The expression “Islamic feminism” (al-Nasawiyya l-Islamiyya) is used in the current literature to refer to various brands of feminist thinking that may be circumvented in two main overarching categories: a category that sees Islamic feminism as an intellectual effort that transforms women from a ‘subject of discussion’ to an “initiator of discussion”, and a trend that avoids the term and concept of "feminism" as a Western “intruder” and focuses on the “renaissance” of Muslim women.
Rabat – In the first trend, research is not geared towards the status of women in Islam or women’s rights and duties in Islam; rather, it expresses a voice or voices of Muslim women (but also men) seeking to create a comprehensive intellectual framework that would facilitate the discussion of Islamic jurisprudence from a feminist perspective and come up with more egalitarian and fairer legal interpretations.
While the time frame of first trend is located in the present historical moment which may be roughly situated in the period that extends from the early 1990s to the today, the second trend does not see its mission as new and locates its cognitive model in the beginning of Islam.
In both trends, research is mainly conducted at the level of theorizing and seeks to transform Islamic ideals and values into theories and knowledge visions that would stimulate specific interpretative or jurisprudential interpretations.
Hence, the main difference between the two trends does not revolve around the expression “Islamic feminism” per se nor around the meaning of this expression, because in the end, both trends may be seen as “Islamic knowledge” that aims at anchoring Islamic justice to the (legal) relationships of men and women within and outside the family.
Simply put, if we are engaged in integrating Islamic justice to the political arena, why not integrate it to the social arena and to the relationship between the sexes in the family and society?
Various factors have helped the emergence of Islamic feminism, including political considerations and cultural ideology, which differ from country to country.
The growing religious knowledge of women and the success of Islamic movements in attracting women in their endeavor to invade the public sphere, as well as the intensification of the so-called clash of civilizations between the East and the West and the threat of radical ideologies to women’s rights, are all factors that contributed to the emergence of Islamic feminism.
What Characterizes Islamic Feminism?
For many male and female researchers in the field, Islamic feminism is a response to Western feminism. In order to avoid generalization here, it should be mentioned that although the history of Western feminism is linked to the history of material philosophy, Western feminism has evolved in the last four or so decades and has now developed in various brands and schools.
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Hence, there is the Anglo-American school and the French school, which yielded Marxist, liberal and religious feminisms, as well as conservative religious feminism, such as Christian, Buddhist, Jewish feminisms, to cite only these. In general, Islamic feminism differs from Western feminism at the level of values; hence, for example, whereas Western feminism is generally based on individual freedom and allows homosexuality, Islamic feminism does not.
On the other hand, Western and Islamic feminism differ in dealing with modernity and postmodernism.
While Western feminism built its modernist project on a conflict with men for obtaining legal rights and constructing a postmodernist project on gender, Islamic feminism built its modernist project on a feminist discourse in line with human rights principles and its post-modernist project on the struggle of both sexes against a rigid jurisprudence that no longer reflects the spectacular progress that Muslim women have achieved.
Furthermore, opinions differ as to the goals of Islamic feminism. Some see it as a way of moving in the direction of reform only; others see it as a way of moving in an interpretive direction aimed at questioning religious texts and replacing the masculine vision adopted in interpreting the legal texts on women’s issues; others see it as a way of transforming feminism into an Islamic one; and yet others see it as fundamentally lacking a recognition of the precise meaning of feminism as a self-centered movement and deplore lack of a methodology that would reflect this.
In practice, the basic issue is reference: is the Qur’an only? The Qur’an and Hadith (prophet Muhammad’s sayings and deeds)? Is it gender equality? Is it a mere strategy to gain rights?
The various opinions on Islamic feminism are dictated by ideology and the nature of society: Is it a Muslim majority society? What political, social and legal system regulate this society, etc.
These differences are also attested in what is considered as the root of Islamic of Islamic feminisms.
Some associate these roots the progressive Islam movement that emerged in South Africa as a reaction to the apartheid regime; others associate them with the Turkish scholar Nilofar Gul (1991) book; others with the Itanian “Zanan” magazine, which expressed the disappointment of the Iranian feminists with the revolution; others link the roots of Islamic feminism with academics who studied the religious texts without self-identifying as Islamic feminists such as the Egyptian writer Nawal al-Saadawi, the Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi, and the Tunisian academic Olfa Youssef.
Between these different and varied views, women’s issues in Arab and Islamic societies remain the central focus of any ideology because women are the main link between the individual and society.
The questions that emerge at this juncture are: What kind of feminism does Morocco aspire to in the age of rapid transformations, not only in terms of individuals but also at terminological level? A forum to be organized in Fez at the beginning of June 2019 will discuss these issues.