Feminism – An extremely Muslim (i.e. moderate) perspective?

Feminism, Anti-feminism and the Muslim Middle-way

Feminists and Progressives seem to have sympathized strongly with the Muslims this previous election cycle. Is their sudden interest (not in the religion at all, but in it’s adherents) so strongly emphasized at this time for political reasons? Maybe, though we could just for sake of ease and good opinion, assume that they wish to see nobody mistreated by oppressive policies. For the true sympathizers and allies to the Muslims, we do thank you for your intentions and the good that your actions have created. In this post, I would actually like to outline a Muslim perspective on feminism. The purpose is simply an exploration of ideas.


Feminism and Islam

The problem between Islam and feminism is not simply to say, Islam is anti-woman and feminism is pro-woman, therefore they are incompatible. I’m proposing a more holistic, complete approach to the topic. I first began my own humble and limited “research” on the subject in 2015. I researched feminism, it’s leaders of today. I learned about much of the reactionary anti-feminism groups which became part of the alt-right political scene around the summer of 2016 -the likes of Milo Yiannopolis, for instance. I also sought out Muslim opinions on this issue, which even led me to visit Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad, who in my opinion, articulates perhaps the most complete approach of the Muslims with regards to the topic. As spiritual people and as Muslims, we fall into neither the feminist camp nor the men’s rights campaigners. We fall into a strange middle way. Often times, a middle path is confused with intentional ignorance of the extremes of two polarities, but the Muslim need not simply ignore this issue to remain moderate.

In short, I would say that Islam as a religion is certainly a separate movement to feminism. Muslims may in fact share similar goals, but often times their ideals are in direct contradiction. Islam is the religion of submission to the human’s natural state and we believe this to include accepting our own genders as a part of our life. We accept that genders are different and wish to foster understanding and cooperation between the genders. The idea that one gender is better in the eyes of Allah (God), however really never was expressed in the classical tradition of Islam. Many feminists would not even disagree with those statements either. I personally categorize feminism under as a type of materialism. I will elaborate on this.

Islam, Religion and the other -isms

When it comes to Religion and the followers and believers of Religion, people can be quite particular about how they believe in something, as to not conflict with their Religion. Thus, there are two ways religious believers tend to deal with ideologies, ideas and other philosophies.

  1. Because the ideology came out of a different world-view with different preconceptions about the world and the afterlife, one accepts any points that are in agreement with their Religion or world-view with a nuance, while disagreeing with any points of the ideology which are in disagreement. This position is perhaps the strongest, as it is recorded that the Prophet Muhammad had mentioned that wisdom is the lost property of the believer. Muslims took this approach throughout history, which allowed them to even use the terminology and science of the ancient Greeks, such as Aristotle and Plato in formulating the existing schools of Islamic legal thought.
  2. One rejects the entirety of the ideology or -ism, as it was not founded within the same mind frame and world-view of the religious world-view. In the case that Muslims fear that an ideology may be dangerous to their faith, this is a possible approach and also not illegitimate.

I present to you this humble observation to help us understand how Muslims and also maybe others who adhere to a different religion or set of philosophy-guided rule and belief system behave with other complete ideologies.

When different ideologies such as Marxism, Materialism, Feminism or others are accepted as a whole on top of other world-views, often there can arise serious confusions and contradictions.

The real, underlying Issues

I would argue that the greatest discrepancies between Islam and feminism are…

  1. The definition of justice provided by feminism, which excludes a belief in the hereafter and a belief in divine justice to come in the next life. Justice for the feminist must be demanded here and now. The problem with this is that in this world, nothing perfect can be attained. This will create a world of eternal dissatisfaction in the mind of a feminist, while for spiritual people, we understand that justice will be given in the afterlife and infinitely so. While we as spiritual people wish for justice and strive for justice, we can also forgive injustices. Forgiveness and mercy are regrettably not in the vocabulary of most feminists. Justice for the Muslim exists intrinsically in our equal opportunities in this life to be sources of good and to make choices of good over bad.
  2. The belief that doing as one feels like doing to be an act of liberation is also highly problematic. Often times, doing what one feels like doing is actually hurting one’s own soul or taking it further from it’s original purity. For spiritual people and as Muslims, we may actually believe the world to be more complex than “If you are not hurting someone else, then you are free to act as you wish”, because for the spiritual person and as Muslims, we believe we must maintain the rights of others, the rights of our souls and the rights of Allah. A Muslim rendition of that saying above might be then, “Do as you want, as long as you are not hurting the rights of others, the rights of your soul and the rights of Allah.”

It should be said that for Muslims, there is no valid opinion that men or women are superior to one another in the eyes of God or that either of them is punished, rewarded or reaches a different level of piety simply for being born as one gender over the other.

An important theological point to be made about justice in Islam is that every condition that we are brought into life with, be it our social class, race, gender, geographic location, intelligence or even inclination to sinful action are not considered to be sins, rather are understood as tests. The wealthy person is equal to the poor person, yet they have different tests which they are given. The wealthy person will be judged according to how useful he spent his money (in being beneficial to others) and the poor person will be tested on his patience with his poverty. With all of this understood, one should come to the understanding that really, for the Muslim, nobody is in a state of absolute oppression. One may be oppressed in this life, yet the oppressed will be rewarded with closeness to God for their patience in the matter. Oppressors will lose out in the afterlife. Islam thus also calls for justice in this life, for the reason that we all wish to avoid oppression and we all wish for the love of God and friendship of God.

Feminists and other kinds of materialists are often disapproving of Religion, especially when there seems to be too many rules which get in the way of choosing what they want to do. And when the rules begin to segregate people on the basis of gender, they are even more disgusted. Many feminists have thought on this issue, “What is gender?” Well, Islam has a few ideas. Muslims generally believe that our gender is a part of our individual identities, but at our core, we are humans- servants of God. We don’t exactly believe that we are truly genderless spirits, living in gendered bodies, appendages, rather we are who we are, physically and spiritually.

So, when given a religious command for example that it is the right of the married woman that her husband provides for her financially (as is understood in the Islamic tradition), a married man could say for example, “Well, I don’t want to do that.” And he then tells his wife that she must spend out of her own money for necessities- this would be understood as a sin on the part of the married man. If the woman however graciously accepts that she will contribute her money toward family necessities, this was not necessary on her part but is acceptable. It is the belief of the Muslims that such responsibilities are put on different genders in relationships to maintain human equilibrium and prevent oppressive behavior.

The most common issue a feminist or materialist may be confused or concerned about are the rules regarding gender-specific rules of attire, namely the hijab. There may be some Muslim women who are still confused by a type of training of thought to assume that if they want to wear it, then it is alright. This approach towards answering a feminist questioning of extraneous garments may stop further questions, yet does not completely address religious reasoning. Believers are bound further to the rules and customs of their religion than a simple want. Really, because we believe in our religion, we want to be knowers of Allah (God), trusters in God, friends of God. Separation from the religion in not practicing well-known tenets of practice are comparable to separation from God. Would you wish to be separated from the One toward whom you believe all is to thank? Would you wish to be separated from beloved powers, closer to yourself than your own self, yet beyond comparison? Such an answer may do a much better job in attracting interest in the Religion, I would argue. People are looking for that kind of eternal love that is beyond themselves.

So, Islam provides loose gender roles. It’s how we do things. We’re not too upset if you don’t like us for it, but if you could understand that it is more nuanced than you first thought, I will consider it an accomplishment.

Women’s (shariah) Rights

There is another angle which a number of Muslims may take in a propagation of a kind of “feminism”, which is essentially a redressing of wrongs and injustices done in the Muslim communities towards Muslim women, often against our code of the sharia (let’s call this, rules and codes of practice of Islam). This type of “feminism” which actually calls for women’s rights, simultaneously working under the sharia is working towards establishing justice and is protecting the sharia rights of women that they deserve. In my own opinion, I would argue it to be a strange use of the word feminism, but I would agree with the premise wholeheartedly. Injustices towards women, including redressing a wrong opinion towards women (such as believing that they are of less value to men) are Muslim issues and should not be ignored.

Interesting article, which Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad refers to in the video:
All the single Ladies, Atlantic Monthly

Here, we witness a Muslim woman not only reject feminism, but rather brutally refute it even on feminism’s own secular battlefield. Interestingly enough, many of the statements made here are used by men’s rights activists or perhaps just simply non-feminists in a more moderate case.

I will not just simply leave many of these angry anti-feminists of the alt-right to go without being refuted as well. If someone was paying close enough attention, perhaps they were already refuted as well in the video. I’ll write it out in words in case you didn’t get the point.

The Problem with Men’s Rights Activism, MGTOW and alt-right Anti-feminism

If you haven’t been paying attention, it would appear that there is a divide between the genders appearing. Why did millennial white males over-overwhelmingly (particularly even more so by non-bachelor holding white males) support Donald Trump as the Presidential candidate in 2016, while the political left felt they would be counting on “women and minorities” for their political victory, as to have given up completely on others? Can this be a good sign about the direction of our society?

For the men who are looking for revenge, honestly, maybe you’ve found your outlet. But for the people who want to solve problems and fix things, make it better, then most people understand that simply taking revenge, “going your own way”, essentially leaving women alone to “watch them be lonely because they deserve it”; honestly?

I’m not going to tell you to “man up” and get married, because that’s what society expects of you. I know it might take you time to reconsider some of these issues. You might come around for a minute and say, well I could like women, maybe I could be a father, but everything is just too messed up already.

You don’t need to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ though, which is the point I will make for you.

Islam as the agent for resolving the gender conflict

Islam can solve all of the issues created by feminism and anti-feminism. Definitely not all of them overnight, but on an individual level, sure.

Convert Culture

Do we reject our culture?

Is an american convert to Islam committing cultural heresy? Or, otherwise said, does one need to relinquish culture once converting to Islam?

Let’s just go ahead and answer the question before we get ourselves confused.

Converting to Islam does not mean a rejection of one’s culture and cultural norms, except those aspects of the culture which are in direct contradiction to the rules of Islam. All good aspects and neutral aspects of one’s culture should be embraced. Islam is not culturally predatory. We need to be cautious of a kind of teaching that says that Islam is culturally predatory or which tries to turn Muslim converts into Arabs, Turks, Malays or other very specified cultures that are associated with Islam.

Please view the document called “The Cultural Imperative” by Shaykh Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah

American Muslims, British Muslims and other “non-assimilated”  Muslims including converts should work to reach within their cultures and take the greatest aspects of our cultures and really run with them and embrace them. We do not need to be ashamed of our cultures, even if they had oppressive pasts – for one, we don’t bear the sins of our forefathers and two, we are Muslims now carrying the deen of Allah.

The following video is titled ‘A very British Ramadan’ and was posted on Facebook, as one may follow through the link.

Culture rejecting you

There is a totally different approach to the topic at hand, which is to ask, can the Americans or the British or the (you name it) accept Muslims into their definition of their culture? How about, even if the converts happen to have a family history that dates back generations in that land? They are not accepting Muslims, so I am cast aside. This has often been the norm throughout history. British converts would set sail for Morocco and the family may set up a funeral for their family member’s death (i.e. conversion to Islam). We are not in a so much polarized world at this point.

See here, a story on masud.co.uk on stories of British converts leaving to Morocco in the Middle Ages.

Here is another story, in contrast to that however, A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb.

Immigrant Problems

How do the convert Muslims interact with the immigrant Muslim communities? On one hand, you would like to have an American, British, German, Mexican (what have you) Muslim culture, yet you only find foreign languages, biryani, Arab nationalists and other converts who insist you must also be Arab, as was the Prophet Muhammad.

We find immigrant communities accepting perhaps a simplified Islam, satisfaction with upholding only few basic teachings and often apostasy and a severe lack of understanding or motivation. I do not even mean that as a generalization, but as an issue that is common. For convert Muslims, we need to consider and reflect on how we can secure ourselves, the next generation and how to help and encourage new Muslims to advance their roles and which directions to take.

Might I dare to be a bit controversial and bring up an opinion that is not all so uncommon among many classical and serious Ulema, but which many American immigrant Muslims would not see as politically correct. That is, that without any sort of explanation or specific allowance from Ulema, that it would have been impermissible to even have left the lands of the Muslims to go live in a place of dar al-kufr, a place in which practicing Islam and raising children extremely difficult. Many Muslims cannot even fathom to consider leaving western countries to live in a majority Muslim country, but perhaps it would do them much better to do so. For many converts, there are a number of reasons for us to specifically stay in our countries of birth. For instance, we understand the culture and therefore can propagate the religion more holistically and as an indigenous subculture, rather than as something entirely foreign. Many Muslims are living in very insulated environments in the west that are often quite bad at communicating with local westerners. Oops!


Solution to sorting out Cultural Issues

Quite frankly, the vision of the immigrant communities has in a lot of ways failed us and has not reached out to us or made us feel welcome or encouraged. There may be exceptions, but this means that Muslim converts in the west must pick up the task of securing future interests and not relying on the immigrant communities to a large extent. This does not mean that we are to reject immigrant Muslim communities either.

The above video is just a short clip from the American Muslim scholar, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, who is addressing Muslim names. It is a common idea for people to find a muslim name once they have converted, however it is obviously not a commandment of the religion. It may be recommended if the name has a negative meaning.

In this clip from the same scholar (Shaykh Hamza Yusuf), it is mentioned how Islam has grown and adapted to the indigenous cultures of people where Islam spread.