Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why (Many) Muslims Have a Problem With (Most) Feminists

Yes. This is a very general, stereotyping and broad article. Read "The Way Forward" at the end.

Feminists. They used to be a good thing. Even Muslim feminists. At one stage of my life, I was very sympathetic to Muslim feminists. And who couldn't be? The way many women were treated in the Muslim countries (sometimes due to a history of colonial oppression and sometimes due to a lack of proper Islamic scholarship) would make anyone a Muslim feminist. Women are not allowed to attend mosques (places in Bangladesh), not allowed to vote or drive (Saudi Arabia), suffer domestic abuse (Pakistan) and don't have access to education (Afghanistan). Then some of those misogynistic folks running the establishment there immigrated to the West and brought their cultural baggage dressed as Islam here. Walk into any mosque run by "uncles", and you will become a Muslim feminist. Where is the women's prayer area? Oh, the broom closet. Why don't you have women on your Shariah board? Why can't women see the imam? Etc. and etc.

And yet, something started to give. Despite the myriad of issues that could raise support for their cause, Muslim feminists started to become shunned by most Muslims. I too started to develop a distaste for them, their writings and their fights. Ultimately it cultivated in me writing on Why Muslim Feminists Don't Win. After more than a year of reflection, I have come to the following conclusions on why most Muslims, even (and especially) the educated, young and liberal ones from the West, don't care for (most) Muslim feminists.

Insulting Respected Scholars and Using Derogative Terms for Them

No scholar, no matter how educated, knowledgeable, experienced or intelligent, can be hundred percent correct all the time. Similarly, you will not find a scholar whose views you agree with completely all the time. We are all human and the one perfect human being, the final Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (peace be upon him), lived more than 1400 years ago and is no more. It is possible that a scholar today may have mountains of knowledge in one area, but say a completely stupid thing in another field.

This does NOT negate his (or her) expertise in other areas or disregard a lifetime of work. However, when a typical Muslim feminist encounters a scholar whose views (particularly on women, on gender relations etc.) they disagree with - suddenly this scholar is a dinosaur, a relic, a fossil, or worse.

During the whole AbuEesaGate, many scholars took issue with what Abu Eesa had to say, while some others (sadly) defended him. Some Muslim Feminists cheered those scholars that rebuked Abu Eesa as "allies" and "men who get it". It would have been similarly possible to disagree with the scholars who defended Abu Eesa in a polite manner - yet if you peruse many Muslim feminist blogs (and comments), many of them had harsh words and resorted to name calling of these scholars, and completely disregarding their work in other fields or even according them the respect that any scholar deserves. Calling someone's fatwa or Facebook posts "misogynist" or "having a frat boy mentality" or even "disgusting" is fair; however when you go into insulting the scholar themselves by calling them "vultures", "predators" etc. or their work as "public excretions", then you have crossed a line.

Insulting the Sahabah (Companions) and the Hadith

Many Muslim feminists reserve special vitriol for the Companion Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him). Not only did this man record the most hadith, he also narrated some sayings that sharply go against the Western mindset of many feminists. They love to quote Dr Abou El Fadl's position on Abu Hurairah, where the professor apparently says (in his book) that this Companion has transmitted sayings that "denigrate the moral status of women". Similarly, many of such feminists openly denounce hadith which rubs them the wrong way, or try to belittle the Companion that has narrated the hadith. Most Muslims revere the Companions. We do not hold them as a perfect specimen (they are humans after all) but they were the best generation. For 1200 of the 1400 years of Islamic history, their values and their teachings have caused Muslims to rule the world; it is inconceivable that for all these years Muslims were missing something that some feminist has suddenly discovered with her keen eye.

Picking and Choosing Islam

Islam is not a buffet that you pick the things you like and ignore what you don't. If you are a Muslim, you accept the religion as a whole. This goes back to the previous point where some feminists try to cherry pick hadith which suits them, and ignore or try to classify as "weak" the ones they hate. Here's a classic example - a hadith that is widely shared by many feminists.

When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was travelling on the road with his cousin, Al-Fadl ibn Abbas, a woman stopped him to ask him a question. The woman was very beautiful, and Al-Fadl couldn’t help but stare at her. Seeing this, Prophet Muhammad reached out his hand and turned his cousin’s face away. - Bukhari Volume 8, Book 74, Number 247

He didn’t tell the woman to cover her face.
He didn’t tell her to change her clothing.
He didn’t tell her that her appearance was too tempting or indecent.
He averted his cousin’s impolite stare instead.

Note the emphasis (and added conclusions) that is attached to this hadith. It implies that a woman can dress as she wants, and if a man stares it's his fault. Yet, this ignores the numerous times that the Prophet (pbuh) has asked women (and men) to dress modestly, to make sure their appearance isn't indecent, and so on. It's even there in the Quran when Allah talks about how one of the daughters of the old man of Madian approached Musa (peace be upon him) - "She walked shyly".

Subverting and Changing Islam

In the 1400 years of Islamic history, you will not find a single, reputable scholar or madhab that had women leading a mixed congregation prayer. Yet this is a common cause celebre for many radical Muslim feminists - despite it having zero support from the average Muslim. Similarly they now wish to change Quranic laws on inheritance, while ignoring their reasons, or polygamy, or the very fact that these laws are coming from God Himself. Apparently God failed to understand the changes society would be undertaking in the 21st century, nauzubillah! Similarly the hijab is targeted, or the fact that Allah put the responsibility of earning a family's income primarily on the men, and so on. They now openly cheer on a woman's staying single as long as she wants (neglecting the Islamic injunction to get married as soon as feasible), or a woman's choosing career over her family or kids (despite the immense Islamic rewards attached with motherhood).

Lack of Adaab

If you refer to my post on Love Inshallah where I expound on my view that Muslims (men and women) should marry young, and women who are delaying their marriage are harming themselves, it elicited a ton of responses and comments. Most of the negative comments came from women (and those who are the Muslim feminist type) and the majority of these resorted to name calling, insults, derogatory terms and so on. And I am hardly a good example to use - several sheikhs and scholars have felt the brunt of these insults by the supposedly "enlightened and liberated" women. Yes, disagree with our views, bring your own, but why the vitriol? One famous feminist writer (who does not have any scholarly credentials for analyzing hadith but writes about them all the time) wrote about why she felt "unmosqued". Then she posted a private message from someone who asked her to get educated on hadith before writing about it, and made fun of this man. And others (her supporters) joined in the insults and name calling. And then they wonder why the rest of the Ummah completely ignores them!

Associating With Known Islamophobes

This one hardly needs a write up.

The Way Forward

This article is of course very general and broad. There are tons of Muslim feminists who are doing good (and great work). Wood Turtle and the Salafi Feminist are two women whose writings and work I very much admire, even if I don't agree with their views at times. The very fact that Muslim women are suffering in Muslim countries (and in Western institutions run by sometimes chauvinistic men) is not up for debate - it's true, and it's happening. Here are some things that happen in some of the mosques in Toronto that I have personally witnessed:
  1. The women's prayer area is shut off and there is a physical barrier which prevents them from seeing the imam, contrary to the sunnah.
  2. When there is a big crowd (such as Eid), the women lose their prayer area and are relegated to the basement (or gym).
  3. Many mosques have no women on their advisory committee.
The way forward has to involve dialogue and education, and the pace of change will be slow. For example, Toronto has two great mosques (the Islamic Institute of Toronto, and the Sayeda Khadija Centre) which not only has great facilities for women, but also follow the sunnah style of prayer where women share the space with men and can see the imam. They have access to the scholars. Imam Hamid Slimi is a fantastic, down-to-earth man who is a jewel in the Islamic scholarship of Toronto. They understand the community and understand the needs and requirements of the community, and the change is happening in an inclusive manner which listens to concerns from all affected stakeholders and the changes are in accordance with the classical understanding of Islamic law. By insulting the imams, denigrating hadith, rebuking men and trying to change traditional Islam to suit Western sensibilities, many Muslim feminists risk doing more harm than good.


Anonymous said...

See the comment and what she says about Umar (RA)

Anonymous said...

Check Your Privilege Dude. And perhaps the right thing to do would be to not comment on feminism cos you clearly don't get it. If I was to put it mildly, your understanding of the subject matter sucks where-the-sun-don't-shine.

Oh and I am a Muslim Man - Just wanted to mention that, in case my feminism has more weight (with you) because of my penis.

mezba said...

@Anon (5.01 pm), as soon as the linked article said "Umar, the only corrupted caliph of the first four", I stopped reading after that paragraph. And even that single paragraph had multitude of errors.

@Anon (12.50 am), keep working on the adaab. Keep at it and maybe you will learn to argue with civility sometime. May Allah guide you.

Sarah said...

For me it's the lack of adab and academic dishonesty. I just find that for every decent point made, a whole lot of two-faced experiences or points are said, and that angers me. But I've discussed with women like "The Salafi Feminist" many times before that often these women are simply jaded, and who can blame them? The sheer level of oppression that goes on is far beyond stuff like exclusion from masajid - I've read about people with PTSD, people who were in Sufi cults, people who were abused under what was seen as 'legitimate' interpretations of Islam, and personally it was a very big shake-up for me when I realized the validity of many of their complaints.

Gibran Mahmud said...

I am no feminist but I think Alhamdulilah you made good points. I also don't agree with Salafi Feminist on anything but I can't deny she is bringing to light a lot of good things.