Muslim feminists at the intersection of Islam and Feminism

Image 1 feminismI have been a feminist ever since I began to engage with patriarchy as a conscious human being. That was also the same time when I realized that I was not the only woman struggling for space to breathe in a misogynistic world that strives to suck out every spirit of being from women, from people of color, from “minorities.” This started in my late teenage years when I began noting gendered double standards in the way that the community I was being raised in dealt with issues of gender and sexuality. I grew tired of it to the point where I have been wanting to scream ever since. And it’s been over a decade. But the reasons are too multifaceted to be attributed to misogyny alone. And the only things that have kept me sane and given me reasons to be enthusiastic about this world and women’s and gendered minorities’ future are feminism and feminist initiatives.

Let me clarify here that I am a Muslim, and I identify specifically as an Islamic feminist. I’m a Muslim Islamic feminist. It is important that I emphasize my religion here because western feminism has traditionally tended to discredit other forms of feminism, particularly feminists of faith, feminists of color, feminists who are otherwise not privileged due to their socioeconomic status. My struggles as a feminist working towards gender equality and justice are similar to the struggles of other feminists, but my struggles also differ in that I have another current working against me alongside patriarchy: Islamophobia in the West.

Islamophobia stinksAs a Muslim feminist sincerely devoted to Islam, I am constantly combating two major forces—misogyny within Muslim communities and within patriarchal Islamic traditions that date back to the 7th century and before in addition to non-Muslims and ex-Muslims whose shortsightedness prevents them from recognizing any beauty in any religion but, at the moment, specifically in Islam. And, frankly, as a Muslim feminist, I am tired of the mockery of Islam by non-Muslims and former Muslims whose bigotry and insincerity mislead them into thinking that the identity of “Islamic feminist” is an oxymoron. They seem to believe that no brain-possessing woman can and should be valuing Islam as her religion because Islam, and no other religion but Islam alone, is supposedly inherently misogynistic. This ignorance is rooted in today’s unfortunate politics of Islam and Muslims’ relations with the West, in the assumption that the identities of Muslim and Western are mutually exclusive, in the misguiding claim that Islam, and no other religion but Islam alone, is a stagnant religion and tradition that lacks room for fluidity and has no movements within it for re-interpretations, which all other religions apparently automatically come packed with. This fabricated image of Islam, and no other religion but Islam alone, as incapable of guiding its followers towards positive change needs to be countered with the reality of Islam and Muslims and specifically of Muslim feminists: We exist! We have always existed! And we will never stop existing! And we are constantly speaking out. There is plenty of dialogue among Muslims themselves, and with Muslims’ and Muslim feminists’ allies, there is plenty of scholarship and literature from within Islam, there is a strong enough voice from Muslims and Muslim feminists themselves to promote positive change and gender justice in our societies and communities, and we therefore do not need the voice of those who consistently interrupt us and try to break our voices, who claim that we have no voice and that they need to “give voice” to us. We have a voice; we simply lack the appropriate audience from time to time—and that audience includes all those who believe any of the following popular claims: “Islamic feminism is an oxymoron,” or “Islam oppresses women [unlike all other patriarchal/misogynistic religions, obviously],” “Muslim women need a voice [sometimes better known politically as ‘Muslim women need saving’],” or “Women in Islam versus women in the West.” If you believe any of these things, we the Muslim feminists need you to be silent and listen to us speak about ourselves instead of speaking for us.

As a Muslim feminist, I am tired of explaining that there is no contradiction between my feminist values and my religious beliefs because my religion is just as open to interpretations and re-interpretations as any other religion; it has always been that way, and it will always be that way because that is how religions work—their texts are intentionally ambiguous and speak to their audiences and followers in their own time and space, as any good text does. Hardly any Muslim will deny that Islam recognizes women’s rights in theory, but few of us follow through with those rights. Feminism for me, and Islamic feminism specifically, is the bridge between the theory that Islam recognizes and values women’s rights and the practice of working towards implementing those rights in Muslim communities.

As a Muslim feminist, I am done with popping all the bubbles blown for me, breaking all the categories created for me, transcending all the boundaries demarcated for me—because they do not fit me, they do not represent me, they do not speak to me, and they are not me. They are not large enough, not wide enough for me to fit into them. No, rather, let me rephrase: I do not want to fit into them because I am not one to be satisfied with anything created for me without my consent. I am dynamic like my faith is, and I fluctuate like my faith does. As a Muslim feminist, I have the full capacity and the full knowledge of myself and my faith to create my own space for myself. I do not work within lines and boundaries; I have never done so, and I will never do so. I do not thank anyone for trying to help when their understanding of “helping” me is a condescending, degrading enforcement of their own values on me, when their “help” is in effect a mockery of me, my faith, my beliefs, and of a people whose number exceeds a billion—the Muslims of the world.

The "my feminism is better than yours" syndrome.

The “my feminism is better than yours” syndrome.

As a Muslim feminist, I am tired of reminding those feminists who believe they know what’s best for all other women all over the world that they have a right to speak only for their individual selves. No two experiences, no two individuals, let alone multiple groups of women or other genders and sexes on multiple continents, are alike. To pretend we understand each other just because we are all women is to dishonor our own core feminist values of justice, of equality, of inclusiveness, of recognizing all women’s ability and power to represent their own struggles because they are capable of doing so. The only thing they need from us, the only thing that we all need from each other, is solidarity; we need love and support as we navigate through a world that has falsely been perceived as created for us and not by us.

As a Muslim feminist, I am tired, so tired, of asserting my being, proving my existence in a world that doesn’t tire of attempting to silence me on every front, suppress my voice by claiming that I have none because I do not exist, because I am an oxymoron, that I’m a living, walking, talking contradiction. I am tired of saying I’m not. I’m a living, conscious, active being, I’m a feminist Muslim and a Muslim feminist who lives to fight misogyny, Islamophobia, and all other forms of bigotry no matter who I have to fight in the process. I call for other feminists and activists who believe in justice and peace for all, not just for those who share their experiences, beliefs, and understandings of life or even the struggles they face.

Just as well, as a Muslim feminist, I am incredibly grateful to all those feminists and allies who have stood by me and other Muslim feminists because they understand that feminism has no one meaning, that to limit feminism and its definitions is to tear it from the root and never see it grow again. This world is beautiful, and it can remain so only and only if we listen to each other’s voices and appreciate each other’s capacity and right to speak for ourselves instead of being spoken for. Feminism is a beautiful thing, and to acknowledge, support, and embrace each other is to allow feminism to remain beautiful and blossom with each feminist voice that differs from our own.

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About Orbala

Pashtun. Interested in all things Pashtuns, feminism, and Islam/religion. And I want it to rain on my wedding day, pliss, inshaAllah.
This entry was posted in Death to patriarchy, feminism, gender, I can't believe this needs to be said out loud, Islam, Islamic feminism, Islamophobia, Just stop, Muslim feminists, Religion, society, why we need feminism, your face is haraam and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Muslim feminists at the intersection of Islam and Feminism

  1. f.inderella says:

    I sat down on the floor with my chocolate chip cookies and green tea to read your blog. The combined effect has been refreshing 😀 ok nonsense apart, you make my inner feminist happy and uber proud! Alhamdulillah this amazing creature is an awesome friend of mine.

    And.
    Applause.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. zeinash says:

    This was a great read. I related tremendously.
    God bless.

    Like

  3. Pingback: The Prophet’s Wives Were Not Happy Co-Wives – and what happens when Muslim women say this out loud | Freedom from the Forbidden

  4. Sophie Alal says:

    Reblogged this on The Stray Bulletin and commented:
    Solidarity with our Muslim feminist sisters.

    Like

  5. The conception that there is one, right way of being feminist, and that way is western, white, and secular is a colonizing feminism. Thank you for this post.

    Like

  6. Secular feminism is not always Western nor always white. Is it still colonizing?

    Like

    • orbala says:

      It’s what “colonizing” means that’s a concern to me. If there’s any hint of a “no, no, Muslim women & Muslim feminists, you don’t understand religions and that’s why y’all still identify with Islam! Let us liberate you,” then, yes, it’s on obnoxious and we don’t want it (it = secular feminism when it doesn’t recognize our choices).

      Like

    • Agreed. As a secular feminist, I think the reason why there are Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Hindu/Buddhist etc feminists is…they are feminists, the religion holds especial cultural and emotional/spiritual significance to them, and they’re seeking ways to challenge and resolve problematic patriarchal aspects in those religions. To which I say, good luck with that. Since most people believe in a religion and since I think most people will continue to believe in a religion well into the next few centuries or even longer, it’s a very important sphere of feminist activism that is essentially ignored by secular feminists (who often take a very dim view of religion in general, myself included.) I personally don’t know how possible it is to reconcile certain aspects of most religions I’ve come across with feminism, but then again I’m secular. I figure it’s not MY headache to know how to do that. The only time I would have an issue is when the religion takes precedence over the feminism, but in my experience this is rare and applicable only for a small number of issues and possibly only a subset of theist feminists. (Sometimes they’re very important issues though, such as abortion.)

      Like

    • orbala says:

      Thank you for your comment, Bookworm! ‘Preciate it!
      Glad that you recognize the importance of religion in religious feminists’ lives and struggles towards gender equality and social justice! So many (non-religious/secular) feminists don’t get that, and it’s really frustrating having to constantly explain that! We’re not asking you to practice feminism our way; we’re simply demanding–not asking–that our feminism be recognized and respected and that it be understood that we’re all in this together. We have the same objective, which is gender justice, and it’s totally all right that the means through which we believe we can reach that destination are different or even in conflict at times.

      Re abortion: Do you mean that some religious feminists don’t support abortion, and this is one of those times when “religion” takes precedence over “feminism”? Because my experience with Muslim feminists has been totally different. Apologies if I misunderstand you.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, some of them refuse to support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices at that point and give religion as the reason why. As I said, this is a very small group even with religious feminists, who say support for abortion rights is actually a reflection of how secularism has tainted feminism. I suspect whether they actually are feminists or just gleaning onto the label, but as a rule of thumb I try not to judge the veracity of people’s professed ideologies but rather the impact of their actions. So I have to take them as feminists and I have to acknowledge that in this one point they decided to side with religious orthodoxy over individual liberation.

      Like

    • orbala says:

      It’s be ironic if a Muslim feminist didn’t supper a woman’s choice to abort or not abort because even the Islamic tradition, replete with patriarchy as with all traditions, holds quite progressive views on abortion given the time period & mindset of the folks of those times!

      Liked by 1 person

    • True, and I also recall a (Christian?) feminist who pointed out that the at the time the Bible was written, people had no way of knowing about a pregnancy as early as we can now; and “life” in those times often began at birth, if not later, because you simply could not predict who would survive long enough and who wouldn’t. That’s probably also why so many ancient religions keep children in a state of sinlessness/purity/limbo/half-formed as spiritual beings till they reach a certain age. Looking at it that way, you could say from a religious perspective, life begins at age 13. But hey, people will be people.

      Like

  7. Bag Ladie Of The Universe says:

    Islam badlarey day de szedzo de para ..

    Like

    • VoltTackle... says:

      That dude probably has bad Pashto ! Either Pashto is not his first language or he’s speaking a really far away dialect….. he’s pretending that pashto is his first language but is probably a tajik or Punjabi suffering from a mental ilness ….. He’s pretending to be atheist and Pashtun….. he sais Islam is bad for women….

      Like

    • orbala says:

      Don’t *ever* fool yourself into thinking that you can come here attacking people whose sentences you don’t understand, ok? Never, ever do that again.

      Anyone whose words you don’t understand must be Punjabi or Tajk? As if something’s wrong with either of these ethnic groups?

      Then you don’t just stop at that ignorant assumption but you also go and insult people with mental illnesses like they’re stupid or something! I’m so infinitely tired of people like you who constantly compare people they deem “stupid” to people with mental illnesses! Shame on you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. VoltTackle... says:

    Isn’t it “Islam de sezdo para badlaree day”?

    Man, i hate these atheist Pashtuns!
    Not only they attack Pakistan and Non-Pashtun Afghans like Tajiks and Hazaras, they are also
    starting to attack Islam too…

    I have MORE respect for Atheist Pashtuns that don’t care ethnicity or religion…that get along with Tajiks, UZbeks, Hazaras, punjabis and other Pashtuns and do not care whatsoever about the Durrand line or ethnicity, let alone they arent hostile to non-muslims cause they left islam in the first place…

    Those Anti-tajik, Anti-Pakistani ethnocentric atheist Pashtuns need to get a life!

    Non-ethnocentric atheist pashtusn are good, but becoming atheist for the sake of your ethnicity makes them really annoying….

    Like

    • VoltTackle... says:

      For example. I bet you they wont say asalam walikum, or mashala, or inhallah becasue those words are from Arabic. They’ll try to keep pure Pashto as much as possible by using as less words borrowed from other languages like Arabic, Farsi or Urdu…

      Like already Pashtuns use manana instead of Shukriaa.. or the word for woman is shedza instead of aurat,….. because Shukria is arabic and aurat comes from an Arabic word meaning “intimate”…

      Pakistani people don’t have an identity, they mix their langauge from arabic and turkish non-stop and try to get rid of Hindi, Sanskrit or Indian origin words from their mother tongue … Pakistanis are so brainwashed that everyone thinks Punjabis are only the Sikh people…

      Like

    • VoltTackle... says:

      Not Only pakistanis are trying to change the identity of pakistani Pashtuns, they are losing their own identity as well..

      I’m pretty sure using a dialect of Punjabi would be better for Pakistan’s official language because the grammar would be different from India’s official language…
      maybe someday, Urdu would be like a Trojan horse for Indians…

      Look at Bengali, their language is not that mixed with turkish or loanwords and they write in bengali script, yet most in bangladesh are still muslim…. no identity lost there…

      Like

    • orbala says:

      I have equal respect for atheists and theists who don’t attack each other or different beliefs and diversity. I can’t stand either side when they declare the other stupid or ignorant or whatever else, either.

      Like

    • ortega says:

      Let me clarify here that I am a Muslim, and I identify specifically as an Islamic feminist. I’m a Muslim Islamic feminist.

      I’ve read recently that the term “Islamic” actually only emerged in the last century and was created by religious modernists like Afghani etc. Why do you call yourself an Islamic feminist rather than just a muslim feminist.

      Like

    • orbala says:

      Because not all Muslim feminists are Islamic feminists; some are secular feminists. This distinction isn’t necessarily widely known/recognized, but I see an Islamic feminist as someone who’s engaged with the idea that feminism is possible within Islam itself.

      Didn’t know that the term “Islamic” is new; what was used before this term was coined? Interesting stuff.

      Liked by 2 people

    • ortega says:

      Didn’t know that the term “Islamic” is new; what was used before this term was coined? Interesting stuff.

      An equivalent probably wouldn’t have been necessary in the pre-colonial period. It’s only in the post-colonial period where certain ideas (perceived to be foreign) are interjected into muslim discourse that it became necessary. No one would have said “Islamic dress” until recently, they would have just said “appropriate dress” or “decent dress”.

      My issue with “Islamic” is that it implies fidelity to some kind of pre-packaged systematised orthodoxy, which in the case of muslim feminists is often not what’s happening. Personally, I would describe the position of someone like Kecia Ali for example as critical traditionalist with a focus on gender issues.

      Liked by 1 person

    • orbala says:

      Ortega: I just read this “Islsmic” thing in Sherman Jackson’s Blackamerican Islam!! SO fascinating!

      Like

    • ortegaseason says:

      Ortega: I just read this “Islsmic” thing in Sherman Jackson’s Blackamerican Islam!! SO fascinating!

      What did you read?

      Like

  9. snpeterson says:

    I’m the same; my first conception of feminism happened when I was 10 years old. I was told I wasn’t allowed to play cricket because I’m a girl and I could get hurt. I was told off as disgusting because I mentioned the boy’s protective gear (my late father played cricket). I was laughed at by a boy I liked in the same year because I loved science. “Girls only can be mothers” he said. And yes, I have been screaming ever since. For 30 + years!
    I’m a working class white feminist who is finding her spiritual voice in Islam; I’m just not at a stage where I can call myself a Muslim feminist… just a feminist who practices Islam. I often say I took my shahada and rediscovered my feminism.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. TrueMuslim says:

    Nice post, anyways, what do you mean when you said: “As a Muslim feminist, I am done with popping all the bubbles blown for me.” I don’t get the point actually of this statement. Thanks.

    Like

    • orbala says:

      Than you for reading, TM.
      The part you quoted means that I’m sick and tired of other people telling me how to be a feminist or how to be a Muslim. People create categories that they expect you to fit into, and I don’t fit into any of them and demand my space.

      Like

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