Islam & Feminism

This is a little blurb I wrote elsewhere to reply to the question:

Is feminism compatible with Islam?

I mostly chose to share this here because I found the recent article by Yaqeen Institute to be highly ineffective in conveying its message and addressing the concerns many people have about feminist thought which are rooted in a perceived conflict between Feminism and Islamic epistemology, not in whether it is possible to craft a pro-feminist argument from the apparent meanings of sacred texts.

Before we discuss this, we must make two points:

Firstly, it is very important to mention that Islam defines itself, it is not defined by anything else. The Qur’an sets its own rules for its interpretation, as well as the interpretation of the Sunnah. Scholars over the centuries have identified these rules, encoded them and recorded them in a science known as Usul-ul-fiqh, or Hermeneutics in English. As Muslims these are the rules we must use to interpret our sacred texts as they have been mentioned by the texts themselves and agreed upon by our scholars (who the Prophet ﷺ referred to as the inheritors of the prophets).

Secondly we should treat feminism as we treat any ‘-ism’ in the world – we understand it from the point of view of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Anything that agrees with Islam, we should have no problems in accepting, and anything that goes against Islam, we should have no problems in rejecting. Therefore it is grossly inaccurate to say that Islam is, for example absolutely feminist, or that Islam is absolutely not feminist, or that Islam is absolutely capitalist, or Islam is absolutely not capitalist.

Rather Islam is its own entity. You will see select shades of different ‘-isms’ in it depending on which of the variety of scholarly interpretations of it you choose to study and follow.

The problem with ‘-isms’ in general, whether they be communism, capitalism, liberalism, secularism, feminism or even Islamism (in political thought), is that they are often very wide-ranging and expansive in their theory, scope and application, to the point that some people take them as universal ideas to understand life, society, humanity and sometimes even God and the universe.

This becomes a serious problem if we choose to adopt one of these ‘-isms’ and use it to interpret the Qur’an and Sunnah, as by doing so we effectively replace the rules of scholars in interpreting them.

Feminism is no different. It consists of a very wide scope of ideas, philosophies, beliefs and perspectives. Some of these ideas are Islamically valid and perhaps even needed, others are Islamically invalid, false or sometimes even dangerous for one’s faith.

Examples of feminist ideas that are valid are for example, being against domestic abuse, or promoting education for females. Examples of incorrect and invalid feminist ideas are for example, unrestricted promotion of abortion, being against Islamic rules of women’s clothing, or believing that men and women are equal in every way (as Muslims we believe in equity between genders, not equality – the Qur’an and our own biology are testament to the fact that men and women are different). Some extreme Muslim feminists in recent times have even gone as far as to attack Ibrahim عليه السلام for leaving his wife Hajar in Makkah. Such examples are nothing more than the result of ignorance, confused understandings of religion, Satanic influence and a lack of the fear of Allah.

Any attempt to use feminism instead of Islam’s own rules of interpretation to interpret our sacred texts is wrong and in effect destroying the chain of continuity in understanding between us and the Prophet ﷺ via the scholars of Islam.

However if someone comes to a more ‘feminist’ understanding of Islam via the science of Usul-ul-fiqh i.e. via the correct application of the Arabic language, sciences of the Qur’an, sciences of Hadith and while respecting the consensus and traditions of Islamic scholarship, then this is acceptable and should not be condemned.

Barring the more extreme examples, you will find most mainstream, otherwise religiously practicing Muslims ‘feminists’ concede to the above, especially if faith is alive in their hearts. They will say that when they speak about Feminism, they obviously don’t mean those aspects which disagree with the texts, and they certainly don’t mean to take over the hermeneutic sovereignty of the Arabic Language, Qur’an, Sunnah, Consensus and Analogy that makes Sunni Islam the normative understanding of Islam that it is. But then they continue to use the same unrestricted language (and same unrestricted behavior and activism) when discussing or promoting Feminism.

The language we use to convey and explain ideas is important. If we mean to mention a general idea or concept and have encapsulated it in our understanding in a restricted manner, then we should speak and write about it in a way that makes the restricted nature of our understanding known, otherwise either we are being intellectually inaccurate at our best or at our worst, intellectually dishonest. Otherwise a misuse of language is devastating in a world where Muslims are largely ignorant of their religion and Islamophobes are growing ever more influential in society.

And Allah is more knowing of what is true.

For a more technical response with more examples, refer to:

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