Muslim Women Redefine Feminism

Analysis, posted 04.05.2013, from Iran, in:
Muslim Women Redefine Feminism (Photo: Reuters)

More and more Muslim women have recently been making their voices heard, demanding more rights and putting forward a new vision of women in Islam. This article sheds light on a feminist movement that is as surprising as it is forward-thinking.

La Fabrique, a French publishing house, published a book with a red cover and the striking title: Islamic Feminisms. Zahra Ali, a 26-year-old French-Iranian woman, is working on a thesis dealing with the women's movement in Iraq since 2003. She coordinated the publication of this collection of texts, which are penned by women from Malaysia, Iran, Pakistan and Morocco. The book, which starts with a traditional basmala (incantation), has already become a go-to piece on the subject. It might sound like the result of two decades of discussions carried out under the label of “Islamic feminism,” but it remains a starting point, because the intellectual project remains open and the fight is raging now more than ever.

'Liberated' Muslim females

In the 1990s, the term "Islamic feminism" made its appearance in different parts of the world and in various contexts. In 1992, Shahla Sherkat, an Iranian who took part in the revolution of 1979, published the first issue of a feminist magazine, "Zanan" (meaning women in Farsi). The magazine is now banned. In 1996, a Saudi woman named Mai Yamani published "Feminism and Islam," a book that went down in history. In Turkey, academics believe a new type of feminism has emerged that is nourished by faith. Meanwhile in the West, female activists freed themselves from secular feminism and jointly asserted their female rights as Muslims of foreign origin.

Fatima Mernissi is a Moroccan woman who has started a project that involves examining and critiquing both sacred and profane texts. Determined to obtain full equality without abandoning their faith, many Muslim women — who are no longer satisfied with traditional Islamic discourse — have begun to dismantle the edifice of religious patriarchy.

According to those who follow the Islamic feminist movement, female Muslims see two things standing in the way of their emancipation. On the one hand, they find a conservative Islam that prevents women from having access to religious knowledge and hampers the achievement of the equality prescribed by the Quran. On the other, there is what they call "colonial feminism," which was born in the North and was laced with Orientalism. This type of feminism dictates to the women of the South the manners and framework of their emancipation, arguing that it is impossible to be both subject to God and freed from the power of men. “These are two essentialist discourses, which, ironically, come together and share the same definition of Islam and the same definition of feminism,” Ali jokes.

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By Jules Cretois; Translated by Sami-Joe Abboud

[Excerpt—See accompanying URL for full originalt text]