Saturday, March 03, 2012

Why Muslim Feminists Don't Win

Amongst my friends, I have been told that I have what can be termed as "traditional" or "conservative" views. I don't think Islam needs any reformation (now Muslims are another story), I don't think it's a travesty women cannot lead a mixed gender congregation, and so on. Yet, being of this generation, I am more liberal than say, my father.

So the other day we were talking about our local mosque. To my surprise, he agreed it's a travesty that women are put behind a barrier (or on another floor), where they can't directly see the imam. There was a problem with the microphone and close circuit TV last Friday, and the women couldn't follow the prayers. We both like to go to IIT, where the prayer hall is a large open hall and the men pray in front of the women, with no dividers. Another time we attended the Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga, where the women pray directly behind the men and again, no divider. The imam listened to the questions posed by the women and answered immediately, without any notes being passed as in our local mosque. Both my father and I agreed that it was a joke that our mosque tried to make women and men exit from separate doors when the mosque was packed (and it was a fire hazard). They allowed men and women to enter from the same doors, so what is the trouble? And if I wanted to attend a lecture in the mosque with my wife, why does she have to sit in another section?

So when I see the legitimate concerns posed by many women frustrated by their treatment in South Asian or Arab dominated mosques, I feel their pain. However, if change is needed, they need to win over the support of people like us, who believe in traditional teachings and yet see room for a lot of improvement within the Islamic framework.

So here is why I think Muslim "feminists" are not taken seriously.

1. They don't present a credible image.

It's hard to take someone speaking about Islamic daleel and fiqh and jurisprudence when they look like this. Like it or not, you have to make yourself presentable and look credible, otherwise no one will listen to what you have to say. Any Muslim will agree that modesty is one defining character of a decent Muslim, men AND women. While no one is arguing everyone has to be dressed in a scarf or niqab to be taken seriously, sleeveless blouses and short skirts give the idea that you have another secret agenda not limited to women's emancipation in mosques.

Think about why the above feminist may not be taken as seriously, as say this next one:


It's about presenting a credible image.


2. They think men and women are the same in Islam.

Strictly speaking, technically this is not true. Islam discriminates against men and favours women. For example, on the Day of Judgement, Allah will not ask a mother why she didn't provide for her child. It will be asked of the child's father. He will be questioned as to why he couldn't impart Islamic teachings to his children. A woman is not asked about Jihad or why she didn't go to the mosque and watched Humsafar instead. We men don't have Paradise under our feet, women do. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) promised Paradise for a father of two daughters. No such promise was made for a man who fathered two sons. And so on.

So when you try to make a woman equal to a man, you have to be aware this was the fight of the Western feminists. For example, this text is from the Catholic Encyclopedia today:
The female sex is in some respects inferior to the male sex, both as regards body and soul.
As can be seen, the Old Testament blames women for Adam's fall from Heaven (as a result of which she is "punished" with child birth and menstruation pains). This was the prevailing attitude that Western women had to fight, when they were considered inferior in every way.

In Islam, the battle is different. Women have certain God-given rights, such as access to the mosque, access to the imam, legal rights, decision making rights etc. that have now been taken away from them (hello Saudi Arabia and your stupid driving ban). Those are the fights the feminists need to fight for. There is no need to make women to be equal to men, we need women to exercise their own God-given rights.

3. They pick the wrong fights.

By trying to say a woman can lead a mixed gender prayer, you are picking the wrong fight. A women's position is neither elevated nor her difficulties decreased by making her the imam. Technically speaking the imam is responsible for all the mistakes made during prayer, while those that follow get all the rewards of the prayer. In strict Islamic law, certain responsibilities (and its pitfalls) are for men alone; bringing a women here does her no benefits. Rather, the fight should be as to why she can't see her imam or ask him a question or is being deprived of an Islamic education from a learned scholar.

Similarly some are upset that a brother gets more in inheritance than a sister, from the same dad. The same feminists also acknowledge that when a man gets a property, he can be responsible for supporting his mother, his sisters, his kids, his father, and in some cases, his grandparents and his aunts. When a woman gets a property, she does not have to support anyone. If you want to give a woman equal rights to inheritance, are you prepared to also put on her all those claims of support? So in effect, you are burdening her more than Allah has burdened her, and this is supposed to benefit her?

This is because you have picked the wrong fight. The proper fight is when brothers take over their sister's inheritance, because she "is of feeble mind and cannot manage it". The proper fight is when a wife is not given her due Mahr because her father or brothers "forgave it" from the husband. The proper fight is when a woman is not allowed to own a business or run her monetary affairs without her husband's permission.

Not that she has less financial responsibilities and you want to burden her with more.

This is why feminists in Saudi Arabia (of all places) were spectacularly successful in getting rights for women to work (which they have in Islam but are denied in some Muslim countries) in lingerie shops, because they asked for their rights as women to be respected within Islam.

So, in conclusion:

Provide a modest, credible image.

Be well verses in Islamic knowledge and jurisprudence regarding women.

Pick the right battles.

70 comments:

Misha said...

Really liked this article, and agree with what you say. I don't consider myself a "Muslim feminist" or a "feminist", period. In fact - their views kind of turn me off b/c they just seem so narrow-minded and desperate.

Men and women are different and have different roles/responsibilities, so what is the point of trying to make them even?

Evenness does not = equality.

mezba said...

Misha, thank you. I also agree - I am a big time supporter of treating women fairly in the mosques and giving them their due rights, but the narrow focus of some "feminists" bug me, as well as their position of "my way or the high way".

Zuhura said...

Your position sounds equally narrow. Why is one fight the wrong fight and the ones you value the right fights? Why can't feminists and other women fight whatever fights are important to them?

Khalida said...

I agree with just about everything you said. This reminds me of a great sermon I once heard in a mosque on the subject of equality between the genders in Islam. The imam had said that Islam emphasizes equity over equality and he gave a shoe analogy (no wonder I still remember it! *haha*) We all wear different shoe sizes because we're built differently. If I insisted on wearing my friend's shoes because I think theyre pretty and would look nice on me, they'd end up causing me great discomfort in the end because they weren't made for my specific feet size/shape - and vice versa. Equality stresses on giving the exact same shoe to everyone, but equity requires a different shoe for different sizes simply to save everybody a lot of inconvenience in the long run. And therefore, is the wiser of the two options. Which is exactly the rationale behind many of Islam's teachings concerning rights of men vs women. Though I do think the earlier wave of feminists deserve a lot of credit, they did some great work - unlike today's feminists who mostly whine unintelligently more than anything else.

Oh and I'm offended by the fact that you put someone from the Bhutto family and the word feminist in the same sentence! :P

cairolusakaamsterdam said...

Completely agree with Zuhura. Why should feminists change to fit the mainstream patriarchal Muslim community, of which you are apparently a part of considering the post you've just written.

Why is feminism what *you* say it should be? The reason Islamic feminism isn't working is because of opinions like these, not because of how Muslim feminists *should* act or dress. Feminism is not about making men feel comfortable. It's about changing society.

I also found the post lacking in depth. You mention that women should dress modestly if they want to be taking seriously. Setting aside how absolutely patriarchal that statement is, who exactly decides what modesty is? You? Your interpretations of the Qur'an? My interpretations of the Qur'an? The issue is a bit more complicated than how you've presented it.

Anonymous said...

Well written Mezba
Also there a few things which bug me of of feminists when they deal with tradition:

* We are better than the sahaba - our times are better - we have more 'justice' . Even go to the extent of Calling them names

* Dismissing all traditional scholars including the giants of islamic scholarship as 'men' and as part of giant patriarchal conspiracy

* Using lots of social science /post modern mumbo jumbo

*

mezba said...

Zuhura, feminists can choose to fight whichever fight is important for them, as is the right of anyone.

I am saying they will have more success if they choose the fights that are winnable on account of very strong Islamic traditions.

To give an example, in Bangladesh, there are many mosques which don't allow women at all. The khatib of the big mosque, Baitul Mukarram, asked women to pray in their houses. Given the strong position the Prophet (peace be upon him) takes in allowing women to come to the mosque, which fight do you think is easier to win there - the right to allow women to attend prayers, or the right to allow women to be imams? And which do you think is actually important for the women there - the one THEY are concerned with?

mezba said...

Khalida, that's a great analogy with the shoes. Yes, we cannot make Islam a one-size-fits-all because of everyone's special, unique needs.

I chose Benazir Bhutto because she was the first Muslim elected women ruler of a Muslim majority country in recent memory. I think she paved the way for leaders from Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia as well.

Although given Bangladesh's experience with Hasina and Khaleda Zia, one has to wonder if that was a good thing!

mezba said...

Cairo, I don't know if I am a member of the "patriarchal Muslim community" - I don't even know what it means.

However I think feminists need the support of men, and even conservative men, in many of their fights, the biggest one being equal prayer spaces in the mosque.

To talk about dress, let's talk about Amina Wadud. I should have put up her picture besides Bhutto as well.

Now here is a scholar (Ms. Wudud) who has many positions that I may not agree with, but I can take her seriously because she dresses the part and projects the image. I even forwarded a petition asking RIS to include her on the speakers' roster.

Why? Because you look at her, she looks credible, she has the image, and that is important.

Why do you think the President of USA campaigns in an open neck shirt (to give the image of connecting to working class voters) but once in office they all wear ties and suits all the time (to give the image of a successful manager).

Image is important, and clothes are a big part of it.

who exactly decides what modesty is?

I think the community as a whole can decide. You know when something is modest or not. Queen Rania, who does not wear the hijab, presents herself in a modest and elegant manner.

mezba said...

Anon, while I wouldn't dismiss the giants of Islamic scholarship just like that, because they truly are giants, I will admit that perhaps their patriarchical society and times may have influenced their rulings, which they themselves said in their teachings.

For example, Imam Malik would not allow the Khalifa of the time to use his rulings as part of ALL the Muslim Ummah, saying his teachings are for his time, and for his place only (things I learnt at RIS).

This is why, for example, Bengalis eat shrimp while obeying everything else Abu Hanafi. Those scholars, while being respected, shouldn't be elevated to Prophet's status - they can and have made mistakes.

Sara said...

Just because more women don't want it doesn't mean it's right or wrong. Most women may not care they are forced to pray behind a barrier, some may even like it, but that doesn't justify putting them behind a barrier.

Dismissing a woman's argument because she is dressed casually is cave man mentality. And you cannot deny that anti-feminist interpretations of Islam from the so-called "giants" of Islamic scholarship is a big part of the problem.

Zufash said...

This post portrays Muslim feminists as competing with men, “wanting” the “same” rights as men just for the hell of it without any depth, any cause, any Islamic grounds for their arguments. This is a gross misrepresentation of Islamic feminism and Muslim feminists. So, to do yourself, your readers, and the larger Muslim community a huge favor, please refer to this one post in which I “introduce” Islamic feminism: http://islam-and-gender.blogspot.com/2011/10/introduction-to-islamic-feminisms.html

Moreover, if it is the opinion, respect, and support of people as narrow as the author here that we Muslim feminists should seek, then I don’t seek them at all.
But understand that the Muslim feminist’s struggle isn’t with leading men in prayer or gaining full access to the mosque. That’s only *a part* of our struggle, and that’s not the ultimate aim. The ultimate aim is a just society that honors and respects women (not more or less than men!) and other genders and sexes. Most, if not all, feminists actually understand Islamic feminism as a movement that helps women *regain* their Islamic rights.

Also, you imply that women and men are not equal in Islam. If only you knew how many even extremely conservative Muslim scholars would disagree with you! Yes, we’re physically, biologically different, but when did having the same reproductive parts play THE role in making someone equal to another person? If we have to “look” the same in order to be equal, do you mean to suggest that white men are equal to Pakistani men, that Chinese men are not equal to African American men? And, more importantly, what exactly can be the potential consequences of your this point?

To be continued

Zufash said...

Continuation:

You know, this whole “gender versus equity” issue always fails to make any sense to me – for the reasons/questions I pointed out in the previous paragraph, but also because it assumes that “Islam” has set roles and rights for women and men in society. This is actually not true. The only “role” that a Muslim woman has in society is a purely sexual one according to Islamic law: she doesn’t have to cook, clean, take care of her kids, serve he family, work, etc. – she only has to be sexually available to her husband any time he likes it. If you don’t believe me (because I understand how offensive this is), read any classical and medieval Islamic fiqh material. This whole “cooking, cleaning, serving the husband/family, having kids,” etc. is a rather recent role that’s been given to the Muslim woman in “Islam.”

And another reason this whole “equity vs equality” issue seems very illogical and nonsensical is this: what makes people think that the way the woman’s body is built makes her fit for housework and all other domestic activities only, but that the way the man’s body is built, he can work outside the house? Some professions/jobs are open to debate – such as engineering (although India apparently now has more women engineers than men engineers, I read recently … but that’s why I say such jobs are open to debates, because they’ve been classified as masculine jobs) – but almost all other jobs out there don’t require male-only reproductive parts. At one point, this idea made sense because, in professions like law, women weren’t deemed intelligent enough to make a good, intelligent, small decision, so they were barred from becoming lawyers; women weren’t deemed intelligent enough to “comprehend” how the body works, so they couldn’t be doctors either. But today, women have proven these ludicrous ideas wrong.

So, to say that the women’s role “in Islam” is one that complements her physical structure the same way that the man’s role “in Islam” complements his to assume that there’s something about the way we’re biologically designed that makes us incapable for us (either gender) to do the “work of the other gender.”

One last thing – yes, the Imam has many “burdens” in the community. They’re called roles, and those roles come with being a leader of any community. Try being the President of an MSA or another organization. The same thing happens. Unfortunately, some Muslims even think that women can’t be presidents of MSAs (big laugh? No, it’s not funny). My point is that women can and they always *have been able to* handle these responsibilities and roles. What do you mean that they’ll mere “add to all of her other burdens”? What other burdens does the woman have? And don’t these same roles add to the burdens of men? Why infantzalize the woman such that she can’t handle the responsibilities that a man handle?

Salaam!

P.S. Sorry it got this long! It was not my intention to annoy anyone with a long read :)

Azra said...

Here here... spot on! I personally don't see any room for "feminism" in Islam mostly because if people practised and obeyed the laws of Islam (in a way they're supposed to) in the first place, there'd be no need for feminism because society would recognise a society where men and women are already equal, but have different ROLES to fulfil.

Lat said...

Hi Mezba,

I know a few muslim good ladies who fulfill the Islamic precepts of how a muslim women should be.One of them is not even allowed or even encouraged to go to the mosque to pray.Her husband is very religious and she found it pointless to argue her case of Islamic rights to him.To him that doesn't exist.The mosque is for the men and men alone.And he will cite several laws to mute her even if she were to cite her side of the rulings.Simply because the husband is to be obeyed.This is just one case.there are others too.

It'll be pointless if women were to toe the traditional lines forever to get their rights because once they agree to obey,as muslim women should and then they are made to obey and silenced as a result.Esp so if one or two bad *incidents* were to happen.And men will cite them as points not to give the rights the women are asking for.They think it's detrimental to the men.

It's really good to see men like you and your father as you've would like women to have more access to the imam etc.In fact I appreciate such men and I appreciate more if they act on it.It's just that I don't think following traditional ways can get muslim women anywhere they want as spiritual equals in the eyes of God.And that is why I admire Amina Wadud for taking the brave step to lead a prayer as an imam to a mixed congregation.She didn't wait for just the barrier of segregation to be removed.she went a step further.That's what I believe muslim feminists are doing.To achieve equal spirituality by taking further steps,not just by toeing the line.

I've always respected your points of view and always will.Just wanted to share my point of view.thanks :)

Safiyyah said...

Salaams Mezba:

Dividers in the mosque are an innovation. In the time of the Sahaba, the women prayed behind the men. Interestingly, there never used to be separation in synagogues either. Also, a recent development originating with the men.

Jehanzeb said...

Unfortunately, your entire post reflects a disturbing trend that is so common among Muslim men: you obsess over the way women think, dress, and behave instead of addressing the reality of sexism and patriarchy within our communities. Instead of talking about the responsibility all men have in confronting the sexism they internalize and practice in their everyday lives, you choose to obsess over the way Muslim women present themselves, interpret the Qur'an, and pray. This is controlling behavior that reinforces an incredibly oppressive and un-Islamic norm that says Muslim men are entitled to dictate how women should dress, think, act, pray, etc.

I'm sure we can agree that Islam is not sexist, but you frame your argument as if sexism and misogyny doesn't exist in the world. To deny this reality is to be dishonest and oppressive. Criticizing Muslim feminists doesn't help the struggle to end sexist oppression. On the contrary, it misrepresents Muslim feminists and characterizes them as the "problem." When you are dismissing women just because they don't dress in ways that are "appropriate" to you, you are making an attempt to control women's bodies. If you believe Islam doesn't objectify women, you are basically objectifying them by telling them how to dress. If you don't find Muslim women are "credible" because of their dress, that is a perception and attitude you (and all men who think this way) need to change within yourself. It is not something that women have to change.

This obsession over the way women dress comes from the extremely flawed and sexist logic that says men are "unable to control themselves" if they see a woman's hair, or her neck, or her legs, or any other part of her body. According to this logic, men will "succumb" to their sexual desires and "be led astray." This attitude is not only sexist, but also lazy and irresponsible. It removes the responsibility of self-discipline and conveniently blames women. What men should be told is: don't blame women for your sexual objectification of them; blame yourself. Take responsibility for your mistakes instead of pinning it on someone else. If a man is having sexual thoughts going into a Mosque, for example, it doesn't matter if there's a barrier there or not; it doesn't matter if a woman is wearing hijab or not, he will have sexual thoughts until he himself brings those thoughts to a halt.

(continued in next comment)

Jehanzeb said...

(continued from previous comment)

Rather than telling women that they won't be taken seriously because they wear sleeveless blouses or short skirts, Muslim men need to be telling each other to not view Muslim women as sex objects. We, Muslim men, have a lot of work to do in the struggle against sexism, and that starts with confronting and unlearning the sexism we’ve internalized and participate in. It’s very telling when Muslim men are so quick to criticize Muslim women, Islamic feminism, and women-led prayers, but rarely talk about their own complicity in sexism, or about the outrageous sexist double standards in our community, or about the domestic violence that exists in our community, or about the real inequalities that exist.

Confront this mentality that there is a "proper" way a woman should speak, act, behave, and dress because this mentality stems from possessiveness and control. Eradicate these dangerous "blaming the victim" attitudes that say women are responsible for their own victimization. Instead of calling out a woman on how she dresses, Muslim men should challenge the male scrutiny and obsession over women's bodies. Focus on improving yourselves and take an active role in deconstructing sexist notions of masculinity, for example, or calling others out on their sexist attitudes. This also includes having an honest self-critique of your own actions, perceptions, attitudes, etc.

Instead of telling women to "pick the right battles," acknowledge the fact that you are not a Muslim woman and therefore cannot decide on what is the "right battle" or the "wrong battle." Instead of making stereotypical assumptions about Muslim feminists, do your research, as other commenters have already suggested, and do it with an open mind.

Metis said...

Mezba, I agree with your general idea that traditionalists don’t like Muslim Feminists (MusFems) and don’t want to listen to them. I can attest to that. But I think there are a few issues here that you may want to know/clarify:

1. I don’t think that MusFems are not “winning.” MusFems have causes that they are fighting for but their success is hard to measure because MusFems are not seriously united as a body. Islamic feminism is only just becoming more popular so the fight has just begun. Some MusFems have created their own mosques with their own female imams and sheikhas. That has happened in China and in the UAE. That is what I’d call winning.


2. Yes, traditionalists don’t want to listen to MusFems but that is because MusFems seriously threaten their status quo. I was recently told by an older gentleman that I won’t be considered for a teaching position in the department of Islamic Studies because I don’t wear hijab. You have met me and you know how modestly I dress but that is not good enough. If I have to appear a certain *type* to be taken seriously then you know who is winning? Traditionalism and patriarchy! But that is circular argument – “MusFems you can’t win because you aren’t modest enough.” “What is *modest enough*?” “Well what traditionalism dictates of course!” If the battle is between traditionalism and feminism then why do you think MusFems should listen to traditionalists?! (Many MusFems are traditionalists, btw). Modesty may be a “defining character of a decent Muslim” but it is very hard to define. It means different things to different people.


3. There are MusFems who want the barrier removed but there ARE MusFems who want female imams. Those are two different battles and shouldn’t be confused. I don’t think traditionalists and other Muslims who are not feminists can ever be in a position to understand why some MusFems would like to pray behind a woman. Women like Wadud *are* ready for the ‘challenge.’ Yes, an imam’s position is difficult but let a woman decide if she wants to take up that challenge.


4. I recently saw a picture of a Japanese imam in a turban and bisht and frankly I couldn’t take someone looking like him seriously! Why should someone give up their culture to appear Arab? That is precisely my bone with Hamza Yusuf. I take Amina Wadud more seriously when she doesn’t try to look Arab like in the picture you have posted. I have seen her speak without hijab and I have seen her with her braids hanging from a loose scarf and that is more trustworthy in my view because it is who she is and not what she *should* be. You know what I mean? Or Queen Rania – the only time I saw her speak in person about Muslim women she was wearing a knee-length skirt and sleeveless blouse. I listened to what she had to say and guess what? She was making perfect sense :)

Metis said...

5. If wearing a scarf/dupatta on your head makes people listen to a woman who cheats, lies, drinks in private, perhaps never prays, most probably has never read the Quran, usurps her country’s money, kills innocent people and does every other evil act then that says an awful lot about her supporters. Bhutto – bad example.


6. Regarding inheritance – times have changed. Seriously changed. As the eldest child with no brother I looked after my widowed mother. I paid for my father’s funeral. I rented a bigger place and brought my mother to live with me. I spent money I didn’t have. But when it came to my father’s inheritance even his brothers were entitled to a share although they did nothing. Is that fair? This is just one example. There *are* families where girls are looking after their aged parents even though they have sons. One size doesn’t fit all. Historically Muslim women are poorly educated whereas parents spend more on sons’ education. This is exactly why daughters should inherit equally if not more because with poor educated and no job prospects at least they can survive on that money of something goes wrong.


Does Islam need feminism? Some will say no, some will say yes. Does Muslim culture need feminism – yes! I am all for feminism in Muslim cultures. You *can* be Muslim and a feminist. I have spent 2 years studying MusFems and I can tell you these brilliant women are *not* against Islam. Many are Western women but please understand that they too have a culture and they are not twisting Islam to suit that culture (well, some do that to be honest!) but are trying to fit *into* Islam while not giving up their liberties. A woman who has prayed all her life sitting next to a man in a church is going to mind the barrier in a mosque upon conversion. A woman who has prayed with a female minister in a UU church or now even in a synagogue will not understand why women can’t lead salah when she converts. A woman who was sent to the same college as her brother will find your words demeaning because you think she shouldn’t be burdened or given equal in inheritance. A woman who has always dressed a certain way and was taken seriously will not realise that traditional Muslim men are mocking her because it is more important that they not see her mouth than hear what’s coming out of it.
You know what? I would listen to that woman and what she has to say about Islamic daleel and fiqh. I will listen to her no matter what she is wearing because she *might* have something to offer to me – something that centuries of fiqh failed to give me. Men have made mistakes – even the giants of Islamic fiqh. Not all of them. But some have and we, women, are still carrying the burden of their follies.

OK, MusFems like Zuhura, Cairo and Zufash have done a far better job at explaining their position. My comment is cr** in comparison but I had typed this rant so I thought I’d post anyway :) Love you, Mezba, even though you are conservative :P

Ahmed Tajuddin Shehzad said...

I am a Jummah khatib for our mosque and I have followed your blogs for a long time (excellent job on the Quran blog!). I would like to respond to this post.

We are a small community in Ontario, mostly young families, and the size of our Jummah congregation is around 400 people (including perhaps 20-30 women). During regular prayers, we would usually have 30 people (with at most 3 women in attendance). At the moment our mosque is just a big square temporary structure, where men pray in the front and women pray in the back. There is no divider, no barrier (and also, no washrooms or wudu facilities!). The make up of our community is mostly Arab and South Asian.

I find as a khatib, the no-divider approach works better. If I see there are more women in attendance, especially with young kids, I keep the speech shorter. If there is no divider, I find that common complaints by women attendees at mosques where they are segregated do not materialize. These complaints include women talking during the khutbah, children running around wildly being a nuisance, and so on. With no divider, everyone is part of the congregation and is on their best behaviour. That is my impression as a khatib.

As our congregation grows, we will need more money and donations in kind. Right now the mosque organization is in the hands of a few dedicated young men (and their wives), and they do an admirable job given they also work regular jobs 9 to 5. I fear that once we grow larger, the makeup of our group will become more orthodox, and women will be relegated in our community.

In my speeches I always urge the girls to take more responsibility not only in the mosque and community, but also in their own lives. Sadly I don't see this happening.

As for the points in your post, I could not relate more. I have been part of Islamic organizations where we had "protests" by these "Islamic feminists" (and sometimes with valid reasons) and these are my observations:

- Being angry and insulting never works. Often the group starts with insults and anger and they seem to delight in pointing out the problems rather than working to find an amicable solution.

- Not working with the local congregation. Often these are some national organizations that do not find out (or care) what the women in the community want. They are there to drive their own agenda.

- The 'dress' aspect. If these are Muslim women aspiring to fix the problems of the Muslim community they must dress and look the part. Islam provides guidelines for dresses for both men and women. It does not have to be "Arab" as one of your commentators pointed out, but it has to be modest. Dressing otherwise detracts from their message.

- I am not denying there are problems in the Muslim community, in particular the South Asian community. I am originally from Pakistan and I have to refute on a daily basis customs that have no mention in Islam but are passed on as "Islamic". However, insulting the leaders and imams of the community is counter productive.

- The biggest problem with feminists is trying to change Islam. While Islam is very broad and flexible, there are some strict rules that have not been changed. Women don't lead a mixed gender congregation, Muslim women cannot marry a non-Muslim man, there is no gay marriage in Islam and so on. Whenever feminists pick up these issues they will be rejected by the community.

I apologize for the long comment, it was not my intention, but I wanted to bring an imam's point of view.

- Ahmed Tajuddin Shehzad

Nasmira said...

I agree with everything that's been written here...very beautifully put..
EXCEPT for one sentence..well, I might be a very picky reader in pointing out ONE word specifically..but here's my view anyway:
"Strictly speaking, technically this is not true. Islam DISCRIMINATES against men"..I don't think discrimination is the right word or even the right description for that..I don't think anything is discriminated in Islam..be it men's rights and duties or that of a woman's..every single question you men shall be held accountable for is justified in His (swt) eyes..so I don't really think there's any need for u to feel discriminated in terms of some freedom we women have! :P
Very well written though!

Jehanzeb said...

@ Ahmed Tajuddin Shehzad,

I think one of the major problems among anti-feminist Muslims is that they are too quick to condemn Muslim feminists without actually making any effort to understand what Muslim feminism is. Arguing that Muslim feminists want to "change" Islam is utterly ridiculous and insulting. Using that argument sets a condescending and disrespectful "holier-than-thou" tone.

I went to a large event over the weekend about Muslim relationships, marriage, divorce, dating, etc. Many of the speakers spoke from feminist perspectives and cited many Hadiths and Qur'anic verses to back up their points. This is just one example of how Islamic feminism is rooted in Islam.

Another problem is that anti-feminist Muslims spend so much time criticizing women that they don't look at the sexism and misogyny in our community that should cause real outrage. Contrary to what you believe, I have seen how Muslim feminists have made a significant difference in the community.

You talk about Muslim feminists being "insulting" and "angry," but where is your anger about the sexist double-standards in our community? Muslim women get scrutinized all the time about what they wear, but rarely do we see male imams tell Muslim men to NOT objectify women and NOT be sexist. Where is the anger over the fact that Muslim women are far more stigmatized in the community than Muslim men are? There are so many Muslim men who are sexually promiscious before marriage, but when it comes time to finding a wife, they demand to be with "a pious and virgin" Muslim woman. What happens to these men? Do they get shamed or stigmatized or marginalized in our community because of their behavior? Do you think a Muslim woman could escape stigma and abuse if she was sexually promiscious before marriage?

I was at a civil rights workshop not too long ago and it was held inside of a Mosque. A friend and I didn't know it was going to be segregated until we got there. All of the Muslim women sat in a separate room where they could not even see the speaker, let alone interact with him when he addressed the audience and asked questions. Is this how neglectful our community is that Muslim women have to be excluded from a workshop that teaches us how to exercise our rights against Islamophobia, discrimination, NYPD/CIA spaying and infiltration? As if Muslim women aren't affected by racism and Islamophobia?? Where is your outrage against such practices?

And frankly, I think it's atrocious that you, as an imam, say that Muslim feminists should be "rejected" by the community. That is utterly irresponsible and un-Islamic. NO ONE should be rejected by the community. The fact that you are so comfortable with dictating who gets to be part of the community exposes your patriarchal attitudes and lack of humility. You are not God to make that decision. You should be welcoming of everyone and make efforts to understand.

era said...

When one argues about right to drive in Saudi or right to run a business, you are arguing that a women is equal to a man in that respect, that she as as capable of running her business and her life as he is. Then it turns into "wome are not same as man", when in truth the argument is about certain act. But how do you differentiate and prevent people from jumping to conclusion. I don't think any feminist are fighting for 100% women equality to men, because everyone knows the difference. But 90% of life activity women are capable of doing. That 10% is something no one is fighting for yet everyone focuses on and to be honest it is the man that bring that 10% up to prove thier point.

I have had argument with man saying a girl can live her own life just as well as man & guess what the focal of the argument turned into.

mezba said...

@Sara, if you read my article I made it very clear I am an anti-barrier person. I don't believe stuffing women behind a barrier is in the least way helpful.

As for dismissing a woman's argument because of the way she is dressed, I am saying is anyone will be dismissed if the way they are dressed is not credible. That is human nature. You can argue if it's right or wrong, I am just saying that's the way it is.

mezba said...

@Zufash, This post portrays Muslim feminists as competing with men, “wanting” the “same” rights as men just for the hell of it without any depth, any cause, any Islamic grounds for their arguments.

That's not what I said or meant to say. While I admit the title is provocative, I think a lot of people are projecting their own experiences with some ultra-conservative Muslim men (and let's face it, no one likes those views!) on to this article.

Most of the feminists who I have encountered (and some are my close friends even though I have a disagreement with them on certain issues) are proponents of recognizing gay marriage within Islam, having a female imam lead mixed congregations, or making a man and a woman inherit the same amount from their father.

These positions are (in my opinion) clear contradictions with Quranic teachings. While they are entitled to their views, and can even argue the Islamic basis of their views, most Muslims will not accept these views, and thus they will not "win". That's what I am saying.

The ultimate aim is a just society that honors and respects women (not more or less than men!) and other genders and sexes. Most, if not all, feminists actually understand Islamic feminism as a movement that helps women *regain* their Islamic rights.

I have no problem with that, and that is what EXACTLY I am saying.

If we have to “look” the same in order to be equal,

I have never said or meant that.

As for the "gender versus equity", again someone else's comments are being projected onto me. What I have said in this article clearly boils down to this:

When you debate your point, provide a modest, credible image with your choice of apparel.

Be well versed in Islamic knowledge and jurisprudence regarding women.

Pick the right battles that matter to the local Muslim women you are fighting for.


As for cooking, cleaning etc. roles that you mentioned, I have not gone into any of that or even claimed that as a fact. To make it very clear, I don't think a woman's roles should ever be limited to that of a housewife - actually it's a travesty.

If you follow my comments on Sadaf's blog you will see I am very strictly AGAINST the patriarchal viewpoint she espouses. Especially that of a women being subservient to her husband or just staying home.

I even gave a list of Ansari women who worked outside their homes in response to a comment (if they don't moderate it out or edit it like they have my previous comments).

What I have said is when Islam gives a brother twice the share of a sister, there is a reason for that, and that is because men have more financial responsibilities. End of statement.

Anything else derived from this is not my statements or responsibility. I don't want to get into the "body made for housewife" argument because that is not my argument. It's someone else's and I don't care for it very much.

I have no problem with a woman being president of MSA, or a leader of a country, or CEO of her company.

What I have a problem is a woman being an Imam of a mixed congregation because that is a religious function specified for men.

Hope this clarifies my points. I always welcome long comments, hope my answer clarified my positions, even if you don't agree with them, I respect and thank you for the civil manner you stated your positions.

mezba said...

@Azra, thank you for the comment and support.

I think one of the problems Muslim women face in North America is access to mosques. Most of the mosques (especially in the USA) are founded by older South Asian folks who have strict ideas of gender segregation, and the misconception that it is part of Islam.

In some mosques in Bangladesh or India, for example, women are not even allowed to go to mosques, a clear violation of the Prophet (peace be upon him)'s instructions. So when these people immigrate here, they carry over these obsolete ideas.

That's how most Muslim feminist movements in North America get started, and for right reasons.

But then somehow the agenda gets mixed with others, and that's where they lose their effectiveness.

mezba said...

@Lat,

One of them is not even allowed or even encouraged to go to the mosque to pray.Her husband is very religious and she found it pointless to argue her case of Islamic rights to him.To him that doesn't exist.The mosque is for the men and men alone.And he will cite several laws to mute her even if she were to cite her side of the rulings.Simply because the husband is to be obeyed

This is a very sad story. I know a few cases like these too. The woman should get outside help of knowledgable and respected people to convince the husband. If the husband is adamant then really she should evaluate her options. There is no room in Islam for a chauvanistic attitude.

I would actually argue that traditional way would work best. In this case for example I would get a sheikh who knows the hadith about allowing women to the mosque to speak to the husband. If he still cannot see the light then it is HE who is rejecting Islam.

I spoke to our local imam as well as the director of the board about this. However their point of view (and the donors who stock the board) is very much old school.

So I have just stopped going or donating to that mosque and visit the other mosque instead.

@Safiyyah,

Dividers in the mosque are an innovation. In the time of the Sahaba, the women prayed behind the men. Interestingly, there never used to be separation in synagogues either. Also, a recent development originating with the men.

I 100% agree with your comment. I wish there would be some fatwa from a notable scholar saying this.

Farah said...

Fantastic piece. I agree with every word.

As someone who used to attend this mosque in Toronto but got frustrated by the imam and the board's chauvinistic attitudes (women were dumped in one small room with no a/c), when I approached the imam he said "oh you are one of those feminists".

Organica said...

Standing ovation to Suroor and Jehanzeb - I admire your ability to synthesize your thoughts :)

**

I disagree strongly with everything in this post and I wouldn't call your views or attitude toward Muslim feminist "liberal" by any means.

As Suroor has mentioned, we can't argue with traditional Islam that offers the "unequal" roles between the sexes regardless of how much we try to "apologize" for reality. Yes, the Quran clearly states that women get half the inheritance and men are "higher" a degree than their female counterparts. It's true that men take leadership in their women's lives (including mothers).

However, as other religions have managed to evolve and reform to suit the needs of their modern followers, Islam will have to do the same. Some would suggest that is blasphemous, I would point out the laws of slavery for example. Muslim jurists at some point outlawed slavery altogether although it's sanctioned in the Quran. Why? Because the environment and context in which the Quran is implemented has changed. Our economy no longer heavily relies on slavery and the world as a whole has outlawed it. I believe we can extend this reform to other areas that haven't been updated.

I am a self-proclaimed Muslim feminist and I am friends with the Muslim Egyptian feminist you chose to display in one of your pictures, her name is Mona El Tahawy. I have DEEP respect for Mona and for all her work toward justice and equality. She was sexually molested by 21 Egyptian security forces and kidnapped for over 24 hours before she was released last year. The same woman you think no one listens to returned with 2 broken arms to the US to get treated properly. Less than a month after the traumatizing incident, Mona returned to Egypt to proudly march against SCAF on January 25, 2012. Mona is HEARD by thousands of people - and I would say she is the bridge between the east and the west when it comes to covering Arab politics. Her strength and devotion to justice inspire me to become a better woman. I don't care if Mona wears niqab or dresses in a short skirt - her work is what matters. We need to stop objectifying women and reducing their existence by their dress or political orientation.

(cont)

Organica said...

I find your actions of posting a picture of my friend in the name of demonstrating "bad" Muslim feminist is quite demeaning and repulsive.

FYI: I dress like Mona and I am highly respected by EVERYONE I encounter. If Muslim men or women can't respect me and my 2 masters degrees, then I'll speak to the ones who are willing to listen - and I assure you plenty are willing to listen.

I think you are wrong on all counts. The world is changing, science is advancing and many Muslim men and women ARE NOT accepting the status quo - unlike what you wish to present. I receive daily emails on my blog from Muslims from every end of the spectrum asking for advice or guidance. As a Muslim feminist they trust me with their "secrets" and seek guidance from someone who won't be judging and will be accepting regardless of where they stand. Muslims - especially in the west - crave the duo-identity Muslim leadership. They are tired of the imported brand of Islam that DOES NOT relate to them in any way. So, I disagree. I think Muslim feminist are appealing to the new generation of Muslims and THEY WILL WIN. Actually: Muslim women have already won because many women are taking charge of their lives, getting educated, standing up to the tyrannical Muslim cultures and refusing to give in to the double standard. I am deeply inspired by all by female Muslim friends - from super traditional to ultra liberal.

How do I tell a young Muslim girl she's beautiful, intelligent and equal to her male counterparts but when in reality she isn't? Muslim double standards are screaming everywhere - and don't start apologizing and calling it a Muslim problem - it's not- it's an Islam problem as demonstrated with the above references to verses.

Modern Muslims with modern sensibilities will need to confront the truth, do we want to practice 7th century Islam at face value? Or examine the practices and "adjust" to our current environment and times? This can be done - AND IT IS - by Muslim scholars with ijaza such as Tarik Ramadan and Dr. Abu El Fadl.

I would have LIKED to read something better from this blog. Maybe like your allegiance to join us Muslim feminist in our battle against tyranny?

(cont)

Organica said...

Of course you don't want reform, why would you? Patriarchal Islam works well for you, doesn't it? I'll come off as abrasive because your post doesn't affect you, your daily living, at all! You are "disappointed" your wife doesn't get to sit behind you at the mosque where my problem is to have access to my Imam and not feel like a second class citizen every time I enter a mosque. Feel the difference there? It's not personal to you at all because traditional Islam is in your favor! If I were a man, I'd feel the same.

I feel like a piece of meat when I pass by the men's area to the woman's. I feel like I am dirty for passing in front of the holy front of the mosque.

If God didn't intend for men and women to pray side by side, why isn't allowed iN THE MOST holiest of cities in the world: Mecca? Exactly.

I am not happy with sitting in the back at a mosque. I am not even going to address the stupid partition issue because it's "stupid" and laughable. You can use traditional hadeeth to prove that there were no partitions in the time of the prophet.

(cont)

As a Muslim feminist, I want to have the opportunity to SIT anywhere I please when it comes to my prayer space. I have been in university for over 7 years undergraduate and graduate level, and if I were told to EVER sit in the back of the class because I am a woman, I'd file a lawsuit against my university.

As a learner, I learn best when I have first-seat access to the lecturer. I don't see why my religious learning should be any different? If a female wishes to sit in the back or in a different room, that is her right, but I don't appreciate anyone "imposing" their preferences on me.

Your excuses are weak and quite frankly laughable. I DO want to sit in the front of the mosque and enjoy reciting Quran out loud. I don't mind taking the risk of leading others and carrying all their sins. I can handle it, as Amina Wadud has demonstrated and is more than capable. But the fact that the opportunity is not even provided is pretty sad - and what's worse is that you ENDORSE it and apologize. Shame!

(Quick note: As Hamza Yusuf mentions, many Muslims are extremely ignorant of the diversity of traditional Islam. Prominent figures in Islamic history DID allow women to lead prayer)

I won't counter your arguments point by point because my friends Suroor and Jehanzeb pretty much said everything I would say, but in much better form.

My advice to people reading this post, open up books about traditional Islam and read about the diversity of opinions. Read about the evolution and constant reform in Islam. Stop adhering to the cookie cutter Islam the Wahabi movement was excellent and passing as "true" Islam.

Organica said...

Of course you don't want reform, why would you? Patriarchal Islam works well for you, doesn't it? I'll come off as abrasive because your post doesn't affect you, your daily living, at all! You are "disappointed" your wife doesn't get to sit behind you at the mosque where my problem is to have access to my Imam and not feel like a second class citizen every time I enter a mosque. Feel the difference there? It's not personal to you at all because traditional Islam is in your favor! If I were a man, I'd feel the same.

I feel like a piece of meat when I pass by the men's area to the woman's. I feel like I am dirty for passing in front of the holy front of the mosque.

If God didn't intend for men and women to pray side by side, why isn't allowed iN THE MOST holiest of cities in the world: Mecca? Exactly.

I am not happy with sitting in the back at a mosque. I am not even going to address the stupid partition issue because it's "stupid" and laughable. You can use traditional hadeeth to prove that there were no partitions in the time of the prophet.

(cont)

As a Muslim feminist, I want to have the opportunity to SIT anywhere I please when it comes to my prayer space. I have been in university for over 7 years undergraduate and graduate level, and if I were told to EVER sit in the back of the class because I am a woman, I'd file a lawsuit against my university.

As a learner, I learn best when I have first-seat access to the lecturer. I don't see why my religious learning should be any different? If a female wishes to sit in the back or in a different room, that is her right, but I don't appreciate anyone "imposing" their preferences on me.

(cont)

Organica said...

Your excuses are weak and quite frankly laughable. I DO want to sit in the front of the mosque and enjoy reciting Quran out loud. I don't mind taking the risk of leading others and carrying all their sins. I can handle it, as Amina Wadud has demonstrated and is more than capable. But the fact that the opportunity is not even provided is pretty sad - and what's worse is that you ENDORSE it and apologize. Shame!

(Quick note: As Hamza Yusuf mentions, many Muslims are extremely ignorant of the diversity of traditional Islam. Prominent figures in Islamic history DID allow women to lead prayer)

I won't counter your arguments point by point because my friends Suroor and Jehanzeb pretty much said everything I would say, but in much better form.

My advice to people reading this post, open up books about traditional Islam and read about the diversity of opinions. Read about the evolution and constant reform in Islam. Stop adhering to the cookie cutter Islam the Wahabi movement was excellent and passing as "true" Islam.

Aamina said...

I am a young Muslim woman who lives in the UAE and a long time reader of your blog, and I completely agree completely with your post.

I hate Western feminists trying to impose their ideas of freedom and liberty on us. We have our own cultural values which we hold true. In the West they like to think we women in Arab countries have it really bad. I can speak for myself and for Emirati women that we are as empowered here as they are (or even more) in their countries. We love our religion and our country and would not change it for anything.

- Aamina

Sarah Elizabeth Pahman said...

This post enrages me. I am sick to death that we can still so flippantly delegitimize a woman due to her clothing and post a picture of her basically stating that she is the reason feminism is not working. In other words, feminism is bad because women dress however the hell they please and don't bow down to the power tactics of "traditionalists." Give me a fucking break.

What an ignorant, ignorant post.

mezba said...

@Jehanzeb, unfortunately I have no idea what you are saying because you have gone off on a tangent and putting words into my mouth that I haven't said.

you obsess over the way women think, dress, and behave instead of addressing the reality of sexism and patriarchy within our communities.

Please find a post on my blog where I tell women how to dress, and please find posts where I address the sexism and patriarchy. You will see the later vastly outnumber the former, and not only that, I have NEVER disregarded what a woman says because of how she is dressed.

I am saying others will do so. It's an important distinction that I think you are not getting.

sexism and misogyny doesn't exist in the world

Did I say that? Where?

When you are dismissing women just because they don't dress in ways that are "appropriate" to you, you are making an attempt to control women's bodies.

Again, you are jumping off a tangent. Let me repeat, the reason I feel conservative Muslims don't listen to most Muslim feminists is because they get upset at the image portrayed by the feminists because of the way they dress, and they always seem to want a female imam.

Again, I have never disregarded what a woman says because of how she is dressed. I am saying others will do so.

Your whole comment after that has gone off the rails. If I go to a job interview I am going to be dressed in a tie, suit and so on. Even though I am a t-shirt person. Why? Because image matters.

This is why I am saying Muslim Feminists NEED the support of conservative yet open-minded Muslims, and they will not get that support if they don't portray a credible image.

You can disagree with these statements and point out that conservatives WILL INDEED support women feminists despite the way they dress, and give evidence for so, but don't go putting words in my mouth. This is not about controlling women's bodies or men's sexual desires or what else you have put in your comment.

mezba said...

@Metis, thank you for responding in this manner. I know that you must disagree strongly with what I wrote here, but you know me for a long time, and you know I never support oppression of women or unjust suppression of their rights.

We have some differences over religious duties (with regards to an imam or mixed gender congregations), but I would like to think that friends can have that disagreement and still be friends. Thank you for writing in such a civil and clear manner. I love you too!

Let me clarify some points.

1. I don’t think that MusFems are not “winning.” MusFems have causes that they are fighting for but their success is hard to measure because MusFems are not seriously united as a body. Islamic feminism is only just becoming more popular so the fight has just begun. Some MusFems have created their own mosques with their own female imams and sheikhas. That has happened in China and in the UAE. That is what I’d call winning.

Fair point. I also think that if you can't get what you want in your own mosque, you should either find a new mosque or make your own.

The reason I say feminists are not 'winning' is that despite years of movements and writing and fights, there are still cases where women are still denied access to mosques, to their imams, and from the board of the mosques.

In Canada things doesn't seem to have improved in the last ten years, hence I said 'not winning'.

I also admit, as I did in a previous comment, that the title of the post was deliberately provocative.

mezba said...

@Metis (continued)
2. Yes, traditionalists don’t want to listen to MusFems but that is because MusFems seriously threaten their status quo.

Again, a fair point. I have met you and I can indeed attest you are a very modest woman. It's wrong for someone to deny you that position, especially in a secular place like a university or school, just because you don't wear a hijab.

However, let me tell you my story. I have family friends who are directors at the mosque board, or the founder of mosques, or who are young scholars and hafiz studying to be imam. Some are conservative, some not so.

Recently we were at this mosque to listen to a halaqa when a girl complained that they couldn't hear the imam from behind the barrier (in another room!). The imam behaved quite rudely to her and dismissed her with the words "these feminists". Then he warned the congregation against following these women who 'wear short clothes and wear their hair like camel humps'.

Naturally, I was disgusted, and we left. I also pointed out to the mosque chairperson about these vile comments.

Yet, not a single woman came to this girl's defence. Yes, she was dressed in a short tight dress and had no hijab. She had a complete valid point that was not listened to.

Now going back to Amina Wudud, when she led the mixed gender congregation there was a huge uproar. Two jummah khutbahs were dedicted (and I mean solely dedicated) to prove Ms Wudud wrong. Yet, a lot of women still think Ms Wudud was right. Why?

I think, and this is my opinion, here was a woman who looked sincere, who looked honest, who looked pious, and she was making a point that seemed to make complete sense. She was just one of them. It was very hard for imams to tarnish her reputation because she chose not to let her dress become a distraction. She took out all the weapons that would normally be employed against a 'feminist'.

My personal belief is that had Amina Wudud asked for women to be equal to men in the mosque board representation, in prayer area representation and voice their concerns, she would have been a hit by now and would have "won". The only argument that imams could make against her was a theological one, and if she chose to fight for a woman to pray in the same prayer hall as a man, like the Sunnah, even theological point that would have been removed.

This is why I think Muslim Feminists have to be smart and pick their battles. The battle for women's equality is and should be a very easy one, and it can be won.

mezba said...

@Metis (continued)
3. There are MusFems who want the barrier removed but there ARE MusFems who want female imams. Those are two different battles and shouldn’t be confused. I don’t think traditionalists and other Muslims who are not feminists can ever be in a position to understand why some MusFems would like to pray behind a woman. Women like Wadud *are* ready for the ‘challenge.’ Yes, an imam’s position is difficult but let a woman decide if she wants to take up that challenge.

I want the barriers gone as well, but a female imam is one theological point on which we have to agree to disagree. Personally I don't see the restriction as 'putting down' women, but I can understand your point of view and respect it.

4. I recently saw a picture of a Japanese imam in a turban and bisht and frankly I couldn’t take someone looking like him seriously! ....

I hear what you are saying. I have spoken out many times against the Arabization of Islam (in particular giving converts an Arabic name and so on).

What I am saying is that there many weapons used against feminists. One of the main ones (and I have seen this countless times being said 'look at how she is dressed and she is trying to change US!') is dress.

I am saying if feminists fight their battles smartly, they would not give this option of being attacked on their dress.

Is it giving in to patriarchy? Perhaps, perhaps not.

mezba said...

@Metis (continued)

5 ... Bhutto – bad example.

The reason I picked Bhutto was that despite all those faults she still managed to evade the snare of the Islamists in her country. I see her as a sell out, someone who turned back the clock on women's rights in her country, that was her compromise.

What I am putting forward is her image. She gave the image of someone who cared for women, who cared for her country, while at the same time was a devout Muslim.

I am saying when it comes to public movements and winning the hearts and minds of people, image is important.

mezba said...

@Metis (continued)
For example, not too many people know that the famous pilgrimage of Malcolm X where he saw the "true Islam" and equality of races was in reality his third pilgrimage.

Yet, whenever he talked, he spoke about seeing things he never saw before, he gave the image of this pilgrimage changing his life, because his aim was on the bigger prize, to change the way blacks and whites view each other in USA and to change the militant anti-white image of his own group.

mezba said...

@Metis (continued)

6. Regarding inheritance ...

This is my view. Let me talk about this example. Two brothers. The older one does a lot for the family, supports them from his own earnings etc. while the younger one is young and doesn't do much.

Yet they both get the same inheritance. Or even replace two brothers with two sisters, and you still have them get the same inheritance.

The reason I think this is such, and again this is my understanding, is that inheritance money is not for what you have done, but for future responsibilities. You know that a son is required to provide financial support to the family that a daughter isn't, under classical law.

What if the son doesn't provide the support, and the daughter does? In that case I would say those laws can be changed for specific cases.

mezba said...

@Metis (continued)

For example a relative has one child who has autism, and another is perfectly fine. She is planning to leave all of her estate for the care of the autistic child. Is that ok? I think so, even though it "breaks" the rules. These are specific cases.

So for a daughter who supports her family and the son doesn't, a specific amount should be deducted from the son's inheritance and given to the daughter, this amount being proportional to the support she provides. One third of the property can also be willed for her.

Again, this is my opinion, and I think you may find that palatable.

But in general cases, I find sons DO provide more support to parents, and should inherit more. I don't see this as a "put down" of women, but can respect differing views of those that think it is.

mezba said...

@Metis (continued)

My comment is cr** in comparison but I had typed this rant so I thought I’d post anyway :) Love you, Mezba, even though you are conservative :P

When I posted this, I knew you would respond, and I had a hunch yours would be one of the smartest and most thinking responses. I wasn't wrong! I love you too, especially because you are a Muslim feminist!

And I am really grateful you chose to respond in an academic, understanding, polite and clear manner.

mezba said...

@Ahmed Tajuddin Shehzad,

Thank you for sharing your experience of your small community. I wish we had more imams like you, and I also share your fears about growth of the community and resulting influences it can bring.

I have seen a couple of 'sit-in' protests by some female attendees demanding better accommodations in the mosque. I completely sympathize with their view, but I differ with their approach.

To put it simply, I feel more flies can be caught with honey than with vinegar, and there is much room for compromise and understanding in our small community.

Again, thank you for bringing an imam's (and khatib's) perspective into this.

mezba said...

@Nasmira, the 'discriminates' word was placed tongue-in-cheek.

I was trying to say as a man I don't find the statement "Paradise lies under the feet of a mother" discriminating, so why is a male imam seen as a 'put down' of women. However, of course some can disagree.

There are many differences between men and women in Islam, and I don't see it as a 'put down' of either gender. Apart from the examples I gave, there is also the fact that a man is required to provide a good mother for his children, but a woman (when she is selecting a spouse) it's not an Islamic requirement that she thinks of a good father for her kids. It's what is done, but it's not an Islamic requirement, unlike that for a man.

mezba said...

@Jehanzeb, I am surprised you are attacking this imam when he is someone who sounds like you can use on your side.

Now I cannot argue for him, but again I think you are seeing much more than what he is saying.

mezba said...

@Era,

When one argues about right to drive in Saudi or right to run a business, you are arguing that a women is equal to a man in that respect, that she as as capable of running her business and her life as he is

Yes. In these matters a woman and a man are (and should be treated as) 100% equal. Islam also treats them the same and this is the argument Muslim feminist should (and do) make.

Woman aren't the same as a man (and vice versa) under certain Islamic responsibilites, that's what I am saying.

mezba said...

@Farah, wow, I experienced a similar incident some weeks ago at this mosque in Toronto! I just spoke about it in an earlier comment.

I think more and more young, educated Muslims are turning to mosques that serve them. This is why the IIT is so popular with young, thinking people.

mezba said...

@Organica,

Many a time I have seen your posts and tweets where you said something that I strongly disagree with. Often it was painting Islam as a bad religion and an oppressor of women, a"7th century religion", as "HISlam", or other similar statements about salafis or so on. I kept quiet because I treated you as a friend. Whenever I engaged you in a debate, my comments were to the point, respectful in tone and a polite exchange of viewpoints. It's sad, while not surprising, that you could not extend the same courtesy to me.

You call yourself a fighter for women's rights and yet, you insult those women who agree with me as "brainwashed" and "backward". It seems women's rights and choices only matter to you when they agree with your position. You would be surprised to know that one of the women who agreed with me and commented on this post is doing a Finance undergraduate degree under one of the toughest professors, and is a leader in her community. Yet you belittle her views because they don't agree with your own.

And I am not just referring to your harsh comments here, I am referring to your crude comments on Twitter as well as other forums. During the "Legalize Gay" post on your facebook, you came down harshly on any one not agreeing with your position. You seem to forget that people can (and often) disagree with each other, and yet remain friendly. And I am not even referring to the name calling etc. you have resorted to in reaction to this post on the social media.

Again, if you can let someone's opinions and a blog post ruin a friendship, it's really a sad state of affairs.

mezba said...

@Organica (contd...),

Now let me tackle your points.

I wouldn't call your views or attitude toward Muslim feminist "liberal" by any means.

I don't like pegionholing people with labels - it constricts their options and dumbs down arguments. I like music, I object to placing women behind barriers, I speak up for women deciding their fate for themselves, I don't like segregated environments, and yet I like orthodox Islam, I like going to the mosque, I understand the distinction of roles between men and women in Islam, I understand the restriction of Muslim women marrying a non-Muslim man and so on.

So I don't need to take any lessons from anyone on what a 'liberal' means.

Yes, the Quran clearly states that women get half the inheritance and men are "higher" a degree than their female counterparts. It's true that men take leadership in their women's lives (including mothers).

If you think a mother's position is EVER below that of her son, you don't know your Islam very much.

And I have replied to the inheritance issue in earlier comments. I don't see this as a "suppression" of women - others are free to disagree, and some have done so, and I have accepted a difference of views.

mezba said...

@Organica (contd...),

Our economy no longer heavily relies on slavery and the world as a whole has outlawed it. I believe we can extend this reform to other areas that haven't been updated.

That is a debate one can have in a civil manner, and one which I would agree to a whole lot. I also believe that with changing times, Islamic laws can also change. If Umar the second caliph could annul the Quranic laws of hadd punishment for stealing during times of drought, then anything is fair game.

mezba said...

@Organica (contd...),

I find your actions of posting a picture of my friend in the name of demonstrating "bad" Muslim feminist is quite demeaning and repulsive.

No one points to your friend as a "bad Muslim". I don't agree with her on a lot of issues and on some I do, but I NEVER called her a "bad Muslim", either here, or any where else. Please find on this post (or elsewhere) where I label her a "bad Muslim".

I have all these images up to prove that IMAGE matters in the Muslim community. A woman arguing in a dress that is short and sleeveless is less likely to be taken seriously than a woman who is fully covered. That is all.

It's a simple statement that should be obvious, yet you and someone else has decided to run away with this to different conclusions.

mezba said...

@Organica (contd...),

I am highly respected by EVERYONE I encounter. If Muslim men or women can't respect me and my 2 masters degrees, then I'll speak to the ones who are willing to listen - and I assure you plenty are willing to listen.

I used to respect you. You were someone who is clearly passionate about her beliefs and willing to stand up for them. There's not a lot of people like that, even if I disagreed with you.

I think Muslim feminist are appealing to the new generation of Muslims and THEY WILL WIN.

Other commentators have made this argument in a non-combative and respectful fashion, and I clearly accepted their views.

mezba said...

@Organica (contd...),

How do I tell a young Muslim girl she's beautiful, intelligent and equal to her male counterparts but when in reality she isn't? Muslim double standards are screaming everywhere - and don't start apologizing and calling it a Muslim problem - it's not- it's an Islam problem as demonstrated with the above references to verses

I will repeat my statement: I don't see the different treatment of men and women under Islamic laws as a problem. In some situations men are favoured, in some situations women are favoured. Yes, if Muslims are twisting the laws to benefit men and oppress women (as happens in many places) it's another story. But I don't accept that just because a woman cannot be imam she is oppressed. And as I said, people are free to disagree.

I'll come off as abrasive ...

Not because I am supposedly ok with patriarchal Islam, but because of the name calling and insults you indulged behind me back on Twitter. That was completely disappointing and something I did not expect from you, someone who has two Masters degrees.

mezba said...

@Organica (contd...),

I feel like a piece of meat when I pass by the men's area to the woman's. I feel like I am dirty for passing in front of the holy front of the mosque.

Are saying all the men in the mosque are all lecherous and thinking of you as "meat" when you go there?

Modern Muslims with modern sensibilities will need to confront the truth, do we want to practice 7th century Islam at face value? Or examine the practices and "adjust" to our current environment and times? This can be done - AND IT IS - by Muslim scholars with ijaza such as Tarik Ramadan and Dr. Abu El Fadl.

At a talk I attended at the University of Toronto, someone asked Dr Tarek Ramadan point blank about hijab. And he replied that it was a part of Islam, and has been for 14 centuries.

I don't see Islam as a 7th century religion, do you?

mezba said...

@Organica (contd...),
If a female wishes to sit in the back or in a different room, that is her right, but I don't appreciate anyone "imposing" their preferences on me.

Please also extend the same courtesy to others.

(Quick note: As Hamza Yusuf mentions, many Muslims are extremely ignorant of the diversity of traditional Islam. Prominent figures in Islamic history DID allow women to lead prayer)

I think there's a misconception about this fact of Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. What he was saying was that traditional scholars DEBATED the issue. Some allowed, others didn't and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf himself did not state his views.

The video is on youtube.

He is simply saying that these things have been discussed before. Some scholars have held these opinions before but they were not accepted.

mezba said...

Aamina, thank you for your comment.

Your comment was like a breath of fresh air. And remarkably, in American Bedu's blog I made a similar comment about women from the UAE.

I lived there for a long time and I don't think you are oppressed at all like they portray in Western media here.

mezba said...

@Sarah Elizabeth, I think you have missed the essence of this post.

Lat said...

@ Mezba,

If it's really true that there were muslim men and women in the past as in the Prophet's times or in the middle ages,believed that there didn't exist a barrier in the mosque(as in my eg),then where is the prove of their 'testimony' of worship in our world today? If there isn't, what does it say about tradionalism in Islam then?(If there is maybe you can point it out.I don't know) How does one tradition become more superior or authentic than the other?(I know about isnads of course) Does a majority versus a minority concept play a bigger role in this? Not just in mosque issues.

The husband,the case I mentioned,is a respected and well-known member in the community.By asking outside help,she might bring 'dishonor' and shame to his circle of friends and family.That's why she's silent.If someone talks to him and highlight these issues,he will no doubt listen and then don't act.Because he doesn't believe in them at all.He will ask them back on many issues and in fact convince the other on his stand because that's also very possible too in traditional Islam.Don't you agree?

I believe there can be lots of chauvinisims in Islam or shall i say,traditional Islam.I don't doubt that.Only a few Muslim men who think open-mindedly about these things create awareness in their own families and in their communities.And these men are modern men I know who will and can speak against traditional concepts of thoughts,like say not exercising polygamy to save marriages from falling apart.

In my pov,I don't hold much hope in getting whatever rights I deserve as a believer of God thru' traditional Islam.I agree with Jehanzeb mainly on the points he raised about inherent misogyny,male priviledge and sexism which is still very much evident in the muslim world.

Just like how God has many ways to express Himself in this world,then we as humans should be able to express our worship and surrender the best way it suits us.If God is trully universal as some Muslims claim,then let it be known that He is above culture,langauge and what not.why restrict Him in cultural contexts when He cannot be.It's about freeing our minds.

I can go on with this and anyway thanks for giving me this space Mezba.

Jehanzeb said...

Mezba,

It's disturbing how you perceive my comments as an "attack" on Ahmed Tajuddin Shehzad and yet you don't say a word about the attack he made on Muslim feminists. He is essentially saying that they do not belong in the ummah because their beliefs are somehow "outside" the compassionate heart of Islam. I think you and Ahmed need to seriously reflect on how damaging it is to individuals when they are rejected by people who are supposed to be their brothers and sisters.

It doesn't matter if you've written about sexism in previous posts, you can still be sexist. A white person can have a friend of color and still be racist. No one gets a pass on sexism or racism. If they do something sexist or racist, they need to be held accountable for it, regardless of what they said or did in the past. And I'm not talking about your previous posts, I'm addressing *this* particular one where you tell Muslim feminists to change the way they dress in order to be taken seriously by conservative Muslim men such as yourself. This *is* control over women's bodies because a woman's "credibility" to you is solely determined by how she dresses. This denies Muslim women the right to independently choose how they want to dress - whether they choose to wear hijab or not is none of your business and should not have anything to do with what they're saying.

If, as you claim, you don't dismiss Muslim women based on dress, then why not tell the Muslim men who *do* scrutinize and obsess over the way Muslim women dress to stop objectifying women? After all, objectification of women is oppressive and DANGEROUS; it dehumanizes women into an object, something that can be owned like property, controlled, and dominated. Why are these Muslim men judging Muslim women in the first place when only Allah can judge? You cannot determine a person's faith based on what they wear. Why don't you challenge this extremely narrow and sexist mentality that judges women based on their outer appearance? It is NO man's business to tell a woman what she should or shouldn't wear. They have no right to mold women into ways they want them to be.

If anyone is picking the wrong fights, it's you. Attacking Muslim feminists, making assumptions about them, and implying that they're responsible for their own victimization does NOT end sexism and misogyny. It only fuels it because it attempts to completely discredit and trivialize the important work Muslim feminists have been doing.

If you are against sexism and patriarchy, then fight against the sexist socialization that Muslim men and ALL men perpetuate in society. If you do not deny that misogyny is a real problem in our community, then make contributions to Muslim feminist struggle by challenging institutionalized sexism. Muslim men who claim that they are not sexist should NOT be pointing fingers at the way Muslim women dress; they should be looking at themselves. They should recognize their male privileges and understand that there are experiences that they will never have to endure because they are men. Muslim men should be taking responsibility to unlearn the sexism that is so normalized in our communities and societies.

You have not been critical of sexism within Muslim communities in this post. Instead you have devoted your time to attacking Muslim feminists, who are fighting sexist oppression within and outside their community. The fact that you've chosen to attack people who are already victimized by oppressive forces (within and outside the Muslim community) reveals a lot about the male privilege/power that you exercise.

Dreamlife said...

The "They think men and women are the same in Islam" point - I think - comes down to semantics. "Equality" is not "sameness".
"Sameness" implies that two things are exactly alike in all respects - like a duplicate, or a clone.

I don't think any sane person can honestly say that men and women are the "same" in this regard.

We are different - physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

That doesn't mean we aren't "equal". In Islam, women and men are "equal" - but not the "same".

We understand that each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and often, the two complement each other. That's how Allah made us. It's just silly to try to force this concept of "sameness" when it's clear as day that we're NOT the same.

So - "equal", yes - but "same", no.

ANd there's no shame in that. It's just reality.

The problem is not Islam itself - it's the way some people have misunderstood Islam to abuse women and make them less than equal. And many times those are CULTURAL pollutions that cause that - not Islamic injunctions; because Islam does not and cannot legislate such injustice.

Metis said...

Mezba, thanks for your reply. I accept that we should learn to agree to disagree I will try one more time to change your pov, LOL.

First, I didn’t know the woman in the picture was Mona. If I recall correctly you introduced me to her some years ago. You praised her highly for her intellect and bravery. I hope her choice of clothing didn’t change your opinion about her. If it did then I’d be very disappointed and I’d tell you why.

I firmly believe now (but I might change my mind if I’m given evidence to the contrary) that the idea of modesty is based on sociological settings. The building next to where I live is under construction. Recently the women in my building began complaining that the Bangladeshi and Indian workers hang out into the balconies as soon as they see the women coming. They have noted the timings when women enter or leave our building daily and they all come out like bees to watch the women. Some dress like me, but even the teenager downstairs who wears a jilbab and hijab complained that she is stared. The only woman they spare is an Egyptian niqaabi on the ground floor. We had two options: either complain about these workers or start wearing niqaab! Obviously we reported the workers because they are poorer and belong to nations that we can intimidate as Arab and Western women. BUT, what if these same men were rich and influential?

I think this is what has happened in Muslim societies. As Islam spread, Muslims gained influence and wealth and Muslim men began dictating how women should dress and behave – not only Muslim women but also non-Muslim women they married or captured. Now we have migrated to foreign lands as immigrants and still want to dictate how women should dress and behave.

The reason why I told you this whole story is because when any man stops listening to a woman by objecting to the way she dresses then he joins the forces who have objectified and intimidated women into conservatism. I recently read a book that was explaining how the prostitutes in Egypt have started wearing niqaab. It is a lengthy discussion but my point is there’s more to a woman’s credibility than her choice of clothes and we all should be working towards how to empower Muslim women rather than reducing them to skirts and jilbabs.

As far as women being imams is concerned, the position of an imam is one of responsibility and honour and respect and let’s face it, no man wants to listen to a woman teach religion. If so many women pray behind a man from behind a barrier (which you accept is a modern innovation) then why not let men pray behind a woman from behind a barrier? They don’t have to see her or her behind! They don’t have to see the women praying behind her but in front of them from behind the barrier. They can hear her but if she is a grandma like Amina Wadud then what’s the harm, eh? But this is all too innovative for Muslim men because it shakes their status quo.

(cont)

Metis said...

(cont)

Frankly I don’t go to mosques and where I live barriers and female imams have no importance in my life, but I understand the causes of women for whom these things matter. For example, I don’t consider the South Asian wedding festivities Islamic in any way that many South Asian Muslims enjoy, but did you ever see me objecting to those? I know that they form a very important cultural part in the lives of millions of South Asian Muslims and I am no one to impose my cultural values on them. The same way I feel that Muslim men who have migrated to the West should appreciate that many Western Muslim women have desires and causes that they fight for on a daily basis.

You mentioned how UAE is progressive and someone said it doesn’t need feminism. UAE is the most Westernised and liberal country in the GCC. And I have had lengthy discussions on this with many Khaleeji people and it will take me pages to talk about the issue so I won’t – the fact is that many people living in the UAE don’t appreciate or understand that the liberties women enjoy in the UAE have little to do with the Emirati tribal culture and more to do with Western liberalism that is allowed there which was established through the efforts of Western feminists. If anyone opposes this fact it is because of lack of their knowledge on the subject which I don’t want to discuss here because that is not the topic. As a coloured person when I talk against white racism I am indirectly painting all white people with the same brush so I am being racist too. When I object to “Muslim men” with those general words I am being sexist against a whole group of human beings including my father, husband and sons. When I say atheists are such arrogant people I show bias against all atheists even against those who support religious people. My point is that we must learn that you don’t have to fully agree with a secular or Muslim feminist. We all contribute to the society in our special ways and like any other group feminists should be honestly appreciated for what they do without bias, sexism or racism even if in the end we are all a little sexist, a little racist or a little biased.

mezba said...

@Lat, thanks for the comment - you are always welcome to use this space.

As for evidence in traditional sources on how the Sahaba (both men and women) used to pray, there are numerous sources that say men in front, children and then women. Imam Abu Hanifah, for example, even postulated that transsexuals should stand after children, but before women. We also have the famous story of the woman who challenged Caliph Umar (peace be upon him) when he tried to limit a woman's dowry in a khutbah.

The husband you mentioned - it's a very sad story. I also know of similar husbands who are 'respected' in their community but in fact are tyrants. It seems to be a global problem, and I don't have a straight forward solution. It's not a case where everyone will 'win', hurt will be caused.

In my pov,I don't hold much hope in getting whatever rights I deserve as a believer of God thru' traditional Islam.I agree with Jehanzeb mainly on the points he raised about inherent misogyny,male priviledge and sexism which is still very much evident in the muslim world.

While this view is mostly correct, I don't see it getting much easier for feminists. Please also refer to my reply to Metis below (when I type it up). Women's suffrage can come as a result of many things, but first there must be education. An educated society is an enlightened society. This is why in Canada the mosques have many services for women because we have an enlightened community. Personally, I can recommend the IIT mosque on most aspects.

mezba said...

@Jehanzeb,I am going back and reading Imam Ahmed's comment and trying to see where he attacks women feminists. It's sad he left no email info or contact information, and didn't respond to your comment - I would have loved to interview him on his thoughts. Anyways, let me see what he is saying, and is it an attack.

He says in his congregation he has women in the same prayer halls as men, and he wants it to remain that way, and urges the girls to take more responsibility. He also says Islamic feminists sometimes have valid reasons to protest.

He is saying womem feminists will be rejected by the community if they try to change Islamic points such as gay marriage or marrying a non-Muslim man. As an imam, I would expect him to say that, wouldn't you? I think he is not attacking women feminists per se, but slamming attempted changes to religion that he views as non-compromisable (is that a word).

Imam, if you are reading, I request you to respond.

Jehanzeb, going back to your comments, I think you (and others) are missing one important point I made. Perhaps I didn't make it clearly, so in that case let me clarify and make it again.

I am a blogger. Yes, I am more on the conservative side, but I am a blogger, I am used to debate, and I have a lot of liberal and feminist friends. I therefore do NOT dismiss ideas by women simply because of what they are wearing. But again, I am a blogger.

Do you think the rest of the conservative Muslim society is like that? You know, and I know, that a women is dismissed simply if she is not dressed modestly. We may argue this is not right (and indeed so), but this is reality. A women dressed in a sleeveless blouse and short skirt will never be taken seriously by the community. Just like a beardless sheikh.

So now, given that after ten years of efforts by feminists the Afghanistan government has just signed a document that says "women are secondary", in Egypt where feminism is going to take a back seat to salafism, I think feminists have to make a decision.

Working within the traditional system means compromising on ideals about dress, female imams and so on. Or else it will be a long hard slog.

That's what I am saying. I am not saying a long hard slog is wrong, but just that it's a long hard slog. And they will have to do it without the support of conservative people like me (whose support they would have gotten otherwise) because of ideas like female imam and etc.

If what you are saying is that a feminist can ONLY be a feminist if they i) never question or criticize feminists ii) MUST support the idea of female imams, equal inheritance etc. and iii) MUST never talk about a woman's dress --- then in my opinion this is a narrow definition.

Anonymous said...

Aslkm
Muslim feminists also seem to think that none of the thousands of female Muslim scholars during the past 14 centuries questioned the 'orthodox interpretation' of Islam, is due to their being controlled by the ''patriarchy''. But they themselves (MF's) are severely influenced by secular huMAN rights.....and are trying to change the religion to bring it in line with these 'rights'. They also get very ticked off if one suggests that it's a husband's duty to support his family financially, but at the same time, get in a huff, when a brother inherits more. I also think they campaign the wrong issues. Here in Cape Town, there are like, hundreds of mosques that accommodate women, but noooo, they want to go stage sit-ins at the Hanafi mosques. and are concerned with things like fasting and praying while menstruating, which is just weird, just to be 'equal' to men.

Metis said...

" think there's a misconception about this fact of Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. What he was saying was that traditional scholars DEBATED the issue. Some allowed, others didn't and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf himself did not state his views."

I had been looking where I read about Hamza Yusuf. Here it is:
http://thefatalfeminist.com/2011/08/31/discrediting-feminists/

azlin said...

all i am asking is for kindness and gentleness. pro/anti supporter of female muslim rights just do not have the balance that would attract fence sitter like me.

this is just my 2 cents:-

the anti female muslim rights would go on and and on about how the rights are given to the women and we have it the best in the world. really? no one is looking at the muslims for direction in womens' rights at all. Theoretically, we have it. But reality? Forget about it.

the pro female muslim rights are all about winning, being front runner and defeating men, especially muslim men.


I havent found a place where I can fit in. But that's just me.