Feminism and Islam

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by Jenna McDaniel

Those who persist in analyzing Feminism through a Western lens often consider the Muslim faith and feminist values incompatible. Much anti-feminist sentiment regarding Islam has focused unreasonably on the custom of veiling. The women of the Muslim faith have struggled for years with stereotypes around the veil, which in the eyes of outsiders signify oppression and subjugation to patriarchal regimes. Many non-Muslims who don’t understand the veil’s cultural and religious significance believe that wearing the veil oppresses women.

As Feminism seeks to expand its outreach and context globally, it should refrain from setting boundaries on who is or isn’t permitted to join the movement. Islam began over 1, 400 years ago and its deep roots begin with the faith’s foundational text, the Q’uran. The Q’uran emphasizes that women are fully human and equal to their male counterparts. Islamic feminism isn’t born from Muslim cultures; rather, it is a branch of feminism that syncs with Islamic theology with the Q’uran as its foundational core. Rachelle Fawcett, author of The Reality And Future Of Islamic Feminism, explains:

 “Often, women’s issues are trivialized into whether or not to wear the veil or shake hands with men outside their family, and while larger issues, such as domestic violence are being strongly addressed, the central issue of what “equality” means and how it is expressed go largely ignored. For example, domestic violence is wrong because it creates pain and suffering and is unjust, but the central belief of a man’s right to rule over his wife is not always part of the discussion.”

The Islamic term hijab comes from the Arabic word for veil, and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women, and literally means “to veil.” This article of clothing has been banned in many European countries whose cultures view the veil as a symbol of gender-based repression. On the contrary, Muslim women who do veil view it as a right, not a burden. Women who hijab often describe themselves as being “set free” from society’s unrealistic fashion culture. The term hijab represents much more than a scarf and more than simply a dress code. It represents a code of conduct andsystem of beliefs that include modest dressing and modest behavior.

 The majority of Muslim women wear hijab, to obey God, and to be known as respectable women.  (Q’uran 33:5) 

For example, if a Muslim woman used expletives or other inappropriate language while wearing the veil, she would be seen as not fulfilling the requirements of hijab.

An example of the extremity and hostility that has escalated towards the veil was highlighted in a 2011 case brought by a 24 year-old Muslim woman. French law states that nobody can wear clothing intended to conceal the face in a public space. The penalty for doing so can be a 150 Euro fine. The French court ruled that the ban of the niqab, or full-faced scarf worn by Muslims, “was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face.” A court statement said the ruling also “took into account the state’s submission that the face played a significant role in social interaction.” In 2011, a 24 year-old French Muslim woman brought a case arguing that the ban of wearing the veil in public violated her freedom of religion and expression. She took her case to the European court, emphasizing that she was under no family pressure to wear the veil, but chose to do so as a matter of religious freedom, as a devout Muslim.

The veil presents a significant obstacle for non-Muslim feminists to accept and recognize the existence of Muslim feminists. The assumptions made and stereotypes formed by those who are unfamiliar with the traditions of the Muslim faith are fueling a fire of hostility towards a population of women who are simply choosing to practice their religion. The veil, symbolizing freedom in the eyes of Muslim women, does not make them less “qualified” or less representative of feminism than those who are unaffiliated with the faith. With each passing day, women are boldly claiming their places within the Islamic faith and in doing so, changing their reality and future.

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