Towards a Recognition of Multiple Feminism: The Voice of Muslim Women

Feminist movement emerged from lived experiences of women with an aim to understand nature of gender inequity and women’s role in society. Though its aim was to bring fight for equity for women.

First and second wave feminisms came under heavy criticism for taking account only white, middle class and privileged perspectives of women. Though the mainstream feminism and feminist have tried to incorporate a lot of things to address those concerns, there are still huge gaps and concerns in terms of understand and making up for them.

This is one of the main reasons, women of colour, third world feminists, black feminists etc. doesn’t recognize themselves with mainstream white feminism. The issue is that mainstream feminism views everything from a single lens perspective. They view themselves to be white saviours who can move ahead and fix the situation of women around the world, even if it means lack of understanding and respect of others’ culture, religion and identity.

The same trend has been witnessed by the rise of Islamophobia in West, especially after the incident on September 11, 2001. We do recognize that patriarchy exists in our cultures and there are some serious issues around women and their access to basic rights, but we are not in favour of the fact that western white women, can come up and speak on our behalf. We are more than capable of speaking up for ourselves. This act of taking space and leadership by white women on issues of women of colour and Muslim women, de-legitimatizes and reduces the impact of our work. This places women of colour and esp. Muslim women in a difficult position where they are fighting patriarchy in their spaces but they also have to ask ‘white women’ to back off.

In this day and age, when women all around the world are fighting for their space, in terms of the right to access education, health and basic services, mainstream white feminists have only done harm than good by being disrespectful of our cultural and religious values.

People need to understand that Islam is not a single race, it’s one of the most multi-racial religions in the world. Muslims come in all colours and they bring their unique cultural identity into it.

This lack of understanding from the part of mainstream feminism of the particularities of Muslim women or Muslim feminists is pretty clear in some statements based on stereotypes provided for Orientalism and new media. Leyla Ahmed has denounced such stereotypes, where she says these stereotypes are very useful to justify political issues. Wrongly, white “Universalist” feminism tends to reproduce codes of oppression and Islamophobia when assuming this fabricated images about Muslim women as the truth. Let’s see some of these statements:

First, the ideological bias which secular feminism holds, assumes that Islam is the cause of the oppression of women, so that the only way to salvation for females is if they abandon their faith. Thus, it promotes a universal feminist concept which is read singularly as secularization.

Second, a continuing victimization of the “poor submissive Muslim” to which you have to save from submission to the barbarism of fanatical men, without an actual approach to Islamic thought, much less thinking of Muslim women, discarding prior level and the possibility of recognizing them as active persons able to explain themselves.

Third, a belief that is not possible for Muslim women to articulate a feminist discourse by themselves. This idea, promoted by intellectuals such as Wassila Tamzali and repeated amongst many feminists who do nothing but deny the very existence of Islam, is nothing but a sweet trap of patriarchy to get some women to exclude others: deprive them of voice. The legitimate right to freedom of conscience, expression and ultimately usurping the right to be and existence.

Fourth, the idea that feminism doesn’t have surnames. It is true that the ends must be shared and is even true because it is absolutely necessary to focus efforts toward a common goal. However, it is also essential to demonstrate the contexts from which the various feminisms are inserted into a larger work. Naming is to give existence and to give existence is to recognize. It is only fitting to name the work within a religious framework that attempts to deconstruct the patriarchal exegesis of the Qur’an which have been made in favour of Muslim women in particular and women in relation to spirituality in general.

This attitude towards Muslim women or others that don’t represent the mainstream are just a patriarchal reproduction form of some women. If we talk about feminism we must recognize this is first, a process of gaining own awareness and recognition of a gender conscious that start in the self, so no one is entitled to apply any frame of normativity about this process of emancipation, since every woman is different and bring her history, motivation, ideas, concepts, experiences to this act of liberation that means adopting gender conscious that lead finally to the construction of a feminist discourse. So, who is entitled to say some experiences are better or more feminist than others? That is establishing hierarchy which is exactly what patriarchy does with women as whole!

We women, need to work on recognition of each other as humans, able to explain ourselves a develop our own rhetoric about what a woman is and about the theories that explain us. It is also necessary to move forward in recognition, respect and integration of diverse strategies to build true partnerships, to re-appropriate the common universal, that is ultimately only a sum of human diversity around common values, which is suppose Feminism was an expression.

The same goes for feminism. Female identity, “being woman” “being a free woman” is in constantly defining and developing. None can be left out just because alternative conceptions do not match  “mainstream” feminism. The modern world, through its scientific and technological progress is narrowing the gap between human beings like never before. Let us women not be the ones who return us to stagnation.

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2 thoughts on “Towards a Recognition of Multiple Feminism: The Voice of Muslim Women

  1. As a white Muslim woman I often feel like I’m not recognized as a true Muslim because of the colour of my skin, especially because of things like this: “This act of taking space and leadership by white women on issues of women of colour and Muslim women, de-legitimatizes and reduces the impact of our work. This places women of colour and esp. Muslim women in a difficult position where they are fighting patriarchy in their spaces but they also have to ask ‘white women’ to back off.”

    Where do I fall into place here, as a white Muslim feminist? I also endure these frustrations of feminists telling me my religion is inherently patriarchal, and part of my activism is to speak out about the strain of Islamophobia that can be found in some feminist spaces who are intolerant of anyone who is not atheist/agnostic. Why associate “Muslim” with non-white women and alienate me?

    • Hello: I am a hispanic Muslim and also I don’t have a place in Muslim community because I am a woman of career, not married, single mother and feminist. But regarding the topic of this article I see myself as a muslim even when born muslims woman don’t see me in general as one of them. Being a muslim and saying it seems to me that all the rest disappear behind the stereotypes and you’re not you anymore but “The Muslim Woman”. That’s my experience

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