In the everlasting struggle for human rights, the advocacy of women’s equality is one of the most controversial and complex aspects. The importance of considering the huge ethnic, religious and cultural differentiation and the complexity of the contemporary world is vital, when demanding the realization of these rights. To establish and achieve political, economic, personal and social gender equality means to consider each diversity and to treat that diversity according to the person’s values, without trying to have a cultural or ideological hegemony.
So, why when it comes to Muslim women, the combination of words as Arab or Muslim with the word Feminist is considered an oxymoron for the largest part of the world?
This idea represents a very limited view, a demonstration that a prejudice is far easier to make rather than an articulated and insightful opinion based on real facts and not assumptions.
In fact, the assumption that being an Islamic feminist is a paradox comes from the stereotyped distorted idea that every woman in Islam is oppressed, uneducated, passive and totally submitted to men, without any chance to express her thoughts.
It is a dangerous generalization and misconception to accuse Islam not to consider women equal to men. As reported in Oxford Islamic Studies Online, “in Islam, men and women are equal in God's sight and are expected to fulfill the same duties of worship, prayer, faith, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Islam generally improved the status of women compared to earlier Arab cultures, prohibiting female infanticide and recognizing women's full personhood. Islamic law emphasizes the contractual nature of marriage, requiring that a dowry be paid to the woman rather than to her family, and guaranteeing women's rights of inheritance and to own and manage property. Women were also granted the right to live in the matrimonial home and receive financial maintenance during marriage and a waiting period following death and divorce.The historical record shows that Muhammad consulted women and weighed their opinions seriously.”
People’s “freedom to hold opinions without interference” and “to manifest a religion or belief” declared in the UN Declaration of Human Rights seem to be jeopardized in a society, wherein preaching about the importance of the protection of women despite gender, race or religion goes in parallel with Islamophobia and prejudices and shows often incoherences about Western ideology about feminism.
That is why it seems that society fails not only in making wrong assumptions about Islam, but more and more in being too busy to make prejudices than to protect the real issues affecting Muslim Women in the world, which are not religion based/justified (as many would assume) but made up of the same identical essence of any other violation against any other woman. Maybe the only way they have to be seen in a different perspective is in the consideration of intersectionality, because they would not only need to be considered potential victims as women but also as potential victims of racism.
In fact, very often Muslim women are victims of violence both because of their sex and their nationality or religious belief. According to Pressenza - International Press Agency, “in France, the 81.5% of Islamophobic violences registered in 2014 were addressed to women and the largest part of them was wearing a visible religious item. Tell Mama reported that in the United Kingdom the 54% of the victims of verbal assaults were women.”
If we consider also the data collected after the 9/11 attacks and in recent years, the situation appears to get worse especially in the US, where Muslim women wearing a headscarf began to be associated to extremism and in most of the cases to terrorism. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism “in America’s six largest cities alone, hate crime increased from 431 to 526, or 22 % for partial year 2017. The overall partial 2017 increase for all the thirteen survey cities rose from 690 to 827 or 19.9 %.”
So, YES! Muslim women can be feminist if we are ready to go beyond our prejudices.
There is no oxymoron in Islamic feminism and if we really want to help Muslim women, we can do it by accepting and fully respecting their beliefs and their choices. Every woman before being Muslim, Christian, White, Black, European, African or Asian is a woman and as such needs to be protected, supported and respected like any another.