Islam and Feminism

Muslim women express their sportsmanship as well as their religious freedom, and that's awesome.

There are boxes that feminist get put into. We do it here in the west, sometimes putting religious feminist in their own box and secular feminists in theirs. But the labeling, the separating, doesn’t stop there. We have western feminism and we have feminism in the middle east, which many here in the States see as a dichotomy of sorts. Can a Muslim woman in a hijab or burqa even be a feminist? No, some say, sadly shaking their head. Her very choice of dress, in our western eyes, is the very sign of her oppression and bondage not only to men, but to religion that walks on the backs of their women.

What a shame. We shouldn’t cast such a wide net over a culture, a religion, and a group of women we do not fully understand. Islam has long history of feminism that spans farther that what we in the west could ever hope for. Before the Puritans were even a thing—before they could sew up their scarlet A’s—the Muslim men and women of Prophet Muhammad’s day were teaching about the importance of sexual pleasure and gratification, not just for men, but for women as well. There is even one famous story of how a woman approached the prophet and complained that her husband was too busy with prayer and had stopped paying her attention in the bedroom. The prophet admonished the husband and told him that he needed to not give all his attention to religious duties, but also to his wife’s sexual needs. To Prophet Muhammad, men and woman were equal and had the same duties in all matter of life, relationship and family. This is what he taught and did his best to live by.

Today, while western women fight for reproduction rights and “Free The Nipple” campaigns, Muslim women are leading the way and declaring what it is they want in the bedroom. For Muslim women, it is they who are leading their men towards sexual freedom and satisfaction. This sexual revolution is radically shifting the way Muslim men and women are relating to one another in the context of personal and sexual relationships. It isn’t solely about owning one’s body, but sharing it with another in such a way that  is gratifying and balanced. Now imagine how feminism and relationships right change here in the west if we also cared about healthy and pleasurable sexual experiences rather than simply who “owned” our womb? (

Why, then, do we look at a Muslim woman in hajib, niqab or burqa and assume that she is not free, that she cannot be a feminist? When in fact, there is a large number of Muslim women world-wide that define themselves as a feminist. Many of them claim that political leaders within their nations and religious elites have manipulated the qiwama, which is the sharia principal of the males authority over women. They claim that these leaders have twisted the teaching to back their own agendas for religious and political power, distorting what their relationship between a man and woman was ever meant to be. Do we not have the same struggle here in the west? Political and religious men using scripture and legislation to control their women?

In the Middle East, Islamic feminist are able to fight for equality because of their faith. They do not feel the need to put religion aside in order to be a whole and complete person standing beside a man. They can still adhere to their faith and practices while having self-worth and vocally demanding change in legal legislation that fuels the widening gender gap.

So, is it us? Is our western version of feminism akin, somewhat, to white privilege? Are we capable of knocking our Muslim sisters off their feminist’s platforms because we do not view their movement as authentic? Are we robbing them of their own choices and rights as individual women by refusing to look past their veils and faith? Is our critical judgment making us their passive oppressors?

And if so, are we actually even feminist?

Maybe we should get rid of the feminist boxes and vague, insignificant labels? If we did, if we were able to get out of each others way, we would be able to support all women, despite race, religion, and social class, and see women across the globe become more and more empowered.

So let’s try it. Shall we?


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