It seems that as a Muslim woman, if I stand up for any issue regarding the plight of women – such as poverty, education, domestic violence – I am inevitably clumped into the vast, heterogeneous category that is “feminist”.
Feminism, in and of itself, is so complicated and perplex that for one to actually call oneself a “feminist” a subsequent explanation would, in my opinion, be necessary. For example, a feminist coming from a privileged “white” background might have different views than a feminist living in poverty – who also happens to be a person of color. Therefore, despite both considering themselves to be feminists, their views and opinions on feminist issues could be radically different.
However, to my understanding, the main crux of feminism – that most feminists would agree on – is the call for complete equality between men and women. Not just egalitarianism, as Jewish feminist Judith Plaskow argues, but an equality between men and women that has no conditions, no loopholes.
In this sense, I would not consider myself to be a feminist. Why? Because I recognize and accept that men and women are NOT equal in many fundamental ways. Further, they both have respective roles to play, and that is OKAY (with me, at least). You see, I do not have a problem with the notion that I might one day end up at home with the kids while my husband is out working. If that is the family dynamic that we are comfortable with, then I am fine with that.
Here is what I am not okay with: the patriarchal notion that my role as a woman is LIMITED to those prescribed to my gender. That is, I fundamentally disagree with the idea that my only/sole/real role in life is that of wife, child-bearer, and child-rearer. This is what really grinds my gears: When men, (especially men who consider themselves to be of the holy, religious sort) assert that a woman’s role is limited to her gender – her womb. That her inherent femininity, her reproductive organs, is what dictates the roles that she plays in this world. It is always disappointing for me to hear this, especially from men respected in the community, because it undermines a lot of accomplishments that women have made in this world. Speaking for myself, as someone who has a post-secondary education and who just so happens to be a woman, hearing that my efforts were in vain because my ultimate destination is that of a wife and a mother is just demoralizing. Instead of uplifting women and realizing that they make a substantial, and much needed, contribution to fields such as the arts, science, sports, literature and so on, many men have set on a journey to undermine and discredit the advances of women. Even sadder, many women have internalized these patriarchal ideas of what it means to be a woman, and turn their noses up at women who *don’t* take the mother/wife route (at least not yet, for many).
I cannot deny that my views are very much influenced by Islam. As a Muslim woman, I recognize that God has, indeed, prescribed certain roles and duties for both men and women. Roles and duties that are practical, not misogynistic. However, I believe that the marginalization and denigration of Muslim women stems from a distorted view of Islam and biased reading of the Qur’an. Further, the influence of backwards, un-Islamic cultural practices (such as female genital mutilation, honor killings, or banning women from mosques) cannot be ignored.
So here is my plight: when I express my support and advocacy for the advancement of ALL women and particularly for Muslim women, many members of my religious and ethno-cultural communities (silently) label me as a feminist; this has negative connotations because again, men and women are NOT seen as 100% equal in terms of practical roles and duties (except in terms of religious obligation towards God) within the framework of Islam and many cultures (some non-Muslim) as well. But I agree with them! You see, for me, if feminism means both fighting for the cause of women and accepting that they are inherently different from men then heck, I’m a feminist. But then again, I’m not. Because there is another, more appropriate term for me: Muslimah.
You see, as a Muslim woman, this is where I find balance between my views. As someone who believes that my rights as a woman are divinely ordained, the only cause I have to fight for is when HUMANS (read: mostly men) attempt to deny me of those divinely ordained rights. I’m not against my divinely ordained rights (such as the right to education, owning property, choosing who I want to marry, covering myself in the presence of men who aren’t related to me, etc), but when outside influences attempt to deny me of them, that is when I take a stand.
So for those men and women who are quick to call me a feminist (read: disobedient, wayward, Muslim female), take a moment to realize that I am simply practicing my rights. Rights that I am entitled to. Rights that you cannot take away from me. Rights that I will stand up for.
And Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He), knows best.