Islam and Feminism

In last week’s post, I discussed the need for us to connect with feminist thought on a regular basis, to shine the light of feminist consciousness whenever and wherever we can.  To that end, I’d like to share a wonderful resource with you that I found during my research for Sexism and U.S. History:  the site Islam and Feminism, which is hosted by Maslaha, a name that translates to “for the common good.” Maslaha is a British organization that creates “…new, practical resources for social issues affecting Muslim communities.”  Islam and Feminism, as one of Maslaha’s sites, disseminates information about Islam—including its origin and history, its practices and precepts, and major figures within the religion—while placing them within a feminist context. The site emphasizes that Islamic feminists look to Islamic sources for feminism rather than to Western thought, and that not all Muslim women—including Muslim women who identify as feminists—approach feminism in the same way.

Islam and Feminism was created to celebrate Women’s History Month in 2014.  Its goals are to highlight Muslim women in history who might have been overlooked and to emphasize the work of Islamic feminists, both in the past and the present. The site includes information about Maslaha, including a list of resources.  To delve into the history and goals of Islamic feminism, click on the “Start Exploring” link on the right side of the website.  Here, you will find:

  • An introduction that discusses the variety among Muslim women and sets the background for exploring feminist thought within Islam.
  • Context for understanding the issues Muslim women in the UK face, many of which are similar to those they face in the US, including media perceptions and tensions within both mainstream feminism and Muslim communities.
  • Discussions of key concepts, such as equality and gender stereotypes.
  • An overview of feminism in Islamic history. (Here, I was most interested to learn the reaction that British women in the early 20th century had when encountering Turkish women who had more freedom:  “Dr. Sariya Contractor has noted that in 1917 the English writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, after meeting Turkish women, felt that they had so much more rights in society that she wanted to use their liberties as a stick to beat English society with.”[i])
  • A discussion of feminism in Islam today.

The site also includes information about scholars who are doing great work in Islamic feminism, including Amina Wadud and Leila Ahmed, as well as those who have worked for gender equality within Islam throughout history.

Islam and feminism is packed with information, and it does us good to learn it on a couple of levels.  First, it dispels Islamophobic notions of Islam as inherently oppressive and helps us understand that all religions, when guided by the principles of patriarchy, can be oppressive.  Second, it teaches those of us in the West who know very little about Islam some basic history and concepts—as we share this information with others, we help our society as a whole relax about a religion that we have been taught to fear, and see the peace and sister/brotherhood that is at the core of all faiths.  Take a few minutes from your day and explore this site, then share it with others in the spirit of Maslaha—the common good.

[i] “Feminism in Islamic History,” Maslaha, accessed November 16, 2016, http://www.islamandfeminism.org/-start-exploring.html.

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