Short answer: No, Islam is not a feminist religion.
There are more and more women who are trying to convince us Islam is feminist. Their logic seems to be they’re feminist, they’re Muslim, therefore Islam is a feminist religion.
But as we all know, correlation doesn’t equal causation.
In my opinion, these women are trying to convince themselves as much as anyone else.
The latest attempt is in HuffPost, which frequently publishes articles with this thesis. ‘A Feminist Religion‘, is by Leena Khan, a high school student in Saudi Arabia. She’s clearly very smart, but she’s still got a few years before her brain finishes developing and gives her the ability to write logically rather than emotionally. (That won’t happen until she’s at least 25.)
Khan sets her piece around “… the privilege of visiting the Kaaba within Makkah [Mecca] and performing Umrah, the lesser Muslim pilgrimage that can be performed at any time of the year.” I would imagine that is a moving experience to a believer, and would further imprint on the emotional part of the brain that teens think with.
Making the Pilgrimage to Mecca
This is how Khan describes the completion of her pilgrimage:
As my family and I were completing our Umrah, it came time to approach the Kaaba and begin Tawaf, which is one of the Islamic rituals of pilgrimage. Circling the Kaaba, performing this ritual, were more people than it was possible to count. I had to clutch my mother’s hand tightly as we walked, staying as close to her and my brother as possible. I was overwhelmed. What struck me, though, was not how crowded it was. What struck me was that among the men performing Tawaf were an equal amount of women. These women did not walk behind the men. There was no segregated section women were obligated to remain in. We were simply people, walking around the Kaaba together as one.
There are two main things I take from this passage. Firstly, Khan notes how overwhelming the experience was – a clear indication that she’s thinking emotionally. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that of course, but it does mean the experience will effect her strongly.
Secondly, she was struck by the fact that there were an equal amount of men and women in the crowd. That is not something I would ever notice. I would notice if there was a preponderance of one sex over the other.
To Khan, this mixing of men and women around the Kaaba was an indication of the equality of men and women in Islam. It’s not. It’s an indication that men and women equally believe and want to perform the Umrah.
A better indication of whether men and women are equal in Islam is in her own mosque, where men and women are kept separate. They can’t even pray together in most mosques around the world, and in none in her home country.
The Law in Saudi Arabia
When Khan goes back out into Saudi Arabian society, she admits that she sees things like only men driving vehicles. She blames this on culture rather than religion. But it’s not culture that’s the issue, it’s Islam.
The reason women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia is because no one will issue them with a driver’s licence. In that country, the law is not separate from religion. Religion does not just influence or advise the official state laws, religion is the law. Judges do not go to law school as we understand it. Instead they are experts in the interpretation of the Qur’an and hadiths. Further, women cannot be judges – Islam says they are not capable.
Sharia (the law of Islam) does not consider men and women to be equal even when it comes to giving testimony in court. A woman’s testimony is worth only half that of a man. From Islam Question and Answer:
Allaah has mentioned the wisdom behind specifying the number of two as being that a woman may forget or get confused, so the other woman can remind her, as He said:
“…And get two witnesses out of your own men. And if there are not two men (available), then a man and two women, such as you agree for witnesses, so that if one of them (two women) errs, the other can remind her…” (al-Baqarah 2:282)
They go on to explain why it takes two women to equal one man:
This does not mean that a woman does not understand or that she cannot remember things, but she is weaker than man in these aspects – usually. Scientific and specialized studies have shown that men’s minds are more perfect than those of women, and reality and experience bear witness to that. The books of knowledge are the best witness to that; the knowledge which has been transmitted by men and the ahaadeeth [hadiths] which have been memorized by men far outnumber those which have come via women.
This has to do with gender, i.e., the gender of men is more perfect than the gender of women.
The Equality of Men and Women in Islam
Khan goes on to write:
In the Quran, women and men are explicitly described as equal. A husband and wife are partners in a relationship, and a man and a woman are equal members of society. Women can own property just like men, can build a career just like men, can have the right to an inheritance just like men. Education is mandatory upon women, just like men.
These contentions are not accurate. I will address each phrase separately.
“In the Quran, women and men are explicitly described as equal.”
The Qur’an does not “explicitly” describe men and women “as equal.”
The website Islam Question and Answer has this to say about equality:
This word – equality – which many thinkers in both the east and the west advocate in various fields of life is a word which is based on deviation and a lack of understanding, especially when the speaker attributes this idea of equality to the Qur’aan and to Islam.
One of the things that people misunderstand is when they say that “Islam is the religion of equality”. What they should say is that Islam is the religion of justice.
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:
“Here we should note that there are some people who speak of equality instead of justice, and this is a mistake. We should not say equality, because equality implies no differentiation between the two. Because of this unjust call for equality, they started to ask, what is the difference between male and female?’ So they made males and females the same, and then the communists said, ‘What difference is there between ruler and subject? No one has any authority over anyone else, not even fathers and sons; the father has no authority over his son,’ and so on. …
Not one single letter in the Qur’aan enjoins equality, rather it enjoins justice. …
“Every man knows that he find it unacceptable if we say that the male is equal to the female.” – Sharh al-‘Aqeedah al-Waasitah, 1/180-181
Based on this, Islam does not regard men and women as equal in matters where regarding them as equal would result in injustice to one of them, because equality that is inappropriate is a severe form of injustice.
“A husband and wife are partners in a relationship …” in Islam
Islam Question and Answer describes the relationship between a man and woman thus:
There are matters in which men and women are treated differently in Islamic sharee’ah, such as:
… Qiwaamah (being in charge of the household)
Ibn Katheer (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:
“Allaah says ‘Men are the protectors and maintainers of women’ meaning that the man is in charge of the woman, i.e., he is the leader and head of the household, the one who disciplines her if she goes astray.
According to the United Nations, there are 5,000 honour killings of women each year. The majority of those women are Muslim. Many will say this is cultural rather than religious. However, men refer to the Qur’an to justify their actions. They say that the Qur’an says women must be modest, and by not being modest the victim was bringing shame on the family. Thus, it is Islam that justifies the killing in the minds of the murderers.
“… and a man and a woman are equal members of society” in Islam
Men and women are not “equal members in society” either. Also from Islam Question and Answer:
‘… because Allaah has made one of them to excel the other’ i.e., because men are superior to women and are better than women. Hence Prophethood was given only to men, as was the position of khaleefah [caliph], because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, ‘No people shall ever prosper who appoint a woman as their ruler.’ This was narrated by al-Bukhaari from the hadeeth of ‘Abd al-Rahmaan ibn Abi Bakrah from his father. The same applies to the position of qaadi (judge), etc.
“Women can own property just like men …” in Islam
Technically, this is true, but the reality is much more complex. The problem comes over the fact that women have an obligation to be modest and stay in the private space and property is part of the public space. Women who own property are often not in a position to manage that property, especially in poor or rural areas. Therefore, by default, the man who controls her (her father, husband, son, brother etc.) also controls her property.
Another factor is education. If money limits the amount of education children are given, boys almost always get better education than girls. Therefore girls either don’t know their rights, or do not have the ability to manage property.
Women’s right to property most often depends on the relationship they share with men around them. (See here.)
So yes, women have the right to own property. Exercising that right is another thing.
Further, in the Qur’an, women’s rights to inherit property are much less than that of men. I’ll get to that below.
Women “… can build a career just like men …” in Islam
Women can build a career like a man – but only with the permission of the man in their life, and under certain conditions. If their husband forbids them from working, they cannot work. All rights are held at the whim of the man who is their controller.
Islam Question and Answer has this to say:
It is permissible for a woman to go out of her house for work, but that is subject to certain conditions. If they are met, it is permissible for her to go out. They are:
– That she needs to work in order to acquire the money she needs …
– The work should be suited to the nature of woman, such as medicine, nursing, teaching, sewing, and so on.
– The work should be in a place that is only for women, and there should be no mixing with non-mahram men.
– Whilst at work she should observe complete shar’i hijab.
– Her work should not lead to her travelling without a mahram.
– Her going out to work should not involve committing any haraam action, such as being alone with the driver, or wearing perfume where non-mahrams can smell it.
– That should not lead to her neglecting things that are more essential for her, such as looking after her house, husband and children.
Of course, in Western countries Muslim women are not sticking to these rules, and good on them. But that, of course, is not due to Islam.
Women “… can have the right to an inheritance just like men” in Islam
Women do have the right to inherit in Islam, but they inherit inherit a lesser proportion than a man. Women in Islam, for example, states:
Men and women have set and determined rights to receive their fair share of wealth …
The Qur’an states that men have the right to a greater share of the wealth than women, and that’s fair because men need more than women. Under that reasoning, women receiving a smaller share is fair. A widow, for example, gets only one-eighth of her late husband’s property. A son get’s double the share of a daughter.
The rules around inheritance in the Qur’an are quite complex, and in some situations they don’t work out either – the numbers don’t add up. Needless to say, women are not equal when it comes to inheritance.
“Education is mandatory upon women, just like men” in Islam
It’s true that the Qur’an tells Muslims to seek to learn their entire lives and other positive messages relating to education. All things being equal, girls are educated just as well as boys. In wealthier Muslim-majority countries like Saudi Arabia women are attaining tertiary qualifications at a higher rate than men, just like their sisters in the West.
However, if a family cannot afford to educate all its children to their potential, it’s the boys that get the education. Two-thirds of the 800,000 people around the world over fifteen who are illiterate are women. The literacy rate is continuing to increase, but the proportion of the illiterate who are women is staying the same. The majority of countries with high rates of illiteracy are Muslim.
Further, Muslims are actually more likely to get a better education in countries where they are the minority.
So, Muhammad may have made it a duty upon his followers to learn, but it looks like Muslims aren’t doing that. Around the world, the religious group with the highest level of education is Jews. Christians come in second, followed by those with no religious affiliation. In fact, Muslims and Hindus are bottom equal when it comes to education.
Understanding the Error
Everyone wants their religion, their country, their family, or whatever else they identify with to be good. Most children realize at some point that their parents aren’t perfect. They usually work out that their country isn’t the best at everything, depending on the level of propaganda they’re subject to. Religion tends to hold onto people’s minds for longer though. Even when people recognize the faults of their own religion they either excuse them, justify them, or say something like, “but we’re better than the others.”
However, these days, mass and social media mean people are getting the information from places other than their own community, and thus more and more are rejecting the religion of their youth too. For some that takes longer than others.
The more one learns about religion the more one comes to understand that almost all of them show a deep hatred of women. The three biggest in the world, all worshiping the one god – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – all began at a time of superstition when people simply didn’t have the knowledge we have now. All of them, for example, originally had strictures around interacting with menstruating women, especially in a religious context. Some still follow those.
It may or may not be true that for his time, Muhammad treated women better than they had been before. They certainly had some legal rights that Christian women didn’t have until more recently. In other situations, most non-Muslim women got rights ahead of Muslim ones, such as the right to vote.
However, whatever was the case in the time of Muhammad was centuries ago. What was acceptable then is not acceptable now. Islam is not feminist, and that will not change until Islam changes.
h/t: Jerry Coyne
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