Thursday, October 29, 2009

Can a Muslim Woman be Feminist?

There are Americans who look at Muslim women as the "poor, oppressed" victims who need us to "free" them.  They wonder if a Muslim Woman can be a feminist.  Quite often, the media portrays Islam as the religion against women, with sexist practices not found in any other culture or religion.  The following is a great post addressing this issue. I love the comments that follow.

The Huffington Post

Posted: October 10, 2009 06:18 PM
Sumbul Ali-Karamali

WISE Muslim Women Standing Up

"Why don't moderate Muslims stand up and say something?" I've been asked frequently on my book tour in the last year. My response is, "We are, but not everyone is listening." Our media, for example, prefers to feature oppressed Muslim women, rather than the thousands of Muslim women advocating social justice or running for public office or promoting women's rights.

So I thought I'd write about an electrifying conference I just attended in Malaysia - the Women in Islamic Spirituality and Equality (WISE) conference. Along with over 200 other Muslim women from 55 countries, I attended panels and seminars, all focused on educating and empowering Muslim women and promoting their rights from an Islamic perspective.

Why an Islamic perspective? Promoting women's rights from any perspective is requisite. An Islamic perspective is just one of many avenues. But for Muslim women's rights, this avenue is crucial, because Muslim women need to know that their religion gives them rights that their patriarchal culture often takes away. Muslim women do not wish to abandon their religion in order to gain equal rights (and who does?). They want both. That's why we must promote women's rights as an Islamic imperative, not as a contradiction to Islam.

Unfortunately, in Muslim-majority countries, often what masquerades as religion is actually culture, tribal custom, patriarchy, or all three. Even worse, tribal and other authorities themselves gain power by framing their non-religious actions as religious. Given that most Muslim-majority countries have gained independence only in the last century and struggle with the same problems as the rest of the developing world - e.g., lack of education and poverty - it's no wonder that women suffer disproportionately.

Educating Muslim women to understand that Islam itself grants them equal rights gives them the tools to effect change. At the WISE conference, attendees shared stories of effecting change in their various countries, strategies they used, and methods they found most valuable.

For example, Eman, an effervescent Egyptian woman with blond-streaked hair, described her efforts to stop female genital mutilation (FGM) in rural Egypt. Primarily practiced in Egypt and parts of Africa, FGM goes back to the time of the pharaohs and predates Islam by a thousand years. It is not Islamic, and has been practiced by Egyptian Christians as well as Egyptian Muslims. FGM is cultural: the Saudis are against it; the Pakistanis don't do it; and overwhelming numbers of Muslims worldwide still have never heard of it. Designed to ensure a woman's chastity, FGM is now illegal in Egypt, and has been banned by Islamic legal opinions, or fatwas. Even so, it persists.

Eman, the executive director of an Egyptian NGO, traveled to rural areas to investigate why and how FGM occurred. Because FGM is illegal, villagers now take their daughters to barbers and midwives, for whom FGM is a critical source of income to barbers and midwives. Eman and her colleagues approached a barber who performed hundreds of these procedures and showed him the fatwas and the laws banning FGM.

Eman offered the barber a deal: stop this practice, put the fatwa in your window, sign a contract, and we'll fund the renovation of your barber shop so you get more business. He agreed, and for the price of a barber's chair (he'd been sitting people on the ground for their haircuts) a television, and a new paint job, his business is thriving and he is a new poster boy for the elimination of FGM. Hundreds of girls a year saved and the word against FGM is spreading - all for the price of a few hundred dollars.

Eman succeeded because she addressed the underlying motivation behind FGM: not religion, but economic incentive and ignorance.

Less dramatically, but just as importantly, Laisa - a Muslim lawyer from the Philippines -described how her organization persuaded Muslim religious leaders to assist in promoting equal rights for women. Together, they developed a handbook filled with rigorously researched sermons that promoted gender equality on the basis of Islamic scriptures. Laisa and her colleagues have been using this handbook to train other Muslim religious leaders in promoting gender-sensitive interpretations of Islam in the Philippines.

Laisa and Eman are just two of the many women working for equality through Islam. The Muslim world is increasingly populated with women's rights activists challenging patriarchal culture, tribal custom, and oppressive governments. They are taking back Islam, which - as so many people forget - clearly sought to improve the status of women.

Islam never held me back from being an American Muslim woman lawyer and writer. I was lucky enough to be raised in a free democracy with education and available opportunity - it is lack of these that holds women back. Islam should not, and does not, hold other women back, either.

The WISE conference is one example that proves it.

Some of the comments:
I want to make clear that Islam is not inherently misogynistic. The Prophet Mohammad advocated for unprecedented women’s rights like the right of inheritance and divorce – a fact often ignored by some Islamic clerics and critics alike. Furthermore, there are multiple examples of strong, independent women in early Islamic history. For example, Mohammad’s wife Khadijah, a very successful merchant, first met Mohammad after hiring him to lead one of her trade caravans.
While there is no doubt that Muslim women do not currently enjoy equal rights, Islam is not to blame. We have culture, misinterpretation and economics for that. More importantly, articles like this one show how Muslim women are not waiting to be saved – they are perfectly capable to help themselves. They do so every day.

Rog49Thomas I'm a Fan of Rog49Thomas 186 fans permalink
The history of Islam has many examples of women playing prominent roles and not remaining hidden in the house as some backward folks would have .

Before they were married, Khadijah - who was a successful businesswomen --hired the Prophet Muhammad to manage some of her ventures.

Nasibah (Umm 'Umarah) fought at the Battle of Uhud. When the Muslim Army disobeyed and broke ranks she stopped tending wounded, picked up a sword and rushed to side of those who stood fast.

Aisha (wife of Muhammad) was present at the Battle of the Camel (though unlike Nasibah she didn't fight).

After the massacre of her brother the Imam Husayn at Karbala, Zeinab made a series of speeches as she journeyed to Damascus where she confronted the ruler Yazid. And, no, her speeches weren't "women only".

Shajarat AdDurr was a military leader in Egypt and her Army captured Louis IX during his "Crusade" in Egypt 1250. Eventually she was recognized as Sultana (the ruler) - with the customary honor of the time -- her name on coinage and her name mentioned in Friday prayers.

Sitt AlMulk ruled Egypt for two years after the death of AlHakim. (Somewhere in early 1000 CE)

Razia AdDin ruled in Delhi for four years. Her father appointed her because his sons were more interested in wine women and song. (1230's or 1240's CE)

alexa07 I'm a Fan of alexa07 42 fans permalink
"Unfortunately, in Muslim-majority countries, often what masquerades as religion is actually culture, tribal custom, patriarchy, or all three."
Yes, patriarchy & culture were what kept both of my grandmothers & their sisters unable to vote for a good part of their young adult lives. The vote to women was "granted" the year my mom was born. Where did they live? Right here in the USA. They weren't Muslims! These same reactionary forces are being challenged by women in Islamic societies. We ought congratulate them, wish them success as you do, & point out Eman's & Laisa's good works as you do. Encourage other Muslim women rather than conjuring up the old prejudices.

Your detractors will be here & be entirely dishonest about understanding the content of your article. You represent the new generation of extemely well-educated, articulate Muslim women in the USA. This group is already making a huge difference in how Americans perceive Islam, despite so many efforts to the contrary by our corporate media. I am looking forward to reading your book; please also post more articles here.

Ghost803 I'm a Fan of Ghost803 7 fans permalink
In my view, Islam stands as a steel frame to support all the idiotic customs that the patriarchy wants to hold up. Because when they are challenged in their position, they can just point to the Quran and say that Muhammed or Allah commands it. Why is it that Muslim women in Kerala are seen as chattle, when the state as a whole was one of the most progressive in women's rights? The culture was even matriinial and continues to be in the native population.

I am not arguing that Islam is the source of those customs, just that Islam helps to hold them up.

Futhermore I will admit I have a xenophobic hate of Islam.
Why? Because it seeks to convert, over run and subjugate all other cultures just as many forms of Christianity are inclined to. And I am not talking about this as some midwestern country bumpkin listening to Rush Limbaugh.

In my home state, the Muslim population forcibly cut the holy chord of the Bramins and forced them to eat meat.

    Reply   Posted 06:12 PM on 10/12/2009
- alexa07 I'm a Fan of alexa07 44 fans permalink
I won't change your views; however, I'll use Tim's example of Catholicism, (I could find examples among any of the Abrahamic faiths, as well as Eastern reIigions or secular philosophies like Communism). I don't like the Catholic anti-abortionists; their views on women's reproductive rights; stem cell research; homosexuality & more, but I don't blame Catholicism. It was my grandmother's greatest comfort. All religions are used for political purposes as well as justifying why women can't be first class citizens. I would blame human nature; how humans interpret & use their religions, but regardless of your own personal views, surely you can celebrate the intent, purpose & outcomes of the women's conference in Malaysia.

    Reply   Posted 07:52 PM on 10/12/2009
- Rog49Thomas I'm a Fan of Rog49Thomas 186 fans permalink
How would that behavior differ from the pogroms against Christians in India by those claiming to be good Hindus a few years ago?

Shall we therefore wish for the destruction of Hinduism?

Or maybe should we wish that those who misuse Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and so on see the light?

    Reply   Posted 07:33 AM on 10/13/2009
- alexa07 I'm a Fan of alexa07 44 fans permalink
Yes, completely true. Once you start blaming the religion itself rather than how it might be misused, none would be exempt or blameless.
   Posted 07:07 PM on 10/13/2009

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