Islam and Feminism

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured, Life & Society, Women Topics: Feminism, Islam, Secularism Views: 4357

Islam's other half
What does Islamic feminism have to offer?
Where does it come from? Where is it going?

There is a growing movement among Muslims, especially women, away from the inherited patriarchal Islam toward an egalitarian Islam. The move is occurring in both older Muslim societies and in the newer Muslim communities in the west. Female scholars have been talking for two decades now about the gender equality they find in Qur'an. Activists use these egalitarian readings to push for new practices within families and societies, and to support reform of Muslim family laws. This combination of intellectual and activist work undertaken in diverse parts of the globe has been called Islamic feminism.

Islamic feminism rejects the dichotomy between east and west, and between secular and religious. These dichotomies were nurtured by colonialism and later politicized by Islamists as rigid and implacably adversarial identities. Islamic feminism insists upon the separation of religion and state, resolutely upholding the notion of a secular state. Secular here is not tantamount to un-religious or anti-religious. The secular state typically guarantees freedom of religion. When persons identify themselves as secular or secularist this does not per se mean that they are not religious or anti-religious.

Muslims, like others, more and more experience life in diverse locations, moving permanently or temporarily between countries and continents. In the process they are shaped by and identify with diverse cultures. Islamic feminism assists people in negotiating the multiple identities that we all possess, even within the context of a single culture. For example, a person may need to understand gender equality within an Islamic framework and/or a secular framework or shared ideals not particular to a single religion. A Muslim wishing equal access to Islamic ritual space and functions will access religious arguments. A Muslim desiring equal educational opportunities within public institutions in secular states would use secular arguments.

As egalitarian Islam gains ground it is increasingly being assailed by Muslim conservatives whether they are religious leaders, self-appointed community spokesmen, or followers of political Islam (Islamism). This is happening in both old Muslim societies in Africa and Asia and in the new communities in the west by those who perpetuate a patriarchal version of Islam which they claim to be the true Islam. Meanwhile, most non-Muslims, including progressives, buy into this interpretation, regarding Islam as intrinsically patriarchal. Thereby they contribute to problems for women through their ignorance.

International conferences on Islamic feminism like those recently held in Barcelona and Oxford provide important forums for the exchange of experience and ideas and for debate and strategizing. The two conferences drew speakers and participants from around the world: scholars and activists, Muslims along with non-Muslims, and women as well as men. This kind of networking, sharing of new interpretations of Islam, face-to-face debates, and collaboration is vital for advancing the cause of an egalitarian Islam in front of both secular and religious patriarchal forces in Muslim societies and communities, especially as those forces are typically in collusion. Multicultural policies in western countries, based on patriarchal constructions of Islam, often leave women vulnerable by re-enforcing the domination of men over women and even sometimes condoning violent practices on the grounds that they are part of religion.

Islamic feminists understand the necessity of working both within the Muslim community and with people of other religions. Recently in these pages, Tariq Ramadan, in a cross religious context (specifically, Muslims and Catholics) spoke of the importance of a "constructive dialogue on our shared values." Islamic feminism has much to contribute to furthering the promotion of shared values and especially to assure that these shared values are egalitarian values and not patriarchal ideas.

Margot Badran, a historian of the Middle East and Islamic societies and specialist in gender studies, is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Muslim Christian Understanding, Georgetown University. She has a diploma in Arabic and Islamic religious studies at Al Azhar University in Cairo in addition to M.A. in Middle East Studies from Harvard University and a D. Phil. in Middle East history from Oxford University. She is currently Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of Religion and Preceptor at the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought at Northwestern University.


  Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured, Life & Society, Women
  Topics: Feminism, Islam, Secularism
Views: 4357

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Older Comments:
Thank you for talking about this issue.
I have great concerns abotu teh way we, women, are treated by our felow muslim men. For example when we pray at the Mosques, we are given a room, often physically separated from teh main floor where the Imam gives his Khutba, we cannot ask questions unless we go to the men's section etc...
Durin the Prohet (PBUH) time, women were in the same room as men (even if it was in the back) and were allowed to interact and ask question to the prophet (PBUH). Now it has gotten worse, not only we are give the worst room (s)we are not given the opportunity to ask questions.
We are not asked for feedback on matters that concern the muslim community.
I live in Edmonton, Alberta, and I often get upset by the way we, women, get treated. This doens't encourage me to go to the mosque as I do not feel welcome.
However, there is one exeption to that here in Edmonton in the IKHWAN, an Islamic Youth Centre, where women sit in the saem room at teh back, and always treated with respect and given teh opportunity to ask question sor comment.
Thanks again for the article. We need more on this.

Salams and Hello.

I would like to thank you very much for printing the article today on the website's homepage titled "Islam and Feminism".

It was a very informative, important and fascinating article. Thank you for being an advocate of free expression and gender equality. Your website is truly beneficial and valuable to both Islamic men AND women.

I really enjoy all of the opportunities for learning that you offer on your website.

Thank you, and please keep up the good work!



it seems to me that women in islam would just like islam to live up to the word it teaches. the to have a right to sit up front and drive.
to not only teach the word but to PREACH IT!
you see spirital athority is based spirital maturity and achievment not on gender.
alot of wisdom and guidence has been denied to us all. just as in the christain faith.
and remember solomon call wisdom (SHE and HER).
as for the " islamic family stucture " , well without woman there would be no family remember
" HEAVEN IS AT THE MOTHERS FEET ". without her we parish. please.