Muslims understand that Islam provides guidance and rights for all, women, men, rich, poor, young, old, able, disabled, Muslim and (rights for) non-Muslims. We call all this Islam, and when these rights are being neglected, Muslims are expected to campaign and invite determinedly for these rights under the banner of ISLAM, the label ‘Islam’, and ‘Quran’ and ‘Sunnah’. All Muslims should respect those labels, and can not challenge anyone using these labels, except if their arguments are not in accordance with the basis of these labels.
However, with all the injustices happening in the world, some choose to follow labels derived from Western ideologies, in the hope that their struggle will be easier to win by use of them. One such case is Feminism, which depicts the cause of injustice in the world, as deriving from hatred of women (!), they call misogyny. Using this ‘theory’, Feminists construct an entire campaign of demands which call for individualism. Unfortunately, some in the Muslim community, who suffer from the post-colonial problem of parroting the West, adopted the label too, and hoped to make the path easier to achieving solutions to problems faced by the Muslim community, by using ‘Feminism’ as their banner, and adding the word ‘Muslim’ before it – becoming ‘Muslim Feminism’.
However, the exhortations by such Muslim activists to embrace Feminism are rightly responded to with a lot of resistance by the Muslim community. At this point one would think that these activists would have dropped the label of Feminism and continued their struggle through purely Islamic terminology, but no, they became stubbornly insistent on continuing to use the term to the point of irrationality.
The Problem here is the insistence of some activists on using the word ‘feminism’. It beggars belief the amount of fighting, fitna (dissension) and argument some Muslims are prepared to entertain in their fanaticism to doggedly use the label ‘Feminism’ and cover themselves in its banner no matter what the cost to their cause. One would think that even the most cynical of pragmatists who wanted to establish ISLAMIC rights for women would let go of something as troublesome as the label feminism, if but to simply dispense with all the costly obstacles thrown-up against them by its use, but no, it would appear for some, their devotion to this label transcends all considerations and all resistance.
Of course, the problem here lies with the confusion over the fact that most Western philosophies are not based upon holy books or scriptures, so it speciously appears one could ‘appropriate’ any label one desires and claim that ‘not all X-ism is like that, my interpretation is different’, and all it would take is just one person to say this to somehow feel that they have made an argument.
However, not everyone can re-write the english dictionary, nor overwrite the civilisation that gave birth to the label. “Western Feminism” is Feminism. Latecomers and muqalideen (imitators) don’t get the right to redefine something they never were consulted on defining in the first place.
And even if one person could use a pre-existing label, why pick one that clearly has been associated with an ideology based upon a specific world-view? (i.e. individualism). It’s like saying ‘Satanism’ is a word Muslims should label themselves with, because it can be argued that ‘Satanism’ is merely the belief that Satan exists! One would rightly expect a derisory response to the individual making that argument, and therefore should expect the same response to those using other words with pre-existing ideological meanings.
Secondly, to say that criticisms directed against Feminism are wrong because you have a different interpretation of Feminism to the civilisation that created it, reveals one of two things about the person saying this: It either says that even despite the incompatibility of Islam and ‘Western Feminism’, you want Muslims to follow your cause so much that you’re willing to use Western ideological labels in vogue to get their support – or – you want to champion Feminism so much, you’re willing to say there are different ‘interpretations’ of it and add the word ‘Muslim’ in front of it merely to deflect Muslim concerns – and I don’t know which one is the worser and more deceptive of the two.
I find it strange that some are so insistent on defending the label ‘feminism’, considering that these same individuals are perfectly happy with the many Sheikhs and Muslim thinkers they look up to, who write numerous books refuting the ideology behind the labels ‘Communism’ and ‘Capitalism’, despite numerous different interpretations existing for both. I wonder if they’d write similar levels of condemnation against the arguments of these Sheikhs and Muslim thinkers in equal measure, as they do in the condemnation they level against those criticising Feminism.
As Muslims, we should not be authors of more confusion, but callers to clarity – lets delineate ourselves from labels that clearly have pre-existing meanings that either will confuse those who are sought to be changed, or those who take it up to seek change.
Furthermore, to use ideological labels concocted by the West, and adopt or co-opt them for our own purposes, unwittingly continues to establish the West as the intellectual leaders of the world, and us.
It should be bourne in mind, that it is certainly not the case that many campaigners for Islam ignore the concerns of sisters, or the denial of Islamic rights for women, merely because they refuse to take ‘Caesar’s coin’ and use the word ‘feminism’. People who refuse to use the word feminism are not ‘misogynist’, but people who desire Muslims to have confidence in their own Deen (worldview, way of life) to guide them and solve their problems alone.
It has been weakly argued by activists that the intellectual attacks on Feminism, harms the interests of Muslim sisters. But how is attacking Feminism harming the interests of sisters? That’s like saying attacking Communism is harming the interests of the poor. If we didn’t pin sisters interests upon feminism, it wouldn’t harm their interests to refute it in the first place. That’s the problem here, Muslims are ideologically dependent on the West, like a crutch – and lack originality, creativity and therefore authenticity in solving their problems.
“In such societies and mindsets, men and women, the poor, the weak, and the sincere are all unjustly treated, denied rights, and exploited.”
The Muslim community is currently in a state that Islamic texts would call ‘jahilliyyah’ (age of ignorance), which is a type of anarchy where Muslim societies are not ruled under any higher principles other than shallow and crude versions of social ranking masked behind words like ‘respect’ or ‘honour’, or just simply fear. In such societies and mindsets, men and women, the poor, the weak, and the sincere are all unjustly treated, denied rights, and exploited. This problem is not due to misogyny (the hatred of women) but jahilliyah – anarchy, where the strong oppress the weak. It is not hatred of women that causes injustice, as feminism likes to postulate, but selfish concerns of a people who have forgotten the guidance of Islam and the rights and responsibilities it gives. The way to rectify that society is not to accuse all the men (and women) of being women-haters, but rather to awaken the people to their purpose of life, and the way of life that will give them salvation from their slavery to humans, and liberate them to be servants to their creator – and follow that which gives them life. Don’t just complain about the injustices of Muslim societies, but instead, show them a better way to live, and something more important to live for.
Lastly, for all those who will still argue: “Muslim Feminism is different from ‘Western Feminism’ – don’t confuse the two!”. Then please show us the differences between ‘Western Feminism’ and ‘Muslim Feminism then, because guess what – Western Feminists (which include those from Muslim backgrounds who call themselves Secular ‘reformists’) currently cart out ‘Western Feminism’ under the label ‘Muslim Feminism’ to make it more digestible to Muslims. That means that ‘Western Feminism’ (or simply Feminism), is currently advocated under the label ‘Muslim Feminism’. Therefore, the real question you have to ask yourselves, is not ‘what really is Western Feminism?’, but ‘what really is ‘Muslim Feminism?’ and who speaks for it?’ Because there are many Secular reformists who call themselves ‘Muslim Feminists’, and claim the same ‘right’ to say that they represent the real ‘Muslim Feminism’ as much as anyone else does. I think you’ll find this is a pandora’s box that never closes.
‘Muslim Feminists’ then try a different tactic, and direct away from ideology and onto people, they argue that ‘Feminists aren’t all the same’ so ‘sweeping statements about labels are invalid’. But Feminists are all the same in one thing – the insistence on calling themselves ‘Feminists’, and it is this common usage of a loaded term that requires Muslims to question and criticise.
Women (and Men) are denied their Islamic rights in the world yes, but lets champion these Islamic rights under a better and clear label upon which no Muslim could sincerely reject – Islam. How hard is it to simply and exclusively say ‘We are Muslim activists (du’at) and we demand Islam’s rights for Women!..and these rights are determined by the Quran and Sunnah…these rights are XYZ….’ ?
I don’t think it hard at all, but it appears for some to be a bridge too far.
This article was first published on AbdullahAlAndalusi.com.