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Islam and Feminism

Published: 24/12/2011 08:50:00 AM GMT
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The word “Islam” means submitting to the will of God. Islam is a religion that promotes peace and harmony in every sphere of life. It is a way of life for every Muslim, and its teachings are based on the foundations of “balance”. Before engaging in the discussion of Islam and feminism, it is important to refer to the sources of the Islamic tradition, as there is a lot of confusion regarding the term “Islam”. Islam like other major religions does not derive from a single source. To understand it completely one has to refer to more than one or all of the following sources to derive information: The Quran (the Holy book of Muslims), Sunnah (the acts and practices of the Prophet Muhammad), Hadith (the sayings of Prophet Muhammad), Fiqh (jurisprudence) and Shariah (the code and conduct of Muslim life).

Islamic feminism is a form of feminism that is concerned with the role of women in Islam.  Its main purpose is to promote complete equality of all the Muslims, in public as well as their private life, and irrespective of their gender.  Islamic feminists promote women’s rights, social justice and gender equality that are firmly grounded in an Islamic framework.  Even though they are embedded in an Islamic system, the feminist movement’s pioneers have also used secular and European, or in other words Non-Muslim feminist dialogues to establish the role of Islamic feminism as a part of a combined global feminist movement. 

As far as the question of equality between men and women from an Islamic perspective is concerned,fighting to allocate equal roles to both is a futile activity.  It’s just like comparing a rose and a jasmine.  Both have their distinct perfume, color, beauty and shape.  Both are special in their own way.  Similarly, men and women are not the same; each has its own special features and characteristics.  “Women are not equal to men, neither are men equal to women”.  Both have been assigned certain rights and duties that go with their nature and constitution. 

Man enjoys certain privileges like social authority and freedom, but in order to enjoy these, he has to perform various heavy duties.  It is his prime responsibility to support his family even if his wife possesses great wealth. A man has to support his whole family and sometimes close relatives as well.  A woman on the other does not have to worry about these financial obligations.  There is always a family structure where she can take refuge from all the social and economic pressures.  But in return for these privileges, she also has many responsibilities, of which the most important is to provide a home for her family and bring her children up properly.  Therefore, the Shariah encourages the roles of men and women being complementary rather than competitive.  The Muslim men and women who are able to shoulder their responsibilities well and create a well-knit family are responsible for creating a strong Muslim society.

The verse in the Holy Quran clearly says that men and women are created from one single self, to act as each other’s guides and fulfill the mutual obligation of “enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong”.

According to the traditional practitioners of Islam, the movement of feminism is an unnatural, abnormal and artificial outcome arising out of the present social disintegration, which is an unavoidable result of the rejection of all moral and spiritual values. Those who follow the traditional, non-manipulated teachings of the religion believe that a special movement simply to address the demands of some female groups will do more harm than good. According to this approach, the movement results in the collapse of home and family, loss of authority of the father and ultimately results in the fall of the nation.  A uni-sex society, as proposed by the feminists constitutes a society that makes no social or cultural differentiation between males and females, a society that claims only to promote women’s so called “liberation”, a society without marriage, home or family, where motherhood, modesty and chastity are rebuked, does not represent “progress” but worst kind of degradation.  The end result being: pure confusion, anarchy and absolute chaos. From this perspective, the reasoning is that since nothing is broken, it does not need to be fixed, and when women are celebrated, cherished and adores within the religion, there need not exist a special movement to bring about these changes.

A majority of feminist movements in the Muslim world are about protecting women from some practices and empowering them.  But, something most people do not realize is that the women in Islam, according to its authentic teachings, are already free and do not need liberating. Feminism is a revolutionary idea that demands choices in women’s rights to be recognized.  And more importantly, the choices that they make should hold true value within the society. From this perspective within Islam, we realize that feminism is should be more about improving the quality of people’s lives, rather thancontinuously challenging the theoretical models.  Voices should be raised against inhuman treatment against women, not against simple social roles and different positions that are justified quite well in Islam. 

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