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Islam and feminism

Islam and feminism
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By: Asif Rashid Dar

Feminism is a social and political movement advocating for the equal rights and opportunities of women vis a vis men.

Historical background

First-wave feminism: which occurred from the late 19th to the early 20th century was about ‘women suffrage’ referring to the right to vote as they were not allowed to vote.

Second-wave feminism: From the 1960s till 1980s. It advocated reproductive rights and sexual autonomy. Similarly, in third-wave feminism, the emphasis was laid on individual empowerment and challenging the traditional norms contrary to women emancipation.

Fourth-wave feminism: is about digital rights, using the internet and social media and to promote gender equality.

Origins of the Feminism in Muslim world

In some places, some Muslim men engage in the unfair treatment of their women and disregard their rights. These instances often result in various forms of domestic violence being inflicted upon women in certain cultural contexts.

What exacerbates the problem is the unfortunate trend of some individuals attempting to justify these harmful practices by doing ‘pick and choose’ and selectively citing religious texts like the Quran and Hadiths out of context.

This has opened a Pandora’s box… provoking women to confrontation that manifests in the behaviour like why Muslim men are concerned about what women wear? Why do mosques have partitions between men and women? Why is modesty such a big deal anyway? This is their justified reaction to “Patriarchy” Which is actually a natural outcome to vent their outrage out.

This begets impulsive disposition on part of the victim. Some people suggesting things like women to lead the prayer, Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men, allowing same-sex relationships, and normalizing cheating and other improper behaviours etc should be conceived as an extension of such impulsiveness, otherwise called as ‘Feminism’.

But what people need to understand is that feminism cannot offer any satisfactory solution because from its very inception, it was merely started to oppose the sacred teachings of religions aimed at maintaining sex discipline.

All the prominent figures backing it up are viciously anti-religious. For example, Susan B. Anthony who said the biggest enemy for women was religious leaders and referring to God she said if God exists, He must be cruel to let people go hungry when He could provide food. In order to ridicule the prayers Susan says, “I can’t imagine a God of the universe made happy by my getting down on my knees and calling Him ‘great.'”

The Logic of Patriarchy Feminism, at its core, is a movement aimed at opposing and dismantling patriarchy, which is a social system where men traditionally hold more power and control resulting in gender inequality and the oppression of women.

To ‘oppress’ someone is to unjustly prevent them from accessing what they need and deserve or cause harm in the process. The assertion that men have been oppressing women for centuries has been a central point in feminism discourse.

The question that pops up is whether only contemporary women have identified and opposed the patriarchy, while women in the past were unaware or unable to do so? The answer, if, in affirmative is not without flaws. It implies that women in earlier times were either ignorant or complacent with their oppression. This might be seen an insult to the intelligence and capabilities of women which cannot be historically correct.

‘Gender Equity in Quranic Teachings’

Allah says in Surah “Al-Ma’idah” that Allah will not waste anyone’s work, whether male or female, and He will judge us by what He has tested us with, nothing more or less. Women will not be judged according to what men have been given, and men will not be judged according to what women have been given. (3:193-197)

This is the standard of gender justice that Allah gives us in the Quran. Moreover, Islamic teachings encompass a well-defined code of laws and regulations tailored to the specific roles and responsibilities of men and women. Both have been prescribed specific obligations and responsibilities based on their gender.

Just as Allah created different varieties of beings such as angels, jinn, animals, clouds, mountains, etc., and each given its specific role in the creation, similarly Allah has created men and women differently, yet they are “of one another” (ba`dukum min ba`d).

It is essential to recognize that this distinction is not meant to suggest inequality or favoritism but to honor the different roles that men and women have been given. For instance, the Quran highlights the role of men as providers and protectors of their families (4:34) and women’s role in childbirth and nurturing (46:15).

It is essential to recognize that these roles are complementary and harmonious, not strictly gender specific. So Muslim men and women must support each other in these trying and confusing times.

Women in Islam: Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) emphasized the significance of treating women with love, kindness and respect. He said, “The best among you are those who are best with their wives, and I am the best to my wives.”

These teachings of Quran and Sunnah highlight the importance of treating women with kindness and respect and urges us to place their emotional well-being at the forefront. We need to follow the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) excellent behaviour in our relationships which will help us create a fair and compassionate society.

A lesson from Seerah: Marital life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Khadijah (Radi Allaahu Anha).

Prophet Muhammad (Saw) promoted gender equality and women’s empowerment in various ways during his lifetime. One of the most significant examples was his relationship with his wife Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (RA)—a powerful demonstration of gender equality.

She was a successful businesswoman while he was known for his honesty and integrity. Their partnership was built on mutual respect and trust, rather than superficial societal norms or expectations.

This union highlighted the importance of women’s contributions to society and their equal standing at par with men. Khadijah’s role as a businesswoman showcased women’s economic empowerment. Thus setting an example for the economic and financial participation of women in society.

The Prophet held Khadijah (RA) in high esteem throughout their marriage. He often spoke fondly and praised her qualities, such as her support, wisdom, and kindness. This shows those women’s abilities and contributions were not only acknowledged but also celebrated.

Furthermore Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) encouraged women’s education and learning. He established a tradition of knowledge-sharing where both men and women could seek knowledge and understanding of their faith.

In conclusion, the lessons of Seerah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) are an epitome of gender equality, women’s empowerment, and the acceptance of her pro active role in society. His support for women’s education and mutual respect is an enduring legacy.

(The author is a student)

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