‘Nasawiya’. That means feminism in Arabic. The belief that women and men are equal and deserve the same rights. If there is something that made me more feministic, it is Islam. And yet Saudi Arabia, the country with one of the most important Islamic sites, is one of the last countries where women didn’t have the right to vote – until recently. Since a few days, Muslima’s who live there can now vote just like men.
Congratulations, Muslim women! You are being granted a basic right. You are being a little less objectified, it’s a small step forward and it should indeed be celebrated. But let’s not forget how many miles we still have to walk to reach the rights Islam already gave women.
Women voting in Islamic countries isn’t something new. The first Muslim country that introduced woman suffrage was the short-lived Crimean People’s Republic and that was as early as in 1917. This means that a Muslim country let its female citizens vote before a lot of European and American countries. Soon followed Albania, Turkey, Palestine and Syria. Before the 21th century would begin, already 40 Muslim countries had established the woman suffrage. Only the UAE and Saudi-Arabia missed the 20th century train.
Because of Saudi-Arabia’s significance in the world, both in the world politics as in the religious aspects, its behaviour is being watched with sharp eagle eyes. As I stated in my article about the difference between culture and religion, there has to be a clear distinction between these two.
The prophet Mohammed married a wealthy and powerful woman, a woman who would drive on a camel (that would nowadays be a car) and was a businesswoman. Khadija was a woman with a career and Aisha was a woman with a strong opinion. They both had a very high rank and were from the Arabic peninsula. But in our 21th century, more than thousand years afterwards, some societies still view women as incompetent.
God does not discriminate women, so will we, humans, discriminate them? The Quran is pretty clear about equality in gender:
“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]
So is the discrimination against women a religious issue, or is religion an excuse for yet another kind of oppression? The founder of Islamic feminism, Fatema Mernissi, explained this very strongly in ‘The veil and the Male Elite’: “If women’s rights are a problem for some modern Muslim men, it is neither because of the Quran nor the Prophet, nor the Islamic tradition, but simply because those rights conflict with the interests of a male elite.”
While celebrating a little progress, let’s not forget the words of Mernissi, nor our own history. Women rights and Islam are not only connected, they are a mandatory combination.