Navigating Islam, Feminism, and Identity
The first time I heard the word ‘feminist’ was in my secondary school class. It was spoken with absolute venom and detest, but that piqued my curiosity. I’ve always believed that no man is inherently better than me by his gender alone. I have always been opinionated in my stance and this often got me into trouble growing up.
Being feminist and Muslim has often been seen as an oxymoron—both terms are believed to be mutually exclusive. You supposedly can’t be Muslim and feminist.
However, Kutuk Kuris (2021) defined Muslim feminism as an endeavour developed by Muslim female theologians who aimed to generate an egalitarian family law from within an Islamic legal framework. It combines Qur’anic teachings and the Prophet's Sunnah with international human rights principles, constitutional guarantees of women’s equality, and the lived experiences of Muslim women.
According to Muti'ah Badrudeen, a reproductive health physician, the author of Rekiya and Z and a woman who holds feminist ideals, feminism is more than a social justice issue or political movement. It is an ideal way of navigating life that every girl, child and woman deserves – the right to their full humanity. According to research by the Wilson Centre, the core idea of Islamic feminism is the full equality of all Muslims, males and females alike, in both public and private spheres.
This idea of Muslim Feminism is very controversial, with debates raging on social media. Traditional Muslims vehemently reject the notion of Muslim feminists. Meanwhile, liberals assert that Muslim women are repressed and cannot grasp feminism. The concept of Muslim feminism is adequate.
This tweet by @dabira successfully captures this:
In the words of Wardah Abass, "While the term Muslim feminism is recent, the act of Muslim women fighting sexism is nothing new." Several female companions of the Prophet in the past have challenged the status quo. Khadija sought the Prophet’s hand in marriage; Khawlah contested her divorce ruling, with Allah arbitrating in her favour. Another example is Zainab bint Jahsh, who was very confident in her place in society even though she had done something that was considered taboo at that time. These women questioned society and stood their ground.
And in recent times, several influential Muslim feminists have advocated for expanded female representation and inclusion in Islamic spaces. Hind Makki, through her social media platforms, documents the often inadequate or unclean women's sections in mosques, sometimes praising the mosques that get it right and hoping to inspire positive change in how women's spaces are built in mosques.
Dr. Asma Lamrabet, director of the Centre of Women's Issues in Islam, tackles women's issues through prolific books and articles on topics that concern Muslim women. As a foundational Islamic feminist, Dr Lamrabet shapes discourse on reconciling tradition with women's equality.
Similarly, Nigerian lawyer and writer Wardah Abbas founded the Muslim Women Times media platform to centre stories of Muslim women pursuing social justice. Wardah Abbas is one of the women defining what it means to be a Muslim African feminist. In her words, "When we talk about how Islam is incompatible with feminism then we are asserting that feminism exists in only one shade- it is this and nothing else. This is very shallow and close-minded; a binary form of thinking."
This further asserts that feminism is not black and white. It can take different forms depending on a woman and her society.
Hind Makki, Dr. Lamrabet, and Wardah Abbas represent the new generation of Muslim feminists advocating for reform through their influential work and platforms. They aim to preserve Islamic identity while promoting equitable treatment of women within the faith. These Muslim women leaders are progressively redefining women's position in Islam on their terms.
There are stark differences between Muslim and Western feminism. Although women from the “oppressive hijab” without understanding those who choose to cover. Muslim feminism provides a haven for women who want to practise Islam and believe in their full autonomy as humans.
In the Islamic community, feminism is a touchy subject. As a Muslim feminist, your faith is tested and you are called a bad Muslim for advocating better treatment of women. You are reminded of the abundant rights Islam gives women, while conveniently forgetting how Muslim men have made these rights unavailable and Muslim women have continuously faced systematic oppression by men despite the rights guaranteed in the Qur'an and Sunnah.
The sheer number of violence women have faced in the Muslim community is immeasurable. The audacity of Muslim men to police what Muslim women wear online translates to physical violence.
Case in point: the tiktoker @hafsahqueendjibouti who was assaulted by her brother for not wearing hijab in her videos and was accompanied by praise from other Muslim men. Let us not forget the Taliban’s continuous erosion of women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan.
Furthermore, Red Pill content creators have found solace in using Islam to justify their twisted beliefs, with misogynists like Andrew Tate converting to Islam and creating harmful content against women while Muslim men stay silent. It is sad that Muslim men have less to say to men like that but have more vim for Muslim women and are ready to police what they can wear on the internet like wearing a coat under the abaya.
“For Muslim women...watching people manufacture religious basis for privately held misogynistic beliefs can be very triggering,” says Mutiah Badrudeen.
Muslim feminism provides solace for women like me to advocate for hijabi rights, and inclusion and speak against oppression.
This does not mean every Muslim woman must identify as a feminist, as labels can be unsafe.
“It is okay to be unsure of your stance and in confusion just ask questions, is this what my lord wants for me? Am I showing up as myself, fully human or am letting someone's definition of what I should influence how I make my way through life? Am I doing the same to another girl/woman limiting her autonomy based on my idea of what she should be like? Then act accordingly, "Mutia Badrudeen buttressed.
Conclusively, A lot of Muslim feminists live in fear of their beliefs because of how they will be perceived. As for me, I always remember that my loyalty is to the deen of Allah alone and to not let other people’s judgment restrict me from living my life full of humanity without restrictions based on gender.