One of the most common critiques against Islam is that is oppresses women, burdens them with a sundry of pedantic and outdated legislative shackles, restricting their self-determination to a point of destructiveness. The hijab is viewed as a patriarchal institute, sexualising women by defining them only according to their sex. The traditional nuclear family is seen as a vestige of a bygone-era of toxic patriarchy, which Islam dogmatically clings to.
Against this forceful narrative, Muslims fall under immense pressure, spluttering out responses that range from unrestricted acceptance of modern liberal sentiments, to a vociferous rejection of the same sentiments out of rebellion. We need to slow down, and think, outside of the gladiator arena that public discourse is. We need to construct a thoughtful narrative, that is true to Islam, and well-articulated.
This issue should be one of the foremost issues that we need to address. The first and most simple reason why, is that this is half of the Ummah; it is about their rights, their wellbeing, and their faith. By leaving this issue unaddressed, we risk maiming the Ummah by depriving it of the colourful brilliance of sisterhood. It is so sad that some Muslim women regard themselves as being oppressed within their own community. It is a travesty. Very often, Muslim women who advocate women’s rights are shunned as feminists, with ‘feminist’ being used as a derogatory.
Casting them in such a light is unwarranted. This may come as a surprise to some, but Muslim women, just like Muslim men, also fear God, and also seek His pleasure; they would not claim affiliation with Feminism on such a scale just out of cultural influence. The fact that so many Muslim women relate to Feminism is indicative of how inadequately women’s rights have been addressed in the Muslim community. Instead of turning to the umbrella of Islam, which in the eyes of many is regarded as being hijacked by patriarchy, they turn to Feminism, because in the current state of the Muslim community, they see little way to consider women’s rights. So the zeitgeist of feminism, with its talk of liberating women, appeals to Muslim women.
This situation is truly shameful. Our Prophet was a man who was consoled by a woman when he first received revelation. He died in the arms of a woman; he was supported by women from the start of his prophethood to its end. Our Quran is one that women have helped to preserve – Hafsa, the daughter of Umar. Our collection of Hadith is one that women have scrupulously helped to verify and maintain – we know of at least 9,000 female hadith scholars. Discussions around women being allowed to pray in mosques predate Feminism by centuries. These discussions can be had within Islam without having to adopt the mantle of Feminism. And yet despite this, we have failed to articulate Islam as something that uplifts women. And because of this, we have Islam vs Feminism.
Thus it is imperative that a compelling narrative is created, one which shows the elegant way in which Islam organises the household, the community, and society. If we do not do this, we risk entrenching the critique of Islam oppressing women. We risk alienating so many Muslim women; exasperated by being viewed as oppressed sheep by wider society, many may rebel.
The Ummah is already fractured, with deep and ugly fissures caused by the blight of racism and sectarianism. The split between men and women is a third fissure, colossal and devastating. The experiences of Muslim men and women are quite different. Partly this is a result of wider society, and it’s obsession with hijab. Partly this is a result of Muslim discourse, and it’s obsession with hijab. No, that wasn’t copied and pasted. The hijab and also the niqab have long been a bone of contention for wider society. Within the Muslim community, it is often (wrongly!) regarded as basis for which all piety of a Muslim women stands. The influence of wider society, there is little we can do about this. But the internal barriers within the Muslim community are what we can, should and must attempt to deconstruct. Such an endeavour needn’t be labelled as pandering to Feminism or Liberalism, but should be labelled as unifiying Muslims, because it unifies one half with the other.