Islamic feminists: Beyond the religious they too are women in a man’s world!

If you think that’s what it is really about … Think again ;-)

By Rant Away contributor: Hind Khettouch

Let’s break the ice! I am a Muslim … and a feminist and so many other things! Am I an Islamic feminist? I don’t know! Do I imagine myself framing my feminist identity outside my Moroccan, Muslim … background? No! I wouldn’t know how! Why would I? I am hesitant about the “Islamic” label because it sounds restrictive. Any form of patriarchy, be it religious or secular, makes me angry and I like to keep my horizons open. Religion is not my only reference, but if you insist and keep asking questions I will call myself “Islamic feminist” mainly to make you stop.

When the World Trade Center was attacked I was 17 years old. I can really not recall when was the last time I took a + 100ml bottle into an airplane and the anxiousness and discomfort I feel everytime I have to go through a security check have become something normal that I expect and anticipate. Most importantly, my passage to adulthood happened in a context dominated by the War on terror and its discourse. As far as I remember, I have been resisting the way this discourse wanted to frame and define me as a muslim woman living in the “Muslim world” … and I am not even exaggerating. For the last 15 years, I have been seeing/listening/reading the exact same people talk about the exact same things. Not a single time have I felt represented or has an idea made sense to me. I feel that all debates revolve around the same topics and serve the same purposes. They lead us to the same conclusions and get us lost in endless and useless discussions. Why? Rumor has it that the world of politics is about serious things that only big guys in suits and uniforms can understand. Anything that does not fit into the traditional conception of global politics and International Relations is disregarded. The outcome is sad: We are still unable to effectively understand, evaluate and analyze the current state of affairs.

There are many missing (stiffled?) voices in the world of politics but what interests me most is the continuous blindness to the role played by Muslim women – specifically Islamic feminists – in the making of modern politics. But first things first: What is Islamic feminism?

Margot Badran defines Islamic feminism as a transformative force within Islam that does not only worry about reforming patriarchal claims and practices that have been falsely labelled Islamic but also transforming “what has passed as Islam through a realignment of Islam with the Quranic message of gender equality and social justice”[1]. If this definition is correct, I feel it is not complete. Confining Islamic feminism to the religious sphere and to a struggle against patriarchal readings of Islam is reductive and hinders our understanding of Islamic feminism as a political force and a global matter.

“Eastern born” feminisms, both secular and religious, arose as nationalist movements that have not separated the liberation of women from the liberation of their countries, which probably makes political engagement part of their DNA. Colonial, just like neo-imperial, discourses were heavily gendered and the liberation of the “oppressed brown woman” was central to the colonial propaganda. Feminists from different currents subscribed to nationalist sentiments as they rejected western imperialism, its legacy and its demeaning depiction of Muslim and Arab women. The postcolonial era represented a different struggle for those feminists but they, nonetheless, managed to be involved in the construction of their newly independent countries and haven’t stopped their political activism since.

Islamic feminists are today part of a movement that struggles for social justice and gender equality and that continually challenges, contests and negotiates with all forms of internal and external secular and/or religious political powers. Through this “Multiple consciousness”, they have played a central role in the development of new religious and secular norms that found the political awareness of the current transnational and global Muslim civil society. Immigration, the emergence of new technologies and the expansion of transnational spaces made Islamic Feminism go global, it expanded its realm of activity and opened it to new ideas and philosophies. However, Islamic feminism as a fully-fledged discipline and where it fits into European societies is still an understudied topic. The word “Islamic” might be controversial but it is not as restrictive and exclusive as the mainstream discourse wants us to believe and it is broader than just something tailored by and for Muslim conservative countries. I often ask myself about what kind of impact would a better accessibility and openness to those Islamic feminist discourses have on the global political scene. I do not have an academically-valid answer!

As a Muslim woman living in Germany, I oppose sexism, patriarchy and any form of oppression whether they are expressed in religious or secularist terms and I do not see a contradiction in that. I often find that my arguments vary according to whether it is my identity as a Muslim, a woman, a feminist or as a Muslim feminist woman that is challenged. Miriam Cooke in “Women claim Islam”, defines identity as a recognition of sameness with some and difference with others[3]. The identity we decide to assert and put forward depends on the context in which we argue and on the kind of legitimacy we are seeking. What never changes is that I am always defending my right to speak for myself without being told that my standpoint and experience are not important/serious enough. I do not want to waste energy and time arguing about whether my authenticity has been compromised or whether I am blinded by my «false consciousness». I refuse to engage in discussions that assum that I am a milder and moderate version of some terrorist groups. This is probably where I locate my Islamic feminism. It is what makes me wonder why, even in a context dominated the Veil and Burkini as symbols of the Islamization and radicalization of European socities, so little importance is given to studying the agency and political awareness of European Muslim women (veiled or not). I do not grasp how it is possible that the alarming number of women who support or decide to join the ranks of Al Qaeda and ISIS still hasn’t triggered a real study of the historical and conceptual evolution of Female Jihad. Everybody seems satisfied with the idea that they just go there to cook, eat chocolate bars and marry Jihadists. Islamic Feminism is also the factor that triggers questions about why was it easier, in most Muslim countries, to introduce and normalize a modern banking system based on Riba[4], a practice severely condemned in Islam, than put an effective end to polygamy or reform the inheritance system? The same way I do not understand why is the veil considered an attack on women’s right to dispose of their own bodies when birth control and abortion are still discussed at a government level.

I am aware that the dynamics and interplay between society, religion and politics deserve more in-depth research and that I might sound angry sometimes but I am a feminist and this is a rant, let’s keep it vibrant.

[1] Badran, Margot. “Islamic Feminism on the Move,” in Margot Badran, Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences (Oxford: Oneworld, 2009), pp. 323–38.

[2] Mandaville, Peter. Transnational Muslim Politics: Reimagining the Ummah. London: Routledge,: 81. Ezzat, Heba and Abdalla Ahmed Mohammed. “Towards an Islamically Democratic Secularism.” In Faith and Secularism. Ed.Rosemary Bechler. London: Counterpoint, 2004. 33–54.

[3] Cooke, Myriam. Women Claim Islam: Creating Islamic Feminism Through Literature. New York: Routledge, 2001.

[4] Interest Rate

Like what you read? Give Rant Away a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.