Monday, July 18, 2011

Believe Me When I Tell You I Am a Feminist

In the last couple of months I have been hanging out with a lot more feminists than usual. I would hope that everyone I hung out with were feminists and they would be, if they knew what it meant. Feminists have stereotypes associated with them just like any other group of people. Feminists have been portrayed as bra-burning, man-hating, masculine looking women with their mouths wide open in pictures. While at moments I do feel like burning my bras and hating men, that's just me and is not what feminism is really all about. Feminism is about defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women and men. So I am sure you are all reading this and nodding your heads in agreement and probably have just confirmed that you too are a feminist! You are probably wondering where I am taking this, no controversy here, we all seem to be on the same page, right? Wrong.

For some strange reason, I am always asked about feminism under the assumption that its incompatible with who I am. When women or men ask me if I identify as a feminist and I agree their eyes light up and they look at me as some sort of freed woman, that I have overcome oppression, I am a brave soul and I have defied my people and have joined the other side, the right side - the one that doesn't oppress women. The assumption is that feminism is incompatible with Islam. How can one be a feminist and a Muslim? It just doesn't make sense?!

It actually is a fact and makes perfect sense that Islam is a religion of feminists for feminists. 

Let's go back to the days of my beloved Prophet Muhammad (ASA). His wife, Aisha has inspired Muslim women for centuries. She was a scholar, a poet, a jurist, a politician and a military commander who led entire armies. She was the one woman that the Prophet was closest to, the one he chose to spend his final hours with.  It was under Aisha's house in Medina that he was buried. But it didn't not end with Aisha. There have been countless Muslim women who have changed the course of history. They include Khadija, the Prophet's first wife, who was 15 years older than him (yes, what we would now call a cougar), a wealthy businesswoman who employed young Muhammad as her caravan leader, and ultimately proposed marriage to him (yes this was like centuries ago and she asked him). Khadija was the first convert to Islam and its strongest supporter. She convinced an initially self-doubting Prophet Muhammad (ASA) that his vision of Angel Gabriel was a real spiritual experience, and provided him the emotional and economic support to launch a spiritual movement that would create a global civilization (she was kinda like his sugar mama).

Many great Muslim women followed the wives of the prophet and the stories are endless. I am always more than happy to tell the stories that inspire me to be the woman I am today. Like the story of  the Sufi mystic  Rabia Al-Basri who challenged the corruption of the Caliphs of Baghdad in the 8th century or the story of the  Turkish slave girl Shajarat Al-Durr who became Sultana of Egypt and launched the Mamlouk dynasty that halted the Mongol invasion of the West in the 13th century. The iron queen Nur Jahan, Empress of Mughal India, who rivaled Queen Elizabeth I as the most powerful woman on earth.

Not only are there countless feminists in Islamic history, Islam as a religion is built on many feminist principles around equality and economic empowerment of women. In Islam, when a marriage is performed, there is a dowry and an alimony amount that is negotiated. Some may say that's not empowering at all and a feminist would and should be shh (shaking her head). Some say it's as if fathers are selling their daughters. I say it's a security deposit for women. How many stories of women who are divorced, left with children that you heard of over the years that had to start their lives over with nothing. I am sure all women would prefer to start their marriages with some economic security. Of course this practice is relative to the different cultural backgrounds - some dowries are more exaggerated than others but the foundational principle is that there must be a dowry for the wife. There is also a mitekhir (alimony lump sum - that's all I could think of to explain it in the simplest terms) that is paid to the woman upon a divorce, if that were to happen. Also in Islam, a woman who works outside of the home does not have to provide assistance with household expenses unless she wants to. Actually this sounds to me like its more oppressive for the men than for the women. If a women inherits money or land from her late parents she does not have to share any of her profits with her husband. Now many of you are thinking, ok that sounds all great and dandy but why don't I start talking about the other things that are oppressive. Separating men and women in prayer areas at mosques is oppressive and disempowering? Now we are talking. Actually this act of separating women and men in prayer areas is quite empowering and its intention is to protect women. When we pray, we must perform different prostrations that require us to bend over. As women, we all know how it feels to be walking by a construction site in the streets of NYC and getting street harrassed by men who stop everything they are doing to cat call and whistle at women walking by and might I add walking upright. Imagine being in a mosque, in a house of worship, where you're entire focus is on God and prayer and long and behold there is a group of women lined up in front of the men bending over? Need I say more. The explanation is that simple.

You can debate me on wearing hijabs and burqas, honor killings, child brides, etc. Let's  keep in mind the distinction between cultural traditions and religion which is always lost in translation or not depending on who the hatemonger is that is spitting it.

By now you should have gotten my point - I am a feminist and the reason I am a feminist is because I am a Muslim. So next time, believe me when I tell you I am a feminist.


  1. If this is feminism,I would love to be a son of feminist, I would love to be a brother of feminist, I would love to be a husband and a father of a feminist !

  2. What sort of things/if any do you think you would like to see change for women in Saudi?

  3. "Feminism is about defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women and men."

    A couple of tough questions for you...and am interested to hear your thoughts, I hope they're ok.

    Are these things in your definition characteristic of majority Islamic Nations? If not, why not, If Islam promotes these things.

    And, does a more literal interpretation of the Quran, lead to greater equalities for women in practice or less equalities in your experience? Show me.

  4., check it out insha'Allah. I alhamduillah was lucky enough to study feminism and Islam in college and have some thoughts for you. I am originally from California and am interning in Malaysia for the next six months iA. The NGO I am working for fights for women's rights inside an Islamic framework. Sentiments such as Equity vs Equality are expressed as well debates of a Muslim-Feminist or Feminist-Muslim. I truly admire and respect your thoughts and work but wish to express some concern around what a movement like feminism can do/compromise. Western notions and conceptions often destroy the true goal of a household, harmony. Nonetheless the word feminism can be debated for hours, but I offer my humble thoughts. It is obviously a discourse around how the movement came to be and its intentions. I am sure you have much more righteous intentions than what feminism has become. This guises that these ideologies present only speak to the failures of modernity. Hope all is well and thank you!

    P.S. Excuse the sloppy wording please.