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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Islamic Feminism Fallacy

Since I have started my research on Arab American feminism, and the intersection of race, ethnicity and gender, I keep coming across "Islamic feminism". At the beginning I thought this is a movement by activist women in the Islamic world who work to gain equality and women empowerment in the Muslim world. Reading more about it, I realized this is half of the story. Yes, it is concerned with the situation of women in the Muslim world, but Islamic feminists work on the assumption that the subordinate position assigned to women in the Muslim world is created by misinterpretation of Quran and Hadith by misogynist scholars who want to keep their domination over men.

I have read the Quran hundred of times, memorized the long chapters starting from al-Baqarah to Al-Anaam, which contain most of the Islamic commands that established the Islamic State in Medina after 622 A.D. I read them over and over again, searching for something that may have inspired Islamic feminists to think that Islam in its essence support equality regardless of gender, but I failed to find any, not because I have missed certain implications, which may have been suggested by a verse here or there. To consider women equal to men is basically an alien thought to the Arab world at that time; it is actually an alien thought to the whole world known then, not just to the Arab Peninsula. Considering the historical social context of Islam, it can not support gender equality.

However, Muslims want to believe in the universality of Quran, that the book is a miracle and speak to Muslims anywhere, anytime, simply because they believe it is God's direct word, rather than a revelation to the prophet. This is the major difference between Islam and other Abrahamic religions: while Judaism and Christianity maintain that the Bible is a revelation, Muslims believe Quran as the direct words of God, which can't be modified, changed, or reinterpreted! Actually, Quran points out in several verses in different chapters that the Bible has been re-written, and corrupted by the Jews and the Christians and Shia Muslims believe that Imam al-Mahdi, when the time comes for his return, will bring the authentic Bible which the Jews and the Christians have corrupted.

So Quran is the word of God, and according to the Prophet's last speech in Mecca, whatever ordained by him and the Quran, should be followed to the end of times. Accordingly, till now women get only half what men get from inheritance, one man's testimony is worth two women's, men control marriage, and husbands are allowed to beat their wives if they deny them their marital 'rights'. Islamic feminists can't find their way around these few Islamic ordains, unless they advocate for the non-universality of the holly book, that it is not the direct word of God, and it can be re-interpreted to adapt it to the changing historical and cultural environments in the Muslim world. By removing this characteristic from the Quran, they open the gate for criticism of the holly text, which will encourage critics of Islam to reduce the text to be man's narrative, rather than the divine word of God. Muslims won't allow that, not even the feminists themselves.

Islamic feminism in the way it is now is just a fallacy; it tries to end patriarchy in Islam, while unfortunately this religion is this patriarchy. I know that I sound like those western feminists who mock "Arab feminism" as oxymoron, assuming that being an Arab denotes a culture that is hostile to women, and prefer patriarchy rather than individual freedom. For some reason, this is true. Our culture is family culture, collective consciousness and identity culture, and doesn't support individuality. In such context, where the individual should sacrifice their individuality for the unity of community, it is only natural that woman's individual freedom is suppressed for the sake of collective solidarity. The best Arab woman activists can achieve is 'women empowerment' which simply means helping women within this patriarchal culture to reach their potentials, to play around the cultural rules, and 'empower' women without trespassing cultural codes. The same logic applies to Islamic feminists. Because empowering women within such hostile environments to women, or only through trespassing 'holy ordained rules', is like 'mission impossible', and whatever they have achieved is unfortunately too weak to change women's situation in the Arab/Muslim world, Arab/Islamic feminists spend most of their activism on defending the concept of "Arab" or "Islamic" feminisms against their western critics, engaging in endless debates to "correct" western views about the Arab culture and Islam.

One of the Islamic feminist writers, Mohja Kahf wrote couple of poems called "Hijab scenes" in which she criticizes Islamphobia in US and how the headscarf invite assumptions about Muslim women's oppression in Islam. It is quite common argument today to say, "I don't need to take off my scarf to be a feminist". No I don't, if feminism means here defending my culture and religion, rather than gender equality and woman's individual rights. Women's decent clothes are ordained by the Quran to protect women from men, hadiths assert that woman's body can tempt men's to sin, and everything in the woman's body is erotic to men and need to be covered. So, if a Muslim woman need to express her devotion to God/Allah she should cover up, so she won't be a source of temptation to men!! It is all about protecting men's decency and purity. How is that empowering women? or how is it pro-feminist? I can't understand that!       

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