Feminism, Nationalism & Development in the Islamic Imaginary

Religion was supposed to liberate mankind from the shackles of ignorance and from oppression by fellow humans. But it is interesting to see how religion itself has been used as a tool to oppress and or justify the oppression of marginalized people.

We have the divine law and then we have human interpretation of the divine law, and since the vast majority of our religious leaders are male, isn’t it possible at least for a moment that their interpretation of religious edicts are sometimes skewed to not necessarily suit their whims, but to mirror their experiences in life, expectations and or perceptions? Basically, much of religious interpretation has been filtered through an androcentric perspective.

Take what happens at the mosques during Islamic marriage ceremonies for instance, you have an all-male audience, but 90% of the imam’s sermon will be on the rights of the man over the woman and the duties of the woman to her man. So the groom goes into his matrimonial home 100% aware of his rights over the bride and next to nothing of the his wife’s over him. Thus, from the onset, the matrimonial relationship has been defined as one of submission from the woman (read: inequality).

I am not a scholar, but my lay reading of the Qur’an and hadith gives me the impression that Islam/Allah (SWT) treats humankind equally regardless of sex. For instance, the punishment for a sin is the same for males and females just as the reward for a good deed is. And when Allah admonishes or enjoins Muslims in the Qur’an, most of the time bi-gender inclusive words (muslimeen wal muslimaat, qaaniteena wal qaanitaat etc.) are used.

If Allah does not discriminate on the basis of gender, I don’t see where the concept of gender superiority fits in this religion of ours.

I don’t purport to be a feminist. I don’t even understand the term. The closest I could come to aligning myself to the movement would be as an ally. I am for equality in the treatment of all of humankind irrespective of their sex, race, religion, ethnicity, class or sexuality. This is because it will be inhumane to marginalize or hold in perpetual “fear” any set of people because of the reasons above and we cannot progress as a people if we continually hold back the marginalized.

We all agree that females make up over 50% of our population and in development studies 101, they will tell you development is people-centered. A nation can build all the infrastructure imaginable, the economy can grow at double digit speed, if its populace do not benefit from it or once the majority of its people are still trapped in the poverty cycle, food insecurity, unemployment etc, the nation would still have done nothing. And this is why perhaps “we should all be feminists“.

This is why it is also imperative for us not to make feminism all about the few privileged women on social media (many of whom are fighting for equity across the board). It should also be about the young woman in Vawagri whose dream of becoming a teacher was dashed because her society decided she was more useful to them as a housewife than as a teacher. Let it be about the young woman in Kpane, raped but suffering in silence because society will call for her head if she speaks up, or about the woman in Tamale who spent half her life building the home of her “man” while he builds his future, only for him to wake up one morning and ask her to pack out, bringing her world crashing to the ground. All these causes that work towards making the lived reality of rural and urban women are valid manifestations of feminism.

When we arrive at the epiphany that being feminist is not a choice but a requirement for our actualization as a nation that is embracing of people irrespective of their identities while working to build an equitable society then can we say that we are a nation where everyone is equal.


About the Writer

Mohammed Rashad Mutawakil is a development practitioner and an alumnus of the University for Development Studies.


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