Why are you a feminist?

Through our conversations so far, I have realised that we all have very personal beliefs about Islam depending on our social background and country of residence. For example, I noticed a long time ago that women who were born into Muslim families asked fewer questions about their religion thank women who converted to Islam. One direct result of this was that born Muslim women knew the ‘how’ of Islam better, but did not often know the ‘why’ of their faith as well as the converts. Some time after 9/11 there was a sudden surge in more and more Muslims trying to learn about their religion and understand their beliefs. There could be several reasons for that surge but that is not my concern here.

My concern is to try and understand why you call yourself a feminist.

  1. First, however, what do you think is Muslim Feminism? What is your definition of the terminology?
  2. Second,  why do you think you are a feminist? What are your goals or aspirations as a Muslim feminist?
  3. What is your role as a feminist based on your country of residence? What Islamic laws concern you personally?
  4. Unlike secular feminists, you can’t change basic laws laid down in religion; given this fact along with the problem of patriarchal custodians of modern Islam, how difficult is it to negotiate Islam with men?

I have more questions, but for now I would be very grateful if you could answer these for me.

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20 thoughts on “Why are you a feminist?

  1. luckyfatima says:

    1. I believe that men and women are equals in all ways in humanity, and should have equal rights. I have not studied feminism academically and don’t know much about it textbook wise or in depth. But I think desiring equality in rights for men and women is feminism enough.

    2. After having been a Muslim for several years and being deeper inside of Islam, I saw things that didn’t sit well with my conscience. Subhanallah, I discovered the online progressive oriented Muslim community just at this time, and through that, I found out about Islamic feminism, bought and read pro-woman Islamic books, and so on. Although it is hard to speculate, I may have not stuck it out as a Muslim if I had not discovered alternative interpretation for many issues. My goal is to grow in a deen that values human rights for everyone, not just straight Muslim men.

    3. I have returned to the US after nearly a decade in the GCC. Now, some gov’ts mix of civil law and local interpretation of Shari’ah doesn’t affect me at all , thank God. I would advise anyone who is there and who speaks of Islamic feminism to keep a very low profile, guard her online/real life identity, and be very, very careful about what she says. Weird and unfair things happen to alternative voices in the benign dictatorships of the GCC. In the GCC, I knew too many women who were abused by so-called Shari’ah. They didn’t always even see themselves this way, they were raised to really believe men deserved more rights. Anyway, now, although I do have to worry about is how my views are not mainstream in a local Muslim American community. Many young American raised women are interested in Islamic feminism, but it is still something frowned upon and made suspect. On top of that, as a convert, for me there will always be some judgement of: you can’t come in here and try to change everything, you’re Western background is clouding your ability to submit to Allah, blah blah blah. At worse, since I am of Jewish heritage, someone might even say “here is this Jew sewing discord” or some ugly thing like that. Really, I am very conservative compared to non-Muslim Americans. I believe in prayer, submission, modesty, motherhood, and all…I just don’t believe that men should be privileged above women and have more rights than us. I have daughters, and I want the best for them, too, Inshallah. But I am happy to be back home from the Gulf, where I may speak freely and learn about a more progressive oriented Islam in a freer environment.

    4. Most of my learning and negotiation takes place in a secure online environment. In “real life” I know much fewer people who “think like me” and I highly value the progressive oriented, pro-woman online community that I know. In real life, Muslim men aren’t lining up to say “You are right, I see how you suffer, take your rights, take your equality.” They hold on fast and strong to patriarchy. It is very hard to negotiate. But there are a lot of men online who are with us. Also, thank God my husband is interested in the same goals. I am not sure if all of the “basic laws” that the guardians of Hislam favor are really part of our religion, anyhow. It is just a matter of providing a credible and legitimate alternative to more traditional Hislamic interpretations.

  2. Zuhura says:

    1. Muslim feminism is a movement of Muslims fighting for the full humanity of women, what Deborah Cameron calls “the creation of a world where in which one gender does not set the standard of human value.”

    2. I’m a feminist because I see the way women are treated inhumanely all over the world and I would like to change that. My aspirations as a muslim feminist are mostly the same as they were before I became a muslim, but now I would add to them gaining humane treatment for women within Islam (as an organized religion) as well as informing non-Muslims that islam (as surrender to Allah) is not oppressive of women.

    3. I live in the US so I have the privilege of not following man-made Islamic laws.

    4. I’m not sure what you mean by saying we “can’t change basic laws laid down in religion.” We can change our interpretations (and maybe others’ interpretations) of those those laws. We are unlikely to change men’s interpretations, however, because patriarchal interpretations benefit them. I choose not to negotiate Islam but to simply practice islam and seek out like-minded muslims both online and in real life.

    @luckyfatima, I love your reference to ‘Hislam’!

  3. luckyfatima says:

    cringe at some of my typos…sewing discord, LOL.

  4. mariam says:

    salam 🙂
    1-muslim femenists want to change awful situation of many muslim women which is justified with Quran.
    2-I am feminist because I see many women in my country are abused and told that : this is not fault of goverment, it is fault of Islam( your faith), I want to change this assumption and say Islam has no fault , it is fault of goverment.
    3-most bothering laws in Iran are signature of Wali, divorce and inheritage laws.
    role of every feminist start from his/her home.I talk with my sisters and my mom about this issue atleast 3 times a week.I talk to them about challenging current interpretation of Quran.sometimes our debate last 2 houre 🙂
    4-negotiating with men in my family is not difficult at all, may you dont believe in my family 99% of men have progressive ideas.
    mariam-Iran

  5. Sara says:

    Muslim Feminism is simply giving Muslim women the choice to be the kinds of people they want to be. It’s about not forcing ideas, values or norms on her; it’s about not imposing Shari’a (a man-made institution) on her; it’s about giving her enough security and confidence to make her own choices; and it’s about removing the barriers men have put in her way in the name of religion.

    2. I was a feminist first and a Muslim second, so it just seemed natural to be a Muslim feminist. I can’t believe in a God who values men higher than women – it just fits in too neatly with patriarchy and would give me cause to doubt religion in general.
    Goals and aspirations: theologically, to unravel the web of bullsh*t that has been spun to serve certain interests during the past 1,400 years. Practically, to to be more active in helping Muslim women (and all women actually) at the grassroots level.

    3. No role right now really, aside from defending Islam (a lot). I live in a non-Islamic country so no laws to speak of. But lots and lots of peer pressure in certain settings, here in the Netherlands.

    4. You also can’t force a Muslim to follow basic laws: there is no compulsion in religion. A Muslim is a Muslim if THEY call themselves a Muslim. No one has the right to judge them or to say that they aren’t Muslim or aren’t Muslim enough. Even if they aren’t following the basic laws, for some reason or another, they should not be punished or corrected or ostracized. That is their choice.

  6. unsettledsoul says:

    Muslim feminism is the advocacy for women to have a voice in how they practice their religion, instead of being forced to think/act/believe/practice in a conformed, prescribed way that is historically passed down and enforced by a patriarchal system.

    I am a Muslim feminist because I am a feminist. I am a Muslim feminist because I am a woman, and I love women and believe in their strength and intrinsic value in society.

    My goals are simply to be a voice. I am an alternative, my views are an option for all women to choose, if they wish. When I write about feminist issues and present in classes, and speak to an audience, and write on my blog; first in my mind is the value of women. All women. Muslim and non. Where there is injustice there should be a voice telling the story.

    My role is one of the advocate. I am an advocate for women. I am pursuing social justice. I believe women cannot have full freedom when there is shariah law in place. I have a problem with shariah, and believe secularism in society benefits women.

    I disagree with #4. I think things can and will change. I do not negotiate with men, I take what is mine with no apologies. I think all women can benefit from having a bit of rebellion in them. This is my privilege of living in America. If a man feels a certain way about me it has no consequence for me, I simply try to educate him or I walk away. This is my privilege under a secular government. I think all women deserve this privilege. I am not an orientalist that believes the way my government does things is best, and I am not even sure I would push democracy, but I do believe strongly in a division of religion and government.

  7. Metis says:

    Thank you ladies! I have enjoyed each and every one of your comments on this post. I am learning so much from you and my respect for all of you is increasing with every post I write and with every comment you make.

    Thank you!

  8. Becky says:

    First off, I agree with basically everything else that’s been said.
    1.) Muslim feminism, to me, is the belief that men and women are equal (of equal worth).
    2.) Well, I’ve been a feminist for as long as I can remember, also before converting to Islam. I don’t know exactly why though, as my Mum is not especially feminist (definitely less than me), though I wouldn’t say she does not believe in equality between the genders. I aspire towards promoting gender equality, and to work against the many inequalities and discriminative treatments in ALL of our patriarchal cultures (i.e., both among Muslims, Christians, atheists and everyone else).
    3.) I live in Denmark, so we do have very progressive roles for women (first country to legalize abortion – but also the first country to legalize porn, women have the right to paid maternity leave (and so do men!). But there are still issues regarding pay for example, and when it comes to career opportunities and the division of household chores. There are no Islamic laws that concern me here.
    4.) I do think it’s difficult to negotiate the cultural and traditions with many Muslims, but also that it’s often difficult to negotiate for more rights among Christians for example. I think it’s important to know the Qu’ran in these cases and to try and base argumentation on religion, but even then, it often won’t be accepted. Many people think sure, women should have more rights… until THEY have to give up something in exchange!

  9. Lat says:

    1. Muslims feminists ‘fight’,advocate and realise oppoortunities for all women that are legally theirs by laws which are sometimes denied and prevented to them from knowing their worth as a woman in the eyes of the law and society.

    2. Being aware of my and rights of other women means knowing where I stand in my religion and state is important to me as a woman,wife,mother and friend.

    3.So far I’m (more than) satisfied with my rights and privileges in my country.Personally inheritance laws concern me mostly.

    4.Culturally speaking the SEA context is not as patriarchal as the ME.But their intrusion is being felt in this region as seen from past decades.It’ll definitely be a huge hurdle no doubt.But there’s hope as society values women now more than before.Changing perceptions are one good reason to argue and negotiate the laws laid down in religion,to achieve the vision laid in Quran.

  10. Metis says:

    Thanks Becky and Lat! MF is so diverse and I am enjoying your comments so much!

  11. sarah says:

    1)For me, Muslim feminism is simply being a Muslim woman and being proud of that fact. Being able to defend the status of women in Islam (from Muslims and non-Muslims) and to understand that it is a privilege and a blessing to be a Muslim woman. To realise that i have a worth equal to men and to realise that God loves me and values me equally with all others.

    2) I am a feminist because I was born a woman and because I know that many cultures and societies do not acknowledge my rights as a Muslim woman and try to interpret the rules of Islam in a way which is controlling and IMO inaccurate. I am a feminist because the prophet Muhammad always valued and appreciated the role and status of women.

    3) I do not think that my belief is affected by my country but I do consider myself fortunate not to have been born in some of the more oppressive societies. Having lived in KSA, I am glad that I do not have to live under their interpretation of Shariah and live my life according to their treatment of women.

    4) Do we need to negotiate Islam with men? Fortunately I have always found the men in my community to be respectful towards women. We have our own ancillary ladies organisation which functions independently and through which we provide our own education, preaching and social activities. So as a community there has not been an issue for me of negotiating ideas with men, they share the dame ideas as me essentially. However, Islam is also a personal journey through life and I strongly believe that a woman should not allow any man (or woman) to intervene between her and God. I do believe God communicates with people and even those in the toughest of circumstances can try and look to this as the primary relationship in their life which will give them strength.

    3)

  12. sana says:

    1. First, however, what do you think is Muslim Feminism? What is your definition of the terminology?
    Men and women should complement each other.not compete or be treated in anyway that would hurt his or her self esteem and respect. In most cases, I have only seen women treated like a doormat. Regardless of the religion, since I am from India I have seen women suffer, both educated and uneducated and working women too. Muslims would illtreat women in the name of religion while others in the name of their culture. There were many things that didn’t sit well with me, long before I knew the word “feminism” or its meaning.

    2. Second, why do you think you are a feminist? What are your goals or aspirations as a Muslim feminist?
    I believe when you educate a man you educate an individual and when you educate a woman, one whole family is educated. I have only one major problem, and that is women being denied education. Some are educated but that’s just for name sake, mostly so that she gets married easily. I really hate the thinking that if she is sent to a college she will be “free”. I really thank god that my parents didn’t fall into such trap otherwise I would have been one suffocated wretch. For me education is as basic as food clothing and shelter. All else follows easily in the form of woman’s abuse, if she isn’t educated properly and they become vulnerable. easily brainwashed and all the rules and laws of islam are twisted in order to “tame” her.

    3. What is your role as a feminist based on your country of residence? What Islamic laws concern you personally?
    I have no role specifically and mostly I just silently observe the injustices in day to day life and even the minor ones make my blood boil and everytime I object to it I am silenced, more by the elder women than men. I am happy that I was not born in GCC but also not happy with the condition of the women in my country. They have more rights than the women ruled by the shariah but they are just as trampled in the name of culture and sometimes religion. I hate the so called educated men in my country who are all western when it comes to their life and peers but all of a sudden ‘muslim and indian” when it comes to the women in their lives. I don’t like such hypocrisy.

    4. Unlike secular feminists, you can’t change basic laws laid down in religion; given this fact along with the problem of patriarchal custodians of modern Islam, how difficult is it to negotiate Islam with men?
    It is as difficult as trying to get someone to convert. It may take ,not days or weeks or months, but years. Honestly I have never seen a man in my family standing up for equal rights of women. My uneducated father, who knows nothing of religion is very liberal and carefree, and just when it comes to sons and daughters. Apart from him I have only seen more and more ‘highly educated” families but very unfair when treating boys and girls. I can only hope people teach their children the importance of equality and respect, that is the best way to create better circumstances. And religion should always be kept out of schools. It does more harm than good.

  13. Sumera says:

    I will post a lengthy reply to this soon!

  14. Wafa' says:

    Honestly i don’t know if i am a feminist or not !! but i know that i question and ask a lot and don’t satisfy easily with whatever i am given. I need to know and understand . Btw, i am all for everyone’s right but of course mostly women cuz especially in here we have been deprived from a lot. And i am witness to that.
    Do i have goals? probably. And i guess we all start from within ourselves. We need to remove the injustice in our lives and that’s how things started with me. I hate being a victim and not being able to talk and i have a mind who liked to express its powers . And since i love people and hate injustice withere it falls on me or others , i think people needs to know their rights especially women- who are a huge victim in here despite what many say- So…

    3.What is your role as a feminist based on your country of residence? What Islamic laws concern you personally?
    i have no role but to encourage people -especially women- to open their mind, think and look for answers and not to be afraid to ask the darest questions. After all, Islam ordered us to ask and to work our mind.
    seriously, all Islamic laws concern me even if they didn’t affect me. I love the idea that people should be free of any and everything. As long as they don’t kill, molest or being voilent against others -or doing anything against their fellow human being and everything else on Earth- then they should be free of and from all. But i guess it’s going to be just a dream . I love laws and i mean that people have laws to protect each other from each others. But what harm does a women who don’t wear hijab will cause ? what about homosexual? ….etc

    4.Unlike secular feminists, you can’t change basic laws laid down in religion; given this fact along with the problem of patriarchal custodians of modern Islam, how difficult is it to negotiate Islam with men?
    a simple answer 🙂 VERY.

  15. Sumera says:

    1. First, however, what do you think is Muslim Feminism? What is your definition of the terminology?

    I would say MF is that which applies fairness and equality between the genders based on capability and not merely due to sex chromosomal arrangement. Men and woman, as sana says, are meant to complement one another -and their treatment of each other should be the way they themselves would like to be treated

    2. Second, why do you think you are a feminist? What are your goals or aspirations as a Muslim feminist?

    I think I “evolved” into a feminist, primarily by seeing culturally how things were for boys and girls and the disparity inherent in that…there was always something that bothered me about how limited the things girls could do were – then I clocked it is cultural oppression..but then lo and behold it was being pandered about as a religious restriction too! Then I discovered most of the restrictions were as understood by “salafi’s” and all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place…esp the one about why some of them were so miserable..

    My goals/aspirations – I would really like females to be confident of themselves, to understand that they have as much a part to play in families, society, and culture as the men who “hand down” ideas and perpetuate crazy notions of how “things should be” and that we women can think, function and live independently from these type of crazy men(beard down to the knees type) you see ranting on the telly, who infect others with their drivel. Not really an answer but I dont think I have any beyond those that most people have…

    3. What is your role as a feminist based on your country of residence? What Islamic laws concern you personally?

    Well here most things are fine, despite my appearance I dont get treated like I am stupid, inferior or incapable of making decisions. The divorce laws bother me greatly and I consider it an imbalance of “power” for women and a loss of agency.

    4. Unlike secular feminists, you can’t change basic laws laid down in religion; given this fact along with the problem of patriarchal custodians of modern Islam, how difficult is it to negotiate Islam with men?

    Most men with their head screwed on right (like my husband 😉 ) know how they are to treat their women and if for a woman her husband is her “heaven or hell” then it very much also applies to the menfolk too. There is never no scope for changing – no law, even God given, is immune to change and influence – this much is evident from the early muslim societies who developed as time went on, as did their interpretation and application of islamic law for their given era. It’s just recently people are wanting to return to 7thC Arabian Islamic Law, as if there is no progression that is “good progression” for such individuals.

  16. Metis says:

    Thanks Sumera! I really enjoyed reading your answer.

    It is interesting that there are women who were feminists first and then converted to Islam; there are also some who were feminists and began learning about their faith later; and then there are those who “evolved” into feminists. Very interesting!

  17. arwaa says:

    1. I think a Muslim feminist is whoever chooses to call herself/himself a Muslim feminist. I don’t police identities.

    2. I’m a feminist because I’d die if I weren’t. I try to challenge Muslims in my family/community to become more feminist (and by extension, less racist, homophobic, etc…). And I try to challenge non-Muslims by being a visible Muslim (I wear a hijab) who is consistently in feminist spaces (ie I’m a gender studies major, I attend feminist conferences, etc…). You know, to challenge the idea that a feminist has to “look” a certain way, or that Muslims/Arabs/immigrants are not feminist.
    (Not that a hijab is necessary to do these things-it does make me more conspicuous, though)

    3. I live in the USA. And I think I answered the first part of this question in question 2.
    All Islamic laws concern me. The UAE supreme court recently passed a law that men may beat their wives and children so long as he doesnt leave a mark on their body. The judge used the Quran to justify this. Obviously, these are the kinds of Islamic laws that concern me (along with many others)

    4. Well, it’s presumptuous to assume there are no feminist Muslim men-there are.

    And it is a challenge. Any argument that can be dismissed with a “Well, God says so, so I’m right and you’re going to hell” is a challenge.

    But being the good postmodernist that I am, I don’t think there IS a wonderful feminist Islam waiting for me to discover it. Neither is there a misogynist Islam. Islam is what we make it. Literally everything in the Quran is open to interpretation. We just have to work at bringing more feminist interpretations mainstream. The challenge is how to do this…

    That was a great set of questions! And Id like to say that like ANY kind of feminism, Muslim feminists and/or Islamic feminists will be as diverse as radical/cultural/liberal/marxist/etc.. feminists. Or for that matter, as diverse as any other identity category.

    • Metis says:

      Arwa, Thank you so much for your enlightening comment. I especially liked this:

      “But being the good postmodernist that I am, I don’t think there IS a wonderful feminist Islam waiting for me to discover it. Neither is there a misogynist Islam. Islam is what we make it. Literally everything in the Quran is open to interpretation. We just have to work at bringing more feminist interpretations mainstream. The challenge is how to do this…”

      Thanks again!

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