Friday, January 25, 2008

Islamic Feminism

Womens Studies
Jennifer McKenna

Islamic feminism is a movement which attempts to promote gender equality and women’s rights within Islam. Islamic feminism traces its roots back to the time of the Prophet himself, asserting that the Qur’an bestowed previously unheard-of rights upon women. Prior to the advent of Islam, the society that the Prophet addresses treated women poorly, burying young females alive, compelling women to perform, and regarding women as chattel. The Qur’an, in stark contrast, stresses that women and men are granted equal rights in the eyes of Allah: "And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women. (2:226)" Islam also promises believers, both women and men, an equal reward for their faith: “For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah's praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward. (33:35)” The Qur’an likewise admonishes believing men to treat women fairly: “O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the dowry you have given them - except when they have become guilty of open lewdness. On the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them, it may be that you dislike something and Allah will bring about through it a great deal of good. (4:19)” Islamic feminists contend that, following the death of the Prophet, many of the misogynistic cultural traditions reappeared and the Prophet’s desire for equity was left by the wayside.
Islamic feminism has recently had a resurgence in popularity when the movement experienced a revival in Egypt at the close of the nineteenth century. A liberation theology, Islamic feminism stresses a return to the Qur’an and a reexamination of its patriarchal interpretation and application, including what it terms “woman-hating hadiths.” Though among Islam’s more liberal movements, it insists on defining itself within the Islamic paradigm, often eschewing what it views as Western interference. Islamic feminism does not wish to define itself by the views of Western, particularly American, feminism, which it does not believe appreciates its unique position and views. Islamic feminists are focused on gender inequality within Muslim Personal Law, particularly those aspects which deal with marriage, divorce and testation. Islamic feminists are also addressing social mores such as the dress code, honor killings, and genital mutilation which occur in parts of the Muslim world.
I do not consider myself an Islamic feminist, but I do find their attempts to center their movement within their beliefs admirable. I believe that it is all too easy for Western feminists to visualize the Islamic woman wearing hijab as oppressed, not recognizing such views as ethnocentric. I feel, however, that any practices which result in physical harm or death should be universally condemned, irregardless of their social, political, or religious basis.

Sources and Suggested Readings:

Jennifer McKenna

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