in Sociology paired with International Relations and Media Studies. She aspires for a global career as an academic researcher and advocate of humanitarian action. She is deeply passionate about human rights and social justice, and she profoundly researches socio-economics, politics, and public policy to better understand the society and its institutions. One of her biggest accomplishments would be starting a free school in her backyard for kids with no access to education during the pandemic.