By Maryam Ismail
January 14, 2017
The words "feminist" and "Islam" whizz through the air like smart bombs. We often hear the words together without contemplating the results.
For Muslim women these two words together should conjure up images of Umm Handala, Khansa, Nusaibah, Khadijah and Aayisha, but many have yet to learn about these strong women of Islam. Also, there is a lack of knowledge of the nuanced roles Muslim men and women should have in sustaining society. If we start there, then there will be no need for a feminist version of Islam.
The feminist manifesto decries the drudgery of housekeeping and demands the right to work outside the home as a way of fulfilling female career aspirations. Yes, of course it is a drag to chase dust bunnies all day, but they can grow into flesh-eating monsters if not handled properly. Even here in the UAE, many women have fallen for this version of feminism but soon regret it. While they are slaving away at some job, their men are chilling at home, binge-watching TV or going global on Xbox. And after that, they still have to cook and clean.
If only it were about freedom and equality.
"Good luck, you are on your own," is the salutary ending to the once close gender relations between men and women. This sentiment has left many girls facing the world alone, with big cars, mountains of stuff, but no shoulder to lean on. So, today, many women are revolting against feminism as an impractical ideal.
For the many regular Muslim women – I mean the majority who are simply going about their lives – they just want their rights. Some of the most important ones are: the right to education which can benefit their societies, the right of marriage and care from their husbands, and the right not to be burdened with work, running a home and child-rearing while husbands excel in being couch potatoes.
In America, many men see the modern feminist as one big headache. One, Imam Abdul Malik, of New York City, has been writing daily Facebook posts to handle this problem. Most men are confused and frustrated by "superwomen" who still expect men to splurge on them. In the end, this model fails, and not only in personal relations.
In its September 29, 2016 issue, The Financial Times special report on Women in Business said: "Women in leadership posts are overwhelmingly white, highly educated, often childless." And where do Muslim women fit in this dynamic?
If the fight for women’s rights was about tangibles such as living wages, protection from abuse – domestic and political – I am all for it. However, many non-government organisations promoting women’s issues are stuck on sexual orientation, gender roles and gaining access to male fields of work. An extreme example: an item on the website Afghan Today boasts about providing women with farms, "a male dominated field" of work. I don’t think farm work is what many feminists have in mind.
Worse, many feminists have lost sight of their priorities. I mean, isn’t war the ultimate patriarchy?
"We are still here," declares the Planned Parenthood website whose representatives are in Syria passing out contraception – a critical issue during a war that has killed thousands. Perhaps they should send some NGOs to counsel the men who are shooting and dropping bombs to be more gentle and caring. This sounds cruel and silly, but this is what is happening.
Yet many feminists don’t see war as a women’s issue. How I wish they were testifying in parliaments and congresses that an end to armed conflict is a priority over everything else. And still the focus on girls’ education is about ending poverty and getting single girls out and working. Yet I can’t help but get suspicious when their boards of trustees are populated by former heads of major corporations looking to get first choice on land contracts and franchise opportunities. So instead of helping, they are adding to the abuse of these women – as in the Rana Plaza factory tragedy in Bangladesh, and hundreds of other ills.
The right to a family, children and a quality home life, these rights are left out of the feminist discourse. And yes, the Quran does tell women to obey their husbands, "because they are the ones who maintain you". In these days of no maintenance there is no need for compliance.
I know plenty of women who would easily put their ego aside for any man who makes her the queen of his castle where she could relax and think of new ways to make the world a better place in exchange for a little housekeeping.
Maryam Ismail is a sociologist and teacher