Islam belongs to the feminists too

This post has seen many procrastinated mornings and evenings. I’m still not sure if I’d be able to articulate what I want to say. But no harm in trying.

Two years ago, Muslim feminism was just a project for me. Today I have fallen in love with Muslim feminists. A good part of my day is spent thinking about you, the Muslim feminists, and about Muslim feminism.

I was born into a Hanafi/Shafi family and a few years ago when I was at the peak of my religious fervor for madhab (Sunni school of thought, either: Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki or Hanabli)I wrote that Islam doesn’t need Muslim feminism (yes, horror!). I couldn’t have been more wrong.

While we chant the mantra often that “Islam is not monolithic” or that “there is extreme diversity in the Muslim community”, it is often because of our intolerance that we refuse to respect co-religionists who are different in their practice of the religion from us. Many Muslim feminists *choose* how they want to practice Islam and  let’s face it – we don’t like it! Dr. Amina Wadud leading the Friday prayer made many Muslims, men and women, uncomfortable. It was the first time I realised that Muslim women and feminists are constantly harassed – not only by non-Muslims but also by Muslims.

Each one of us believes that we are practicing the religion absolutely correctly – “as it was meant to be.” A very quick look into the history of Islam and Muslim nations would put our views straight. None of us can truly say what was the Islam of the first Muslims. Very soon after after the Prophet’s death Islam began to imbibe elements of religious practices of Sasanian and Byzantine nations that Muslims conquered: quick wealth meant veiling, which was exclusively for the elite, became widespread; men began denying inheritance to their womenfolk; Caliph Umar banned women from going to mosques and instated stoning as punishment for adultery – apparently even claiming that stoning was mentioned in the Quran and the verse was eaten by a goat!; Aisha’s failed leadership was used to warn against women taking up political roles; homosexuality became punishable as a crime and a sin and people began recalling hadith instructing the murder of homosexuals; the Umayyads created large harems and secluded their women. Not only this but according to early qiyas all Madhabs fixed minimum mahr (by analogizing the loss of virginity with theft) as the highest value of stolen goods before punishment of hand amputation was valid! (Oh yes, jurists also recalled 200 years later that the Prophet used to punish thieves by cutting off their hands). While Hanafis allowed an adult (note: not a minor) woman to contract her own marriage, other three require a male guardian or wali. Fathers and male guardians could marry their minor daughters without their consent recalling that Abu Bakr never consulted Aisha.

This is the Islam handed down to us, packaged in madhabs, fiqh and shariah. Can we ever successfully sift Sasanian and Byzantine influences from the “pure Islam” that we claim to know?

I don’t blame Muslim feminists who oppose all or part of the laws (not Islam!) I mentioned above. Most Muslim feminists use the Quran to argue that veiling was strictly for the Prophet’s wives. They want due inheritance as promised in the Quran. Feminists argue that it is their religious right to be allowed to pray in mosques just like men. All Muslim feminists are against stoning of adulterers and killing of homosexuals. Muslim feminists use examples of other great women to argue that Islam doesn’t forbid them from entering politics. These men and women are generally against child marriages, polygamy and concubinage and demand that dowry be seen as a gift, not price for sexual access. Is that too much to ask?

Post 9/11 we (Muslims) have become a paranoid nation and rightly so, but sadly paranoia also comes with rejection of anything that seems foreign. But have we ever stopped to think that what we may think as “foreign” is actually the native religion and what we have been accepting as Islam is filled with “foreign” influences?

The only self-proclaimed Muslim feminist that I don’t like much is Asra Nomani but I listen even to her. No one makes absolute nonsense and there is always something to be learned from others even if it is a painful lesson from an enemy. Why is it that we like to first (mis)judge feminists who are Muslim before we even listen to them?! These men and women are NOT against Islam. They just want their rights and want to live in the 21st Century not in the dark shadows of the Abbasids and Umayyads.

A few weeks ago I tried to understand the views of a friend and tried to make him understand the views of Muslim feminists. But you know what? If the traditionalists don’t want to listen to Muslim feminists, I don’t think Muslim feminists want to talk to them either. Islam belongs to the feminists too.

16 thoughts on “Islam belongs to the feminists too

  1. Zeina says:

    Why don’t you like Asra Nomani? My mentor just wrote an extremely harsh rebuttal on an article she wrote. And rightfully so!

    • Metis says:

      I admire her courage for asking for prayer space but (call me conservative) I feel she shouldn’t broadcast her single mum status so much – it detracts from important issues that she addresses because people get busy judging her morals.

      • Michelle says:

        Huh. Weird, I think it’s awesome that she broadcasts that. I see it as the same thing as me volunteering at my local Zakat foundation but refusing to veil while I do. I’m disproving the people who relate my goodness to their perception of my morals. I think that’s what she’s doing too – she’s going to go ahead and pray and fight for justice and live like a Muslim while refusing to hide her humanity. Far from “detracting” from important issues – it’s actually at the core. When we place women on pedestals and act as though any who fall off them are worthless, we deny their humanity. As a feminist, this is at the heart of my struggles.

        • Metis says:

          Michelle, you can argue from the Quran that veiling is not required and so you, as a Muslim, aren’t doing anything immoral if you don’t veil. But I don’t know if you can argue that adultery is not immoral. There are certain things that are explicitly prohibited and called immoral in the Quran. I wouldn’t judge someone who calls themselves Muslim and drink but I wouldn’t say it is “awesome.” Similarly, I don’t judge Nomani for her lifestyle choices but I don’t agree with them.

          However, like I said before I greatly admire her courage – even the courage to be a single mother.

      • Serenity says:

        I don’t like Asra Nomani either at all (but, like you, I don’t think that means I have nothing to learn from her or that she’s not worthy of being heard). Here’s one reason why I dislike her: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/03/05/why-nypd-monitoring-should-be-welcome-news-to-us-muslims.html

        P.S. Love, LOVE this piece!! It’s like you took the words right from my mouth :) Thank you for writing this! I’m also really pleased that you differentiate between “Islam” and “(Islamic) law”; many find me apologetic for distinguishing between the two. Also enjoyed the whole “recalled after 200 years that the Prophet had …”! Lovely.

  2. Safiyah says:

    I love this post, and you made a lot of good points =) I recently reposted a post on my blog from another Muslim feminist about Muslim male privileges, and I immediately got an angry response from a Muslim man, telling me in detail how he gets turned on when a woman would sit next to him in a mosque (while the blog post wasn’t even about women mixing with men in the mosque, just arguing in favor of a decent space for women there) and how I’m not a “real” Muslim, but more like a hypocrite for criticising the privileges men have. He also called the points the post made “bida’”. He was basically blaming women for breathing, and it made me realise it’s not easy at all to stand up for women’s God-given rights.

    I do want to ask you about something concerning veiling. If you say it’s a result of foreign influences, is there evidence that the hadiths concerning veiling (for example, where the prophet tells Zainab (who at that moment was not his wife) to cover everything except her hands and face) are fake? I’m really interested :)

  3. Metis says:

    Thank you Safiyah for your kind words! I’m really happy someone likes it :) So sorry to hear what happened on your blog. I can understand; I face it often on Facebook. There are almost a thousand people on the Facebook page and everyone must feel that everything posted must completely agree with their sentiments. But Islam is not monolithic and if some of our views clash it doesn’t have to mean that we should forget all adaab. Sadly most people are more aggressive than I can handle and I get very demotivated.

    Re. veiling – well, thoughts on veiling differ from person to person. Historians like Reza Aslan, Leila Ahmed and Nikki Keddie believe that veiling (head and face) was only meant for the Prophet’s wife as a symbol of their elite status (like only the Prophet’s wives were forbidden to marry after his death, not all Muslimahs). On the other hand, some religious scholars believe that face veil was for the Prophet’s wives and head covering for other Muslimahs to differentiate them from slaves who were forbidden from veiling. Again, there are more and more Muslims today who don’t believe in hadith; most scholars I have read seem to be Quranists or at least rely heavily on Quran first.

    I hope I have been able to answer your question.

  4. Susan says:

    Assalam Alyekom,Thank you for your beautiful post, well worth the wait. I am not schooled enough in the Qu’ran or Hadith to agree or disagree with what you write. But this post speaks so much to what I feel about Islam, that it is inclusive. And it is timeless. And it breaks my heart that there are people who deem it appropriate to discourage me from seeking knowledge because I’m a woman. Which is why I read your blog and thank you for reconnecting me with the Qu’ran.

  5. Safiyah says:

    Thank you for your reply, Metis :) It was very helpful. I also read up on Quranism and it appeals to me, but on the other hand, I don’t know if it’s good to dismiss all hadiths as unreliable. Maybe we need a new list of criteria about which hadiths can be considered trustworthy? (one that doesn’t involve, the more women-unfriendly the better).

    I realise it must take a lot of strength to keep standing up for women’s rights when there is so much hostility out there. May God make it easy for you and reward you for your efforts, ameen!

    • Serenity says:

      You might find Khaled Abou el-Fadl’s book “Speaking in God’s Name” useful! Although he doesn’t set the criteria you call for (and I’m with you; I think our standards have changed, and we need a new set of criteria, one that doesn’t deem the inferiority of women to men as acceptable and hence even possibly, remotely authentic!), he does discuss a lot of hadiths that are against women and I think some against non-Muslims, too. And he’s not a rejecter of all hadiths, as far as I understand him. He’s worth a read either way :)

  6. Trista says:

    Well said dear sister! Islam is for everyone!

  7. Salma says:

    all i know is that religion and God is true. its better than not believing. if we just take a look at the nudity in the music industry with satanic symbols etc..it scares us..those who dont believe will get sucked into atheism, no?

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