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Feminism Oppression in Islam

Introduction

The issue of feminism has been debated for decades. There are various schools of thought on what feminism is, and what it should achieve. Ideally, a significant majority of these schools of thought are founded in the West, thereby, it can be argued that other cultures in other parts of the world tend to take a customized view of feminism and fit it within their cultures. Debatably, this has not helped in the fight against gender discrepancies in numerous countries that are still recording horrendous treatment of women. Azam (2018) notes that feminism, which should have similar foundations across the world, should be customized based on religion and even culture. Indeed, there have been numerous instances where religion has been referred to as the lead instigator of female discrimination. However, as Hesová (2019) explains, religion can be interpreted differently. This broad premise suggests that religion as a whole should not be blamed for gender inequality. However, the people who interpret and disseminate their interpretation of their scriptures to others should be held liable. In fact, the fact that most of the interpreters are men feeds into this narrative.

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This essay looks into feminism oppression in Islam in the modern world. The paper will analyze what the term modern feminist means and then take a look at feminist oppression in Islam. Further, a discussion on multi-culturalism and how that has had an impact on feminism oppression in Islam will also be shared. The essay will be guided by a working thesis statement as described below.

Feminism oppression in Islam in the modern world can be directly linked to the way the West has described female rights, and the liberation of women in Islamic states, and does little in including the voices of feminist Islamic women.

The Modern-Day Feminist Movement

The creation of what is now referred to as modern-day feminism has attracted a lot of debate. This is due to the fact that, as described earlier, there are numerous schools of thought that are attached to feminism. Vernon (2019) argues that modern-day feminists often subscribe to the fact that there are a set of freedoms that all women are entitled to, and that these freedoms that they are fighting for, are all also basic human rights. The premise suggests that by denying women these rights, the community is also denying women basic human rights. As a movement, one can argue that tying women’s rights to human rights is ideal. This is due to the fact that people are not always defined by gender but by the fact that they are in fact, human, and should be treated as such.

It is important to note that there are several milestones that more women are achieving in both personal and corporate ladders due to feminism as a whole. Scott-Baumann et al. (2020) debate that even though feminism has tried to include men in the past, what is referred to as the modern-day feminist movement has achieved a lot more towards this end than previous campaigns. Therefore, it is no longer shocking that women are getting into spaces and interests that were originally described as “for men” but the measurement metric has been the number of women recording these incredible achievements. The shift in focus by the movement goes hand in hand with the current societal expectations, in which more men are willing to fully support women to be whatever they want to be due to the fact that they are equally capable (as the men).

There are numerous counterarguments that have been highlighted in relation to the discussion that has been made. The first is that the focus of modern-day feminism has taken a toll on the other gender, the male gender. Scott-Baumann et al. (2020) explain that feminism has never been about obliterating the male gender but ensuring a balance that allows everyone, regardless of gender to have access to the same opportunities and also get structural support where needed to be the best that they can be. This is where the term “equity” arose and has since been used in relation to gender rights. Some critics have argued that modern-day feminists want to obliterate the male standpoint and this would ideally create the same problem women have gone through all these years – just pushed to the side of men. Secondly, it has been argued that modern-day feminism is pushed and funded by selfish political reasons and not communal ones.

Whereas there are some genuine concerns in the counterargument, it should be noted that feminism is about creating a balance. Therefore, it is not about one gender being greater than the other. More work can be done in regards to streamlining both genders to fight for this cause, which will in turn help everyone involved appreciate the uniqueness of everyone else. The second counterargument can also be demystified through some of the activities that have already been recorded in regards to feminism and gender equality. It is true that movements often have a political angle to them but this does not make them any less important as long as the desired results benefit the entire society.

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Feminism in Islam

For decades, it was believed that feminism and Islam are mutually exclusive. However, part of modern-day feminism has revealed that the Islamic faith can actually be a liberator in feminism. Muhibbu-Din (2019) argues that the misconception that feminism and Islam are mutually exclusive stems from the wrong argument that the way women are treated in Islamic nations is due to their religion. The scholar confirms that in fact, this is due to societal and cultural practices and not their faith. Due to the fact that this misconception is so widely accepted, even in feminist circles, the movement has been unable to fully support Islamic women getting the rights that they deserve.

An example can be used at this point that will also tie this argument to the proposed thesis of the paper. There has been a debate for decades on the right of women in Saudi Arabia to do basic things such as driving themselves. This was tied to Islam and feminist oppression in Islam when in fact, it is a societal law, due to the fact that culturally, the Saudi community felt that women had to be in the company of a known man (such as a husband, brother or father). This goes to show that the fact that the West does not understand the details that encompass the culture, makes them use the wrong strategies in an attempt to help Muslim women get their rights. Indeed, it can be argued that instead of attacking the religion, feminists have to attack the culture of the people, which so far, has been biasing towards women. Further, it is critical to point out that the fact that the culture and faith of a place like Saudi Arabia are intertwined, does not mean that one cannot separate the two.

Critically, just like in other parts of the world, political, economic and social elements all contributed to the way feminism in Islam has been portrayed. To show how Islam and culture can differ, Green (2016) argues that in the 18th century in Egypt, men gave their women all their wealth in an attempt to both protect property and also secure wealth post-death due to the political assassinations that were occurring at the time. Therefore, women became extremely wealthy and would often get to make important societal decisions. They too were Muslim, just like the women in Saudi Arabia, yet had more leeway in regards to important decision making and also acquiring wealth. The only difference between the two is the different cultures they subscribed to, where men in Egypt were comfortable trusting their women while those in Saudi Arabia, were not.

A counterargument to the fact that faith and culture have been intertwined (wrongly) in relation to feminism and Islam is that a majority of Islamic states use faith as the basis of their culture. As Scott-Baumann et al. (2020) note, everyday life in such communities is also extremely intertwined by religion and separating the two can be challenging. While this might be true, it is also important to recognize that the best way to deal with the challenge is to include Islamic women at all levels of discussion on the same issue. Critically, this does not only mean Islamic women in the West but those in the Islamic nations as well.

Feminist Oppression in Islam

It should be noted that despite the fact that the West has taken over the description of what feminism should be, and that this has negatively affected feminism in Islam, there is feminist oppression that has been tied to the religion itself. Having said this, one has to reiterate that this again depends on the interpretation of scripture as opposed to the fundamental core of the religion itself. Vernon (2019) argues that there is a possibility for a true modern-day feminist to also be a staunch Islam. The suggestion that is currently being held by some feminists is that this is not possible. Due to this, it has become quite common to find Islamic women abandoning their religion and removing the hijab in an attempt to get their rights, and this has led to a significant feeling of lack of self-awareness. Scott-Baumann et al. (2020) note that feminist oppression in Islam should be eradicated at all costs but women who still want to remain Muslim, albeit liberated and free, should have all the freedom to also enjoy their religion.

Critically, a significant number of Muslim women believe that Islam is actually pro-women. Scott-Baumann argues that in fact, when comparing the opinion of women in religion on which religion is against female empowerment, Christians believed that it is their religion (Christianity) that has the worst biases against women. On the other hand, Muslim women believed that although they are the most marginalized, their faith strongly advocates for the empowerment of women. It can thus, be broadly argued that what has come to be believed as feminist oppression in Islam is actually a fallacy. That although there is oppression, it is not in the religion but in the culture.

There are several counterarguments that can be given in regard to the presented argument. The first is that in many instances, people who are oppressed often do not recognize the impact and extent of that oppression. Vernon (2019) explains that community psychology reveals that people who are oppressed, in any way, often find a way of justifying the oppression due to the fact that they do not know any better. This argument fully supports the reason why a significant number of Muslim feminists are from the West – some who have relocated from their Islam-rich and based countries. They had to be removed from that context in order to not only understand and appreciate the level and extent of the oppression. This does not, however, mean that currently there are no feminists in Islamic nations.

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This counter-argument, can, however, be described as stale and old. This was a challenge before technology and innovation were key in everyday life. Today, women who are oppressed based on their gender have better and easier ways of learning what the other parts of the world are doing to resolve such issues. In fact, as Vernon (2019) explains, it is the openness of technology that has led to the rise of Muslim feminists in Islamic nations. They have become more open to strategies they can use to advance their cause and also how to be their authentic self while still being active feminists. In turn, they have also helped subscribe Muslim men to their cause to help show how feminism is not just a women’s affair but that of everyone.

Multi-Culturalism and Feminism Oppression in Islam in the Modern World

As mentioned, one of the key issues that can be described as a limit to the advancement of feminism in Islam is the description that has been provided by the West. In order to understand how this fully affects the topic, one has to understand the impact of multi-culturalism in feminism oppression in Islam. Vernon (2019) explains that there are two ways of having this discussion. The first is by analyzing how differently cultured people from the West use their religion, in this particular case, Islam in their feminism. The second is by taking a look at how feminists in Islamic nations do their campaigns. It can be expected that the two campaigns will differ purely due to the issue of culture, as mentioned several times throughout the paper. The fact that there is no synchronized way of ensuring that multi-culturalism does not hinder feminist activities due to differences in culture should be addressed.

An example can be given to explain this notion further. For several decades, Muslim women around the world were not allowed to go to the beaches, and those that did swam with their full attires (hijab and abaya). To many women, and men in different parts of the world, this was viewed as a backward and male-driven agenda that also meant that they had control over the women’s bodies. However, upon further research, it was discovered that the women themselves, albeit looking for more comfortable beach clothes, were not comfortable wearing bikinis and other similar swimsuits. This led to the development of Muslim women-friendly swimsuits which were not only comfortable but also allowed them to cover their hair, and other similar elements, just as they wanted!

The example that has been given goes to show the disconnect between culture and the Islamic faith in relation to feminism. Whereas feminists from the West strongly believed that Muslim women were uncomfortable going to the beach in hijabs and abayas, they were also wrong to think that these women wanted to wear bikinis. Feminism is a universal movement but it has to be localized to some extent in order to bring the changes that have been proposed by the movement. The West has to release the hold over the movement that they have held for decades and let other regions do what they can to push their agenda within their communities. This cannot work if the boundaries and strategies are still pro-West, like in the case of feminism in Islam. In these cases, the strategies will fail to capture the community to support the cause due to the fact that they will not resonate with the same. It can be reiterated that despite the fact that Islam has been blamed for feminist oppression in many Islamic nations, the real culprit of the crime is culture. Anything else that has been linked to Islam as a religion can be boiled down to a patriarchal society that took the interpretation of scripture to be a male-dominated aspect of the community and in turn, used the male-dominated school of thought to undermine women, and how the scripture actually supports female empowerment.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are numerous ways in which the oppression of women has been disguised over the years. For decades, religion has been accused of protecting the evils that a male-dominated society upholds in regard to gender inequality and equity. Interestingly, Christianity, which is one of the largest religions in the world, has been accused more of mistreating women than other religions. Despite this, Islam has also had its fair share of the blame for the mistreatment of women. Critically, some of the things that have been used to support the premise include the fact that Muslim women have what appear to be significantly few rights, and even those, have to be managed and monitored by their male relatives. It can be argued that women are often not trusted to make decisions if a man is not there to approve the same.

Indeed, there are numerous milestones that Muslim women have achieved since the inception and acceptance of feminism. For example, women living in Islamic nations have more rights now than they did before. Technology and innovation have also helped spread the movement to places that were previously not accessible. Despite this, the next level of eradicating discrimination based on gender lies in the communities themselves. This particular part of the movement is hindered, to some extent, by the fact that feminism has so far been pro-West, and not pro-women in their different contexts. It is clear that the fact that the movement is not only associated with but also defined by the West has acted as a hindrance to progress for feminism oppression in Islam.

Bibliography

Azam, Hina. 2018. “Islamic Feminism between Islam and Islamophobia.” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 14 (1): 124–128.

Green, Duncan. 2016. How Change Happens. London: Oxford University Press.

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Hesová, Zora. 2019. “Secular, Islamic or Muslim Feminism? The Places of Religion in Women’s Perspectives on Equality in Islam.” Gender a výzkum 20 (2): 26-46

Muhibbu-Din, O. Mahmudat. 2019. Feminism and Modern Islamic Politics: The Fact and the Fallacy. International Journal of Islamic Thought 15: 44-59.

Scott-Baumann, Alison, Guest Mathew, Naguib Shuruq and Phoenix Aisha. 2020. Islam on Campus: Contested Identities and the Cultures of Higher Education in Britain. London: Oxford University Press.

Vernon, Leah. 2019. Unashamed: Musings of a Fat, Black Muslim. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

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