When I picked up the book ‘It’s Not About the Burqa’, I decided to read first the essay titled ‘Feminism Needs to Die’ written by the editor of the book, Mariam Khan. Mariam focused the essay on how white feminism isn’t representative of the Muslim female identity despite many young Muslim women gravitating to this movement. Reading through the essay, I couldn’t help but reflect back on my late teens when I considered myself a feminist. After many years of being exposed to sexist cultural practices, it felt as though feminism was the tool that all women needed to fight back against ‘the patriarchy.’ I was introduced to feminism through the book ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who said that “a feminist is a person who is in support of the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” Being young, naïve, and impressionable, I figured since I believed in that statement then surely that makes me a feminist. Looking back in retrospect, my naivety amuses me.
At the root, feminism is a “belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” However, over the decades, the meaning of Feminism has shifted and the term has become very toxic, polarizing and I dare say irrelevant, especially to the lives of Muslim women. In this post, I’ll mainly talk about how mainstream feminism from the western context functions as well as the Islamic rights of women.
Through social media, I’ve come to realize that so many young Muslim women are following the feminist movement almost religiously even though it’s an ideology that heavily contradicts their Islamic values and practices. Buzz words such as empowerment, liberation, freedom from oppression, equality, and women’s rights are often used to describe feminism. However, the question remains, has the meaning of these words become deluded, and do we as Muslim women actually view empowerment, liberation, and women’s rights in the same light as these mainstream feminists? Perhaps the time has come for Muslim women to Reject Feminism. Stick around until the end of the post to find out what I believe to be the answer to our struggles as Muslim women…. Spoiler alert (it’s not “intersectional feminism”).
I wanted to write about this topic because in this social climate it seems as if common sense has become controversial. Mainstream feminism has no place on the table for anyone who holds opposing views. Any person who even attempts to respectfully share their opposing views will be slandered all over social media. It can even put your safety, reputation, and employment on the line. I’ve noticed that in order to feel accepted within the circle of modern feminism, there’s definitely a pressure for Muslim women to present a modernized version of Islam, one that prioritizes feminist goals over religious beliefs.
Not Every Woman Has to be a Feminist:
There’s an assumption in today’s society that all women should be feminists because it’s been widely spread that the feminism movement was the catalyst for women’s rights. Maybe this is true in the western world but for us Muslim women, something we should take so much pride in is the fact that our rights were given to us by Allah (SWT) way before the ‘women’s suffrage movement.’ There are certain rights that women have been blessed with including the right to a Mehr, having more rights over the children, the right to own property, and having your own income whilst being financially provided for by your husband or father. The right to embrace your sexuality and feel liberated within the confines of an Islamic marriage. The right to participate in society through political, economic, or social means and the list can go and on. All of these rights are protected by Allah (SWT) and are there for Muslim women to exercise.
So then, what seems to be the problem? What exactly do Muslim women see in feminism that Islam doesn’t already give them access to?
Well…. over the centuries, in some Muslim communities and homes, unfortunately, culture has taken precedence and women have been denied their rights. For example, women have complained that they feel like their participation within the Muslim community has been limited or that their God-given rights are often disregarded. Feminism then becomes an appealing alternative as it promises to protect and advocate for the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. The false narrative is that feminism will be the key to Muslim women gaining back their rights in Islam. However, what young Muslim women are failing to understand is that the feminist ideology does not advocate for the same things Islam does.
Let’s start with the simple idea of equality. Feminists fight for equality whereas Islam advocates for equity. In Islam, men and women have defined roles and responsibilities that complement each other. Marriage and keeping the nuclear family together is part of our value system as Muslims whereas feminism seeks to destroy that and views it as being oppressive to women. Take for instance the words of renowned feminist Betty Friedan who made an analogy in her book ‘The Feminist Mystique’ about the role of a housewife and the family home being a “comfortable concentration camp.” Although Islam gives women the option to work and does not limit their freedom of movement, it also encourages women to stay at home. There’s an ayah in the Quran where Allah (SWT) says…
“And abide quietly in your homes, and do not flaunt your charms as they used to flaunt them in the old days of pagan ignorance, and be constant in prayer, and render the purifying dues, and pay heed unto Allah and His Messenger: for Allah only wants to remove from you all that might be loathsome, O you members of the [Prophet’s] household, and to purify you to utmost purity.” [33:33]
I’ll give you some other examples of the ways in which feminism contradicts Islamic beliefs. In today’s world, to be a feminist is to be inclusive of all groups of people that in some way shape or form feel oppressed by society. There are a lot of groups and movements that fall under the umbrella of feminism that as practicing Muslims, our beliefs inherently contradict. I’m talking about engaging in conversations around identity politics, reproductive politics, viewing men as your enemy and competition, and even going as far as to normalize hateful speech towards men. Overall, Islam has a clear stance on issues relating to abortion, LGBTQIA+ rights, sexual promiscuity as well assigning men and women appropriate gender roles so society can function properly.
Feminists think that Muslim women who openly practice their faith and stick to their beliefs need someone to rescue them from the shackles of an oppressive religious ideology. When the women at the forefront of feminism are screaming #freethenipple, I suppose a woman choosing to do the exact opposite is seen as a rebellious act that threatens to leave a dark stain on the movement. This is precisely why under the banner of mainstream feminism, freedom of choice does not extend to Muslim women or modest/conservative women who hold traditional values. Although my religion teaches me to be respectful of people’s choices, it also states that I must stand firm in my own beliefs and not succumb to outward pressure to reform Islam, especially when it’s under so much threat.
There’s a famous saying, “If you are tolerant of everything then you stand for nothing.” I think as Muslim women, it’s about time we recognize that this feminist movement is not the solution to the nuanced problems we face within our own communities, and employing the same strategies they do will only create more division and hostility between the sexes. Islam doesn’t need to be reformed and we certainly don’t need feminism, a movement that categorizes us as oppressed to then advocate for us. If Islam is the moral anchor from which we operate all other aspects of life then surely the solution to many of the issues we face with sexism can be solved using the Quran and Sunnah.
Learning to Think for Yourself:
Fortunately, as I’ve matured, I have grown to disassociate myself with feminism as it doesn’t align with my worldview. I find the best way that we can tackle sexism and the negative treatment of women that we witness within our cultures and Muslim communities is to be vocal and enforce women’s rights in Islam. Every right that we could ever want has been awarded to us by Allah (SWT) since the time of the prophet Mohammed (SCW) and luckily these rights, for the most part, are protected by the law of the country in which we reside. Realize that Muslim women were honored and empowered centuries before the feminist movement emerged and regardless of whether feminists snigger at that remark or not, it remains true.
If you don’t separate culture from religion then it’s easy to become bitter/resentful towards men and the world in general. I believe that it’s our personal responsibility to engage with people who will uphold our rights and vice versa. If we find that this is not the case, we have the right to demand better treatment or if possible, remove ourselves from that whole interaction. I think what feminism does (at least from my experience) is it obliterates women from the responsibility of their life choices; always blaming an external cause for their issues and looking outward for a solution. This to me sounds like a recipe for a life filled with bitterness, discontent, and a victimhood mentality. Contrary to what feminists preach, not every woman feels oppressed by society or wants to be in constant competition with men. In fact, there are a lot of perks to being a woman, embracing your femininity, and taking responsibility for your life choices.
I will conclude with this statement. Feminism is not absolved of questioning and criticism. It’s not automatically synonymous with “women’s rights” or “human rights”, you can advocate for the latter without subscribing to feminism. Any attempt to silence people who hold a different view further proves that there are flaws in that ideology.
If you have reached the end of this post, thank you for taking the time to read it. If you have any comments, leave them down below. Stay tuned for upcoming posts.