Famous Muslim feminists

  • Amina Wadud
  • Asma Barlas
  • Asma Jehangir
  • Asra Nomani
  • Farid Esack
  • Fatima Mersini
  • Irshad Manji
  • Kecia Ali
  • Khaled Abou Fadl
  • Leila Ahmed
  • Lila Abu-Lughod
  • Laleh Bakhtiar
  • Margot Badran
  • Nawal El Saadawi
  • Riffat Hassan
  • Sa’diyya Shaikh
  • Shirin Ebadi
  • Ziba Mir-Hosseini

28 thoughts on “Famous Muslim feminists

  1. arwaa says:

    Should Qasim Amin really be listed as a Muslim feminist? Since when is calling Egyptian women backwards and ignorant and stupid (compare to their wonderful White European counterparts) “feminist”? He wanted Egypt to become as European as possible; and getting women to take off their hijabs would make ’em look more European (and this reason was pretty much identical to the colonial and missionary folks’ reasons for wanting women to take off their veils). And he talks about educating women so they can be better wives and not have to go out in public and whatnot (he idealized Western feminine domesticity). I could go on and on about Amin’s misogyny and idealization of all things European.

    NOT a feminist by any standards.

  2. Metis says:

    Welcome Arwa and thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree with your assessment. Perhaps Amin believed what he believed because he was a 19th Century man. You know, someone I know thinks that Mersini isn’t really a Muslim feminist because her feminism is stronger than her religious values. I’m sure some will be unhappy to see Manji’s name here!

    This is just a list; some people here may be liked by some and not liked by the others. I don’t vouch for anyone here and they are not here because of my liking for them.

  3. arwaa says:

    LOL well okay then. I’m just always baffled by why people list him as some great feminist. Thanks for replying in any case 🙂

    (and grrrl. wudud is pretty awesome, too. give her a chance!)

  4. arwaa says:

    Oh, and about Manji: I don’t really like her (where to start?) but she identifies as a Muslim feminist and I respect that. And she’s written some good stuff.

  5. Serenity says:

    Yeah, count me as one of those who’s not always happy about Irshad Manji’s. But that’s perhaps because I disagree with her claim that there’s a problem or trouble with “Islam.” She gives what I deem an unfair impression that Islam is responsible for the chaos in the Muslim world or women’s treatment or that Islamic law is actually “Islam.” (Well, come to think of it, most Muslims believe this, so heck.) But then she leaves out the important fact that it’s not Islam itself but the way it’s been understood or interpreted, that it’s the traditional interpretation of Islam that’s considered “Islam” and not Islam itself.

    More on this some other time, BUT for now, yeah, that’s what I think.

    Shouldn’t Kecia Ali be on the list, too, by the way? (She’s Muslim, right?)
    And I’d also add the following to the list, in addition to others whose works I’ve reviewed on my website:

    – Azizah Al-Hibri (awesome stuff on women’s rights and Islam. She’s also a lawyer and a human activitist)
    – Sa’diyya Sheikh (have met her personally. One of the most pleasant humans God ever blew breath in! I strongly recommend her article “A Tafsir of Praxis: Gender, Marital Violence, and Resistance in South African Muslim Community,” in Violence against Women in Contemporary World Religion: Roots and Cures, eds. Daniel C. Maguire and Sa’diyya Shaikh. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2007).
    – Ziba Mir-Hosseini (no? I may be wrong. But I’d recommend her “Stretching the Limit: A Feminist Reading of the Shari’a in Post Khomeini Iran,” in Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives, ed. Mai Yamani. New York: New York UP, 1996).

    And a few others I will mention soon after I look over my projects. But, hey, are miriam cooke and Barbara Stowasser Muslim? If yes, I’d think they are as well. Look into cook’s study of Islamic feminism when you get a chance.

    • Metis says:

      I think Kecia Ali doesn’t consider herself a feminist and is cautious about using the term even with others. I have read that Al-Hibri and Sadiyya Sheikh also don’t consider themselves as feminist. These are writers who write about Muslim women and about Muslim feminism but I’m not sure if they are feminist themselves? I think Mir-Housseini identifies herself as a Muslim feminist and thanks for reminding me. I’ll add her name now.

      I don’t know if Miriam Cooke and Barbara Stowasser are feminists; are they?

      • Zuhura says:

        Why do you say Kecia Ali doesn’t consider herself a feminist? Her book, as Serenity noted, is subtitled “Feminist Reflections on the Qur’an …”. I agree with you that she’s cautious about it, as the word does not appear anywhere *inside* the book, but she’s clearly a feminist. Perhaps not “famous.” I corresponded with her about working on a feminist project and she was interested.

        • Metis says:

          She told a tutor of mine with whom she corresponded that although she writes about feminist issues, she would rather consider herself a theologian than a feminist. Perhaps my tutor was confused and Ali is a feminist, if she has explicitly claimed that. In one paper she does state that she uses the term feminist “as shorthand for those who work for the amelioration of women’s lives.” My own supervisor is an expert in Muslim feminism but is not a feminist herself. Some people prefer to be called theologians instead; I know my supervisor does. But I am certainly not sure about Ali.

          • Zuhura says:

            I would take that to mean she doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a feminist to the exclusion of other aspects of her (academic) identity, but not that she is rejecting the label “feminist.”

            • Metis says:

              Yes, perhaps she doesn’t reject the label and my tutor was confused.

              That is actually a question I was hoping to ask my readers – why do some women explicitly reject being called a feminist? I’m not referring to Ali, but I know some scholars of Islam who don’t wish to be called feminists – perhaps because of the secular connotations? That is what Ali gives as a reason but I don’t know about others. I had a couple of women tell me “I read your blog and I am in favour of women rights but I am not a feminist, please clarify that.” Why this fear of the word? I can understand that perhaps labels do pigeon-hole people and if that is their reason then I can completely understand but if there are other reasons, I would really be interested to know. Although I don’t consider myself a Muslim feminist, I think Islamic Feminism has great potential and is extremely necessary.

              • Zuhura says:

                Why don’t *you* consider yourself a Muslim feminist?

                • Metis says:

                  There are many reasons, but the most important one is that I don’t believe in reinterpretation for myself. Personally, for my life, if something does not make sense to me, troubles me, curtails my basic human rights, pushes me into a time and another place and forces me to be what I am not by imposing a foreign culture then chances are I would still have had problems with it even in 7th Century Arabia, so I just reject it – for myself.

                  I can’t believe that I would have been alright with my husband beating me in 7th Century in Mecca but not now. If he had hit me in the 7th century it would have pained me and hurt my ego just as much as it would do today – that is the whole purpose of physical punishment. So how can it be alright to physically punish someone who is supposed to be an equal? Punishment (whether physical or emotional), and especially contemplated punishment, exists between unequals; not equals.

                  So instead of trying to argue that Quran doesn’t really condemn homosexuals, for example, I would rather say, maybe it does but I don’t support killing and condemnation of gays. Being Muslim doesn’t mean I have to submit my capacity to reason as well, and I can’t invest my reasoning energies into reinventing something I don’t agree with in the first place. There is so much more that I can do with that time. I realise that perhaps such line of thought may make some claim that I am a secular feminist but then there is a lot I don’t agree with in secular feminism as well.

                • Zuhura says:

                  I can’t reply below your post for some reason, but this is meant as a comment on the post directly below this one (i.e your reasons for not calling yourself a Muslim feminist).

                  So you’re saying you do consider yourself a feminist? Just not a “Muslim feminist”? To me, saying I’m a Muslim feminist is not different from saying I’m a Muslim and a feminist.

              • Serenity says:

                I think that calls for an interesting survey 😉 Let’s do it! Let’s get a large sample of pro-women’s rights individuals (both men and women) who hesitate to call themselves feminists or downright say, “Oh, no, no, no. I’m no feminist,” and ask them why, or what they think feminism is, and other questions like this.

                Reminds me of my last year’s study on Muslim women’s organizations here in my city, and, although every single one of the women leaders was a staunch supporter of women’s rights (full access to education, full say in marriage and marital affairs, all human rights in general), hardly a couple of them classified themselves as feminists. That shattered my own definition of what a feminist is, and I learned not to label anyone but If I MUST, I shouldn’t use my own standards and definitions of the term then.

                My sister, too, told me that in her Intro to Women’s Studies class, one of her classmates had done a survey in which she asked people about women’s rights. And every single woman she’d interviewed had said, “Oh, of course! What, do you think I’m not as much a human as a man, or something?” But when the student would ask them, “So, does that mean you are a feminist?” They’d say, “Oh, hell no.”

                I think it’s almost entirely because of the misconceptions associated with feminism. Heck, even feminists themselves haven’t defined the term, and there are such grand differences among feminist scholars’ views on feminism and women’s rights (or oppression or gender rights and roles) that the world is confused. But then again, is anything in life really so well-defined? No. Then why does it seem that only feminism is getting the worst of it all?

                • Metis says:

                  Serenity, there are women who are proud to be feminists and why shouldn’t they be; it is a cause worth living for. But I think MF are particularly careful because there is this wrong assumption that if a woman is a MF then she is there to change the Quran. I have heard people say that. When I began doing this study a particular person kept bringing in the word ‘feminism’ and ‘feminist’ as if it was a curse word even insinuating that all feminists are man-hating lesbians! It was really disturbing. But when the same woman who is a feminist is a particualr type of feminist, say a MF, then the situation gets far more complicated. First, there is this silent feeling amongst majority of Muslims that men are better than women and so for a woman to challenge the interpretations of the Quran doen by men becomes a dangerous task. Second, most (not all, but most) educated and active MFs are not native Arabic speakers so even those Muslim women who may want equal rights dispel the arguments of these MFs because “they are not native Arabic speakers.” I have heard that argument so many times against Wadud and Barlas and Sheikh *from* Muslim women.

                  What do you think?

                  And thanks again for your very useful comments.

          • Serenity says:

            QUOTE: “My own supervisor is an expert in Muslim feminism but is not a feminist herself. Some people prefer to be called theologians instead; I know my supervisor does. But I am certainly not sure about Ali.”

            I think I might end up being the same way. Currently, I have no problem saying I’m a feminist, but I am sure that in the future, especially with my work on and with Pashtun women and Quranic exegesis, I would avoid referring to myself as such. Folks generally tend to focus only on that one part of your identity then and ignore your credentials and everything else.

            • Metis says:

              Serenity, that is a good point. There is a certain fear of feminism, especially in the Muslim socities, which hinders any progress or dialogue because men (and indeed even some women) become defensive.

      • Serenity says:

        REALLY? Kecia Ali doesn’t consider herself a feminist and is cautious about using the term with others? I had no idea! When did you last talk to her about it? Because I discussed my study with her last year about this time, and I asked her opinion about the title of my project. I mentioned that I didn’t feel comfortable using “feminist interpretations” or “feminist”/”feminism” at all in the title, just because of the misconceptions associated with it, and she said (not her exact words), “Don’t be afraid of using the term. Definitely use it in your title. It’s the best way to help clear misconceptions about feminism, especially Islamic feminism.” Or something like that.

        But you’re doing a wise thing by first contacting them about it and asking if they would consider themselves feminists.

    • Metis says:

      Serenity, I have read Sa’diyya Sheikh’s work and I think she is the only Muslim woman to go into Quranic exegesis in the serious manner in which she does. I just love her writing! I think I’ll write to both her and Ali to confirm if I could add them here as Muslim feminists. Thanks!

  6. Serenity says:

    Oh, yeah, I just remembered that Kecia Ali is Muslim. (Met her in person too! Another graceful human to thank God for blessing her with!) She’s considered a Muslim jurist by many Muslims, and a teacher of mine once told me that lots of Muslims go to her for advice and fatwas and all … but she has to remind them that that she’s not qualified to do that. She is, however, an expert on Islamic jurisprudence. If you haven’t yet read it, most definitely consider reading “Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on the Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence.” One of the best, most life-changing books I’ve read.

  7. Metis says:

    Zuhura, the thread has been exhausted so I’m replying here. You asked: “So you’re saying you do consider yourself a feminist? Just not a “Muslim feminist”? To me, saying I’m a Muslim feminist is not different from saying I’m a Muslim and a feminist.”

    I have never called myself a feminist but others tell me that I am one! I guess any woman who wants to be treated like a human being is labeled a feminist so if that is what feminism is then I am a feminist. But I know it is not that simple but I don’t get into its complexities.

    “To me, saying I’m a Muslim feminist is not different from saying I’m a Muslim and a feminist.” That is a perfectly reasonable way to see it and one that I wish was the standard definition.

    Do you think that questioning what are perceived as “the patriarchal interpretations” of the Quran is an integral part of Islamic feminism?

    • Nahida says:

      “[…]curtails my basic human rights, pushes me into a time and another place and forces me to be what I am not by imposing a foreign culture then chances are I would still have had problems with it even in 7th Century Arabia, so I just reject it – for myself. ”

      The thing is, (and I’m not speaking directly to you Metis–just to anyone reading this) I don’t believe that the most basic of human rights has anything to do with cultures. I believe that human rights are the same for everyone, in every culture. I believe that these are Universal Standards. I don’t care what color that culture wears for weddings, I don’t care what type of music they listen to, I don’t care what foods they eat, I don’t care about benign things that don’t hurt anyone.

      But if someone’s culture disrespects human rights, upholds that people should be BEATEN, then that is an inferior aspect of their culture. Here (in the US) we have terrible consumer mentality, to the point where it doesn’t bother people that the diamonds they wear on their rings are drenched in human blood. And I would say that this is problematic, and that it’s a cultural aspect that should be eliminated.

      At the same time, that is easy for me to say, because I’m American. At the same time, I don’t want to speak for women who are less privileged than I am. I them to have the voices they deserve, the choices they deserve, not white knight them and see them as objects to be saved. They are whole, complete people. But I’m also not going to reject what I see as infringement Universal Standards and the most basic of human rights for only myself.

      And so we put Quranic verses back in their contexts and correct mistranslations. These are not reinterpretations, they are not “liberal” or “conservative” interpretations. They are, if anything, the original interpretations. The rights that God gave to women are not negotiable by men or subject to liberal or conservative interpretations. These rights are absolutely clear in the Qur’an, and it is only cultural and political ideology that has modified them to be used as political weapons.

      “But I think MF are particularly careful because there is this wrong assumption that if a woman is a MF then she is there to change the Quran. ”

      So I hope anyone who believes this, reads my comment. If anyone wants to change the Quran, it’s the men who have so already! We (or at least I) want to bring it BACK. I think a step to correcting to this misconception is if more Muslim women who believe in women’s rights cease to fear identifying themselves as feminists.

      I’m not going to tell a woman who doesn’t identify with feminism that she is a feminist. That would be assuming that she does not know what feminism is and buys into the media stereotypes of feminists, and being told that you don’t know what you’re talking about is the worst thing in the world. Take it from me, I know. I’m not going to tell anyone they’re someone or something they’re not. But if she doesn’t come out as a feminist because she is afraid–not because she simply is does not feel feminism fits her–I would ask her to consider speaking up. She is, of course, not obligated to do anything outside of her comfort zone, but it would be inspiring.

      • Nahida says:

        Wow, this looked much shorter when I was typing it into a tiny comment box. =X Sorry!

      • Metis says:

        Yes, basic human rights shouldn’t have anything to do with culture although some cultures don’t respect them and despite the fact that both culture and our understanding of basic human rights change with time.

        Thanks so much for this comment! I agree with it so much.

  8. Zuhura says:

    I think that questioning patriarchal interpretations of anything/everything is an integral part of feminism, so if one applies that lens to Islam then it must be an integral part of Muslim feminism or Islamic feminism. I see the issue of questioning vs. reinterpreting vs. rejecting as different points on a spectrum of feminism, not that one approach is feminist while the others are not.

  9. maq says:

    i respect all of you for trying to run with men shoulder to shoulder in 100mtrs” olympics 3011″.

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