Feminism is a valid and highly valuable feeling and collection of experiences, and not the men-bashing tirade that it’s generally perceived to be. Islamic feminism carefully studies and engages in aspects of Islam such as interpretations of hadith and in the Quranic concept of equality for all of humanity. It looks deeper into concerns of inequality experienced by Muslim women.
The liberation of women in Islam took place 1,400 years ago through the revelation of the Quran by the Prophet Muhammad. Unfortunately, abuse and manipulation of Islamic theology as well as conflict surrounding attitudes to women and conservatism, during a time when Medina was in crisis, led to the creation of some structures which had prohibited and still prohibit women in a number of societies from living full lives, or being looked down upon for living full lives. These kinds of lives are those which aren’t dictated by misogynistic traditions. Lives in which being mistreated by husbands is not overlooked simply because the natural place of a woman is below that of a man. The recognition of women as equal counterparts in society involves a lot more than allowing women to vote or finally selecting female politicians and the continuous exclusion of women can be seen as a 14 century-long human rights violation.
It is important to note that there is a gaping void in Islam which was left open as soon as women became subjected to marginalization. Where this hole was once were inclusive mosques and egalitarian ideals expressed by the Prophet. Blatant disregard of these ideals and the known adoration and respect for women exhibited by Mohammed and a thousand year-long fear of the male elite – that the sacred fibre of Islam will be tampered with should women be unveiled – is why this void remains open. Here, unveiling doesn’t just refer to deciding whether or not to wear hijab but to a psychological and societal unveiling too.
“Legal and social equality for women everywhere has been linked to the transformation of socio-economic structures, secularism, the legally protected toleration of difference, recognition of and respect for individual freedoms, and an acceptance of individuals’ moral agency and ability to make their own choices.”
Fatema Mernissi was a Moroccan sociologist and author, as well as one of the central figures in Islamic Feminism. Mernissi was able to academically explore Islamic texts and history. This exploration enabled her to break away from her traditional upbringing in a harem and her traditional education in an all-girls school in Fez. She critically studied Islam and formed the conclusion that the Quran has in no way justified sexism, and that in actual fact it has been the distortion of interpretations and the guarding of conservative misogyny which are the reasons for the systemic oppression of women within the religion.
The “unveiling” referred to earlier is the educational empowerment Mernissi called for. Educational advancement of all women in all societies has long been overdue and at this point is something which cannot be placed upon the shoulders of men. Religion needs to remain dynamic – a force that must progress as the times change. Now is the best time for feminism to perfectly merge with religion, and perhaps it is something for men not to claim part of because that would not be the manifestation of feminist practice – that which is meant to be the identity of women. It is a natural thing for anyone who feels that their ideologies are being challenged to retreat further back into what they devoutly believe in because home is a relatively safe place to be. However, challenging and questioning restrictions, and outdated misinformation is the starting point on the journey to modernity.
In as much as women must start reclaiming their places in equality, we must acknowledge that the conditions of a Muslim woman in South Africa, for example, are unlike those of a Muslim woman in Saudi Arabia. Every day cultures in more diverse countries like South Africa and Britain are not dominated by religion. An identification of the line between religion and culture is required in Islam in order to do more towards ensuring all Muslim women are completely free of societal shackles. Where a woman struggles to find her way to freedom, there should be a free and fearless woman by her side to assist her in getting through. This should be the case in more liberal societies and empowering women should be done no later than after the blink of an eye. Now is the time to dissolve authoritarianism by relearning the feminine history of Islam.
Women must be educated. Women must not be afraid. Women must not be excluded from society based on the beliefs built on patriarchal benefit. Apart from equality, feminism restores dignity and the progression of feminism in its entirety relies on all men and women, irrespective of religion and race, to extensively study and understand the fundamentals of systems of patriarchy in order to effortlessly eradicate it.
Nomonde Jele is a 19-year-old student Portuguese and Visual Studies at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. Besides writing, she is passionate about film, photography and receiving freebies.