Is Islam the most feminist religion?

Published: February 22, 2017

I’m a feminist, but I’m also a practicing Muslim and I have always believed feminism is not to be confused with Islam. PHOTO: SCREENSHOT.

I’ve been reading about Australian youth activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied (we appeared on an Australian show once together) and her words to Jacqui Lambie on an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) television show that Islam is (to her) the most feminist religion.

Yassmin got pilloried in the Australian press for this statement. With the state of affairs for women in many Muslim countries today, it’s easy to see how it might not sit well with a cynical and non-Muslim-friendly audience. It would have gone down great with an audience full of Muslims, but we should probably unpack the statement a little bit to come somewhere between the optimism of Yassmin’s assertion and the rest of Australia’s derision.

The statement that would have made more sense is,

“Islam embodies many of the principles that feminism fights for – equality, dignity and respect of women. At the time it came into existence, it was revolutionary for the rights that it gave to women, which had not been seen in any religion previously. However, patriarchy is the norm for the countries into which Islam took hold, and patriarchy has a way of corrupting everything in its path. What we see today is a massive distortion of what Islam was meant to be for women – and men.”

But let’s take this a little further.

I’m a feminist, but I’m also a practicing Muslim. And I have always believed that feminism is not to be confused with Islam. Feminism is the mechanism by which I fight for the rights that have been taken away from me by men in my country in the name of Islam. If Islam gave me the right to own property, patriarchy in Pakistan makes it difficult if not impossible for me to technically and legally administer and maintain my own property. If Islam gave me the right to go to school, patriarchy in Pakistan guarantees that girls in my country don’t have access to safe schools. “Islam” and “Sharia” then become shorthand for “patriarchy in Muslim countries”.

The way all religions work is through the engine of human conscience. Islam, like any other religion, is based on an honour system. No, I don’t mean the skewed South Asian/Middle Eastern system of izzat but the honour system of universities, where there was no proctor and you were trusted not to cheat because you wanted to be honest, not because you would be caught. It’s up to you to abide by the principles of a religion; Islam’s principle of just treatment and fairness for all regardless of race, gender, nationality or class is ignored by too many of its adherents. They think God is looking the other way when they mistreat women, that they won’t be caught, or that God even wants it this way because men have been made superior to women.

Your conscience is never more severely tested when you have been given stewardship of vulnerable people. Unfortunately, men have colluded in Muslim countries to keep women in a vulnerable position in order to strengthen their own sense of power. Feminism helps us to understand this power dynamic and work towards dismantling it.

Feminism is a powerful movement, but it has its limits. Islam doesn’t mandate the superiority of one sex over the other, but strives to achieve balance between the sexes. What “balance” looks like in Muslim countries is very different from what it looks like in European or American ones. This is down to a complex mix of society, culture and politics. Feminists in Muslim countries have different battles to fight than those in Western cultures. Perhaps that’s why Yassmin’s stance seems odd – she’s fighting a different battle in Australia than what Australians see us fighting against in, say Syria or Saudi Arabia. But Western countries shouldn’t fool themselves that women have already achieved equality or that racism and bigotry don’t exist in their countries.

I don’t like to make assertions that Islam is a feminist religion. I like to think of it as something even bigger than feminism – a system through which we humans achieve our full potential on earth as well as cultivating our relationship with our Creator. This is a struggle that applies to both men and women. How we run our affairs on earth can be influenced very positively by feminism. How we treat each other and look to the meaning of life beyond what is here in this physical and spatial plane is beyond feminism, and we need to remember that.

This post originally appeared here


Bina Shah

Author of A Season For Martyrs. She tweets @BinaShah (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Vineeth Gopalakrishnan

    No. Shaktism is. A religion with a protective, benevolent yet all-powerful mother Goddess that rides a tiger/lion and the male dieties bow before her might. If that is not feminism, I do not know what is.Recommend

  • Vineeth Gopalakrishnan

    “Shaktism (Sanskrit: Śāktaṃ, lit., “doctrine of energy, power, the Goddess”) is a major tradition of Hinduism, wherein the metaphysical reality is considered feminine and the Devi (goddess) is supreme. It includes a variety of goddesses, all considered aspects of the same supreme goddess. Shaktas conceive the Goddess as the supreme, ultimate, eternal reality of all existence, or same as the Brahman concept of Hinduism. She is considered to be simultaneously the source of all creation, its embodiment and the energy that animates and governs it, and that into which everything will ultimately dissolve.” – from WikipediaRecommend

  • Vineeth Gopalakrishnan

    Many ‘pagan’ traditions have been far more respectful of women and their power than the male-centric Abrahamic traditions have been. Recommend

  • Salman Haider

    “Islam is the most feminist religion”?
    Joke of the century. Muslim women are the most oppressed and unfortunate in the world. A Muslim woman is not even allowed to become a country leader. They are restricted to to their homes only. Recommend

  • ab

    See their condition in delhi rape capital of the worldRecommend

  • Hamza Khan

    do u know the wife of Muhammad PBUH was the first business woman in the history of islam.
    Next time do some home work on islam then talk on thread.Recommend

  • Random

    OK basic question. A muslim male can marry a non muslim woman if she’s a ‘kitabi’ (follower of the book, i.e. christian, jew etc). But a muslim woman has no such right, she HAS TO marry a muslim male only.

    Feminism means equality. As someone pointed out, you being self righteous doesnt change the world as it actually exists.Recommend

  • vinsin

    She was a business woman before converting to Islam not after do you know that?Recommend

  • vinsin

    But still they have more rights and freedom.Recommend

  • Rohan

    I rather see it Karachi and kasurRecommend

  • Saim Ali
  • HidayatRizvi

    You can’t convert to Hinduism. Due to caste Hinduism is a not proliferating religion. It doesn’t have much to offer as caste system is a big issue. Recommend

  • HidayatRizvi

    Caste based discrimination arises from guess what, caste. I want to say caste system but there is a growing number of people arguing caste system was a British construct and what really is there is caste and not caste system. It’s funny that it’s just juggling with vocabulary and definition. Elephant in the room is still there, hello. Coming to discrimination. Castes are not equal in terms of religion, culture , society and economics etc. Which in effect leads to high and low caste. Here I want tell I read a guy saying for what should be the caste if someone converting to Hinduism? The answer he gave was – a default caste. This is funny because there is no such thing as default caste. He must a computer programmer, says default caste, like assign a default value to a variable. Even if lower caste and upper caste people want to have equality it’s not possible unless they give up caste. So the vicious circle continues. How to give up caste? Inter caste marriage. We have tried reservation, religious conversion etc it’s still there though there is some economic and social improvement..Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    I’ve been reading about Australian youth activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied (we

    appeared on an Australian show once together) and her words to Jacqui Lambie on an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) television show that Islam is (to her) the most feminist religion.

    And if one were to ask this Lady Majeed as to why she is wearing the exotic clothing, the answer will be prompt, ” This is a Islamic dress”. The reason being that since all human knowledge emanates from the scriptures, most people from the underdeveloped muslim majority countries pronounce such statements. The religion of Islam is netral and has no gender.

    Let us talk intelligently and independent of the religion as far as possible.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    “she cleverly skirts around issues like inheritance and testimony where
    she knows her arguments won’t stand up against secular western laws.”

    How so?Recommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    Anyone converting to Hinduism would automatically be a Shuder or Dalet, an Untouchable.Recommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    Hindus still do all those things and more in the 21st century.Recommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    Delhi rape statistics is terrible”
    Not just Delihi and Mumbai but actually it is all over India being an age old Hindu cultural practice.

    ” What about Islamic scriptures which allows the rape of captured women”
    No, not so!Recommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    “Islam regards a woman’s testimony as worth half that of a man’s testimony”
    “women’s share in inheritance is half that of a man”
    Again False!
    “In secular societies, these points are used as potent arguments by opponents”
    A Straw man Argument has NO potency whatsoever!Recommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    A Muslim woman leaves Islam on marrying a non Muslim man. Period!Recommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    “Senator Lambie basically said there is no place for this in Australian law, and she would be right for a country where Muslims are only 2% of the population.”
    Senator Lambie has not come up with anything new. Whatever the percentage, 2% or more matters not, Shariah Law is NOT applicable and CANNOT be applied in a non Muslim State by definition.That constraint is within Shariah
    Law itself.

    However as with Catholic Law and of Judaism it can be applied in secular states through the avenue of contract law. In that respect the application of Shariah law is as valid as Catholic and Jewish laws in practice. This is common knowledge and practice. The senator should have looked it up before commenting. Recommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    Yes, really!

    “Quran 2:282 clearly mentions the witness testimony of two women equal that of one man.”
    No, it does not. The Qur’an is a Law Book. A book of laws. And as any other law book its clauses and corollaries have to be studied in context. Cutting and pasting from here and there makes the law meaningless. Your effort can impress only those who have not read the Quran. [Quran2:282] is NOT the whole of the law.

    “And the Quran 4:11 mentions the share of a female heir is half that of a male heir.”
    Not, really. And demonstrably yours is a false statement. Again you have duplicated your error. What you have demonstrated is that you have not read the Qur’an, do not know how to approach it, much less read and understand it.Recommend

  • Arsalaan

    Of course. Islam as feminist as it is gay friendly. Truly a liberal religion.Recommend

  • Agha

    “The Critics of Islam has in fact never The Holy Quran seriously and thoroughly.”

    The “critics” would say its the “other way around”.Recommend