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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 21 Jul 2022, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Feminism, Democracy and Imperialism; Reading Saba Mahmood

By Grace Mubashir, New Age Islam

21 July 2022

Along With Anthropologists Such As Laila Abu Lugod, Lara Deeb, and Mu'mina Haq, Saba Mahmood Vigorously Defends the Arguments Of Liberal Feminism


Western military actions in West Asian countries are often justified as building frameworks for individual-centred human rights protection.

In such narratives of human rights protection, Muslim women are merely passive victims of the religion and culture they represent. A desire for humanitarian interventions to protect the Muslim woman pervades Western feminist discourse today. The influence of European feminism was not small in spreading colonial dominance over vast regions like Asia, Africa and West Asia.

Saba Mahmood's academic engagements, who passed away on 10 March 2018, were constantly clashing with the politics of categorization and liberal arguments about women's freedom. Saba Mahmood has scholarly responded to the ideology of victimization that liberalism has promoted about Muslim women in academic circles and the popular media. Saba's academic engagements turned away from the occupying interests that produced the Good Muslim active at the global level. She boldly argued that liberal concepts such as freedom, right, and agency are inadequate to understand the complexities of religious life from the intellectual premises that Western liberal critics label as religious fundamentalists.

Saba, who was a companion of secularism in Pakistan's early life, came out of that circle when he realized that Islam could not be understood from within secularism. Because they consider everything outside the secular and liberal world to be old and outdated. It means that the conviction that it is not possible from within secularism to proceed with neutral studies as a feminist and anthropologist has led them to come out from within it.

Saba Mahmood's remarkable debut work Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject has been the subject of much discussion at academic levels. This study was based on the piety movement, a group of traditional Muslim women known as Diath, which emerged in Egypt in the 1990s against progressive liberal politics. It was a voluntary association with goals such as obedience (duty), spiritual authorship (moral agency) and self-fashioning (self-fashioning) in accordance with Islamic precepts, distinct from political Islamic movements aimed at political power. Such associations fostering social good by inculcating personal ethical values were indicative of ongoing changes within the religious milieu across gender lines. Saba's study drew on the influence of ethical values (ethics) on the state and society, drawing inspiration from religious precepts.

Islam and Feminist Narratives

A lot of work has been done in recent times on the topic of Islam being anti-feminist. Some of the popular stories were self-repeating that the Muslim woman is insecure. But all such feminist narratives advance only the same stoically liberal arguments about individual freedom and religious reformation.

Along with anthropologists such as Laila Abu Lugod, Lara Deeb, and Mu'mina Haq, Saba Mahmood vigorously defends the arguments of liberal feminism. Saba speaks of the symbiotic relationship between such feminist spokesmen and Euro-American right-wing political parties who constantly talk about Muslim women as victims of Islamic fundamentalism and therefore reform the Muslim world as their goal.

Leading feminist writers such as Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji are living examples of this power relationship.

Hirsi Ali, who had little public acceptance to say the least, quickly became a front-line fighter for feminism as she became part of the anti-Muslim sentiment that swept Europe. With the support of right-wing political parties, Hirsi Ali even won membership of the Dutch Parliament in 2003 by labelling the entire Muslim community as religious fanatics and intolerants and describing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as anti-woman and cruel.

Hirsi Ali's 'The Caged Virgin'; The book An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam, like other authors centered on Islamophobia, advocated regime change in West Asia with the backing of right-wing neo-conservatism. Like Hirsi, Irshad Manji's book Trouble with Islam (20004) borrowed the language of self-criticism and reformism. But Manji's language was so venomous that it hurt Muslim sentiments at the same time. Irshad Manji describes the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan as the holy war of the West to purge Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.

Women, Freedom and Democracy

Saba Mahmood investigates the liberal assumptions that the salvation of Muslim women who are victims of Islamic religious fundamentalism lies in the democratization of West Asian countries based on historical facts. The occupying forces justified their military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan by asserting that Muslim women's empowerment was essential to eradicate religious extremism and by prioritizing the educational, economic, and political rights of Muslim women. However, later social environments in West Asian countries need to be examined.

 This must be read in conjunction with the fact that the freedom and education of Muslim women in post-US-invasion Iraq is more at risk than ever before.

Secularism and Imperialism

Right-wing and left-wing thinkers alike continue to argue that Muslim society can only progress if Islam becomes more secular and liberal. Seeing religion as a part of private life and accepting the essence of religion, but not imposing any epistemological or political control on religion, seeks to create an autonomous individual (autonomous individual). The same liberal concept of religion is also advanced by secular feminists who place religion as an antidote to women's exploitation.

The concepts of freedom and individual autonomy that spring from secular understandings of religion are echoed in feminist thought today. When feminism confines itself to resistance by borrowing the construct of individual autonomy, which exercises self-will beyond the powers and rituals beyond oneself, it forgets the fact that submission to divine laws is part of the individual's agency. Saba Mahmood attempts to correct the fallacies of such critical readings of Muslim women in progressive secular assumptions in her study.

Politics of Piety

Feminism is further complicated by the secular perception that rituals are unrelated to the spirituality that is the essence of religion. For example, a Muslim woman who says she wears the headscarf out of religious allegiance and as part of her ethical and moral way of life can only be seen by feminists as a victim of the religion's male supremacy and misogyny. Here the headscarf is reduced to a sign of the oppressed Muslim woman or to its practical use of keeping her from sexual exploitation. But the authorial expression of the Muslim woman and thereby the formation of self-based on divine satisfaction that she aims for, Such feminist readings fail to understand ethical embodiment. Here the concept of religion advanced by secularism becomes more complicated because it is too monolithic to accommodate the diversity of religious and political life. That is why progressives introduce secularism as the 'Mecca' of values to which all Muslims must turn.

Turning ones back to the liberalism that comes with secularism and carrying the traditional practices of a religion such as the headscarf in everyday life is not religious extremism as the West says, but is a fundamental part of traditional Muslim life. Therefore, the Western effort to liberalize Islam does not only target religious fundamentalists among Muslims, but the religion itself.

Liberalization of Islam is more than mere rhetoric and is a thoroughly planned imperial project. $1.3 million was spent on the project under the US State Department's Muslim World Outreach. Its main objective is to shape the Muslim thinking capacity in their Musa through theological, cultural and cognitive activities.

 Such campaigns undermine individual freedom to choose the religion of one's choice by liberal policies. Hence, Saba Mahmood observes that secularism is not a liberation of religion from politics but a tool of nation-states to recast religion as part of an imperial agenda. Liberalism promotes a violent tendency to either transform or destroy unfamiliar ways of life. Precisely because they recognize this, they have always positioned themselves outside the safe zone in the academic world. It must be understood that Saba's determination to stay in the danger zone has driven her to constantly ask questions and read structures within secularism, feminism, anthropology, and religion.


A regular columnist for, Grace Mubashir is a journalism student at IIMC, Delhi


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