On the ‘American hijab’

Some years ago my hijab wearing friend was approached by an older woman in Melbourne and told to “go back home”, there was no place for her in Australia. My friend is Caucasian Australian. She was at home!

Earlier this year I was making small talk with an acquaintance, a hijab wearing Indian Muslim woman, as I waited for my pizza order. She asked me what I was doing these days. I told her that I was comparing two major tafsirs of the Quran on women’s issues and collecting various interpretations for Verse 4:34. Without a moment’s thought she said, “Oh, wow Mashallah! I didn’t know you’d be interested in something like that I mean I’d understand if a woman with hijab did that!”

So when I read this article (American Hijab: Why My Scarf is a Sociopolitical Statement, Not a Symbol of My Religiosity) two days ago it perplexed me.

To be honest, I am very happy that the author wrote this article because I’m old enough to see the shift in clothing symbols for Muslims pre and post 9/11. I was born Muslim in the West, in a world when Muslim majority countries were more secular than religious and grew up in the pre 9/11 time when Islam was being revived so I see post 9/11 world through the eyes of an older adult who has experience of what it was like before it.

I always believed that even if many Muslim women who have chosen to wear hijab (women from my generation, particularly) after 9/11 don’t realise it, it is a political symbol.

I don’t know if I agree with the title of the article, though. I think it is more of a religiopolitical symbol than sociopolitical symbol and I see the author shifting between the two ideologies without intending to do so.

The way I understand it (and I may be wrong) is that the American system may be able to understand religiopolitics (although they may still be terrified!) because of the first amendment but a self-proclaimed sociopolitical rebellion or resistance is political dissent that can become dangerous (and some may argue is even ‘unIslamic’ – live in peace with the people of the country that you migrate to and don’t indulge in political dissent etc…). Personally I don’t see a problem with hijab being seen as a sociopolitical symbol of rebellion or resistance, but I don’t think that’s what the author means it to be.

To support this I would say that her thesis is that hijab is “the antithesis and retaliation to whiteness and the American media, and a nod of solidarity to other people of color” which is confusing since hijab is none of that:

1) There are white Muslims. Many. More white women convert to Islam than men. And they wear hijab. Since the writer wants to embrace her ethnic identity, white converts to Islam should also be allowed to embrace theirs. Unfortunately converts to Islam are given a hijab even before they enter the masjid to proclaim the Shahadah. If hijab is “an antithesis and retaliation to whiteness” then scores of white Muslim women are forced to negate their ethnicity. Except that they are not.

2) Many PoC are not Muslim and I’m not sure how much they would be able to understand this ‘sociopolitical nod’ when it is a very deeply religious symbol and identifier. In fact, many PoC oppose the hijab and see it as ‘oppression’ and ‘backwardness.’ Unfortunate, but true.

3) Hijab is definitely a symbol of solidarity and sisterhood. But for many women, including Muslim women like me who *choose* not wear it, it is also a strong symbol of division because it is a religiopolitical symbol. As a Muslim woman and a person of colour, I don’t get that nod from hijabi sisters. I want it, but I don’t get it.

The sentence I found the strongest and with which I could relate strongly is “I was not in control of my narrative so long as I still sought the acceptance of those who might never want to understand me.” And that is the crux of the ‘American problem’ – that different ethnicities try to be accepted by mainstream society and media and are never understood.

I don’t know if hijab is going to help there, though. For one, a woman without hijab in Egypt will face the same problem at some point in her life. She will not be in control of her narrative as most people will not understand her post the ‘Islamic revival’ that the author mentions. If she dons the hijab (like many young Egyptian women eventually do) to seek the acceptance she so desires then it’s not her peculiar narrative any longer, is it?

As someone who has lived for years in various Muslim majority countries, my experiences as a non-hijabi woman is exactly like the author’s only that I face discrimination, dismissal, rejection and prejudice because I don’t cover my head. In my case hijab is a sociopolitical symbol because the established religion of the countries under discussion is Islam and religion permeates into everyday life 24/7, it is not something that is ‘shed or stifled’ but exhibited and celebrated and if you don’t exhibit it (through hijab) then you are not “one of us.”

Thus for all these reasons I found it odd that the author thinks that hijab can become “a symbol of rejection of white-passing” and I think for the most part, she is quite confused. I see her as having the desire to oppose White Supremacy, racism, and bigoted American media. Instead she claims to be retaliating against Westernisation (while choosing to live in a Western country!). She thinks that without hijab she could be passed for a white woman but hijab will remove that ‘privilege’ her lighter skin tone offers her. However, many white Muslim women also wear hijab. A woman can be white, Muslim, muhajabah and Western. And like a woman wrote on Facebook, a woman can be Muslim, brown, not a muhajabah and live in a ‘western’ country, wear western clothes but “never pass as white.”

The other problem I see with the ‘American hijab’ is its effects on Muslim women living outside of America because of the very heavy influence of internet media on younger generation. When pictures of American Muslim women in hijab are tweeted, shared, trended, exhibited, written about on blogs, even exploited, women living outside of America, who face very different religio-social politics, begin to think that hijab is all there is to Islam and if their sisters are wearing it despite severe backlash so they must wear it too. However, their reasons are very different and so women who don’t wear hijab become the target of discrimination.

Hijab grants the author the ‘empowerment to declare where she stands in a world that is in opposition to all that she is’ which makes sense and I fully support it if it’s a sentiment shared by most Muslim women. I only wish that this burden of rebellion and resistance was not always placed on Muslim women because generally Muslim men still don’t wear their religiopolitical symbols to show resistance.

When the Indian Muslim woman showed her surprise that I was studying Islamic texts, I had to remind her that I am a doctoral research candidate – in Islamic Studies. I am a born Muslim who chooses not to cover her hair. She looked confused but (predictably) said, “hijab is not a choice!” I ended the conversation by thanking her and told her that the next time a muhajabah tells me that hijab is her choice, I’ll tell her that it’s not!

Then I waited, but didn’t get that nod.

Polygamy: “an allowable choice”

I finished watching the Channel 4 documentary on Muslim Polygamy titled, ‘The Men with Many Wives.’ The approximately 47-minute documentary was shot over a period of 3 months and follows the polygamous lives of five families.

  1. Hassan

The first and most (in)famous family is that of Hassan Phillips, a 32-year old Jamaican-British man who converted to Islam when he was about 16 years old and lives in Brixton, South London.  Hassan works part-time in the Brixton Mosque and owns a small home-run business of Arabic perfume and Islamic clothing. He was married and divorced before he met his first wife Sakina in university. Sakina and her older two children appear in one scene on the documentary, but they do not speak at all and aren’t interviewed. She also does not walk with Hassan or sit next to him. In one scene Hassan reveals that his relationship with his own dad broke down and being raised in a single-parent home he realises “how important it is to have both parents at home”!

Hassan’s second wife is Nabila from Malaysia who is apparently falsely adverstised as a ‘Cambridge graduate.’ Nabila did come to the UK do her PhD at Cambridge but left the programme to marry Hassan. She claims that she would not return to academia. She was a divorcee when she met Hassan.

During the filming of the documentary Hassan marries for the third time. His third wife Anub is from Somalia and has her own house where Hassan spends time with her for three days in a week. Anub is 10 years older than him and is a driving instructor. Hassan claims that he “appreciates maturity” and is only marrying her because he is “looking for companionship” with a mature woman – apparently the other two wives are not companions. Anub has a teenaged son whom Hassan approached to seek permission to marry his mother. Like he did with his first two wives, Hassan commands Anub to don the niqab and accepts that if she had refused “it would have been an issue” as his other two wives wear niqaab for him, and because Hassan believes that like men “cover their valuables” so others don’t desire them, he wants to cover his wives as “a protection for him” – perhaps because he spends very little time with them and they are on their own most of the time.

At the end of the documentary we are informed that Hassan and Anub separate three months after their marriage citing “irreconcilable differences.”


  1. Omar

The second family (and my least favourite) is that of Omar, a white British convert, and his Pakistani-British wife Umm Zakariya. The couple met in Leicester on an Islamic course. Omar is 39 and the couple was in a polygamous marriage that broke down.  He lives with his wife and “their son” whom he never even looks at in the documentary and oddly enough he is not called ‘Abu Zakariya.’ The boy is seen jumping around the room but is ignored by both parents just as much as the sofa he is jumping on. Both parents are almost aggressive in supporting the idea of a second wife for Omar since the previous one left.

When an agent from a marriage bureau asks Omar why he wants to try and have a second wife again, he replies with some degree of pride and indignation in his tone that, “There’s no reason other than it’s clear in the Quran that this is allowed.” His wife explains that it is Islam that restricted polygyny, and she “want(s) to revive something that’s dying out.” She asserts that she doesn’t need any help and is happy in her marriage. Omar, a Physicist by profession points out, “I want to follow Islam. That’s my opinion. And if they’ve (people who oppose polygamy) got a problem with that and they call themselves Muslim, they’ve got a contradiction within themselves.


At this the marriage broker, Mizan, rolls his eyes once outside the meeting place, shrugs and comments, “They all come with their own personalities, man!” and notes that it’s hard to find matching personalities.


This couple wants a second wife to live in their house, as “there’s nothing lacking in (their) marriage” and polygyny would be a “bonus.” Umm Zakariya observes that “women worry where their husbands are after dark” but in a polygamous relationship she would know her husband’s whereabouts (especially if they live in one house!). It appears that her mindset is that men will cheat. Perhaps this is why she instantly trusted Omar when he told her right from the beginning that he wants to marry more than one woman. At the end of the documentary the narrator tells us that “Even after months of looking, Omar still has only one wife.”

  1. Ali Tahir

The third, rather odd, family is that of Ali Tahir’s. Tahir’s wives belong to the disreputable Obedient Wives Club, the club that received severe criticism for promoting group sex in polygamous relationships.

Ali Tahir and two wives live under one roof. Aqila is the first wife whom he married in 1991 in Birmingham. In 2002 he married Suhani, an Australian Malay. According to Tahir, Suhani is a better cook and Aqila “manages better” so they opened a restaurant that will be run by the two obedient wives. Tahir tells us that, “if you can handle a woman, it’s like handling 40 people” thus polygamy helps in “developing your leadership skills in Islam” – a benefit we hardly hear about!

Ali Tahir

Aqila proudly promotes the Obedient Wives Club’s book – Seks (sex) in Islam and highlights the merits of foreplay, adding that if “you respect your husband” it helps in good sex. Aqila also believes in (the myth?) of female ejaculation and explains that an orgasm “gives a woman youthfulness” and brightens her face. She also explains that in Chapter 8 of the book – how sex becomes an ibadah, it is explained that “if you are obedient to your husband and have sex with him it’s an ibadah” (act of worship).

  1. Muhammad el Ghannay

Muhammad has three wives and 11 children. He is 42 years old, unemployed for 2 years, and lives off state benefits. Amal is his second wife of 13 years and has four kids with him. She is from Yemen. His first wife is Hana, an Englishwoman, whom he met 20 years ago in Spain. He has four children with her as well. Hana refused to appear on the programme and we are told that their marriage is “suffering” because Muhammad is jobless and won’t stop marrying.

Muhammad claims that he is doing the community a service through “sharing” in polygamy rather than “wanting women.”  However, he is surviving on dole.

Third wife Thuraya is 26 and lives in Morocco. She hadn’t seen Muhammad in 9 months before he travels to Morocco.

In one scene, Amal says that she was jealous of Muhammad’s desire to marry for the third time. It is then that Muhammad explains that because she’s the second wife she knows that “it will happen; she has to accept it.” He boasts that “I am a man who knows the feeling of a woman” and knows all three are jealous of each other. He says his wives tell him that they love him and are sad that they have to share him with one or two women, but he explains “this is Islam!”

When the interviewer asks Muhammad’s oldest son if he’d practice polygamy he seems hesitant noting that “it’s hard to provide for a big family.” Near the end of the programme Muhammad sits next to Thuraya in Morocco and shamelessly comments “I feel home; out of all houses here, with a Moroccan wife.”

third wife

  1. Shaheen Qureshi

Shaheen is a Pakistani-British woman who had an arranged marriage to her first cousin at 16. That ended in divorce 10 years ago. She has 8 kids, 2 from second marriage to a man who already had a wife. In 10 years of marriage Shaheen claims she spent about 6 months with her second husband and that forces her to end the marriage as she notes that “this is my life and I don’t have much of it left.” Her daughter who is interviewed playing on a swing feels bad for her mother and says “it’s no fun being a co-wife.” Shaheen laments that “everybody’s husbands come home at the end of the day. I’m the only single parent.”  She tried to save her marriage by taking “the blame for everything” but it didn’t work. She has applied to the Sharia court for divorce as she is not a legal wife.


The narrator explains that there are no numbers of how many Muslim polygamous marriages end in divorce (as they are not legal to begin with). He asserts that family pressure and isolation after divorce may keep the numbers down.

The marriage broker, Mizan tells us that “we’ve got a massive oversupply of women in their thirties, forties, divorced.” He claims that all the “women are looking for security… “more so in polygamous marriage”, but “most men, 80%, who do want to do polygamy, for them it’s sexually driven… The guys are looking for one thing: it’s the body”, he says – they want a “body in good proportion – that’s the no. one request from men.”

Two important points from other reviewers:

As Walton notes, “Like all documentaries about Islam, The Men with Many Wives trod carefully. There was, for example, no exploration — or even mention — of the legal and societal implications of having two co-existing and contradictory laws governing family life. Everybody involved was also allowed to make their points entirely unchallenged, with the off-screen voice neither asking Nabilah why she left academia nor putting it to Hasan that most people don’t in fact cover their cars.”

Rachel Stewart explains that, “The truth is that co-wives are extremely vulnerable. Muslim polygamists circumvent UK law using unofficial Islamic ceremonies, or Nikkah, which offer the woman no legal or financial protection in the event of marriage breakdown. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Attempting to legally enter into a polygamous marriage in the UK is a criminal offence which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. Sharia law has no jurisdiction in England and Wales. The Government has no intention of changing this position.” There is little support from their religious community either; when Qureshi wrote to the Sharia courts explaining her husband’s neglect, she was shocked at their response: “Ask him to release you with a divorce and, in future, marry a single man.”

My thoughts:

I am glad that I watched the programme because it helped me come to terms with some issues. My first thought after viewing it was that I have always been against polygamy, but out of the four men shown on the programme, not one is the type I consider to be an ‘ideal Muslim man.’ Thus, I now feel that if such men want to marry multiple times and if their wives want to lead vulnerable and jealous lives the way they have, then they surely can go ahead – they don’t represent conscientious Muslim husbands. All the men in the documentary appear to be immature, careless and pompous almost like a child who shows off his new toy.

The women on the other hand, at least the first wives, are all (save for Hana) working women and live in bigger, cleaner houses. Sakina works full time and has a brighter and bigger home. Shaheen apparently works as well; she is seen driving around and signing a cheque in one scene when she applies for sharia divorce. We don’t see Hana but see her house which is much bigger and cleaner than Amal’s dilapidated quarters.  Ali Tahir’s wives have opened their own restaurant. It appears that these men are able to superficially claim that they can “afford” more wives because their wives are independent and make money. However, none of the men highlight this little detail. When the wives don’t work, the families are seen to survive on state benefits – Muhammad even sends part of the benefit money to Morocco to support the third family. Muhammad tells the interviewer that his second wife can keep all her earnings as well as the money he gives her, but forgets to point out that his wife works for him – designing the website for his business!

What I found disturbing was the fact that these men had several children, and at least Muhammad’s children are being raised by the taxpayers, even though polygamy is illegal in Britain. On the other hand, the financial crisis keeps his houses dirty and poor, and the children desiring a better life. The men are not heard talking about the effect of their behaviour on the children and at least Muhammad blames his wives for not being able to have a big fat happy family. It would have been helpful for other men wanting polygamy if these men had cared to explain their care plans for their many children and multiple wives in the event of their death. For example, what will happen to Muhammad’s children from his second and third wives and Hassan’s children from his second wife in case something happened to them as the women don’t work, are not legal wives in the UK and are not on talking terms with each other?


The other thing I noticed was that although these men boast that their wives live in separate houses, it appears that the wives enter the marriage with their own house (at least that’s the case with Shaheen, and Hassan’s first wife Sakina) making the marriage more like ‘Misyar’ marriage.

None of the children interviewed spoke positively about polygamy. Each one of them seemed uncomfortable with the family’s personal and financial situation and seemed to realise that monogamy may have given them more security.


Another point I noticed is that all men claimed that their behaviour was completely acceptable as “this is Islam!” with Omar going so far as to judge the religiosity of everyone who believes in monogamy. His wife parrots his sentiments and explains that polygamy is not a chance to party as Islam was the first religion to restrict polygamy, which is an excuse used by many polygamous men to justify their desires. This is, by the way, a false assertion as Hindu Law restricted polygamy to four wives at least 700 years before Islam and we don’t see Hindus use that law to claim wanting to be polygamous.

I gathered from this documentary that all women interviewed in the programme have a very low opinion of Muslim men; they firmly believe that men are polygamous by nature; Shaheen even says it in another article. They don’t appreciate monogamy as an evolutionary social step that was necessary for its benefits. They ignore the existence of monogamous men – the vast majority of Muslim monogamous men. They also don’t consider that polyandry is proven to be just as “natural” – Daniel Bergner points out that, “the evidence more and more supports this idea that women are no more naturally, when it comes to sex, made for monogamy than men are.” However, humans have chosen to be monogamous and the argument “whether or not monogamy is natural is less relevant than whether it’s desirable. When considering behavior, naturalness is not the most important issue.” Monogamy seems to be unnatural (for either sex) but desirable “because humans have such big brains, their infants take a long time to nurture and are vulnerable for longer. Therefore human males had a compelling reason to hang around and protect their child-rearing female until breeding was done.”

This delicate reasoning for a better future for the Muslim community and its children is seen missing from the discussions of the men and women interviewed. Hassan claims to realise “how important it is to have both parents at home” but is a part-time husband and a part-time father. Muhammad doesn’t see his Moroccan children for months. Shaheen’s second husband doesn’t see his two daughters from her for years. On the other hand, both Omar and Ali Tahir want second wives for sexual gratification and have no trouble articulating this. The wives of both these men are uncomfortably odd for it is one thing to come to terms with polygyny, even desire it, and completely another wanting to live in the same house.

Out of all the men I liked Hassan the most even though it is clear that he is quite shrewd and diplomatic having learned to say the right things at the right time. Muhammad is almost foolish and enjoys the attention he gets from his jealous wives who literally serve him food on a platter. Ali Tahir is just an oddball living in his own world dictated by the misogyny of the Obedient Wives Club. And one can’t help but see how angry, aggressive and self-righteous Omar is in believing that the Muslim community owes him an apology for not giving him their “daughter, sister, auntie or granny” to become his second wife. His anger and attitude is especially apparent when he says Muslims embrace him as a convert brother but won’t give him their women to marry. Well chap, maybe it’s because you already have a legal wife and child; legal being the operative word here.

Support versus Independence

Scenario 1: March 2003

A young Muslim man, Ahmad, goes on a business trip to Africa, returns home to the US with hemorrhagic fever and dies from complications within a week. He had an MBA in marketing. His wife, Ayesha, hadn’t even finished high school. Her father had died when she was eight years old. Ayesha was looked after by an uncle when her uneducated mother was married off again by her brothers. The uncle had five children of his own so he married Ayesha to Ahmed when she was only 18 years old as Ahmed didn’t demand dowry. They had two children. He was a caring husband and a doting father. But after his death, his parents kept his children under their care and sent Ayesha back to India. She was a burden. Last I heard she was married off by her tired uncle to a man in his late sixties.

Scenario 2: June 2014

A Pakistani couple, Faheem and Fatima, had been married for 13 years. They lived in Dubai with their five children. Faheem had found a reasonably good job in Dubai after job hunting for 15 years. They were taking their newborn home from hospital when Faheem turned to look at his wife, collapsed at the steering wheel and died. He is remembered as the ‘most involved father, and an extremely caring husband.’ Fatima is shattered and finds herself absolutely helpless. She has a high school diploma but has never worked – she didn’t have to; she was Faheem’s queen. She had never gone outside the house without Faheem. Her male family members and Faheem’s arrive in Dubai quickly and take over the ‘important affairs.’ She is told that they will ensure her children get the best possible education back home. She would have to move in with some family member, but they will invest her husband’s savings in a way that she gets some cash every month. Fatima’s mother cries every day that her youngest grandson would never know his father. Faheem’s mother mourns the loss of a great son and that his daughters would get married without their father. Fatima’s worries are different. She’s worried about how she would now survive. She doesn’t even know Faheem’s bank account number.

These are two cases I know; you may know some too. These are not isolated cases. Millions of women, Muslim and non-Muslim, are never raised to become independent. The situation of Muslim women concerns me more because we are always highlighting the “status of women in Islam” and how women are “empowered” while we ignore how women are cripplingly dependent on men in Muslim cultures who assume the role of sole maintainers and providers.

Someone recently posted on the Muslim Feminists Facebook Page that “…all women deserve a good man who will support, protect, nurture … her” and later “real muslim men nurture and support his (sic) wives when she (sic) is weak and use (sic) his strength to protect the women and empower her (sic) to be a greater queen, In Sha Allah.” Few words can be more damaging than this. Women, we are told, are “precious pearls” and “queens” that have to be “nurtured.” We are weak and so men must use their strength, wealth and wisdom to protect us.

The problem is we are not. We are not Disney princesses who have the luxury of lounging on silky cushions and sipping virgin pina colada. Majority of Muslim women are very real and very *human.* We have children, we toil in garment factories and paddy fields, we serve our families, we work protecting, supporting and nurturing, we go through hours of labour (it’s not called ‘labour’ for nothing!). True that women, like men, need support and protection, but the most long-lasting support and protection anyone can offer to a woman is independence. Parents need to understand that marrying off young and immature girls will only trap them further into life-long dependence on their much older husbands who are more like father-figures and will naturally pass on before them. Husbands should realise that by keeping their wives emotionally, socially, financially and physically dependent on them makes women vulnerable to life-long misery when the husband is gone either through divorce or death.

I’m slightly disappointed that feminists within Islam spend a great deal of time and effort ‘proving’ how the Quran made “many changes to the status of women” while little is done to understand the real reason why women are not in conditions we want them to be in Muslim cultures.  Muslim women are not suffering because a thousand years ago patriarchal men interpreted the Quran to give more power to men by giving fewer rights to women. We are suffering because all the laws that are derived from the Quran support women making them dependent “queens” rather than empowering them to become independent regular human beings.

Look at all the Sharia laws regarding women: 1) requiring two women witnesses; 2) unequal inheritance laws; 3) enforced hijab; 4) travel only with a Mahram; 5) inequality in divorce laws; 6) payment of Mahr; 7) lack of requiring consent for sex; 8) polygamy; 9) spousal discipline; 10) custody of children after divorce/death of the man – all of these laws support rather than empower a woman.  Feminists who want equality claim that these laws are there to support women, and that’s exactly what they do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these laws if a woman wants to be treated like a precious pearl, but these laws are not going to make her independent or empowered which is the first step towards equality. I also have trouble accepting the argument that these laws were alright for the 7th Century but not now and were “meant to become obsolete” because this way we are claiming that it was alright to make women dependent and vulnerable to abuse in the 7th Century but not today. This brings me to the question – were women really downtrodden and stripped of all rights before we created Sharia law to elevate their status?

There are over a billion Muslims today who follow a religion that was initially based solely on the belief in the witness of one woman who said “I testify that you are the awaited Prophet in this nation.” She didn’t require another woman to remind her that she wasn’t erring. Muslims have a popular saying that goes something like, “Islam did not rise except through Ali’s sword and Khadijah’s wealth” fully realizing the role she played in investing her wealth to benefit her husband’s mission. She inherited great wealth from her father, and two dead husbands then proposed to a young man much younger than her who was running her business. She kept all her children from her previous marriages making her oldest son a great supporter of the Prophet Muhammad – his step-father. Her third husband, the Prophet, moved in with her as he had “no means to marry.” There was no option of polygamy in the marriage as she was an independent and strong woman who was actually the maintainer, support and nurturer in the marriage. In her honour, the Prophet said, “She believed in me when all others disbelieved; she held me truthful when others called me a liar; she sheltered me when others abandoned me; she comforted me when others shunned me; and Allah granted me children by her while depriving me of children by other women.” Now imagine if Khadeejah had been made to live under Sharia law that are imposed on many Muslim women – What course would Islam have taken without the support, testimony and belief, wealth, intellect, wisdom, and independence that she was able to offer without Sharia Law?

How do we expect Muslim women to be empowered like Khadeejah when we clip their wings through laws that are arbitrarily imposed upon them in Muslim cultures like polygamy and ban on driving in KSA, child marriages and polygamy in Yemen, enforced temporary marriage and hijab in Iran and KSA, unfair Khula laws in Egypt, hudood law in Pakistan, stripping of citizenship rights if a woman marries a foreigner in the GCC countries etc? How can we gain inspiration from the “fierce independence” of Khadeejah while we are taught that the ten laws I highlighted above are for our support and protection and that we are sinning if we object?

Women like the ones whose examples I offered in the two scenarios in the beginning will survive with support from their families. But is mere survival our goal? If men really want to offer lifelong support and protection to their women they have to accept that it is through financial, social and intellectual independence that is achieved through education and trust in the equal human capabilities of women.

The psychology of hate and why men hate the ‘other’ women

“All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes” – Winston Churchill

Abu Eesa made a mistake. And it is my sincere belief that if he has been a real student of Islam, he has learned valuable lessons from it (although it’s hard to say what lessons he has learned as a ‘scholar’).

Islam teaches humility and repentance to Allah if you have hurt another human’s feelings (particularly if that human is another Muslim). Quran categorically lists the errors of some of the prophets all of whom were wise men and competent judges of their people so that humanity can learn from their mistakes and from their habit of repentance. Quran also reprimands the Prophet Muhammad when he (80:3–11): عبس وتولي  – “frowned and turned away.” This entire Quranic chapter is called عبس, meaning ‘frown’ and tells the Prophet that he was indeed wrong in frowning and turning away from a blind man who had approached him for he may have learned valuable lessons from the Prophet and may have grown in purity. The chapter goes on to tell the Prophet that he paid eager attention to the ones who could see/the self-sufficient/the knowledgable  even though he could not guarantee that they would increase in purity, yet ignored the blind man who ran to him with eagerness and fear of God in his heart.

What do we learn from this chapter? We learn that indeed it is the job of the teachers of deen to attend to the needs of everyone who seek their knowledge (including the self-sufficient and the needy) but it is particularly important for them not to frown and turn away from anyone who is a fellow Muslim because they do not know how much eagerness or fear of God they have in their hearts. Moreover, they don’t know who may benefit from their wisdom. To then mock them, and curse them to “wither and wiggle in rage” is certainly not in keeping with the Prophet’s sunnah nor is it in accordance with the teachings of the Quran.

People who support this blatant disregard for the Prophetic tradition and Quranic discipline and adab are at greater fault. In this most remarkable essay, the writer argues that “neural activity is important because it tells us something critical about how people think about one another. Those who are close to us are considered mindful human beings, “like me.” As people become more and more different from us, or more distant from our immediate social networks, they become less and less likely to engage our MPFC (medial prefrontal cortex). When we don’t engage this region, others appear relatively mindless, something less than fully human” – that is the psychology of hate and how we deny human beings their humanity. Abu Eesa and those who support him have distanced themselves from other Muslims who are “not like them” and hence such Muslims, progressives and feminists, are considered “relatively mindless, something less than fully human.” They “don’t understand Abu Eeas’s superior British humour”, they “don’t know him enough”, they are “hateful and want to cause fitnah.”  Abu Eesa’s supporters and recently he himself reposted his Facebook Note from June 2013 in which he calls the ‘sisters’ “awesome.” The keyword is ‘sisters’ who “keep pushing it higher and higher and raising the standards in Deen and ihsan. They are busy running the homes, raising the next generation, doing the da’wah on the streets, educating themselves and others, and just being all round superstars.” And then he lists examples of the superstar sisters. They are not journalists or fashion designers or businesswomen or anthropologists or neuroscientists; they are either students of Islam or ones who sacrifice “a good and free life” to support their husbands. But what about the thousands of Muslim women who don’t want to sacrifice a good and free life for a man, who want to study subjects other than Islam, who don’t cover their heads, who believe that women and men are equal in worth, and who support everyone based on humanity? They are less likely to engage Abu Eesa’s MPFC and hence are the ones who are mocked and cursed. More dangerously, he has consciously or inadvertently taught his students to hate and be arrogant. His students use similar sexist rhetoric to scare Muslim men from supporting women. The mindset is that if Muslim men support women they are emasculated and so for a Muslim man to be manly, he must make fun of women.

Is Abu Eesa really a misogynist who hates women? I don’t think so. I don’t think he hates *all* women. But the words he uses (which are banned in my own home) certainly do show hatred towards women who don’t form part of his approved circle.

I have said before that I don’t believe that traditional Islam, Islam as it was at its inception, and Islam as practiced in orthodoxy today by the likes of Abu Eesa believes in the equality of men and women in society. I don’t think that was ever the purpose of the earliest movement, but (if you read that previous post you will see that) all free Muslim women within Islam have equal rights. This is why it came as a shock to many Muslim women, including me, to see an alleged ‘ustad’/imam/sheikh ridiculing and cursing Muslim women only because they are also feminists.

Abu Eesa is now asking the ummah to “stay united” and not let “secular” people cause fitnah. Muslims have been united even if we showed our disagreement with him. We feel united and part of one ummah which is why we are offended when one of us shows his blatant male chauvinism. And this is one of the reasons I feel it was necessary that Muslims showed their disapproval in large numbers.

I believe that Abu Eesa’s *jokes* were deliberate to warn the women in his ‘circle’ from ever joining the feminist movement – for if they did, he would mock them in a similar fashion. He didn’t make one passing comment, but a series of sexist remarks cloaked in the garb of British humour. He didn’t educate himself enough to learn that IWD is not only supported by feminists but is celebrated even by women who refrain from calling themselves feminists.  But that is beside the point. The point is that since Abu Eesa and other men like him have no role to play in IWD, they feel that it threatens their security as the “all-knowledgeable” custodians of Islam without whom no movement can prosper, and so he feels it is a day that must be mocked, shunned and ridiculed.

No, Yasir Qadi that is not British humour. I’m amazed that British people are not offended by this persistence that Abu Eesa has “dark British humour.” His humour is of its own kind. If Abu Eesa claims to be British in humour then he should also be British in apology and should have apologised unconditionally right away if he realised that he had “frowned and turned away.”

But he didn’t realise it and only made it worse when a woman displayed her anger:


What AE said in response was not a *joke*, he is right. I also don’t believe he was condoning such behaviour. But I think he is not enlightened enough to understand the gravity of his words on public forums. It was worse than his regular *jokes.* It was an arrogant and angry outburst at the woman for which he claims he had to stoop at the intellectual level of his interlocutor (BTW, if you can access it, there’s a scholarly paper on how “challenging chauvinist attitudes often results in anxiety or other symptoms“). Again, Muslims have questioned if Abu Eesa’s response was in keeping with proper adab. While one may be able to pick and point to ahadith in which the Prophet cursed his interlocutors in the same tone as was used (Volume 8, Book 73, Number 57) one quick scan of the page will show that he never cursed fellow Muslims and Islamic history stands witness that he in fact pardoned and blessed those who harmed him in Taif. That is the Prophetic tradition. Abu Eesa on the other hand, apparently caused post-traumatic stress for not just one Muslim sister through his comments, but others too who didn’t realise they were suffering from PTSD. Like Omid Safi says, “Abu Eesa is simply, sadly, pathetically, and unprophetically, not funny.”

Abu Eesa’s students keep pleading that they know him better and that this is his ‘style.’ However, he didn’t contain his ‘style’ to his classroom; he brought it out because the women he hates are the ones outside his classroom. And the women he mocked, who are angered, are Muslim. Non-Muslim women don’t know Abu Eesa and don’t care about what he says because in their minds he’s just another Muslim man acting like just another stereotypical Muslim man mocking Muslim women, women from his ummah, women who look like him and behave like him. Only Abu Eesa doesn’t realise this. And then we complain why our men are stereotyped! This is also why Muslim women are angry with him. They feel betrayed by one of their own. They feel he’s belittling their cause – a cause that wants recognition of Muslim women as fully equal in worth as human beings, a cause asking men to be tolerant and respectful, a cause expecting men to be their allies, a cause they think Abu Eesa should be supporting as a self-professed follower of Quran and Sunnah.

Muslim women have always asked for their rights from the beginning of Islam. Islamic/Muslim Feminism as it is called today, is not bidah (an innovation). The very reason that men like Abu Eesa exist and think like he does is enough for feminism to exist in Islam of today. Abu Eesa makes IWD essential.

However, I noticed that Abu Eesa is making an effort to show women that he’s not a monster (and he isn’t!) – by re-posting an old Note in which he praises Muslim sisters, he shows that he respects at least the women in his circle.

The teacher just needs to learn to extend that circle.

List of reactions

Safiyyah Surtee’s status update – https://www.facebook.com/HappyMetis/posts/10152119493394317?comment_id=29247467&offset=0&total_comments=1&ref=notif&notif_t=share_comment

Abu Eesa’s anxious outburst – https://www.facebook.com/MuslimFeminism/photos/p.642522249146718/642522249146718/?type=1

The Shaykh and the F Word – http://www.theislamicmonthly.com/the-shaykh-and-the-f-word/

How Al Maghrib Blew It – http://mezba.blogspot.ca/2014/03/how-al-maghrib-blew-it.html

Muslim male allies – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/10/muslim-male-allies_n_4936848.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

Wa’Mutasima! – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/splitthemoon/2014/03/wamutasima/

An Open Letter to Abu Eesa Niamatullah – https://www.facebook.com/notes/naheed-mustafa/an-open-letter-to-abu-eesa-niamatullah/10152239620844675

On Islam and Feminism – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sami-h-elmansoury/on-islam-and-feminism_b_4945430.html

Imam  Suhaib Webb – https://www.facebook.com/MuslimFeminism/posts/10152116857884317?stream_ref=10

Guest Post – Speak Good or Remain Silent: A Response to the Recent Remarks of a Muslim Teacher – http://commonplacer.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/guest-post-speak-good-or-remain-silent-a-response-to-the-recent-remarks-of-a-muslim-teacher/

Muslims for White Ribbon – https://www.facebook.com/MuslimsForWhiteRibbon/posts/826378900710570

Damsels in distress, the chivalrous caliph, and the misogynistic scholar: a modern fairy tale – http://sobersecondlook.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/damsels-in-distress-the-chivalrous-caliph-and-the-misogynistic-scholar-a-modern-fairy-tale/

Al Maghrib’s comment – http://almaghrib.org/blog/2014/03/13/on-recent-remarks-of-an-instructor/

Yasir Qadi’s thoughts on Abu Eesa – http://muslimmatters.org/2014/03/14/yasir-qadhi-thoughts-on-abu-eesa-gate/

What Abu Eesa’s comments did to my family this week – http://www.altmuslimah.com/b/gva/4921

We deserve better than sexist and racist “teachers”: Honoring real leaders, and a rejoinder to Abu Eesa – http://omidsafi.religionnews.com/2014/03/12/deserve-better-sexist-racist-teachers-honoring-real-leaders-rejoinder-abu-eesa/#sthash.RjizuGCZ.dpuf

Oh, Abu Eesa: an apology letter on your behalf – http://neederish.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/oh-abu-eesa-an-apology-letter-on-your-behalf/

Feminism, male privilege, and Abu Eesa – http://thrivalroom.com/feminism-male-privilege-and-abu-eesa/

The onus of chastity and the veil

I have been going back to verses 30 and 31 of Surah An-Nur. It was Farid Esack who first made me think about these verses. He writes,

“The succeeding verses, usually unmentioned in apologetic works, add an array of further specific injunctions regarding the social behaviour of women.  While one may argue that men are not absolved from these, women are the ones singled out.”

When I read just the two verses again together (like shown on this website) it is even visually apparent that verse 31 has several “further specific injunctions.” This is not problematic in itself if we believe in the argument that women “are created differently.” Esack explains that such verses are time-bound by quoting Cragg, “the eternal cannot enter time without a time when it enters. Revelation to history cannot occur outside it. A Prophet cannot arise except in a generation and a native land, directives from heaven cannot impinge upon an earthly vacuum” (Cragg 1971, 112), thus essentially arguing that many of the verses that seem unjust towards women are for the 7th Century Arabs.

Several other scholars have argued similarly. What they fail to comment on is the obvious question, “does that mean that gender injustice was alright for the 7th Century Arab woman but not today?” This becomes even more confusing because we have examples of some very bold, brave and strong women from the Pre-Islamic period, for example Hind and even the Prophet’s first wife Khadeejah whose independence before Islam is well documented. These women would certainly not have accepted injustice in any form.

Mecca was conquered in 630 AD and with no further hope of regaining it, defeated Meccans accepted the Prophet’s leadership and took the pledge of alliance. When it was Hind’s turn to take the oath the Prophet asked her to swear: “You shall not commit adultery.” Hind is famously known to have retorted,

“Does a free woman commit adultery?”

This one sentence tells us a lot about the ancient Arabian beliefs and principles.

The ‘muminaat’ (believing women) were essentially the free women. It is now a well-known fact that enslaved women were not allowed to veil like the free women (see Abou El Fadl) indicating that “class factors as well as general community norms were vital in setting standards for female dress.” There is also evidence in Islamic history that “Caliph Umar reportedly became enraged with enslaved women, to the point of beating one of them, who tried to wear the outer wrap (jilbab), perhaps to cover their breasts and heads, because it would make them indistinguishable from free women” (Source; also listen to Hamza Yusuf on this).

I am not going to talk about whether or not hijab is mandatory. It is my personal belief that it is mandatory, but that it was one of the social laws in the Quran that change with the evolving needs of every society. What confounds me is that the modesty of free Muslim men, enslaved men and enslaved women is the same (navel to knees to be covered) while the heavier burden of chastity and modesty is placed on free women. In fact, the free women did not even always have to be Muslim – their freedom is dependent on their association with a free Muslim man as a wife, daughter, sister or mother. Upon the death of a master, an enslaved woman who had given birth her master’s child would automatically become free. It was only then that she had to veil herself especially because she was the guardian of a Muslim child, the free child of her Muslim master. She also veiled to exhibit the sudden difference in her rank.

Both, Muslim men and Muslim women, are ordered to ‘guard their gaze.’ But if a woman chose to “expose her adornments” or “stamped her feet to reveal the adornments” then she created the chances to allure men who must guard their private parts because it is “purer for them.”  Men, on the other hand, are not feared to create such chances which may be because women’s sexuality was seen as more passive and ‘less demanding.’

There is reason to believe from what we hear from Hind that free women never created opportunities for adultery. Her rhetorical question indicates that free women, the women of the upper class, always veiled, even pre-Islam, to guard and indicate their chastity. In fact, when Hind came to the Prophet to take oath she was completely veiled, perhaps as an act of defiance: she was accepting the leadership of the Prophet on her own terms – she was a free, veiled woman who did not commit adultery; her retort indicating the same – she was not enslaved. Adultery was “an act that was known to be for slaves and prostitutes only; not for honorable pure women who have dignity and pride.” Historical records confirm this. The Jewish women in Medina who belonged to the elite class even covered their faces and left only the left eye exposed to see their path thus not tempting men and committing the crime and sin of adultery which under Jewish Law was punishable by stoning.

When Safiyyah Bint Huyayy’s tribe was attacked and she was captured, the believers waited to find out her fate: if the Prophet ordered her to veil, she was to become his wife and be free; if he didn’t, she was to remain enslaved and unveiled. Apparently, she was captured without a veil which means that upon capture, veils of elite veiled women were removed. This not only symbolised their new status, it also symbolised that the onus of chastity was lower for them.

According to the Quran (4:25), enslaved women guilty of indecency are to receive half the punishment that free women are to receive if they were indecent. But what is even more interesting is that such enslaved women would only be liable for punishment *if and when* (fa-itha) they were married to a Muslim man. This is worth noting because enslaved women would become free upon receiving a dower yet there is a sense of differentiation between the classes: women born free in a Muslim household and those who were slaves and became free either upon marriage to a Muslim man or upon the death of the Muslim master (only if they had his children whose paternity the master accepted).

In the present day, every woman who covers her head believes that it is a Divine Command put in place to ensure her safety. This in part is true according to 33:59. Free women were meant to be *recognised* (يعرفن) as free women so that they are not “harmed” (يؤذين). The safety of enslaved women is not discussed in this instance. In fact, free women were to be “recognised” only if the slaves did not veil as well. Veiling, therefore, protected free women from men who were unable to guard their gaze. The veil symbolized that the woman was “honorable and pure with dignity and pride.” There is some hint in 24:33 that selling enslaved women into prostitution was a crime “if they desired chastity.” Yet, if the master forced his slave to prostitute, “verily God will be gracious and merciful unto such women after their compulsion” but we do not learn about the punishment reserved for such a compelling master. Thus there may be some truth in the assertion that adultery was “an act that was known to be for slaves and prostitutes only” that is, the women who are not commanded to veil.

“You shall not commit adultery.”

“Does a free woman commit adultery?”, said the defiant, free and veiled Hind.

How does veiling work within the Quranic context in the present day when there are no slaves from which free women are to be “recognised” as “pure and honorable”? How do we understand the “Status of Women in Islam” when the status depends on the religion and freedom or lack of it for the woman? If the ‘aurah’ of men and enslaved women is the same then how do we understand the Islamic concept of gendering and gender roles? Who bears the greater burden of chastity and what role does veiling and social status play in it?

These are some of the questions Muslim feminists should be discussing when we discuss gender justice and gender equality in Islam for an educated understanding of the Law.

How unnoticed privileges contribute to a system of oppression

Today marks the fourth anniversary of my decision to study Muslim feminism and support sisters and brothers who are Muslim feminists.

I’m ashamed to confess that about six years ago, I wrote an article on a now defunct website titled “Why Muslims don’t need Feminism.” To make matters worse it was a three-part article! My brave and beautiful friends who are Muslim feminists treated me with greatest compassion. There was no backlash; probably because they thought how much can they argue with someone that stupid! I mistook the silence for the fact that I was right.

I wasn’t.

I believed that Muslim societies didn’t need any feminist movement because *I* was already enjoying all the rights. Men in my family didn’t force any form of clothing on me. I wasn’t told not to pursue further education or career.  Pregnancy was a joint decision between my husband and I. Child rearing was joint responsibility. I believed that Quran allowed men to mildly hit an unruly wife – I wasn’t unruly. Some women are less educated/intelligent so obviously they can’t be trusted as witnesses – I wasn’t stupid or poorly educated. Men have different needs and maybe some need more than one wife – well, that wasn’t happening to me. I never made the effort to understand divorce laws. Thus, I never consciously realised that if my husband and I were to divorce he has the right to arbitrary unilateral divorce while I don’t. I would have to ask him for divorce. It isn’t the same. I didn’t understand the monogamy-stipulating concept of Mahr. I didn’t appreciate the problems with khula. I had no idea about automatic child custody in Islamic Jurisprudence. In fact I didn’t even know that to be able to drive, work or travel on my own in a few Muslim countries I needed a formal written permission from my husband.

In short, I had no idea how majority of women, if not all, lived under Muslim laws.

Then on a hot June day my daughter came home from school in an Arab Muslim country and said that a girl in her class had asked the Islamic Studies teacher if it is haram (forbidden) to beat one’s wife. The (female) teacher had replied that indeed it is not a man’s right but responsibility to bring an errant wife onto the Right Path; he was “commanded” by Allah to beat a wife albeit lightly, like with his headdress, and command her to “BEHAVE” in a strict tone. My daughter asked if a woman is also given similar commands by Allah to punish an unruly husband. The teacher said that a husband has the wisdom and sense of responsibility not to do anything wrong and if a woman fears that her husband is unduly rude to her then she can seek arbitration; in extreme cases, if she has good evidence, she can even ask for divorce.

With tears in her eyes, my daughter told me that she wished she were born a boy. We hadn’t raised her to think like that and we hadn’t given her any reason to hate her existence. A patriarchal system had somehow managed to make her think that she was a lesser human. I had read articles on various alternative interpretations of the verse in question (4:34). There was an article on Laleh Bakhtiar’s groundbreaking interpretation translating daraba as “abandon”. There was Riffat Hasan who argues that daraba means ‘hold errant wives in confinement’. Ahmed Ali claims that the command is to return to having sexual relations with the wife. I printed Bakhtiar’s interpretation and copied Hasan’s analysis of the same verse and sent them in a sealed envelope for my daughter’s teacher. The teacher dismissed these, arguing that these were arguments of “feminists” and have no place in traditional (aka True) Islam. She also explained to me that she was right in her assertion that “a husband has the wisdom and sense of responsibility” to be “in charge” of disciplining a wife no matter how we interpret the command “adrubhunna.”

However, I understood from this incident that it is important to realise that not everyone is able to enjoy their rights. While I was enjoying equal rights with my husband, there is no guarantee that the man my daughter marries would not think that it is his “responsibility” to discipline his wife. For the first time I understood how unnoticed “privileges contribute to a system of oppression.” I understood the importance of listening … listening to what Muslim feminists have to say. It was also important for me to know that men and women can be different and equal. Equality does not equal sameness. Quran calls women’s rights similar to the rights it gives to men where men enjoy a degree of privilege over women (2:228). But Muslims who are feminists are re-interpreting these verses to argue that men and women are equal in Islam. They argue that polygamy has no place in modern society. They claim that Quran does not give men the right to beat their wives and that men are not “in charge of women.” Many Muslim feminists also believe that women too can be religious teachers and leaders.

One thing I have learned is that feminists do not just wake up one day and announce that they are feminists. Feminists in any society, including Muslim feminists in Muslim societies, are created. Men and patriarchal systems create feminists. Thus, if anyone complains that Muslim feminism is not needed, they need to learn that it is they who are creating the need for Muslim feminism. I would still say that Islam as a religious system does not have to change.  Muslim patriarchy, however, must go.

Just like in Christianity, many of the millennial Muslims also grow up with “a warped understanding of what feminism is.” Just like in “conservative and/or fundamentalist Christian communities in which feminism was not only vilified, but also considered literally evil” most Muslims treat Muslim/Islamic feminism with skepticism and even hatred. This has to change. The Facebook Page on Muslim feminism aims to initiate dialogue on Muslim women and feminism so that more people can realise the importance of Muslim feminism and its true focus. I respect Muslim feminists; I appreciate their struggle, but above all, I love them for teaching me that if there are ten different ways of interpreting a Quranic verse, then it is both safe and wise to choose the interpretation that is most tolerant and fair.

Internalization of colonialism and Muslim feminism

Ahmed (1992, p. 178-179) argues that “the internalization of colonialism and of notions of the innate superiority of the European over the native- the colonization of consciousness, in short- could complicate feminism.” This is true. However, another fact in tandem with this is that even the earliest forms of Islamic feminism appeared in a post-colonial Muslim world because of the “internalization of colonialism.” It is no coincidence that all the early Islamic/Muslim feminists were either born in a colonised Muslim world or were European educated women and men (often bilingual) who claimed to “be progressive about gender, sexuality, ritual, law, or other questions of Islamic reform… in the face of naked hatred from outside” (Knight, 2013). Impact of colonisation can be gauged from the example that although Iran resisted being colonised in the 19th Century it lost part of its territory to Russo-Persian and Anglo-Persian Wars where Western influence set its roots giving rise to political and social unrest. It was in such a socio-political scene that  Fatimih Baraghani was born (who later converted to Babism), the “first woman to unveil and to question both political and religious orthodoxy” (Nafisi, 2003). Baraghani was succeeded by other gender reformers like Huda Shaarawi, Muhammad Abduh, Aisha Abd al-Rahman, Qasim Amin (whose work is now considered by modern Islamic feminists as andocentric and colonist [Ahmed, 1992]), Fatma Aliye Topuz, Nezihe Muhiddin, Halide Edip Adivar, Hind Nawfal, Nazira Zain El Din, and Labiba Shamtin all of whom were born in the colonial and post-colonial era and were influenced by the European colonist thought. It is no wonder then that for the conservative Muslims who opposed both colonialism and gender reform “”feminism” became linked to colonialism and Western imposition, having to defend Islam as a sign of identity of Muslim societies against every “external” current, as if justice for women was a cause unrelated to Islam” (Quiroga, 2012, para. 6).


Similarly, I believe that globalisation, Wahhabism, and the explosive growth of Islam that has reached the West has reinvigorated Islamic/Muslim feminism which has been influenced by both globalisation and the critical thinking skills that Western education emphasizes (Hassan et al. 2010). Two commonly held beliefs exist in the Muslim community: 1) the belief that every edict in the Quran is timeless; 2) and that every statement in the Quran is a religious law. These beliefs have given rise to the need for some modern Muslims (often called by others and themselves as ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ Muslims) to indulge in new theological debates that either build upon or negate the existing discourses by classical scholars of the Quran like Qadi ibn Arabi, Ibn Katheer, Muhammad al Tabari and others. Most Islamic feminists who attempt to reinterpret the Quran are either Western or have been raised/educated in the West, and fault the classical interpretations for their “patriarchal slant” (Barlas, 2002; Wadud, 1992; Hassan, n.d; Mir-Hosseini, 2012; Shaikh, 1997). Their argument is that although Quran was revealed in 609 AD, it is a text of guidance for all people of all times, hence contested verses (particularly Quran: 4:34; 4:3; 2:222; 4:11-12; 24:31) must have always had a progressive and feminist intent but were misinterpreted by patriarchal scholars to control women. Where the vast majority of Muslim and Islamic feminists today are either Western or have been educated in the West, ironically many of their opponents come from similar socio-political backgrounds like, Maryam Jameelah, a Jewish convert to Islam who became the second wife of a Jamat-e-Islami member and emigrated to live in Pakistan from where she wrote that, “Never has moral corruption and social decadence menaced mankind on such a universal scale as is the case now. The adoption of feminist ideals degrades humans lower than the animals” (Jameelah, n.d). In between the progressive and the conservative Muslims is another group that rationalises gender and Islam slightly differently.


While there are many feminists who blame ‘patriarchal interpretations’ of the Quran for the “oppression of Muslim women”, there are other feminists who believe that some injunctions in the Quran were revealed for a specific time and a specific people, and that not every edict in the Quran is a religious command. For instance, Muhammad Abduh “radically” distinguished between Ibadat (the principles or doctrines of worship) and Muamalat (laws and commandments concerning social relations, customs and mores). Ibadat according to Abduh were constant, universal and unchanging like Tawhid (monotheism) and Salah (prayer), while Muamalat were not constant and depended on  the cultural context in question. Such a view allowed Abduh to explain the unnecessity of polygamy in the modern world (Abduh, n.d., P. 117). Similarly, Wadud (1999, p. 55) tries to explain Hur-al-‘Ayn as “something specific to the Jahili Arab… (that) demonstrates the Qur’an’s familiarity with the dreams and desires of those Arabs” (emphasis mine). Wadud rationalises that, “If we take these mythological depictions universally as the ideal female, a number of culturally specific limitations are forced on the divergent audiences of the Qur’an” (Ibid). These feminists have demonstrated an acceptance and  approval of cultural relativism, and acknowledge that the first audience of the Quran was remarkably different from us that must have required some time and cultural bound Quranic decrees – the Muamalat. 

What type of feminist are you – the one who thinks Quranic interpretations are patriarchal or the one who thinks there’s a difference between different laws in the Quran? And what do you consider as the reason you are a feminist?