By Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander, New Age Islam
On the sidelines of a conference, I had an informal chat with some scholars and leaders of Indian Muslim community. The conversation was on the topic of women rights in Islam and “Islamic Feminism”. I realize that “Islamic Feminism” is a problematic term for many Muslims. If we widen the canvas, even Islamic Economics, Islamic Science, Islamic Medicine and many other terms that take their cue from both Islam and West are problematic. They maybe rooted in Islam, but their leanings are Western. Most Muslims vehemently criticize the project of “Islamic Feminism”, by stating that Islam has bestowed holistic rights to women, hence they do not need Feminism to seek refuge. What these critics of Islamic Feminism tend to ignore is the factual reality that despite Islam giving rights to women, they were snatched by Muslim patriarchy. Rights of women began to diminish soon after the death of Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who was the greatest emancipator of women rights. Various pretexts and excuses were used to curb the rights of women. Fake Ahadith were attributed to Holy Prophet (pbuh), that were completely in contrast with the gender just rulings of the Quran, his personality and were openly misogynistic in their connotations. The mullah-emperor patriarchal nexus was responsible for robbing Muslim women of their rights. Islamic feminism tries to restore the rights of Muslim women by exposing the misogynist Ahadith and formulating gender just laws that are in tandem with Quranic concept of gender justice. Whether Islamic Feminism is right or wrong is not the topic of discussion of my essay. I want to argue that the misogynist interpretations and practices of Muslim patriarchy need to be fought and undermined.
My learned acquaintances were trying to win me over by stating that Islamic Feminism and Feminists are making our women rebellious! Now the wives, daughters and sisters are not listening to their men and elders. They reasoned was that in any organization only one person can be the head, hence within a family too there must only be one head. Otherwise it leads to chaos and ultimately breaks the family, the basic unit of a Muslim society about which Muslims can boast unlike the West. However, I would like to point out that in an organization, the person who is most skillful and productive becomes the head, due to his/her hard-work and talent. But in a family, the husband or an elder male becomes a dictator, not because he is talented, but because he is a male by birth. His credentials are based on patriarchal prejudices that prefer him over a female. What makes him head of the family is physical strength and earning capability. Even if the woman or wife is more learned and wise her decision and opinion are still undermined. To add insult to injury, certain misogynist ahadith are attributed to Holy Prophet (pbuh) wherein it is alleged that men should not seek the advice of their wives as women have poor mental capability. Hence only men are divinely ordained to dictate and formulate the policies for the house. Women only need to follow the same without arguments, even if they argue their arguments are considered to be flawed. This patriarchal mindset is further reinforced by another weak hadith in which the Holy Prophet (pbuh) is saying that a Nation will never find salvation if it is led by a woman. Hence women have now been removed from the public scene and men act on their behalf. Muslim men who benefit from such a patriarchal system clearly want to remove any challenge to their position by women. That is why, they try to find excuses to keep women confined within the four walls of their homes and their roles limited to household jobs and raising children.
Being a home-maker and raising children are not demeaning jobs, but exalted work in the eyes of Islam. To raise a new generation of Muslims according to humane and universal qualities of Islam is the best service women can do for the Ummah. However, what do women gain by doing this great job? No recognition, not even from her husband and parents. Most husbands never thank their wives for the selfless work they do for the family. When the children grow up they also become dictators like their fathers, and ridicule the opinion of their mothers. It is partly mothers’ failure as well in not being able to inculcate a sense of gender sensitivity among their children particularly in their sons towards women.
In earlier times, men were the main earning members while women attended to household chores. This skewed economic relationship was responsible for men becoming head of the family. A wife would tolerate domestic violence and high handedness of her husband only because she would be become economically destitute or become a ‘burden’ on her parents, if she was divorced. Today, more women are educated and economically independent. They are expressing their own views and in certain cases opposing the decisions of the male head of the family. Women can no longer be driven like cattle; hence they are termed rebellious and responsible for breaking up the family. Women must sacrifice; kill their dignity and ego to save the family, as if men are not part of a family. For patriarchal Muslims women must undertake every obligation, duty and hardship but men should enjoy every right and authority.
My respected brethren further added that women are the upholders of the honor of the Muslim society; they must wear burqa to cover their whole body, and also distinguish themselves from other women. Seeing my discomfort with their opinion, they added that men should also sport beards. But they thought Allah will not punish them for shaving it off. Ludicrous double standards, as if they know the will of God! What about their dresses? All of them wore handsome Western suits, but wanted Muslim women to wear what they assumed were ‘Islamic Dresses’.
They further told me with an air of secrecy, that the whole project of Islamic Feminism is being funded by the West. It is a deep rooted conspiracy to make Muslim women rebellious and break up our family. I partially agree about the funding of the project and its intentions. I am aware of the stereotypical image of Muslim women as oppressed in the West. They wrongly assume that it is a part of their ‘civilizing mission’ to ‘liberate’ Muslim women. Leaving aside the intentions and funding of Islamic feminism projects in Muslim countries, why are Muslim patriarchs afraid of it?
Muslim patriarchs are afraid that if women will become empowered, they will start questioning the patriarchal practices prevalent in the Muslim society. This questioning will surely undermine the leadership of the patriarchs and their claim of speaking on the behalf of whole Muslim community. They will lose funding that they have been collecting in the name of Muslims. The patriarchs are never men of quality like the Holy Prophet (pbuh). Our Prophet (pbuh) was never afraid of equality and he practiced and promoted it.
Islam inspires us to believe that it is the duty of Muslims to rebel against every kind of discrimination and exploitation. Muslim women sooner or later would have rebelled against the patriarchy practiced in the name of Islam and if they are doing so, that is a healthy sign. Muslims will need to fight an internal struggle first to accept this rebellion as a healthy sign of progress, before they can counter the Western stereotypes, prejudices and propaganda against them.
Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org