It’s Ramadan. How ’bout those Muslim feminists?

In honor of Ramadan (which began this week), and the fact that I have but a little time left with the lovely folks of Feministe, I thought I would aim once again for the overlap in my life’s Venn Diagram.

To your right! The circle labelled “reads a lot of books.” To your left! The circle labelled “academic and professional obsession with matters Middle Eastern.” Up above! The circle labelled “thinks a lot about women’s issues.”

Boom! Right there in the middle, where you would find the book I blogged about on Tuesday, Teta, Mother and Me, you will also find this: Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East, by Isobel Coleman, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Affairs (which I first reviewed when it came out in 2009).

The public discourse among non-Muslims regarding the Muslim community tends to be shaped by stereotypes, possibly most powerfully when the conversation turns to Muslim women — they are hounded, we tend to think, and quite possibly cowering. The very real problems with which Muslim women grapple appear rooted in the nature of the religion, and, we assume, are thus powerfully immune to real change.

By way of counterargument, Paradise Beneath Her Feet presents an engrossing, seemingly counter-intuitive take on the question of women’s advancement in the Muslim world, showing that Islamic feminists are successfully arguing – from within the texts and traditions of their faith – that gross gender inequality flies in the face not just of the spirit of Islam, but also its laws.

Opening with a global examination of the dilatory consequences of gender discrimination – higher infant mortality, lower incomes, even lower agricultural output – Coleman then takes an exhaustive look at the “gender jihad” under way across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Indonesia (an indication, in fact, of the inaccuracy of the title — this is not so much “how women are transforming the Middle East” as it is “how women are transforming the Muslim world”). Over the years, the shape of the effort has changed, as Muslim feminists learn from the mistakes of the 20th century — efforts to impose change from above (anti-veiling laws, for instance) are now understood to have “sow[ed] the seeds for decades worth of Islamic backlash,” ultimately setting women back as they struggle to move forward.

Today, Coleman argues, those engaged in the jihad for Muslim women’s rights are trying to work “with the culture, rather than against it,” frequently succeeding where few thought it possible, as they attempt to build “a legitimate Islamic alternative to the current repressive system.” Her findings reflect the countless interviews she’s conducted, with activists who’ve been fighting for decades alongside those born in the meantime, as well as years of comprehensive research. She doesn’t attempt to paint a rosy picture — the challenges are real, and they are immense — but Coleman does present a convincing argument that Muslim feminists have the potential to shape the future of Islam.

********************

A few links for anyone looking for more on Islam:

1. The BBC has great background information on Islam (and all kinds of things, really!) on their website, covering all the bases in brief articles — here’s the one about veiling (hijab).

2. Muslims respond to extremism – a brief compendium that I put together, with links to more information if you want to go deeper.

3. A Gallup poll finds that Muslim Americans “are by far the least likely among all religious groups to justify targeting civilians, whether done by the military or by ‘an individual person or a small group of persons’.

4. A short list of Muslim American heroes that I compiled in response to the wave of Islamophobia that has swept the US in recent years.

5. To learn more about Ramadan, click on the links at the top of the post. They’ll bring you to the BBC & a great, brief video by The Guardian (check out the Indonesian drummers!).

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51 Responses to It’s Ramadan. How ’bout those Muslim feminists?

  1. Nahida says:

    Hah, I like that the article is simply titled “hi’jab.” I was half-expecting the usual cheesy “behind the veil” or “unveiling Islam” theme…

  2. Safiya Outlines says:

    I admit to being a bit biased, but no love for Muslimah Media Watch or AltMuslimah? :)

  3. Laila says:

    I have long argued that the term Muslim feminist is not an oxymoron. In many people’s eyes, Islam is oppressive to women, in truth its muslim men who have systematically stripped muslim women of their god given rights and repress women.

    Modern muslim women have to do more to assert themselves and challenge the status quo

  4. Fatemeh says:

    Here’s a review we did of Coleman’s book last year.

  5. matlun says:

    The very real problems with which Muslim women grapple appear rooted in the nature of the religion, and, we assume, are thus powerfully immune to real change.

    Surely this is not exactly false?
    I would say that it is an exaggeration and “immune” should be changed to “resistant” – there are huge differences in the Islamic interpretation between countries so clearly different interpretations are possible. This means that there can be at least incremental improvements within the religion.

    For those that have some time I would recommend this speech by Isobel Coleman (available through the OP link).

    I also have to say: Seeing these feminists in the Muslim world who are ready to literally put their lives on the line does put our western problems in perspective. That kind of courage is truly humbling to consider.

  6. Angel H. says:

    Laila: I have long argued that the term Muslim feminist is not an oxymoron.

    YES!!! It sickens me whenever someone says that Muslim women are complicit in their own oppression. And did I mention that the ones who say that self-identify as feminists?

  7. matlun says:

    Angel H.: It sickens me whenever someone says that Muslim women are complicit in their own oppression.

    Would you want to expand on that?

    I am one of the persons who believes in this. It is obviously not true for all Muslim women (duh), but it is for quite a large number IMO.

    (And even Laila said “Modern muslim women have to do more to assert themselves and challenge the status quo”)

  8. Sonia says:

    I wonder when can we expect more such articles on the Vatican or the Latter Day Saints.

  9. Sonia says:

    Well, in retrospect, Ramadan kareem and if possible just delete my earlier comment.

  10. BHuesca says:

    Or about anyone who ‘knows someone who wouldn’t have voted for McGovern,’ to paraphrase a writer for the NYT.

  11. Safiya Outlines says:

    Sonia – Well since I’m sure there are Catholic and Mormon feminists out there, who knows?

    Or am I sensing that this comment section is about to be invaded by the feminism police.

    Emily – I’ve thought of an anthology by USian Muslim women you might like to add. It’s called ‘I Speak for Myself’, but I’m on my phone so can’t link it.

  12. Sheelzebub says:

    I wonder when can we expect more such articles on the Vatican or the Latter Day Saints.

    Seriously? Is this going to turn into WHAT ABOUT THE CHRISTIANS???

  13. sier says:

    Angel H.: It sickens me whenever someone says that Muslim women are complicit in their own oppression.

    That really operates under the assumption that sharia law (the moral, economic, social, and political code of Islam) is inherently misogynist. If that’s taken as a given, then it completely makes sense that to be a woman who is muslim is complicit in her own oppression. Just like a good deal of right wing women are complicit in their oppression.
    Now, the first point is probably up for debate, but the evidence of Islamic nations really stacks the deck in favor of Islam being systematically misogynist, amongst other things.

  14. Angel H. says:

    matlun: Would you want to expand on that?

    Sure. It’s mostly regarding the subject of wearing hijab, niqab, or burqa. In an old thread on Feministing, when asked if she’d ever spoken to a Muslim woman about why she wore hijab, a commenter responded, “Any reason is a not good enough reason.” Unfortunately, this isn’t the only time I’ve seen this type of attitude.

  15. Jadey says:

    Here’s a link to the book Safiya referenced.

    The very best part of summer guest blogging is that there’s always so much more being brought up on Feministe than a smaller number of bloggers can usually cover. :)

  16. Puggins says:

    matlun:
    I am one of the persons who believes in this. It is obviously not true for all Muslim women (duh), but it is for quite a large number

    Don’t you think it’s unfair to call someone, who has been conditioned all her life to be subservient and meek, complicit?

    You’re expecting someone to risk literally EVERYTHING she has- her home, her family, her own well-being- in order to take an individual stand. Would you call the slaves whose families had been born into slavery for over three hundred years to have been accomplices to their circumstance?

    I wouldn’t.

  17. Jadey says:

    matlun: Would you want to expand on that?

    I am one of the persons who believes in this. It is obviously not true for all Muslim women (duh), but it is for quite a large number IMO.

    I always thought part of the issue was the idea that Muslim women are especially and perhaps uniquely complicit because of the characteristics of the religion, their cultures, their own nature, etc. I mean, it makes sense to me to argue that to some extent whenever people participate in a system in which they are marginalized, they are complicit in it and their own marginalization (and that forced complicity is in fact part of the marginalization), but I have a serious problem with the idea that Muslim women in particular are complicit in a way that other marginalized people are not because of poor assumptions about these women (they are just extra weak, blah blah blah) or about their religion (it’s extra oppressive in the way that other belief systems aren’t, yadda yadda). That sounds insulting and wrong, and that’s the kind of ‘tude I’m most familiar with when people reference Muslim women’s supposed self-oppression.

  18. matlun says:

    Angel H.: Sure. It’s mostly regarding the subject of wearing hijab, niqab, or burqa.

    Ah, that discussion. That is a large discussion, but I do not think the argument that they are complicit due to their clothing choices are beyond the pale. Compare with the recent posts of what kind of beauty treatment choices you should use as a feminist.

    My personal opinion: The burqa (western terminology) an ugly expression of misogyny, but it is not something that should be illegal in a liberal society.

    Puggins: Don’t you think it’s unfair to call someone, who has been conditioned all her life to be subservient and meek, complicit?

    Well, there are certainly Muslim (and non-Muslim) women who are oppressed and have no reasonable chance to change their situation.

    However: In general I feel a bit leery about this line of reasoning, since I think there is a risk of denying the agency of Muslim women. Just painting them as powerless victims does not do them any favors. Many Muslim women does indeed fully buy in to that culture and are indeed complicit. (The same type of argument is true in other oppressive cultures).

    Jadey: I always thought part of the issue was the idea that Muslim women are especially and perhaps uniquely complicit because of the characteristics of the religion, their cultures, their own nature, etc.

    You have a good point. People making the argument that Muslim women are unique in this are wrong. And they are also fairly common.

    That being said, of course the religion and culture plays a central role, since those are a large part of what shapes Muslim women as well as their environment.

    They are human beings with their own opinions and volition, and these types of dynamics are just part of the human condition.

  19. Kayla says:

    I’m an anthropology/religious studies student (Islam/Middle east studies is not my specialty, but it of course falls into my purview regularly) and last year I read a fantastic book that I’m sure you’ve read but I have to mention it anyway: Politics of Piety by Saba Mahmood. Lila Abu-Lughod is also spectacular.

    I’ve had opportunities to speak with many Muslim women who take many different approaches to observance, but all speak of their choices as just that– choices.

  20. Iris says:

    Hi Emily:

    Great post. I was especially struck by the following sentence:

    “Over the years, the shape of the effort has changed, as Muslim feminists learn from the mistakes of the 20th century — efforts to impose change from above (anti-veiling laws, for instance) are now understood to have “sow[ed] the seeds for decades worth of Islamic backlash,” ultimately setting women back as they struggle to move forward. ”

    It’s obvious to me this is true in more countries than those who follow the tenets of Islam. We could learn a lot from our Muslim sisters about how to create change at a basic cultural level. In retrospect, I can see the same sort of backlash in the U.S. from laws that were enacted in the ’70s.

    We (in the U.S.) are in the midst of extreme cultural backlash manifesting in the agendas of conservative politicians, resentment for affirmative action and continuing gender gaps in pay and benefits.

    @matlun:

    Thank for the link to Coleman’s talk. Haven’t watched all of it. The first half is filled with anecdotes about how Muslim women went about changing their societies. Very interesting.

    Now, I am not an expert on Muslim women – I have none in my life – if there are Muslim women complicit in their own oppression, I would venture to say it is out of ignorance and/or fear. Both of which can make any of us do things that are not in our own best interest.

    The other side of the coin, the brilliance and the courage of these women, hits me right in my heart.

  21. RenKiss says:

    Interesting discussion thus far. Especially regarding whether some Muslim women are complicit in their own oppression. I just wanted to recommend a book titled Engaged Surrender by Carolyn Moxley Rouse. While it focuses on African American women, I think it’s useful because it discusses whether these women are just reproducing their own oppression.

  22. Sid says:

    Really? This is a good discussion? Someone asserts out of nowhere that a “large” number of muslim women are complicit it in their own oppression with all of zero evidence, and who in all probability has little day to day interaction with muslims.

    And then another asserts that muslim women have “been conditioned all [their\ life to be subservient and meek, complicit.”

    Yet another makes the profoundly tired logical jump from nations with lots of muslims are this way therefore Islam must be x, y, and z.

    Same old, same old: muslim women being told what’s what.

  23. sier says:

    Sid,
    These aren’t “nations with lots of Muslims” though. In fact, there are some “nations with lots of Muslims” that have managed to take a dip their toes into the secularized government pool, such as Turkey, with moderate success.
    What I speak of are nations whose social, political, and economic systems are constructed upon the Koran and the Hadiths.
    The majority of observing muslims in the world recognize the Koran and Hadiths as the foundation for their religious views.

    To be fair, the Hadiths are really where the preponderance of misogyny gets introduced into Islam, and some modern Muslims have chosen to reject some or all of them.
    Traditional Islam, and the kind that is most widely seen and practiced around the world, however, remains devoted to the persistence of the Hadiths in Sharia Law.

    I mean, I could break it down into finer detail, but that’s tiresome, especially when I’m already engaged in a debate with radfems about the humanity of transpeople elsewhere.

  24. Emily Hauser says:

    @ All –

    I’m travelling today and only just now am getting to check in, via phone. The phone is a particularly bad way to comment, though, so I’ll really get into the conversation later.

    For now I just want to say how happy I am to see such a lively conversation and THANK YOU for the references to Muslim sources.

    That was a huge oversight on my part, and I aplogize. The main reason I love the Coleman book is because she lets Muslim women speak for themselves. I’m sorry that I failed to do so, myself.

  25. Sid says:

    sier:
    Sid,
    These aren’t “nations with lots of Muslims” though.In fact, there are some “nations with lots of Muslims” that have managed to take a dip their toes into the secularized government pool, such as Turkey, with moderate success.
    What I speak of are nations whose social, political, and economic systems are constructed upon the Koran and the Hadiths.
    The majority of observing muslims in the world recognize the Koran and Hadiths as the foundation for their religious views.

    To be fair, the Hadiths are really where the preponderance of misogyny gets introduced into Islam, and some modern Muslims have chosen to reject some or all of them.
    Traditional Islam, and the kind that is most widely seen and practiced around the world, however, remains devoted to the persistence of the Hadiths in Sharia Law.

    I mean, I could break it down into finer detail, but that’s tiresome, especially when I’m already engaged in a debate with radfems about the humanity of transpeople elsewhere.

    Right, can you name a single nation whose political, economic, and social systems are based on the hadiths and the Koran exclusively?

  26. Sarah J. says:

    I mentioned the organization I volunteer with in a previous thread but it’s relevant, so I’m bringing it up again :) I am greatly privileged to work with and for Muslim feminists at http://www.feminijtihad.com. We provide academic research to Muslim women activists on social and legal issues, with an emphasis on promoting egalitarian interpretations of Islamic law. Yes, an egalitarian Islam is absolutely possible and is lived by many men and women.

    Understanding the concept of ijtihad is vital to understanding how egalitarian Islam can exist. Ijtihad means “innovative legal reasoning” and it allows legal scholars to consider more than interpretation of the law. It’s quite ignorant to state that it’s impossible for Muslim women to be feminists, or to insist that the Quran and the hadiths don’t allow for a feminist Islam.

  27. matlun says:

    Sid: Really? This is a good discussion? Someone asserts out of nowhere that a “large” number of muslim women are complicit it in their own oppression with all of zero evidence, and who in all probability has little day to day interaction with muslims.

    Look, when it comes to western culture, we can discuss internalization of patriarchal value systems as part of the normal discourse and offer hard critiques of these values. If you think that this same discussion is off limits for Muslim cultures are you really giving Muslims full credit for being competent to take responsibility for their own choices?

    As for my personal situation, I do have some experience of Muslim women (my sister in law is one and I have also spent some time working in Muslim countries), but admittedly the ones I know are fairly secularized and liberal.

  28. Safiya Outlines says:

    Agreeing with Sid here.

    I always wonder why everyone else gets to have intersectionality (race, class, history, post colonialism, etc), but for Muslim women it’s all about the religion all the time.

    I’m also very leery of such simplistic sweeping statements being made like ‘complicit in their own oppression’ and ‘conditioned to be meek’ without much evidence or even experience of Muslim women.

    It all smacks of feminists policing, instead of accepting that some Muslim women identify as feminists, end of story.

  29. matlun says:

    Safiya Outlines: I always wonder why everyone else gets to have intersectionality (race, class, history, post colonialism, etc), but for Muslim women it’s all about the religion all the time.

    Well, if we are talking about “Muslim women” then we are talking about religion since that is the grouping we use. Of course this is a group of over half a billion people with very different cultures and situations, so the situation is more complicated.

    However, doing group analysis and generalization is an integral part of feminist analysis. For example when we are talking about patriarchy or gender analysis we are doing just this kind of generalization to try to find interesting and relevant patterns.

    I do not see “not talking about it” as a good alternative.

  30. Safiya Outlines says:

    Matlun – the issue is who gets to discuss it. Usually the experience of the minority/group (eg WOC, GLBT folks, PWD) in question is viewed as being the most valid and for everyone else it’s listening time and rightly so.

    However, for some reason, whenever Muslim women are mentioned everyone feels free to weigh in regardless of knowledge or experience because apparently it’s ‘patronising’ not to.

    I’m clutching my bingo card. Burqa is already crossed off as is Subjugated and my dabber is hovering over SaudiIranGhanistan, because I can already see the way that conversation above is going to go. Then, whichever Muslim women is about has to explain that the situation in those countries is not about just religion, it’s more complex, most Muslim women don’t live there, schooling schooling blah blah…

    …and it is boring and it is always the same, to the point when I can’t be bothered anymore (and I’m sure I’m not alone in that), except that everyone would then think Muslim women truly are too ‘meek’ to go onto feminist spaces, rather then being very tired of the way conversations always seem go.

  31. matlun says:

    @Safiya Outlines: That seems like an attitude that would make it difficult to get a discussion going.
    I am not American: Can I not discuss the US political situation?
    I am not a woman: Can I not discuss any feminist issues?
    I am white: Can I not discuss any issues around race?
    I am not religious: Can I not discussion Christianity or Islam?

    I think I will continue to participate in the discussion anyway.

    If you are saying that I am wrong, that may of course be the case (it would certainly not be the first time), but I find your silencing attempts rather ugly.

  32. kiturak says:

    Safiya Outlines:
    I’m clutching my bingo card. Burqa is already crossed off as is Subjugated and my dabber is hovering over SaudiIranGhanistan

    Seriously, did anybody actually do one? I’d love to link to it. There seem to be so many missing …

    I’m sorry, though, that there’s occasion for it. I’m not Muslim, but I love reading Muslimah Media Watch and have learnt a lot through it.

  33. Safiya Outlines says:

    matlun:
    @Safiya Outlines: That seems like an attitude that would make it difficult to get a discussion going.
    I am not American: Can I not discuss the US political situation?
    I am not a woman: Can I not discuss any feminist issues?
    I am white: Can I not discuss any issues around race?
    I am not religious: Can I not discussion Christianity or Islam?

    I think I will continue to participate in the discussion anyway.

    If you are saying that I am wrong, that may of course be the case (it would certainly not be the first time), but I find your silencing attempts rather ugly.

    Suggesting that people with minimal knowledge of a subject refrain from pontificating about it is not silencing.

    To use your example, if someone wanted to discuss US politics but didn’t even know who the US president was, I doubt they’d be greeted warmly. As a man, you are welcome to discuss feminist issues, but you have to accept that female feminists know more about it then you do. Are you seeing the link?

    Kiturak – I keep meaning to put one together properly.

  34. La Lubu says:

    What Safiya Outlines said @ 30. It’s one thing to discuss a topic one is deeply familiar with—a topic that one understands from much experience and/or study, with all the nuances and variables and history and whatever….

    …and another thing where the “discussion” is a canned recitation of tired stereotypes and assumptions fueled primarily by ignorance, on a topic which one has little to no knowledge of or experience in. And frankly, that’s what every discussion on Muslim women in both the mainstream and feminist media is. Roughly, “oh, those poor dears. So oppressed! So weak! So uneducated! And they can’t help it, you know…it’s their culture!! That’s why we have to replace their culture with ours!!”

    Bah. It reminds me all too much of the “your men are sooo much more sexist and so less enlightened than our men” back-patting that I sometimes hear from other feminists—which sure the hell is not a “discussion”, let alone a nuanced one, of the ways and means of cross-cultural sexist expression, but is instead just another way of reinforcing the pre-existing kyriarchy by placing themselves on top (well, under “their” men, of course).

    And really—if feminism doesn’t do a better job (as a movement, unless you want it to merely be a discussion salon) of positioning itself as a force to break down those hierarchies rather than replicate them, but with extra (white) womanpower!!!—it’s going to dis-a-fucking-ppear.

    The topic of this post is “Muslim feminists”. Those are the voices that need to be given primacy in the post, not catcalls from the peanut gallery on stereotypes of “Muslim women” generated by media that has a vested interest in maintaining a certain image of Muslim women for political purposes.

    So: I am not American: Can I not discuss the US political situation?
    I am not a woman: Can I not discuss any feminist issues?
    I am white: Can I not discuss any issues around race?
    I am not religious: Can I not discussion Christianity or Islam?

    Sure, you can join the discussion on all of those topics, and more. Just realize that you need to do more listening than speaking, and that you are not The Authority. And silencing? No. You’re not being “silenced” just because you’re told that you don’t seem to have very much of value to contribute and should therefore take a step back and listen to those who do.

  35. La Lubu says:

    Gahh! cross-posted with Safiya Outlines, who said it much more succinctly. (I’m getting my buccarranna on this morning, apparently!)

  36. matlun says:

    Safiya Outlines: Suggesting that people with minimal knowledge of a subject refrain from pontificating about it is not silencing.

    Yes. But unless I misunderstood you, what you said was that no one who were not themselves a Muslim woman should have a voice. Which is a different position.

    A counter example: Isobel Coleman, the author referred in the OP, is not a Muslim. Does this make her analysis and opinions on these matters without value?

    While not as well informed as she is, I believe I am well informed enough on these issues to make a meaningful comment.

  37. saurus says:

    matlun:
    @Safiya Outlines: That seems like an attitude that would make it difficult to get a discussion going.
    I am not American: Can I not discuss the US political situation?
    I am not a woman: Can I not discuss any feminist issues?
    I am white: Can I not discuss any issues around race?
    I am not religious: Can I not discussion Christianity or Islam?

    I think I will continue to participate in the discussion anyway.

    If you are saying that I am wrong, that may of course be the case (it would certainly not be the first time), but I find your silencing attempts rather ugly.

    Just wanna say that it is not “silencing” to make room for marginalized people to talk about their own experiences, and to ask people who don’t belong to that group to step back a bit (especially since people who don’t belong to that marginalized group tend to take up a lot of space – a disproportionate amount of space, in fact – in such discussions). When it comes to groups we don’t belong to, we learn a lot more by listening than by talking and speculating. We also annoy them less that way. And we don’t reproduce existing hierarchies of oppression in which that group gets squashed by others.

    I would hope, given the history at Feministe and elsewhere of Muslim commenters feeling alienated, uncomfortable and even silenced (!) when their lived expertise is trampled over by non-Muslims’ speculation and convictions, that we would really try to hear Safiya and other Muslim commenters out…no, I don’t think that means pulling out of a discussion entirely or agreeing with everything someone says, but it does mean being very conscious of the space we take up and whether it might be making Muslim commenters gnash their teeth.

    Just sayin’.

    As to the to the question of “complicity”, I don’t see how Muslims would be any more “complicit” in their oppression than any other oppressed group, as Jadey suggested.

  38. Puggins says:

    Sid:
    ….
    And then another asserts that muslim women have “been conditioned all [their\ life to be subservient and meek, complicit.”
    ….
    Yet another makes the profoundly tired logical jump from nations with lots of muslims are this way therefore Islam must be x, y, and z.
    ….
    Same old, same old:muslim women being told what’s what.

    Hmm, I think you may be making an assumption that wasn’t implicit in what I said, and certainly wasn’t my motivation.

    Where did I say that I know what’s best for muslim women? I was arguing AGAINST telling muslim women what’s best for them.

  39. IrishUp says:

    Ramadan mubarak to everyone observing.
    All I can contribute to this discussion is the blog of wood turtle, who also posts @ Renee’s Womanist Musings:

    http://woodturtle.wordpress.com/

    I love the picture she has on a lot of her posts: it’s her 2yo daughter Eryn in a black t-shirt that reads “This is What a Muslim Feminist Looks Like”. I’ve also learned a lot from reading the links in her Muslim roundups.

    And:
    “Suggesting that people with minimal knowledge of a subject refrain from pontificating about it is not silencing.”
    WORD! Safiya Outlines.

  40. Shoshie says:

    matlun: Yes. But unless I misunderstood you, what you said was that no one who were not themselves a Muslim woman should have a voice. Which is a different position.

    I was gonna write something, but Safiya, Jadey, and saurus said it way better than I could.

  41. Emily Hauser says:

    Sarah J.:
    I mentioned the organization I volunteer with in a previous thread but it’s relevant, so I’m bringing it up again :) I am greatly privileged to work with and for Muslim feminists at http://www.feminijtihad.com. We provide academic research to Muslim women activists on social and legal issues, with an emphasis on promoting egalitarian interpretations of Islamic law. Yes, an egalitarian Islam is absolutely possible and is lived by many men and women.

    Understanding the concept of ijtihad is vital to understanding how egalitarian Islam can exist. Ijtihad means “innovative legal reasoning” and it allows legal scholars to consider more than interpretation of the law. It’s quite ignorant to state that it’s impossible for Muslim women to be feminists, or to insist that the Quran and the hadiths don’t allow for a feminist Islam.

    I hadn’t heard of this, and managed to miss your earlier reference somehow — this is great! I’m looking forward to digging into it. Thank you!

  42. Emily Hauser says:

    Also: I’m still traveling, out and about with the fam, but please rest assured that I’m reading everything. The conversation doesn’t seem to much need me, though, so I’ll just keep reading for the time being!

    One comment, to reiterate what I said yesterday: One of the reasons I love the Coleman book so much is because she gives Muslim women a forum in which to speak for themselves.

  43. Nahida says:

    So the comments in this thread about stereotyping Muslim women sort of inspired a post. I hope Emily doesn’t mind me linking to it. And I realize that part of the conversation of stereotyping is kind of over… and I’m not sure my post completely exactly stays on topic, but I hope maybe it’s useful to someone.

  44. Emily Hauser says:

    Nahida:
    So the comments in this thread about stereotyping Muslim women sort of inspired a post. I hope Emily doesn’t mind me linking to it. And I realize that part of the conversation of stereotyping is kind of over… and I’m not sure my post completely exactly stays on topic, but I hope maybe it’s useful to someone.

    First of all, are you crazy? Have you seen how often I link to myself? Link away, sister!

    Second of all, I loved your post, and left a long-winded comment on it (indeed, I may have accidentally left it twice, so if I did, please delete one)! Here’s the line I loved most in what you wrote: “In real life, I spend more time being Muslim than discussing it, and I do have other interests.” It’s true, isn’t it? Life as a minority means forever having to tell one’s story, and occasionally, one wants to talk about wood ducklings.

  45. Nahida says:

    I haven’t received your comment, though I can see through stats you attempted to leave one! =( I think blogger is acting up…

  46. Co-sign Safiya Outlines, Fatemeh, Sid;
    The durability of the myth of particular Muslimah helplessness is best demonstrated not by the overtly Islamophobic/Orientalist comments up-thread (matlun, Sier, Puggins etc.) but rather in the arguably well-intentioned terminology of the author who keeps repeating how marvelous it is when western/non-Muslim women “let them speak” and/or “give [them] a forum in which to speak for themselves”!

    Oy.

    The idea that Muslimahs require non-Muslim (sorry, largely white) feminists to provide forums for them to speak is as offensive as the notion that they require those same feminists to speak for them. That, coupled with the notable absence of links to Muslimah Media Watch and AltMuslimah in the OP, earns this entire post a serious side-eye. Is it really such a radical thought to suggest if you are truly curious about Muslim feminists that you seek them out and learn what they have to say for themselves? In other words to *listen to* instead of talking for or even about Muslimahs FIRST. And maybe, you know, learn a little something about people whose experience is different from yours before presuming to know. If your response to that–frankly perfectly reasonable– suggestion is a petulant “But I want to talk too!”–even though it is clear you have no idea what you are talking about–then you are acting out of your un-addressed racism, not feminism. (And if you are gearing up to dash off an “Islam is not a race” post, don’t bother. If you really can’t see how racialized Islam is in western discourse then you must live in a box) If you feel “silenced” when when a minority person rejects your simplistic (at best) and destructive (at worst) characterizations then maybe you have some soul searching to do. Perhaps while cradling a cup of tea.

    PS
    Seriously–somebody has to make one of those Bingo cards. I’d totally buy one of those.

  47. Hina says:

    As an ex muslim woman I don’t think someone can believe in women are equal to men and deserve to be treated the same if you also believe in quran’s and hadith’s teachings but I am excited to read all the comments here and see if anyone can really prove me wrong.

  48. Don’t you think it’s unfair to call someone, who has been conditioned all her life to be subservient and meek, complicit?

    My wife is Muslim, and when I first started to introduce her to my friends and colleagues, almost all of whom are generally left-leaning academics, I was shocked at how many of the women among them made very clear that they were disappointed in me for marrying a woman from a culture where women are “conditioned all [their lives] to be subservient and meek.” Their point was that they were surprised to learn that I was one of those men who was unable to handle strong, assertive American women who could speak for themselves, etc. and so on. I was hurt by this, but I am not making this comment to talk about my experience. What astonished me was that these otherwise very progressive, mostly self-identified feminist women did not see that their criticism of me was based on a thoroughly racist (or perhaps xenophobic is a better term–at the time we did not have the term Islamaphobic) view of Muslim women, that they were in fact being deeply insulting to my wife, who is anything but meek and submissive. But my wife’s individual personality is beside the point. There is, I think, a serious case of ethnocentric cultural misreading going on here. In Iran, as in many other countries, a culture of deference exists that both men and women perform, but, especially when it is performed by women, it too often gets read in the West as meek, submissive and subservient–which it is not. I do not mean to suggest that women are not discimrinated against, are not oppressed, in Muslim countries, that there are not women in such countries–as there are in all countries–who are meek and submissive, but we do those women a disservice, and do absolutely nothing to help (and sometimes quite a lot to hinder) them in their fight for equality on their own terms when we project our own cultural assumptions onto who they are.

  49. Hina says:

    Hijab is a well debated topic even with in muslims, and some think it is required for a muslim woman and some believe it’s her personal choice.
    I would like to see some for sure rules in Islam debated here. How would a Muslim feminist justify a man being allowed 4 wives but a woman isn’t allowed the same. A man being allowed to marry non-muslims but a woman isn’t allowed that. Daughters are given one half of what the son’s are given when it comes to property. Two women witnesses are equal to that of one man.

  50. Nahida says:

    *shamelessly self-promotes*

    If you’re interested, Hina, you can find information on my site by clicking my name and viewing the “Quranic verses” tab.

  51. Hina says:

    Thanks Nahida
    I did enjoy your blog and it’s a refreshing perspective but I was unable to find anything about the things I mentioned earlier. So if you could give me a direct link to that, I would really appreciate it.

    From what I read your interpretation of the text in Quran was a fun read but it was only an interpretation like any other, so in the end you have to use your logic without any bias to try to make sense of the text. Even though most Muslim Scholars don’t see the same meanings in the words of the quran as you do, I’m sure more would if it was done by women and not men. Its good to get a woman’s perspective on this for once rather than hearing what men have to say about it, but I feel like just as those men who only read and understand what they want and like, you were a little bias too.
    You did bring up some good points but i feel like a lot of what you post has to do with what you feel is right and fair rather than what is actually in the Quran. Also when you elaborated on certain behavior and practices that Muslim women and men are held to you did a decent job at interpreting the words in a new way and showing us a different picture than what most Muslims are taught, but you failed to realize how Quran talks more strictly about how women should behave, act, dress and act subservient yet there is no equivalent orders like that for men.

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