Big Questions for Feminists and Muslims

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Yesterday, somebody sent me this clip from the Big Questions which was recently aired on BBC1 and having watched it I couldn’t help but cringe.  Those 13 minutes were definitely uncomfortable viewing but what I did like about it was how it encapsulated some of the key debates within the discourse around women’s rights and Islam.

As a Muslim woman who is passionate about the rights of all women, I find it disappointing that within western feminist discourse, which is essentially pro-choice, some feminists undermine the rights of Muslim women whether in choosing to become a Muslim or in deciding how to dress.  Increasingly and rather aggressively, I have seen feminists describe Islam as “a misogynistic faith” and “illogical superstition.”  This can only be described as patronising and insulting to Muslim feminists across the world who are actively campaigning for the rights of women through an Islamic paradigm.  The universalism V cultural relative debate will continue to rage on around the world, but feminists need to appreciate there are indeed many ways of securing women’s rights.  The areligious or even the irreligious version of feminism isn’t the only narrative nor is it necessarily the most effective one, in securing rights for women particularly for Muslim women.  One of the most compelling ways in securing the rights of Muslim women is doing so through an Islamic framework.  It is sad that feminists who feel so passionate about women’s rights clearly have little knowledge around the challenges facing Muslim feminists as this anti-Islam approach only ends up in throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The apologetic language being used by many Muslims neither helps the discourse around Muslim women and rights.  By arguing that in the 7th century, Islam gave rights to women which were only given to women in the 20th century in Britain is factually true, but as much as it pains me to say this, it is irrelevant because everyone knows you are ignoring the elephant in the room.  It is a fact that many women in some Muslim countries are denied fundamental freedoms.  It is a fact that half the women in the Arab world are illiterate and in all but four Arab countries less than 80 per cent of girls go to secondary school.  Yes, Islam did shine over the rest of the world in the 7th century with regards to women’s rights, but we are in the 21st century now and sadly that light glows very dimly today.  It is for us to relight that original message of respect and human dignity that Islam gives women.  This will not happen if we continue to ignore the violations many Muslim women experience.  We need to admit that crimes are committed against women in the ‘name of Islam’ but it is not the faith which prescribes such unjust treatment but rather a twisted and fundamentally a misogynistic interpretation of Islam used by men and societies for a number of reasons including denying women access to power and leadership.  It is this reality which drives many Muslims to fight discrimination and violence using an Islamic paradigm to help secure rights for Muslim women around the world.  I predict it is this battle, the gender jihad, which will ultimately become one of the major struggles facing Muslims in the 21st century.


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