fem·i·nism – feməˌnizəm(noun)
The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.
Feminism is popularly understood as the advocacy of equality between men and women and stems from the belief that both men and women should have equal rights and opportunities socially, politically and economically.
However, Islam, at the time of its revelation to Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) 1437 years ago, provided an excellent platform to women’s rights which is not only relevant today but exceeds the modern standards of feminist thought.
At its very inception Islam accorded women personal, social, political and economic rights which were unheard of, and un-thought of in an era when women were regarded as little more than chattels or animals.
However, there are various cultural interpretations which have diluted and distorted the feminist essence of Islam. The Quran was revealed in Arabic to Prophet Mohammed, through angel Gabriel. Not all Muslims can understand Arabic. Therefore, most Muslims rely on translated versions of the Quran to understand the original text. Muslims also rely on ‘imams’, or religious leaders, for their understanding of the Quran. This has the potential to create a gap between the ‘true’ meaning of the Quran, and its interpretation.
Muslim feminist writers are actively reclaiming the narrative of Islamic feminism by challenging cultural interpretations of the religion.
Zahraa (2003, p. 219) distinguishes between ‘true Islam’ and ‘Muslim practices’, and explains that practices which stem from Muslims’ perception of Islam may be different to what Islam actually teaches.
Equity, rather than equality, is the premise of Islamic feminism as men and women are regarded as fundamentally different with different strengths, weaknesses, rights and responsibilities. The modern feminist project of equality with its all-too-obvious failings, was never an Islamic construct.
Amina Wadud, an American Muslim feminist (2008, pp. 435-438) offers a useful reconceptualization of the relationship between God, men and women in Islam. She suggests a model of “horizontal reciprocity” in which God is at the apex of an imaginary triangle, and the base of the triangle is occupied by men and women, so “we move from domination to partnership…It consists of knowing and of supporting the other person”. The “tawhidic” paradigm is employed to support the reciprocal relationship between men and women.