Islam and Feminism: Relationship

Muslims are scattered all around the world and there are roughly 1.6 billion of them occupying almost a quarter of the world’s population. They consist of “an extraordinarily diverse mass of people” and as approximately half of this group, Muslim women diverse in all ways possible from style and fashion to professions, hobbies and their relation to their faith. Muslim women across the planet have been struggling and attempting to elevate the status of women by dealing with practices or attitudes that are considered gender biased. For many of these women, they believe that feminism, or striving for gender equality has been in harmony with their identity as Muslims. They may interpret themselves as ‘Muslim feminists’ or as believing in ‘Islamic feminism’, while others may not prefer to follow this way.

            Just as many women all over the world feel under no obligation to associate with feminism or to label themselves as feminists, it is also the same as Muslim women where they are not appealed to and do not see the necessity of feminism. Feminism among Muslim women is notably varied, just as that of non-Muslim women, and one shared vision of the definition of gender equality in Islam should not be speculated. Muslim women differ in race, social class, culture, and as people, which also may range significantly from those following Islam in a conservative way to those with a more liberal lifestyle. Like how ‘Islam’ and ‘feminism’ mean differently according to different people, Muslim women are also varied in the aspects of their attitudes and identities, as well as how they understand and express feminism.

Feminism has allowed most women to recognise with both, Islam and feminism, without having to compromise either part of their identity. When it comes to gender relations, there have been movements of women and men from all sorts of Muslim backgrounds united by an ultimate goal that is to reclaim what they see as Islam’s true spirit of justice. Islam has a rich history of eminent figures and movements working for improving women’s rights and autonomy. The term ‘feminist’ had only emerged in the 19th century, however, these efforts prove that ‘feminism’ has always gotten along across Muslim communities in everyday life through various forms. For that reason, “feminism in Islam is not then an attempt to adapt ‘alien’ values in Islam but a rediscovery of what is already there and a restoration of faith” (Islam & Feminism, n.d.).

Feminism and Feminist Text

Offen (1998) defined feminism generally as “a theory and/or movement concerned with advancing the position of women through such means as the achievement of political, legal, or economic rights equal to those granted men.” Patel (2014) on the other hand explained that:

The term ‘feminism’ was derived from the Latin word ‘femina’  meaning ‘woman’ and was first used with regard to the issues of equality and Women’s Rights Movement. Ever since antiquity, there have been women fighting to free their half of the total population of the world from male oppression. Feminism is neither a fad nor a logical extension of the civil rights movement, but the protest against the legal, economic and social restrictions on the basic rights of women which have existed throughout history and in all civilizations. Naturally, the principles of feminism have been articulated long ago.

Feminism in literature came in two waves where the first was based on men’s treatment of women and second gynocriticism. The former revolves around the issue of “critics consider male novelists’ demeaning treatment or marginalisation of female characters”, while the latter suggests that there are three major prospects of gynocriticism, “the first is the examination of female writers and their place in literary history. The second is the consideration of the treatment of female characters in books by both male and female writers. The third and most important aspect of gynocriticism is the discovery and exploration of a canon of literature written by women; gynocriticism seeks to appropriate a female literary tradition.” (O’Connor, n.d.) Later on, the movement from Renaissance to Restoration theatre led to the rise of the women writers.

Islamic Feminism and Islamic Feminist Text

            The reform of Islamic schooling within the West would not be complete without taking a look at the status of women in Muslim communities and the function that was latched onto them (Ramadan, 2016). Being the sensitive issue in almost all Western Islamic societies, it sometimes appears as the core of the whole question of devotion towards Islam. Islamic feminism is described by Al-Sharmani (2014) as:

A new area of scholarship that engages with Islamic sacred texts, the Qur’an and Sunnah, and its interpretive tradition such as exegesis, jurisprudence, and Hadith compilations, driven primarily by the question of gender justice and methodological reform. This scholarship consists of studies that critically revisit and unpack dominant religious interpretations that are patriarchal and discriminatory against women, and aim to produce new knowledge that makes the case for gender equality and justice from within an Islamic paradigm. These studies are being produced predominantly by Muslim female scholars and also some male Muslim scholars from different disciplines and countries.

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