Antonym? Oxymoron? Paradox?
On the face of it, ‘feminism’ and ‘Islam’ are two diametrically opposed traditions. Some would argue that no two things could be further apart in their outlooks.
If we defined feminism as ‘the advocacy of the equality between men and women’, I can just imagine how many people would be clamouring to argue that it’s impossible that Islam is a feminist religion. To some extent that is true: in Islam, men and women aren’t considered equal, especially physically and emotionally. However, I would go deeper and not just skim the surface of the argument.
What those outside of – and even within – Islam forget is that Allah recognises the inherent differences between the sexes. After all, it is He who has placed those default settings in us. Yet he does not ask us to compete on the grounds of physical and emotional differences. Allah gives both man and woman a level playing field called ‘duniya’ (the world) and it is here that we exert ourselves in racing to do good and be good. The equality that we inherit is to do with our starting point in taqwa (God-consciousness). We all begin at zero and work our way up. Some falter along the way; others forge ahead.
The trouble is that not many Muslim women are aware of their equal position at the starting line. We’ve all seen athletes taking their positions on the running track in a race. The one who starts in the innermost circuit seems to be the furthest behind whilst the athlete running on the outside lane seems to have an unfair advantage at the front. Yet, the reality is they are all evenly positioned despite what it may look like. This is the same for life. We women may be running in that innermost lane but, in fact, we are on an equal footing as the men.
So, ironically, as I go along my personal journey in life, trying to figure out my rights and non-rights in Islam, I have come to learn that this great religion defends my corner very well. It is both judge and jury working in my favour. I’ve so far lived a life as a single (pre-married) woman, a wife and mother, and now as a divorced and single woman again. As I have moved through each phase of my journey, I have also unearthed hidden truths about what I can and can’t do within Islamic perimeters. The net result is that I have not found religion inhibiting.
I know many people would beg to differ. Islam has such a negative image in today’s media. In so many arenas in life, Muslim women are usually side-lined, silenced or sullied. However, I feel it is incumbent upon me to stress that this behaviour is the working of a dystopic patriarchal society that does not recognise the rights and honour of women. If we all truly lived within the boundaries of Islamic tradition, we would not have modern Eurocentric ‘feminism’ serving as the alternative rhetoric to Islam. As it is, there is a growing body of Muslim women who feel betrayed by Islam and can’t see that it is their menfolk, and not the religion itself, that has let them down.
We do ourselves a great disservice by keeping the beauty of Islam hidden from our own women. Maybe some men fear a rebellion. For example, if we teach a Muslim woman that she has inheritance rights, that her money is her right to do with as she pleases, or that she is not only allowed but she is encouraged to get herself educated, then all these bold assertions will necessarily shake the self-serving pedestal that men put themselves on.
Knowing my rights as a Muslim and as a woman, is not an option any more. In an age where divorce is rife, women can’t afford to be ignorant about these things. I believe now that Islam incorporated feminism from the beginning. It’s just that it was never given a title. Feminism isn’t inherently antagonistic to Islam. I believe it is the inner of those two concentric circles.
I have recently been told I am a feminist. There was a time I would have considered that as a possible criticism. Today, I see it as a compliment. It does not offend. Instead, it is in keeping with my identity as a Muslim.