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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 28 Jul 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Why are Muslim Leaders and Clerics So Afraid of Feminism and Critical of the West?

By Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander, New Age Islam

28 July 2018

“Western concept of Feminism has completely degraded the role of a mother”. This statement was recently voiced by legendary Pakistani cricketer turned politician Mr. Imran Khan. The term feminism has evoked huge criticism in the Muslim world. Women demanding their rights while negotiating and re-interpreting the Holy Quranic text are being tagged as agents of the West by the clergy in the Muslim world.

The term “West” and “Feminism” have both assumed negative connotations in the Muslim world, thanks to the zealous efforts of Islamic revivalist movements like Jamaat e Islami, Ikhwan ul Muslimoon and Tablighi Jamaat. The Islamic Revivalists like Maulana Abul Ala Mawdudi wrote books and treatises like Purdah, Islam and West. So is the case with Syed Qutb who penned down books and pamphlets like What I saw in America. Women associated with revivalist movements like Maryam Jameelah who converted from Judaism to Islam and settled permanently in Pakistan was vociferous in her attacks on West and Feminism as can be witnessed in her books like Islam and West, Women between Islam and West. The antagonism between Islam and West has been reinforced with these types of diatribes. Very few efforts have been made to bridge this artificial divide. Both the West and Feminism have been demonized in the Muslim world in such a manner that they appear synonymous to everything vice.

The theologians have been blaming every calamity confronting the Muslim world to the West. Blaming the West is the favourite pastime of most Muslim clergy and theologians. Most of them have been rabble rousing against the West since last several centuries.

It is true that colonization of the Muslim world did gave birth to the anti-west sentiment among the Muslims, particularly in the clergy whose authority was undermined during the colonial process. Also, the colonization rendered Muslims under siege so they were vehemently opposed to the West. What is West? If we study the Muslim literature produced during the colonial era, two issues emerge as having been engaged critically by Muslims. One is the West and the other is the question of Women! Critical understanding of Muslim world and Muslim men has been missing from the discourse!

The theologians, scholars and Islamic revivalists all of them have written tomes about West, demeaning, denigrating and demonizing it. This is not to say that Western civilization is flawless. In reality certain aspects of the West’s value system cannot be acceptable to the Eastern or Muslim civilization. But that should not render us blind to the positive contribution of Western civilization in building the contemporary era.

When one engages with the literature of Islam and West critically a serious flaw is revealed. Many scholars compare the Islamic ideals with the West pointing to incidents like rapes, extra marital affairs, violence against women happening in the West as if these vices are absent in the Muslim world. Also, the criticism is aimed in such a manner that renders the West bereft of any values and ideals. The point is to drive home the fact that Muslims have ideals, but the West is just surviving on animal instincts. The “animal existence” of Western people is ridiculed vehemently basing the arguments on secondary sources or brief visits in which the clergy and theologians claim to have understood, analysed and rejected the West. Maulana Mawdudi’s writings offer ample proof of these shortcomings and flaws while criticising West. 

The biggest criticism against West is that it is inherently antagonistic and holds a deep animosity against Muslims and Islam. Islamophobia is a reality but to paint the entire West as Islamophobic will be gross injustice. The best academic works on Islam and Muslims is produced in the Western institutions and there are millions of Muslims residing in the West.

Linked to “Westoxification,” to paraphrase Ali Shariti, is the question of Women. The West is accused of destroying the morals, values and image of what constitutes as an “Ideal Woman”. The Islamic literature reveals an unseemly obsession with women’s bodies. There are scores of works titled as “Ideal Woman” available in the bookshops but I have yet to come across a title as “Ideal Man” or “Ideal Muslim Man”. Men are supposed to be legislators and can bend laws as per their whims whereas women as conformists have to abide by male centric and patriarchal laws. Feminism as a movement is being tagged as an extension of Westoxification in the Muslim world. Feminism is held to be antagonistic to being an ideal woman because feminists are destroyers of homes and families. The family as an institution is deeply patriarchal in the Muslim world and any challenge or change to its status quo is deemed as a threat to the basic unit of Muslim society that is far from what an ideal woman is supposed to behave like. The ideal Muslim wife is subservient to her husband and cares for the children, sacrificing all the way through as patriarchy demands. Thus, feminism is held antagonistic to ideal patriarchal motherhood in the Muslim world. It is this notion of feminism that Imran Khan describes as the destroyer of motherhood.

The deep-rooted prejudices against West and Feminism have been embedded over the last century deeply in the Muslim mind and it will certainly take decades to de-condition the same. But this point needs to be emphasized that not everything Western civilisation and the ideals of Feminism uphold need be accepted in toto. West and Feminism are dynamic and static concepts. They are not the same today as our older generation of Islamic revivalists understood them during colonization.

As Muslims we need to overcome this approach of either complete acceptance or total rejection. In every situation, there are certain grey areas and it is reading between the lines that help us negotiate with changing times. The new age demands a fresh engagement with the text as the context has changed. To end, it must be acknowledged that it was feminism that waged the battle for equal wages for women, paid maternity leaves, equal working hours and punishment for sexual crimes. So, lets us hope the Muslim clerics and popular leaders like Mr. Imran Khan begin to realise the virtues of the West and movements like Feminism.

M.H.A.Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir 


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