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“What Islam and Feminism Have in Common?”

THE LEVANT EXCLUSIVE -By Mohammed Zayed – From time to time, the international media report demonstrations organized by European feminism and right-wing movements against what they have called “oppression and patriarchy” by Muslim men outside mosques and Islamic centres, with slogans on their bare chests insulting Islam itself. Moreover, Egyptian feminist activist Alia Al Mahdy, who identifies as atheist not as a Muslim, keeps often criticizing Arab and Islam on her blog and tweets. Nevertheless, as a graduate of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, moderate Islamic university, throughout my studies and interested in human rights activism in the Middle East affairs, I have found that there are not many critical differences between Islamic values and feminism ones.

The well-known ideologies of feminism lie in gender equality regarding social, political, economic, and religious affairs. Fatemah Fakhraie, founder of Muslimah Media Watch, said: “I see the justification (for feminism) in my faith. In the Qur’an it says that we’re all equal in the eyes of God. It means that the dignity of every person is important.” Also, throughout the Islamic history, Muslim men and women side by side working together to handle their life. Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, Prophet Muhammed’s wife, was a businesswoman, working in trade in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, before Islam, called “mother of Muslims.” No Qur’an and Sunna scripts have criticized her for work. Besides, Islam also offers the freedom of choice regarding marriage and divorce for both man and woman; moreover, another Prophet’s wife, Ayesha, has taught Muslims more than 5000 Islamic Hadiths (teachings of the Prophet).

It it is clear that most Muslims don’t look into deeper interpretation of the Holy Qur’an according to modern age (most of those interpretations dating back to ancient age hundreds years ago without refining). The main obstacle to gender equality is cultural and social factors, tribal and patriarchal mores.

The Arab and Muslim society have raised the women as child inferior to men, depicting them as weak and needing help continuously, literally “wingless.” The sense of manliness is so high in the world and even higher among the Muslim community. That is, in the Muslim world, some men think that high unemployment rates among men resulted mainly from women employment, preferring that women sit at home minding house stuff, thus providing vacancies to men instead. Besides, some look at women as temporary resident (monolithic block) and they will get married moving to another house so there is no need to enroll them in school. Sometimes, they are deprived from their inheritance, with claims that men gain money in the first place in contrast to women; thus, they have no rights to inherit.

For example, in Iran there are continuous attempts to deprive women from studying different sciences and languages though they make up less than half of enrolled students in the university on the pretext of taking into consideration capacity and the needs of society, regarding women. In Saudi Arabia, women are banned from driving cars because of moral concerns, as the authority said.

According to official reports, the Arab and Muslim women who are members of parliament don’t exceed 15.9%, the lowest across the world. Meanwhile in 2013, around 26% of women made up the workforce in the Arab world. Nearly half of them are illiterate.

So a generation of Muslim feminist scholars such as Amina Wadud, Leila Ahmed, and Fatima Mernissi have come to the forefront, using their eloquence to demonstrate that Islam and women’s rights are not mutually exclusive, making use of hi-tech media such Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to propagate their message to as many people as possible, Muslims and non-Muslims. Those activists are trying to define feminism not only as Western acts but also as universal value nourished by faith (Islam), defying the connection between oppressed women and Islam.

Meanwhile, Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist who survived Taliban-led attack. She became the youngest ever Nobel Prize recipient across the history. She is a proud Muslim wearing its veil. She does not see any conflict between Islam and freedom at any forms.”Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow.” Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human,” Malala asserted. Additionally,Tawakkol Karman, Yemeni journalist, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work in nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights. One of her famous quotes is “man in early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I’m wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilization that man has achieved and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is regressive back to ancient times.”

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Levant’s editorial policy.

DSCF7741About the Author – Mohamed Zayed held his B.S. degree in English from Faculty of Education and Arts, Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt. Zayed is contributing writer for Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey, London, UK, Your Middle East, and Morocco World News, among others‎, covering Middle East affairs from politics, social issues, to human rights.

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