umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming | 2015.08.15 | 28 Shawwal 1436
August is Women’s Month in South Africa. Radio Islam contributed to the discourse by initiating an #riWhyWomen campaign [Monday 10 Aug to Fri 14 Aug] on our morning and evening drive-time shows. Contentious contemporary issues beginning with the question “WHY” were unpacked and clarified. Between 10am - 12pm, Muslim female pioneers beyond the Sahaba (ra) era’ were brought to life, as more than history lessons. Among them Zaynab bint Ahmad, Rabi‘a al Adawiyya, Shifa bint Abdullah, Queen Nanny of the Jamaican Maroons, Queen Zubaida bint Ja’far and Lubna of Cordoba. The campaign was kick-started on a panel discussion titled “Ordinary Women are Extraordinary”. The strengths of younger women, older women, single women and single mothers in our communities were given prevalence. Areas of improvement were also highlighted, among them the confidence-crisis facing young Muslimah’s. How the men in our lives could enhance our joint journey to Paradise was also identified and explained. Guests included experienced Aalima’s who are teachers, writers, mothers and life coaches.
Among the WHY questions unpacked on our drive-time shows:
Why does Female Genital Mutilation still exist? Why do honour killings still exist in majority Muslim countries? Why are so many Muslim women single? Why is female education is so important? Why are so many women in Muslim countries illiterate? Why does "Islamic feminism" get so much wrong?
The question about Islamic feminism is an interesting one. So often the actions of this relatively new movement override its intent. Well-meaning as it may be, the movement could feed into white saviour complexes ignoring the impact of Western colonialism in majority Muslim countries. Otherwise, it creates a ‘straw Muslimah’ - a submissive child-bearer described as the victim of her husband, her father, or both. She is forced to wear hijab and longs for the freedoms of Western women, i.e. a poster child of Western interventionism. Then, there’s perhaps the worst part of Islamic feminism movements where the actual wants and needs of Muslim women are ignored. Do these women actually want your help? This is ignored in favour of pedantic campaigns and media attention.
Although there are some overall features of a Muslim feminist cause with which we could identify, other features generate our disappointment and even opposition. For example:
There is the advocacy in Islamic culture of an extended rather than a nuclear family system. The Quran-e-Kareem itself exhorts to extended family solidarity; in addition, it specifies the extent of such responsibilities and contains prescriptive measures for inheritance, support, and other close interdependencies within the extended family. Most feminists decry family participation or even “arranged” marriages as a negative influence because of its seeming restriction of individualistic freedom and responsibility. As Muslims, we would argue that if understood holistically, such participation is advantageous for both individuals and groups within the society.
Another example is that of our adherent sense of “place” within the family and of a responsibility to that group. This is not perceived or experienced by majority Muslims as repression of the individual as many Muslim feminists purport. The Muslim woman regards her goals as necessitating a balance with those of the family group. The individualism experienced in contemporary life - that which treats the goals of the individual in isolation from other factors, or as utterly supreme - runs against a deep Islamic commitment to social interdependence.
Yet another example is that of uni-sexism – the argument against difference of role or function. The rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of a man, but they are not necessarily identical with them. Men and women should therefore be complementary to each other in a multi-function organisation rather than competitive with each other in a uni-functional society. Different inheritance rates for males and females, is so often sited as an example of discrimination against women, must not be seen as an isolated prescription. It is but one part of a comprehensive system in which women carry no legal responsibility to support other members of the family, but in which men are bound by law as well as custom to provide for all their female relatives.
Adaala, a sense of Justice and Balance
Lastly, for any form of “feminism” to succeed in an Islamic environment it must be one that does not work chauvinistically for women's interest alone. We prefer to call it Adaala, a sense of Justice and Balance. Women's progress should be achieved in tandem with the wider struggle to benefit all members of society. Disadvantageous circumstances for women should thus always be countered in conjunction with attempts to alleviate those factors that adversely affect men and other segments of our societies.
#riWhyWomen was a well-received and much-appreciated campaign. Thanks go out to all who made it possible. Allah’yubaarik Feekum. Look out for podcasts of all these discussions and more on our Radio Islam website.
Islamic Traditions And The Feminist Movement Confrontation Or Cooperation? By Dr. Lois Lamya' Al Faruqi (ra)