Islamic Traditions And The Feminist Movement

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    ISLAMIC TRADITIONS AND THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT:
    CONFRONTATION OR COOPERATION?

    Dr. Lois Lamya' al Faruqi


    Whether living in the Middle East or Africa, in Central Asia, in
    Pakistan, in Southeast Asia, or in Europe and the Americas, Muslim
    women tend to view the feminist movement with some apprehension.
    Although there are some features of the feminist cause with which we
    as Muslims would wish to join hands, other features generate our
    disappointment and even opposition. There is therefore no simple or
    "pat" answer to the question of the future cooperation or competition
    which feminism may meet in an Islamic environment.

    There are however a number of social, psychological, and economic
    traditions which govern the thinking of most Muslims and which are
    particularly affective of woman's status and role in Islamic society.
    Understanding these can help us understand the issues which affect
    male and female status and roles, and how we should react to
    movements which seek to improve the situation of women in any of the
    countries where Muslims live.

    THE FAMILY SYSTEM: One of the Islamic traditions which will affect the
    way in which Muslim women respond to feminist ideas is the advocacy in
    Islamic culture of an extended rather than a nuclear family system.
    Some Muslim families are "residentially extended" - that is, their
    members live communally with three or more generations of relatives
    (grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, and their offspring) in a
    single building or compound. Even when this residential version of
    the extended family is not possible or adhered to, family connections
    reaching far beyond the nuclear unit are evident in strong
    psychological, social, economic, and even political ties. Mutual
    supports and responsibilities affecting these larger consanguine groups
    are not just considered desirable, but they are made legally incumbent
    on members of the society by Islamic law. The Holy Quran 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.[1]

    Our Islamic traditions also prescribe a much stronger participation of
    the family in the contracting and preservation of marriages. While
    most Western feminists would decry family participation or arranged
    marriage as a negative influence because of its apparent restriction
    of individualistic freedom and responsibility, as Muslims we would
    argue that such participation is advantageous for both individuals and
    groups within the society. Not only does it ensure marriages based on
    sounder principles than physical attraction and sexual infatuation,
    but it provides other safeguards for successful marital continuity.
    Members of the family provide diverse companionship as well as ready
    sources of advice and sympathy for the newly married as they adjust to
    each others' way. One party of the marriage cannot easily pursue an
    eccentric course at the expense of the spouse since such behavior
    would rally opposition from the larger group. Quarrels are never so
    devastating to the marriage bond since other adult family members act
    as mediators and provide alternative sources of companionship and
    counsel following disagreements. The problems of parenting and
    generational incompatibility are also alleviated, and singles clubs
    and dating bureaus would be unnecessary props for social interaction.
    There is no need in the extended family for children of working
    parents to be unguarded, unattended, or inadequately loved and
    socialized because the extended family home is never empty. There is
    therefore no feeling of guilt which the working parent often feels in
    a nuclear or single-parent organization. Tragedy, even divorce, is
    not so debilitating to either adults or children since the larger
    social unit absorbs the residual numbers with much greater ease than a
    nuclear family organization can ever provide.

    The move away from the cohesiveness which the family formerly enjoyed
    in Western society, the rise of usually smaller alternative family
    styles, and the accompanying rise in individualism which many
    feminists advocate or at least practice, are at odds with these
    deep-rooted Islamic customs and traditions. If feminism in the Muslim
    world chooses to espouse the Western family models, it should and
    would certainly be strongly challenged by Muslim women's groups and by
    Islamic society as a whole.

    INDIVIDUALISM VS. THE LARGER ORGANIZATION: The traditional support of
    the large and intricately interrelated family organization is
    correlative to another Islamic tradition which seems to run counter to
    recent Western trends and to feminist ideology. Islam and Muslim women
    generally advocate molding of individual goals and interests to accord
    with the welfare of the larger group and its members. Instead of
    holding the goals of the individual supreme, Islam instills in the
    adherent a sense of his or her place within the family and of a
    responsibility to that group. This is not perceived or experienced by
    Muslims as repression of the individual. Other traditions which will
    be discussed later guarantee his or her legal personality. Feminism,
    therefore, would not be espoused by Muslim women as a goal to be
    pursued without regard for the relation of the female to the other
    members of her family. The Muslim woman regards her goals as
    necessitating a balance with, or even subordination to, those of the
    family group. The rampant individualism often 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.

    DIFFERENTIATION OF SEX ROLES: A third Islamic tradition which affects
    the future of any feminist movement in an Islamic environment is that
    it specifies a differentiation of male and female roles and
    responsibilities in society. Feminism, as represented in Western
    society, has generally denied any such differentiation and has
    demanded a move toward a unisex society in order to achieve equal
    rights for women. By "unisex society," I mean one in which a single
    set of roles and concerns are given preference and esteem by both
    sexes and are pursued by all members of the society regardless of sex
    and age differentials. In the case of Western feminism, the preferred
    goals have been those traditionally fulfilled by the male members of
    society. The roles of providing financial support, of success in
    career, and of decision making have been given overwhelming respect
    and concern while those dealing with domestic matters, with child
    care, with aesthetic and psychological refreshment, with social
    interrelationships, were devalued and even despised. Both men and
    women have been forced into a single mold which is perhaps more
    restrictive, rigid and coercive than that which formerly assigned men
    to one type of role and women to another.

    This is a new brand of male chauvenism with which Islamic traditions
    cannot conform. Islam instead maintains that both types of roles are
    equally deserving of pursuit and respect and that when accompanied by
    the equity demanded by the religion, a division of labor along sex
    lines is generally beneficial to all members of the society.

    This might be regarded by the feminist as opening the door to
    discrimination, but as Muslims we regard Islamic traditions as standing
    clearly and unequivocally for the support of male-female equity. In
    the Quran, no difference whatever is made between the sexes in
    relation to God. "For men who submit [to God] and for women who submit
    [to God], for believing men and believing women, for devout men and
    devout women, for truthful men and truthful women, for steadfast men
    and steadfast women, for humble men and humble women, for charitable
    men and charitable women, for men who fast and women who fast, for men
    who guard their chastity and women who guard, for men who remember God
    much and for women who remember - for them God has prepared
    forgiveness and a mighty reward" (33:35). "Whoever performs good
    deeds, whether male or female and is a believer, We shall surely make
    him live a good life and We will certainly reward them for the best of
    what they did" (16:97).[2]

    It is only in relation to each other and society that a difference is
    made - a 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. Equality and identity are two
    different things, Islamic traditions maintain - the former desirable,
    the latter not. Men and women should therefore be complementary to
    each other in a multi-function organization rather than competitive
    with each other in a uni-function society.

    The equality demanded by Islamic traditions must, however, be seen in
    its larger context if it is to be understood properly. Since Muslims
    regard a differentiation of sexual roles to be natural and desirable
    in the majority of cases, the economic responsibilities of male and
    female members differ to provide a balance for the physical
    differences between men and women and for the greater responsibility
    which women carry in the reproductive and rearing activities so
    necessary to the well-being of the society. To maintain, therefore,
    that the men of the family are responsible for providing economically
    for the women or that women are not equally responsible, is not a
    dislocation or denial of sexual equity. It is instead a duty to be
    fulfilled by men as compensation for another responsibility which
    involves the special ability of women. Likewise the different
    inheritance rates for males and females, which is so often sited as an
    example of discrimination against women, must not be seen as an
    isolated prescription.[3] 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.

    Does this mean that Islamic traditions necessarily prescribe
    maintaining the status quo in the Islamic societies that exist today?
    The answer is a definite "No." Many thinking Muslims - both men and
    women - would agree that their societies do not fulfill the Islamic
    ideals and traditions laid down in the Quran and reinforced by the
    example and directives of the Prophet Muhammad, salallahu alehi
    wasallam. It is reported in the Quran and from history that women not
    only expressed their opinions freely in the Prophet's presence but
    also argued and participated in serious discussions with the Prophet
    himself and with other Muslim leaders of the time (58:1). Muslim women
    are known to have even stood in opposition to certain caliphs, who
    later accepted the sound arguments of those women. A specific example
    took place during the caliphate of 'Umar ibn al Khattab.[4] The Quran
    reproached those who believed woman to be inferior to men (16:57-59)
    and repeatedly gives expression to the need for treating men and women
    with equity (2:228, 231; 4:19, and so on). Therefore, if Muslim women
    experience discrimination in any place or time, they do not and should
    not lay the blame on Islam, but on the un-Islamic nature of their
    societies and the failure of Muslims to fulfill its directives.

    SEPARATE LEGAL STATUS FOR WOMEN: A fourth Islamic tradition affecting
    the future of feminism in Muslim societies is the separate legal status
    for women which is demanded by the Quran and the Shari'ah. Every
    Muslim individual, whether male of female, retains a separate identity
    from cradle to grave. This separate legal personality prescribes for
    every woman the right to contract, to conduct business, to earn and
    possess property independently. Marriage has no effect on her legal
    status, her property, her earnings - or even on her name. If she
    commits any civil offense, her penalty is no less or no more than a
    man's in a similar case (5:83; 24:2). If she is wronged or harmed,
    she is entitled to compensation just like a man (4:92-93; see also
    Mustafa al Siba'i 1976:38; Darwazah n.d.:78). The feminist demand for
    separate legal status for women is therefore one that is equally
    espoused by Islamic traditions.
     
  2. Spirit_Soul
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    POLYGYNY: Although the taking of plural wives by a man is commonly
    called polygamy, the more correct sociological designation is
    polygyny. This institution is probably the Islamic tradition most
    misunderstood and vehemently condemned by non-Muslims. It is one
    which the Hollywood stereotypes "play upon" in their ridicule of
    Islamic society. The first image conjured up in the mind of the
    Westerner when the subject of Islam and marriage is approached is that
    of a religion which advocates the sexual indulgence of the male
    members of the society and the subjugation of its females through this
    institution.

    Islamic tradition does indeed allow a man to marry more than one woman
    at a time. This leniency is even established by the Quran (4:3).[5]
    But the use and perception of that institution is far from the
    Hollywood stereotype. Polygyny is certainly not imposed by Islam; nor
    is it a universal practice. It is instead regarded as the exception
    to the norm of monogamy , and its exercise is strongly controlled by
    social pressures.[6] If utilized by Muslim men to facilitate or
    condone sexual promiscuity, it is not less Islamically condemnable
    than serial polygyny and adultery, and no less detrimental to the
    society. Muslims view polygyny as an institution which is to be
    called into use only under extraordinary circumstances. As such, it
    has not been generally regarded by Muslim women as a threat. Attempts
    by the feminist movement to focus on eradication of this institution
    in order to improve the status of women would therefore meet with
    little sympathy or support.


    II. DIRECTIVES FOR THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT IN AN ISLAMIC ENVIRONMENT


    What can be learned about the future compatibility or incongruity of
    feminism in a Muslim environment from these facts about Islamic
    traditions? Are there any general principles to be gained, any
    directives to be taken, by those who work for women's rights and human
    rights in the world?

    INTERCULTURAL INCOMPATIBILITY OF WESTERN FEMINISM: The first and
    foremost principle would seem to be that many of the goals of feminism
    as conceived in Western society are not necessarily relevant or
    exportable across cultural boundaries. Feminism as a Western movement
    originated in England during the 18th century and had as one of its
    main goals the eradication of legal disabilities imposed upon women by
    English common law. These laws were especially discriminatory of
    married women. They derived in part from Biblical sources (e.g., the
    idea of man and woman becoming "one flesh," and the attribution of an
    inferior and even evil nature to Eve and all her female descendants)
    and in part from feudal customs (e.g., the importance of carrying and
    supplying arms for battle and the concomitant devaluation of the
    female contributions to society). The Industrial Revolution and its
    need for women's contribution to the work force brought strength to
    the feminist movement and helped its advocates gradually break down
    most of those discriminatory laws.

    Since the history and heritage of Muslim peoples have been radically
    different from that of Western Europe and America, the feminism which
    would appeal to Muslim women and to the society generally must be
    correspondingly different. Those legal rights which Western women
    sought in reform of English common law were already granted to Muslim
    women in the 7th century. Such a struggle therefore holds little
    interest for the Muslim woman. In addition, it would be useless to
    try to interest us in ideas or reforms that run in diametrical
    opposition to those traditions which form an important part of our
    cultural and religious heritage. There has been a good deal of
    opposition to any changes in Muslim personal status laws since these
    embody and reinforce the very traditions which we have been discussing.
    In other words, if feminism is to succeed in an Islamic environment,
    it must be an indigenous form of feminism, rather than one conceived
    and nurtured in an alien environment with different problems and
    different solutions and goals.

    THE FORM OF AN ISLAMIC FEMINISM: If the goals of Western feminism are
    not viable for Muslim women, what form should a feminist movement take
    to ensure success?

    Above all, the movement must recognize that, whereas in the West, the
    mainstream of the women's movement has viewed religion as one of the
    chief enemies of its progress and well-being, Muslim women view the
    teachings of Islam as their best friend and supporter. The
    prescriptions that are found in the Quran and in the example of the
    Prophet Muhammad, salallahu alehi wasallam, are regarded as the ideal
    to which contemporary women wish to return. As far as Muslim women
    are concerned, the source of any difficulties experienced today is not
    Islam and its traditions, but certain alien ideological intrusions on
    our societies, ignorance, and distortion of the true Islam, or
    exploitation by individuals within the society. It is a lack of an
    appreciation for this fact that caused such misunderstanding and
    mutual distress when women's movement representatives from the West
    visited Iran both before and after the Islamic Revolution.

    Second, any feminism which is to succeed in an Islamic environment
    must be one which does not work chauvenistically for women's interest
    alone. Islamic traditions would dictate that women's progress be
    achieved in tandem with the wider struggle to benefit all members of
    the society. The good of the group or totality is always more crucial
    than the good of any one sector of the society. In fact, the society
    is seen as an organic whole in which the welfare of each member or
    organ is necessary for the health and well being of every other part.
    Disadventagous circumstances of women therefore should always be
    countered in conjunction with attempt to alleviate those factors which
    adversely affect men and other segments of the society.

    Third, Islam is an ideology which influences much more than the ritual
    life of a people. It is equally affective of their social, political,
    economic, psychological, and aesthetic life. "Din," which is usually
    regarded as an equivalent for the English term "religion," is a
    concept which includes, in addition to those ideas and practices
    customarily associated in our minds with religion, a wide spectrum of
    practices and ideas which affect almost every aspect of the daily life
    of the Muslim individual. Islam and Islamic traditions therefore are
    seen today by many Muslims as the main source of cohesiveness for
    nurturing an identity and stability to confront intruding alien
    influences and the cooperation needed to solve their numerous
    contemporary problems. To fail to note this fact, or to fail to be
    fully appreciative of its importance for the average Muslim - whether
    male or female - would be to commit any movement advocating
    improvement of women's position in Islamic lands to certain failure.
    It is only through establishing that identity and stability that
    self-respect can be achieved and a more healthy climate for both
    Muslim men and Muslim women will emerge.
     
  3. Spirit_Soul
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    NOTES

    [1]. For example, see Quran 2:177; 4:7,176; 8:41; 16:90; 17:26; 24:22.

    [2]. See also Quran 2:195; 4:124,32; 9:71-72.

    [3]. "God (thus) directs you as regards your children's (inheritance):
    to the male, a proportion equal to that of two females..." (Quran
    4:11).

    [4]. Kamal 'Awn 1955:129.

    [5]. "... Marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if
    you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then
    only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess. That will be
    more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice."

    [6]. It should be remembered that any woman who wants her marriage to
    remain monogamous can provide for this condition under Islamic law.


    REFERENCES

    Kamal Ahmad 'Awn, Al Mar'ah fi al Islam (Tanta: Sha'raw Press, 1955)

    Muhammad 'Izzat Darwazah, Al Dastur al Quran fi Shu'un al Hayat
    (Cairo: 'Isa al Babi al Halabi, n.d.).

    Mustafa al Siba'i, Al Mar'ah baynal Fiqh wal Qanun (Aleppo: Al
    Maktabah al 'Arabiyyah, first pub. 1962).
     
  4. jimnyc
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    Educate me, as I'll admit on this part I'm confused. Maybe the things I have read dealt with smaller communities who interpreted the laws differently.

    I've read quite a few stories that contradict this statement. Where as if a man is accused of rape by a woman, she need 4 witness's to attest to the crime.

    "For example in March 1995 an article entitled `Women at the Verge' followed by a letter of a critic `Degrading Law' were published in the `Eastern Eye'. It claimed that if a woman is raped, under Muslim Shari'a law, she has to produce four witnesses to testify her claim otherwise she risks being jailed. The critic with venomous intentional malice was absolutely correct."
    http://www.toluislam.com/pub_online/previous_issues/august98/muslimwoman.htm

    (you may want to read the entire article)

    Do men need to produce 4 witness's when reporting a crime?
     
  5. Spirit_Soul
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    I am lost by your article too. & I don't care! I will keep posting what I think is positive about Islam. Atleast some aspects of it.
     
  6. jimnyc
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    Talk about blind faith!

    What I posted is a FACT. Can you dispute it? Or would you rather post your interpretations and avoid the FACTS?

    Please answer the question regarding the rape of a Muslim woman. Is a man held to the same standards when proof of a crime is needed?
     
  7. jimnyc
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    "Mai-Unguwa also said the policeman who first arrested Lawal in 2002 should have been flogged because he did so in violation of Islamic law, which requires four witnesses to the crime. Lawal was not "caught in the act," Mai-Unguwa said."

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2003-09-25-niger-stoning_x.htm

    This is reality, not interpretation.
     
  8. dijetlo
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    ]>> conservative Muslims in the predominantly Islamic north said Amina Lawal should have been executed. <<
    The confusion is the difference between the Quran and Sharria. From your article, this statement explains why Sharria is a bone of contention among muslems
    >>Perhaps more importantly most of the Muslim sharia laws were made and implemented under the direction or influence of the Muslim monarchs. <<
    So you've got the Koran, and then various collections of texts known as Sharria. The Sharia for Pakistani Muslems will contain "islamic laws" favored or authored by Sunni or local clerics, while the Sharria of the Saudis will contain Wahabi clerical musings. That's how one group of Nigerians can favor stoning a woman for having sex outside of marriage, even though the Koran says she should be shut away in her house (house arrest) until she repents or dies of natural causes.
    The confusion stems from secular interests trying to shape the Sharria of thier populations to fit their personal goals. It is much easier, for example, to kill someone than it is to gaurd them in their house until they die of old age.
    >> The Qur'an states that "Â…those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations) flog them with eighty stripes". (24/4). <<
    Here is the nigerian womans defence in the Koran. Unfortunately with 4 children and no husband, she may not qualify as a chaste woman.
    Why do you need four witnesses to a rape? That is Sharria law, not Koran law. The reason for four witnesses is probably to offer the same protection to a man against defamation that women enjoy, since the penalties of rape are so severe in islamic law and without modern technology, what proof is their other than the womans word (women have been known to falsely accuse men of rape.) Today we have technology that can protect a man from a similar claim, but when this peice of Sharria was written, no such ability existed.
    These kind of anachronisms is why the majority of muslems don't favor pure islamic law.
     
  9. dijetlo
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    >>I am lost by your article too. & I don't care! I will keep posting what I think is positive about Islam. Atleast some aspects of it.<<

    Hey Spirit.
    If I may suggest, you'll be much more successful in your efforts if you take the time to more fully understand the subject of your posts. Not only will you be better able to discern the "positive things about Islam" but you will be able to understand the negatives as well. Without knowledge, you can't drive out ignorance.
     
  10. jimnyc
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    I agree, dijetlo.

    That was my original point that I was asking Spirit, as to whether or not this was something practiced only in certain "tribes" or communities. I used Shari'ah law as an example as that is what was quoted in addition to the Qu'ran in the original article she posted.

    Even if the 4 witness's was implemented to protect the rights of the man, I don't see it as being equal. They still have trials and an accused man can be cleared. I know it's extremely rare, but what if the woman rapes the man, does he need to provide 4 witness's? It appears not to demand these witness's from the accuser but rather demands them from a 'woman'.
     

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