A Critique of the Feminist Reinterpretation

Mai Ghoussoub observed in 1987 : “Some of the most outstanding contemporary feminists, daunted by the scale of the tasks before them and the isolation in which they stand, have changed their tone recently” (1987 : 17). Critical feminism seeks refuge in the holy text. This trend can be called neo-feminism. The explicit feminist terminology is still apparent, but the sharp edge of iconoclasm is blunted. This neo-feminism, like earlier Islamic reformism, contends that traditions are layers of societal experiences accumulated under specific circumstances obscuring the true meaning and spirit of Islam. The argument is based on an ideological assumption that there are two different Islams : the good Islam, as reflected in the lay Muslim’s understanding of ethical and egalitarian messages of the Quran, and the bad Islam of shari‘a as interpreted by the ulema. That ideological assumption is itself a result of refurbishing a pre-modern paradigm with the trappings of modernity. Thus, the neo-feminist discourse converges with the Islamic reformists’ attempt to construct a new Islam outside its historical framework and free from its traditional confines of shari‘a. This insertion of feminist consciousness into the mind-set of a revealed religion has further embellished and mystified the past. The most potentially iconoclastic discourse, secular feminism, is harnessed to the worn-down wheels of Islamic reformism.

– Egalitarian Islam and Misogynist Islamic Tradition : A Critique of the Feminist Reinterpretation of Islamic History and Heritage by Reza Afshari

I came across this article just now. Thoughts? This could generate some excellent discussion, don’t you think?!

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10 thoughts on “A Critique of the Feminist Reinterpretation

  1. Zuhura says:

    How has feminist consciousness embellished and mystified the past? I don’t see that. How could feminism be *more* iconoclastic within Islam than it is?

  2. almostclever says:

    I agree that this could start a really great discussion.

    I should make it known that I do not see the Quran as untouched nor do I see it as the word of God in purity. I also am not a scholar of Islam and I don’t claim to be an intellectual in the realm of Islamic thought. So take my opinion with a grain of salt:

    “The history of Islam is thus driven by the assumptions and sensitivities of our age, serving the political-intellectual needs (power) of the day. History is ransacked to support contemporary needs. This “updating” of Islam is a political task that is best left to the Islamist ideologues. This “updating” of Islam is a political task that is best left to the Islamist ideologues. They are in abundance these days. Academic scholars and secularist thinkers should hesitate before lending credibility to those whose primary goal is to reach to the most undeveloped common denominator in the public for immediate political gain through manipulations of religious symbols.”

    In many ways what I see feminists doing is applying ijtihad. They are taking obvious human rights issues and abuses and applying the Quran to those abuses in ways that give rights instead of taking them away.

    “One cannot assert cultural authenticity by engaging in intellectual self-deception. One thereby runs the risk of self-delusion now or the deception of the future generations of intellectuals ; neither promises healthy historical development in the long run.”

    This is a bit of a stretch.. It is making the assumption that feminist scholars are intellectually dishonest and makes the same old claim that the historical text is the “correct” way. What many feminists are saying is that “historically” they have been left out of the discussion and they want their say. Now that they are having their say men are calling them dishonest. Big Surprise!
    If women were able to have their say from the beginning maybe the religion would have always been interpreted in feminist ways, and maybe they wouldn’t be called “feminist” because they would just “be.” I think it is bullshit to call feminists intellectually dishonest unless we are saying religion is only for men, and women have no say?

    “Today, feminist women must remain uncompromisingly secularist, advocate the modern ideal of an equal and autonomous woman, and oppose all religiously-oriented and communally-based notions of social justice. ”

    Ok, this is becoming muddled…. What exactly does that sentence mean? Why would a feminist oppose religiously and community oriented social justice? Unless, that is… it is unjust??

  3. Metis says:

    Thanks Zuhura and Sarah for your comments.

    @Sarah, I found the article very condescending. It completely disregards the feelings and beliefs of Muslim women who call themselves feminists.

    “In many ways what I see feminists doing is applying ijtihad. They are taking obvious human rights issues and abuses and applying the Quran to those abuses in ways that give rights instead of taking them away.”

    You hit the nail on its head. This is what I see happening as well. Why is it that people would rather have Muslim women who want justice and equality to completely abandon Islam? This thought has agenda. I see MFs as women who want to remain Muslim, who love Islam but they want to be treated as equals. All they are doing is reinterpreting the religion, Texts, and history. They are not “rewriting Islamic history” nor are they changing religious texts. One can agree or disagree with their interpretations but to call them dishonest is being dishonest!

    • almostclever says:

      I agree with you, but I also see where people are coming from when they would rather see feminists leave the religion. I mean, people debate human rights and equality and say “religious social justice” is all that is needed. But unfortunately, that is not social justice for half the population. I think this author was getting at that point about human rights and equality also, but it is misleading to then say “religious and/or community social justice” when what he really means is “I don’t believe in equality or the concept of human rights or humanism.” At least that seems to be the point he is trying to make through his coded language.

      I too see Muslim women who want a claim on a purpose beyond themselves. They are in love with God and want to show their love but they are being told the way they see God is dishonest and wrong. Ouch. You know, a lot of apostates also see the religion in the same ways as the hardliners and would also say feminists are being dishonest or “lying to themselves” or even “apologists.”

      I see people searching for a spiritual life that they can embrace fully. I think fighting for one’s belief that they are worthy and equal human beings is a tough order – especially in the world of religion. I have nothing but respect and admiration for what Muslim feminists are up against.

      • Metis says:

        “But unfortunately, that is not social justice for half the population.”

        That is very enlightening. I agree with you and I see what you mean. Thanks for making me understand this better.

        There are some people I see as making excuses but thankfully I have come to that point in my life where I can differentiate between people who are fooling themselves and are being dishonest and those who genuinely believe in what they are preaching/supporting/admiring. The first group is typically defensive and ill-informed and don’t like to hear any argument from anyone. The second group is confident, intelligent and well-informed. Fortunately almost all the Muslim feminists that I read and have on my side bar fall into the second group. Thus I too “have nothing but respect and admiration for what Muslim feminists are up against.” 🙂

        Thank you for engaging in this enlightening discussion, Sarah!

  4. Beena says:

    “Why is it that people would rather have Muslim women who want justice and equality to completely abandon Islam?”

    The article doesn’t‎ suggest that Muslim women should abandon Islam but that “Feminist writers should continue to provide historical explanations by using secular, straight-forward sociopolitical analyses, without any desire to validate the sacred text or to place the burden of blame for Islamic androcentrism on other pre-modern traditions.” I regularly read the writers you have on your sidebar and I don’t see them doing what the article is suggesting. People would see Islamic feminists as more honest if they accepted that Islam is patriarchal and that “discriminating gender relations have been sanctified by Islamic laws and norms.” But instead of seeing the obvious “ideological links between the Islamic normative system and the practices of patriarchy” Islamic feminists claim that hadeeth is made up and Koran is misinterpreted by men. It is convenient to blame male interpretations for all the problems and then teach that only feminist interpretations are correct.

    The greatest proof that Koran is God’s word is the Koran itself. Hadeeth on the other hand has been painstakingly recorded. There is no isnaad for the Koran and billions of people believe in the sanity, memory and sincerity of one scribe when Mohammad wasn’t even alive to offer his opinion. It is sad that otherwise seemingly intelligent and outspoken women have to rescue Allah by claiming that 33:53 “reveals to us that Allah’s concerns in this verse are about tact.” This is what most skeptics are against. While we can see that “Quranic verses are protective of women’s virtues as defined by men” Islamic feminists who have a modern vision of Allah as just and fair can’t fathom that he would want women to be chaste for men whom he blatantly favors in the Koran.

    The skeptics can see that “the relationship of the Muslim God to man is not only different from the one he maintains with women, but her relationship to man is only understandable through an analysis of the triangular relationship between God, the male believer, and the female believer” but as the article illustrates Muslim women like Mernissi have been “sacrificing intellectual clarity for the short-sighted political expediency of linking up with a populism that feeds on the prevailing ignorance.” If the cause of Islamic feminists is Islamic reformism then this is what they should call it.

  5. Metis says:

    Hello Beena, thanks for your comment and welcome to Metis!

    There are a few points in your comment that I think are important. I believe that every movement, political or religious, is a product of time and society. The prevailing values of the time have a direct effect on the movement. MFs of today want to fight patriarchy but in ways in which their voices would be heard. If they become completely secular in their tone they would face greater opposition from within the greater Muslim community. This is why, I think, writers like Fatima Mernissi have been saying different things or writing under pseudonyms.

    I understand the article’s premise. I know that the writer is not asking MF to leave Islam but when you ask a Muslim who believes in Quran to be from God and His unchanged word to become secular and disregard the Quran then it’s like asking them to give up their beliefs.

  6. almostclever says:

    “The article doesn’t‎ suggest that Muslim women should abandon Islam but that “Feminist writers should continue to provide historical explanations by using secular, straight-forward sociopolitical analyses, ”

    Beena, by asking feminists to use secular analysis it is, in a sense, asking them to abandon their religion. Why must feminists use secular analysis and male Islamic scholars are not told they need to do this? Asking someone religious to analyze something through secularism is asking them to step outside of the religion and view it as an outsider looking in. Is this not asking them to leave, in coded language? What religious person is told to view something as a secularist, aside from an outcast? Is there not room in religion for feminism? That seems to be the real question being asked these days.

  7. Beena says:

    “Beena, by asking feminists to use secular analysis it is, in a sense, asking them to abandon their religion. Why must feminists use secular analysis and male Islamic scholars are not told they need to do this?”

    Male Islamic scholars are not told they need to do this because Islam was established by a man and no matter how much Muslims claim otherwise Islam is not a religion that is feminist. There is no doubt that Islam gave women some rights but it also took away rights from women which they enjoyed before Islam.

    I read on this very blog that Muhammad didn’t marry anyone as long as Khadeejah was alive because his marriage contract was pagan in which elite women could forbid their husbands to practice polygamy. After her death polygyny was explicitly allowed in the Koran and polyandry was banned. Only someone who is completely oblivious to truth would ignore the clear connection between Muhammad’s first experience of marriage contract and permission of polygyny in Koran. If God is made to say polygyny is allowed then no woman on earth can ban it for her husband. How does Muhammad become a feminist when he refused his own wives to remarry after his death, had no inhibitions about allowing his men to rape slaves, kept concubines, didn’t leave behind anything for his daughters, didn’t care for the feelings of wives before bringing home more and more women he married or enslaved, threatened to divorce all his wives at once and had no guilt in marrying teenage girls?! Feminists who don’t use secular analysis have already decided that Islam is feminist by ignoring all these facts and try desperately to fit square pegs in round holes.

  8. Issam says:

    Beena does not get it, or does not want to get. What she accuses Prophet Muhammad of has no basis in the Quran, whether she likes it or not.

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