Islam, Feminism, and Culture

Growing up as a girl, I have seen a lot of injustices committed against women. With time, I began to ask questions as to why women are considered vulnerable, voiceless and powerless. And when I speak up, the people around me angrily shut me down and taunt me about being a feminist.

Feminism is a range of social movements, political movements, and ideologies that aim to define, establish, and achieve the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes.

“What the early western feminists agitated for such as women’s right to vote, women’s right to equal pay, women’s right to inherit and own property, not restricting jobs for women and so on are supported by Islam. Women in Islam already have those rights given to them by the shari’a long before the western feminists began to fight for them. This indicates that feminism in its origin was not against the teachings of Islam, rather it is what feminism has grown to be in this modern times that makes some of the values and objectives of feminism totally contradictory to the teachings of the shari’a.”

In the process of looking for where I belong, I came across some set of women who regard themselves as “Islamic feminists”. These set of feminists advocate for Muslim women to stop using the hijab because according to them, the hijab degrades women, they also advocate for an equal share of the inheritance and much more. I realized that the so-called Muslim feminists have negotiated their religious beliefs to fit into the ideas and expectations of western feminism.

Then, I decided to look into my religion to see the place of women in it, and that ended my journey of looking for where I belong to and what I stand for as a woman. People have so often accused and viewed Islam as a religion that oppresses women, this is because of misconceptions and the misunderstanding of the principles of the shari’a. For some people, understanding Islam as a religion can be achieved by merely looking at the practices of its followers. This is not proper to some certain extent, because the followers of Islam in a different part of the world might have imputed their cultures and practices into the religion.

Some Muslims do not support the education of women because, in their opinion, Muslim women are meant to stay at home only and take care of all the domestic chores at home. These set of people are either ignorant of the fact that the prophet’s wives, Aisha and Ummu-Salma (R.A) are one of the most influential teachers of the deen.

The way the majority of Muslim men handle a divorce is not the exact way stated in Islam. Muslim men who practice their culture in our society do send their women away as soon as they divorce them. But that is not Islam. Suratul Talaq (Quran 65 v 6) and Suratul Baqarah (Quran 2 v 228 and 229) have stated the right manner in which divorce should be carried out. Also, a Muslim woman who thinks she does not want to continue staying with her husband has the right to leave that marriage, this process is known as khul in Islam.

Another area where cultural practices have overshadowed Islamic rulings is in the custody of children after divorce. In Islam, whenever there is a divorce and children are involved, then the mother has the right to take her children along with her provided she has the ability to train them properly. Because the mother is with the children does mean that she will be left alone to shoulder all of the responsibilities of the children, rather the father continues to take care of all of their financial needs. This is also in accordance with numerous prophetic hadith.

These and much more are examples of Islamic principles that are not done the right way by some Muslims and as a result, creates misconceptions about Islam.

Muslim women have all of their rights accorded to them in Islam, the problem is that societal cultures and practices have overshadowed those rights.”

We are in a society where a man exercises his Islamic rights to marry four wives but does not fulfil the Islamic ruling that mandates him to do justice to each one of them, a society where a man marries multiple wives and gives birth to multiple children he can’t take care of, forgetting the fact that these children are ‘Amana’ entrusted to him by Allah and that he will be questioned with regards to how he trained each one of them and yet we claim to practice Islam.

We are in a society where a woman cannot even speak up and ask for her God-given rights without being labelled as an angry feminist, regardless women will never stop fighting for their rights until it is given to them, every bit of it.

I have so far realized that advocating for Muslim Women’s God-given rights is more of being a good Muslim than the feminist ideals and this has made me see things from an ideal perspective. Since I am not a scholar, whenever I see a particular practice among people, rather than tagging that practice as Islamic, I seek for knowledge on that matter instead and this has made me seen the difference between Islam, Feminism and Culture.

Halima Ummi Ismail, is a Child and Gender Rights Advocate, and a Law student from Bayero University, Kano.




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