Saturday 11 March 2017

Muslim and Feminist

International Women’s Day took place during this week.  Little Lady went on a school trip to a war ship with a female captain and got to talk to some of the female sailors. I jokingly asked her at some point if she was a feminist and she replied with an incredulous no. That was it. I had one of these moments:

I took the opportunity to lecture her on the rights of women, or the lack thereof and the effects of this on women today.

I’ve noticed a trend today to reject feminism for a number of reasons, whether because it’s considered to be anti-men, go against Islamic thinking, seen to be focussed on first world problems or just generally not cool. I think sometimes Muslim’s reject feminism because they see it as trying to blur the lines between men and women, whereas Islam accepts that there are differences between men and women that are to be respected.

I think people also reject feminism because they perceive it as being about women trying to outdo men, demand more than their fair share or because they can come across in some instances as hating men. After all, men don’t want to be treated as villains by default. If nothing else, they have gained a reputation for being po-faced killjoys.

But my take on feminism is not about man-hating or getting indignant because someone offered me their seat on the train. It is much more basic than that and based on something much more personal.  My maternal grandmother died in childbirth over 50 years ago. She lost her child and died herself a few days later. I have never been quite clear about what caused her death (may Allah SWT bless her with the highest ranks in paradise insh’Allah), but the effects have reverberated through generations.

The loss of a woman effects everyone around her, the loss of a mother has an effect that it seems can never be alleviated. The loss of my nan meant that my mum dropped out of school and as an adult could not read or write. She grew up caring for her step-siblings, always feeling unloved and second best. She married at 15 sooner than she wanted to and into a family that could not adequately care for her when she joined her husband here at 18. Not being able to read or right meant that she could not write to her family back in Pakistan without help and would have to ask friends to read the responses that came back. 

But the effects of losing her mother in childbirth went deeper than that. She never knew how to love us as children. It was only as adults that we encouraged her to hug and kiss us, but it meant that all of us siblings were quite reserved and cold. 

There were so many things that a mother teaches her daughter that she had to learn herself – things like social conventions. When we went to ask for my lovely sister-in-law’s hand in marriage for my brother, mum had no clue what to do. I had to step in with my motor-mouth and ask sis-in-law’s mum what she thought.

I remember getting upset at something my mum said one day – she is very blunt. On seeing my face drop, she regretted what she had said and acknowledged that not having a mum had made her hard in some ways. She thought it had made both her and her older brother cold and a little selfish.

I see my mum with Little Lady, they are best friends and she loves to spoil my oldest daughter. I wonder if my nan would have spoiled me in such a way. I am blessed with every single relationship: parents, siblings, cousins, uncles and aunties on both sides. I have spent varying amounts of time with my other three grandparents and even met their (now very elderly) siblings, my great uncles and aunts. I know how lucky I am and I value and nurture these relationships. But it’s funny, it seems you miss and long for the one relationship that you have never had.

My nan died a long time ago, deaths in the Western world from childbirth are rarer now. Despite this the World Health Organisation’s latest statistics still tell us that 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day. In 2015 that was roughly 303,000 women. Most of these were preventable, but happened due to lack of adequate care and resources.

For me feminism is not about competing with men or trying to prove ourselves superior. It is about basic fairness. For women to have an adequate share of resources to be able to access enough food and medical care for themselves and their children to stay healthy. It is about safety from violence (1 in 3 women have experienced violence in their lifetime from a partner). It is about women having access to at least enough education that they can confidently help themselves and their children.

I have always felt that Islam empowered me as a women. I had to fight my family to access higher education, but I knew that my faith encourages the education of women. I married someone my family were not crazy about, but they and I knew I had the right to choose who I marry (best choice I ever made alhamdulillah). I choose to work and it gives me independence and the freedom to make choices in my life and to help and support others.

Islam honours us and empowers us with amazing women role models: warriors, scholars, philanthropists, rulers and wives, daughters and mothers who have changed the course of history through the way they supported and nurtured the people in their lives.

So I am proud to call myself a feminist – someone who believes in fairness and that treating our womenfolk with kindness and respect creates the foundation for happy families and healthy communities. I hope one day my sons and daughters are proud to consider themselves as people who support and empower women too.

"Fear Allah through whom you demand your mutual (rights) and (revere) the wombs (That bore you): for Allah Ever watches over you." (Quran 4:1)

"And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women." (Quran 2:228)

“Whatever men earn, they have a share of that and whatever women earn, they have a share in that.” (Quran 4:32]

"O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the dowry you have given them - except when they have become guilty of open lewdness. On the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them, it may be that you dislike something and Allah will bring about through it a great deal of good." (Quran 4:19)

The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) is reported to have said: “Made beloved to me from your world are women and perfume, and the coolness of my eyes is in prayer.” (Ahmad and An-Nasa ‘i) 

A man came to the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) and said, ‘O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship? The Prophet said: Your mother. The man said, ‘Then who?' The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man further asked, ‘Then who?' The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man asked again, ‘Then who?' The Prophet said: Then your father. (Bukhari, Muslim).

Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said: “The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in manners and kindest to his wife.” (Abu Dawud)


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  2. "And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women." (Quran 2:228)

    Here is the omitted part of the verse which clarifies the Islamic point of view much better:
    وَلَهُنَّ مِثْلُ الَّذِي عَلَيْهِنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَلِلرِّجَالِ عَلَيْهِنَّ دَرَجَةٌ وَاللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ (228)
    Women have rights similar to what they owe in recognized manner though for men there is a step above them. Allah is Mighty, Wise.
    Quran 2: 228

    1. Perhaps it might be worth putting this ayah in context and saying that this is not about rights but about responsibility - how men will be held to account regarding how they led and cared for their families?

    2. Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand in a just system. Obviously, when men have an order more rights, they would have more responsibilities too.
      While a fresher employee with less salary is concerned just about his day’s task or week’s task, a senior official in company has bigger concerns. And of course, they have greater rights. In spite of all the pretended camaraderie in modern corporate environment, insubordination remains as severe a crime as at any time in the past. The subordinates are free to speak out, to differ, and so on, but the limits of everything will be defined by the bosses alone. And the bosses alone will decide if the subordinate’s act is insubordination and if he deserves summary expulsion. No freedom of thought, speech, or expression here. No deception of “I may disagree with what you have to say but will defend to death your right to say it” now. The corporate system shows its true colors here, bared from all facades.

      No sensible person can even think for a moment that a company where every employee has equal rights and status can work and succeed. There will always be a difference of thought and opinion, and then each can waste hours and days trying to convince the other while the other refuses to budge, keeps coming up with new arguments to bolster his own case. Or they can just have a hierarchy, where one view by default becomes actionable item. That’s how the world runs. That’s how an Islämic family runs.

      While the Western system accepts the importance of boss-subordinate relationship in offices (which they really want to preserve), they make use of their entire propaganda might (laws, school curriculum, news, movies, art, etc.) to convince that this simple hierarchy should not apply inside family, at home. The result is rampant divorce, disrupted families, destroyed lives, meaningless existence. A man or woman without a family would then concern himself just with his job, and that’s what the gods of West ultimately want.

      Isläm has a completely different view of family life. Family is as sacrosanct here as big companies in Western regimes. They do their best to save companies even if it requires forgiving billions of dollars of wasted loans and letting go of greedy directors and CEOs. Isläm is just and judicious, yet it does its best to preserve family-life, to provide an emotional shelter to man, woman and children, and to keep them as close-knit and as together as possible. This involves a wide galaxy of governmental laws, spiritual guidance and practical teachings ranging from severe punishment for zinaa to the command of not looking at strangers from other sex.
      And this also involves an establishment of hierarchy where in case of irreconcilable opinions, the husband’s views get implemented by default. A spouse doesn’t need to hone his/her debating skills to make the other see his point. Spouses shouldn’t spend time researching and providing meaningless statistics to decide what time the lights should be put off.

      Isläm is irreconcilably different from Western manmade ideologies. Isläm is an alternative to manmade tyrannies, not a neighbor, not a friend open to negotiation. Any attempt at disguising this by garbing Isläm in Western clothes, by providing Quränic verses and Hadïths to bolster feminism or sexism, materialism or communism, racism or any other ism gives us an unrecognizable hotch-potch which is neither Isläm nor its presumed alternative. And the only way of life acceptable to Alläh is Isläm.

    3. Go back to Saudi Arabia then, to live your life as Allah tells you to, and do not live in Western countries or in countries that are not Islamic.

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  4. You defying the so-called perceived patriarchy is a great feministic feat. Shouldn't feminists also celebrate when Little Lady defies your feminist humbug and starts thinking for herself about the true role of men and women in society? Why should you shove your ancient, anachronistic 20th century feminism down this 21st century kid's throat? Be modern, be liberal, respect your daughter's opinions if you are a true feminist. Any thoughts?

    1. Your comment is quite aggressive.
      I simply shared the story of her great-grandmother and the effect it has had on many of us. I didn't tell her to go bra-burning and I didn't tell her what to think!

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    1. I have deleted those of your comments that I thought were incoherent. I love to see comments from readers, but it would help if these were coherent and easy to read (i.e. not enormous blocks of text), rather than angry-sounding rants.

  6. Salaam. I love this post of yours, jazakallakhair. To the anon above, what about Nusayba/Umm Ammara? She fought in the battle of Uhud and shielded the Prophet (SAW). The author of this post makes the point that to her feminism is not about being against male rights at all - rather, it is simply about women having rights too.

    1. Walaikam-assalam, thank you!
      I was also thinking of Saffiyah binte Abd al-Muṭṭalib (RA), who I truly love and look up to as a strong and righteous role model

    2. In AtTabaqatul Kubra (8/303) by Ibn Sa'd, Umm 'Umärah Nusaibah bint Ka’b herself says:
      “In the morning, I started off for the Uhud battlefield to see how things were. I had a waterskin with me. (Not weapons, because she was not an officially enlisted soldier, but a nurse and caregiver.) I reached Alläh’s Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ and found him in the company of his noble companions. At that time Muslims were in a winning position.
      “Later, when Muslims lost ground, I got close to the Prophet. I started fighting and defending Alläh’s Prophet with sword and shooting with arrows till surgeon came to me.”

      Her interviewer (many years later) says she saw a hollow wound-mark on Nusaibah’s shoulder inflicted on her by Ibn Qumayyah. She had tried to counter-attack but Ibn Qumayyah had double armor on his body. In all, she got 12 wounds on that day of trial in which 70 noble companions were martyred.
      Ibn Sa'd also mentions that she participated in the Battle of Yamamah where her hand got cut off. Yamamah was also a difficult battle where Muslims lost 70 Qurän Hafizs.
      She did not fight in any other battle. And in these two battles too, she fought only because of an emergency-like life-or-death situation. That she would fight like an ordinary soldier was never the part of battle-plan. And so she was no soldier, but a nurse and caregiver who had to fend for her own and her fellows’ lives in some emergencies. If a huge fire starts and the firemen get overwhelmed, anybody and everybody who thinks he/she can help, must step in. Yet even if they accomplish remarkable feats, they remain an amateur, a civilian. This one-off or two-off incidence does not make them a (professional) firefighter.

      As for Hazrat Safiyyah, she too was never enlisted as a soldier. She just saw an enemy spy doing the rounds of protected houses where all Muslim women and children were staying. She couldn’t find any man to confront the spy, so she attacked the spy herself, as it was a choice between attacking him or letting the spy return with detailed information and allowing the women to be attacked by Banü Quraizah army from behind while all Muslim men were busy at the battle-front.

    3. You don't have to be an enlisted soldier to have the heart of a warrior.

  7. In emergency, many norms and rules are let go off, but the temporary relaxations never define a general rule or universal law. For law, we have general guidance of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and the practices of the Mothers of Believers and other noble Companion women.

    عَنْ عَائِشَةَ أُمِّ المُؤْمِنِينَ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهَا، أَنَّهَا قَالَتْ: يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ، نَرَى الجِهَادَ أَفْضَلَ العَمَلِ، أَفَلاَ نُجَاهِدُ؟ قَالَ: «لاَ، لَكِنَّ أَفْضَلَ الجِهَادِ حَجٌّ مَبْرُورٌ»
    Hazrat Aishah said to the Prophet: We know Jihad is the greatest deed. Shouldn't we women also participate in Jihad?
    Allah's Prophet said: No. (For you) the greatest Jihad is rewardworthy Haj. (Bukhari 1520)

    Hazrat 'Äishah did get out of home in the Battle of Jamal which was another emergency. It was the issue of Holy Caliph Hazrat Usmän’s assassination getting unaccounted for. And yet when Hazrat Ammar bin Yasir رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهُ reminded her that Alläh had commanded her to stay in home, she admitted. “Ammar! You have always been truthful,” she said. Hazrat Ammar said: “Thanks Alläh who got me the title of truthful from you.”
    In her later life, whenever Hazrat 'Äishah read this verse, she would cry so much that her scarf would get wet. Throughout her remaining life, she kept regretting getting out of her house in the Battle of Jamal because of this verse even though what she did was in a situation of emergency. And she certainly did not intend to fight or lead the army. In fact, people had insisted upon her accompanying the army in the hope that if she were present in the battle-field, the people on other side won’t fight in her honor, that they would shy away from attack. And thus a grand reconciliation could be achieved without bloodletting. (Tafseer Qurtubi 14/179, 181)

    As for law, the greatest guide is the holy Qurän which says:
    وَقَرْنَ فِي بُيُوتِكُنَّ وَلَا تَبَرَّجْنَ تَبَرُّجَ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ الْأُولَى
    (Women!), remain in your homes and do not display your beauty as it used to be displayed in the days of earlier ignorance. (Qurän 33:33)
    Mother of Believers, Hazrat Saudah was asked why she never went for Haj and Umrah like other Mothers of Believers. She said she had completed the compulsory Haj and Umrah, and Alläh had commanded her to stay at home. The reporter says she never stepped out of her home all her life. Only her Janazah (bier) came out at her death. (Tafseer Qurtubi 14/181)

  8. I think life experiences make feminists of us all in some way or another - especially when we look to our role models and the women in our lives. Our mum is one of the biggest influences in this - Alhamdullilah.

    Definitely agree with you on all points - and certainly hope that as we go forward we have fairer equality and respect between men and women.

    I will say, I found myself thinking today that a lot of British Muslim men are more respectful to women these days than the previous generations. Whenever I think of the men I know and even the random strangers I see in public, a lot of the young Muslim men these days are a lot more considerate and respectful to women these days - makes me very hopeful.

    Anyway, excellent post as usual xx

  9. Thank you for these lovely words. I agree that younger generations (and my own!) are wary of using feminism because it has so much baggage. But safety, equality of choice, and the freedom to demand the rights we are owed are all things women should get behind no matter how you interpret those things. Thank you for ALL your blogging!

  10. Salam - I'm a long-time lurker who drops in on your blog every year or so, and I just wanted to say how happy this post made me. I encounter so much negativity about women online and this post was really a bright spot in my week and I shared it with an old friend. Thank you so much (and ignore the haters)!

  11. Thank you for lurking/reading and sharing and your encouragement xxx