Is Islam the most feminist religion?

Published: February 22, 2017
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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

Bina Shah

Author of A Season For Martyrs. She tweets @BinaShah (twitter.com/BinaShah)

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

  • Rahul

    It was revolutionary 1000 years ago, then these societies regressed another 1000 years. So it was progressive among the stone age people. Even those, I doubt practiced honor killings, marrying their cousins and baacha-bazi.Recommend

  • Concard_007

    This article is such a wonderful joke. You don’t see debates and talks about women’s rights in Buddhism or Sikhism or even Hinduism. Why? Because those religions don’t have any specific constraints on women. On the other hand women’s rights in Islamic society is a constantly debated topic today in almost every country where Muslims are in greater numbers. If women have all the rights no one would be talking about it. You can’t deny this no matter how much you want to deny and bury your head in the sand.Recommend

  • Ruby

    quote > Islam embodies many of the principles that feminism fights for – equality, dignity and respect of women.

    Equality with men in Islam is a joke. And blaming patriarchy for muslim women’s plight is a cheap attempt to side-step the real issues. Which Christian majority country today did not have patriarchy? Are women there better off or not compared to muslim countries?

    quote > 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.

    You cannot discount one school of thought of your religion as misled and keep acting self-righteous. A religion is only as good as its adherents practice it. For example, Daesh thinks the author lady is misled in her interpretation of Islam. In fact they give reasons and quote the scripture liberally to make their point. Are they achieving full potential on earth? How many muslims achieved full potential? How many Nobel winners? How many Islamic law practicisng countries made any decent strides in science?

    Open your eyes. See the world around. Just see what is there in the mirror.Recommend

  • Rahul Patil

    The title itself is a joke. Women came from the rib of man they say. The problem begins from there itselfRecommend

  • Rohan

    Oh please Muslim women are the most unfortunate women in the world ,see their conditions in the middle eastRecommend

  • Kolsat

    As usual the author blames Western nations and calls them bigots. People castigate Islam for how it is practiced todaysuch as forcing women to cover up or killing women for trivial reason such as taliking to a stranger for besmirching family honour . The author even acknowledges that women in many Muslim countries are prohibited from owning property or going to a school. Such practices are criticised by western nations. The author should have the honesty to accept this.Recommend

  • 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

  • Omar K Cheema

    Islam gave women the right to divorce, right to inherit property, right to marry by her choice, and right to conduct her own business. Pagan religions in Arabia used to bury girls alive when they were born. Pagan religions in India used to burn the widow at the funeral pire of her dead husband.

    Islam is feminist, Arabic culture is not, unfortunately alot of Muslims cant tell the difference between the twoRecommend

  • Purple Light

    The Critics of Islam has in fact never The Holy Quran seriously and thoroughly. Islam is different from the cultural practices established in Islamic countries. We are actually in habit of arguing for the sake of arguments.Recommend

  • Purple Light

    Islam is different from the cultural practices established
    in Islamic countries. We are actually in habit of arguing for the sake
    of arguments.Recommend

  • Murad Farooqui

    I think its you who needs to do his homework.
    His first wife was a business woman BEFORE she got married to him and before ISLAM came. What about the rest of his 10 or 11 wives? What did they do? Recommend

  • Murad Farooqui

    Yes. Delhi rape statistics is terrible. But at least its against the law there. What about Islamic scriptures which allows the rape of captured women, which your truly islamic brethren of isis are following so religiously.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

  • Saim Ali

    Islam sees marriage in an evangelical light. Hence it is concerned with a lifestyle and relations that would keep someone from moving away from ‘Din’. Muslim men are greatly discouraged from marrying anyone outside the religion even if she is a follower of the Abrahamic religion. The case for women was that in a society where tensions were high between different religions and where men were still dominant, as they had been long before Islam’s arrival, then she could be forced to leave the religion. Obviously its not the case anymore. Amir Khan married an atheist and is still practicing enough to go for Hajj. Huma Abedin is a practising Muslim that married a Christian man (before the fallout). Ayesha Jalal is a Muslim married to a Hindu.Recommend

  • Rohan

    I rather see it Karachi and kasurRecommend

  • Critical

    Being a muslim ,first you do your homework in Islam

    Yes but she was a business woman even before she married Mohammed and even before he received the revelation….So it was pre islamic arabia which was more women friendly and it regressed after Islam took over..Recommend

  • Ahmar

    Islamism and feminism have many things in common. They both want to rule over men in society, cannot stand criticism and want to shut down genuine debate by declaring their opposition evil with terms like blasphemer, heretic, misogynist, male chauvinist etc.

    Both pretend that society would be so much better if their specific system (Shariah/Absolute Feminism) were implemented however both ideologies have zero contributions to society. Any country where Shariah or Feminism has taken hold has resulted in a breakdown of cultural and social institutions.

    Both ideologies thrive on presenting a victim narrative about themselves using propaganda and manipulating statistics.By itself, either ideology is toxic enough but combined in one person, it is absolutely lethal.Recommend

  • 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

  • Rex Minor

    This article is such a wonderful joke. You don’t see debates and talks
    about women’s rights in Buddhism or Sikhism or even Hinduism. Why?
    Because those religions don’t have any specific constraints on women.

    This is true because none of the religions you mentioned are religions per se but the cults which regard women as a sex object. The Buddhists are the worst who use sex for meditation, whereas muslims, christians and jews stay away even from their spouses.

    Rex Minor

    PS
    No disrespect is intended facts that cannot be defied by any lama.Recommend

  • twister286

    Yasmin Abdel Magied is using the “Islam is feminist” card for her own political motives. She takes advice from Hizb-ut-Tahrir on how to conduct her arguments around religion, which should be enough to discredit them in the first place.

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

  • Concard_007

    Nice joke again, the Non Muslim world thinks Islam threaten their societies. Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    This perception infact is true, non muslim societies are crumbling because of their weak base.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Agha

    No religion is “feminist” in any sense of the word. From its legitimate roots to the extreme manifestation, feminism is quite a distinct movement and it opposes the oppressive tenets of religion in many ways. To ask “is such and such religion, feminist” is wrong.Recommend

  • Saim Ali

    Now wait. Converting to Islam did not stop her from being a business woman. And dont start this debate that pre-Islam Arabia was accepting of woman. It was a time when female infanticide was a common practice and men were the sole authority on anything. Khadija was an exception. Even our Prophet said that the best of women is Khadija bint Khuwaylid. The reason being that she was a role model in his eyes and he wished for women like her to be respected and brought to the mainstream.Recommend

  • 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

    “Muslim women are the most oppressed and unfortunate in the world. They are restricted to to their homes only.”
    The joke is on you. The topic is Islam NOT what is being practiced by some uneducated people in some so called Muslim countries. Where does Islam advocates, states that which you are saying?

    BTW Are your women folk – your mother, sister, wife or daughter – the most oppressed in the World? Are they restricted to their homes? If so then please don’t project your cultural practices on Islam or on other Muslims and their families.Recommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    “Let us talk intelligently and independent of the religion as far as possible.”
    Okay, go ahead. Make your point.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

  • twister286

    Because Islam regards a woman’s testimony as worth half that of a man’s testimony, and women’s share in inheritance is half that of a man as well.

    In secular societies, these points are used as potent arguments by opponents. Which is why Yasmin is careful never to debate on topics where she knows she will lose.Recommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    “Islam regards a woman’s testimony as worth half that of a man’s testimony”
    False!
    “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

  • Hidayat Rizvi

    This is not true pagan don’t have divorce, have multiple marriages and use chastity belts for woman as in Rajasthan, India.Recommend

  • twister286

    Really?

    Quran 2:282 clearly mentions the witness testimony of two women equal that of one man.

    And the Quran 4:11 mentions the share of a female heir is half that of a male heir.

    So what was your point again? Yasmin Abdel Mageid claims “Islam is a feminist religion”. And she carefully avoids arguments over issues like this where she knows her arguments will fall flat on their face.

    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.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

    “Really?”
    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

  • Ghazi Gul

    “You don’t see debates and talks about women’s rights in Buddhism or
    Sikhism or even Hinduism. Why? Because those religions don’t have any
    specific constraints on women.”

    Poor logic. In their scripture all other religions, other than Islam – Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, others – all of them consider women as chattel property.Recommend

  • twister286

    So please detail the context. The Quran specifies the share of a daughter in inheritance is half that of a son and is unambiguous about it. Same with the value of females’ testimony. Or are you saying that there are situations where a woman’s testimony is equal to that of a man under equal circumstances?
    Recommend

  • twister286

    And try explaining that to those demanding Sharia courts in places like Australia and UK.Recommend

  • Arsalaan

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

  • Arsalaan

    “In their scripture all other religions, other than Islam – Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, others – all of them consider women as chattel property.”

    You should NOT have added “other than islam”. Infact Islam also likens women as property. Women are a tithe to you. This is in the quran. Before getting self righteous please learn first.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

  • Agha

    If we take your argument on face value ( and i do not, because cultural practices are influenced by religion at the very least), then we must admit that Islam being the best and perfect religion has had “no power” despite being a major influence in Muslims life for more than 1000 years in civilizing the muslim masses. Recommend

  • nazma

    its funny that men are discussing how feminist theit religion is.ironyRecommend

  • anomaly

    Pagans in Sparta, even before Jesus, had better rights for women than what came under Islam though. They had equal inheritance, equal divorce(women weren’t didn’t risk losing their kids or property upon divorce), By tradition, the women married between 18 – early 20s. They even allowed for polyandry(allowing women to take more than one husband) if a man couldn’t have children or he was older because they recognized that with older men, comes greater chance of unhealthy babies. The women had large control of the states and had a large role in the political agenda as well.

    Same goes for Ancient Egypt and certain periods of Ancient Persia, where women had as much or better rights than under Islam in Arabia.
    There’s very little known about women in Ancient Arabia because unfortunately all those texts were destroyed but at least we know women did already have right to conduct her own business in Arabia before Islam(Khadija being an example). It seems it all depends on which tribe one belonged to during ancient Arabia.Recommend

  • nishantsirohi123

    Practices by some uneducated people in some so called Muslim countries are those in power, who make laws and write constitution so it isn’t a small mullah chanting death to certain group of ppl Recommend

  • nishantsirohi123

    You got a lot to offer, where tolerance is defined by “letting them live” Recommend