Rethinking Feminism, Nationalism and Development in Islam

About three weeks ago, I wrote a piece on Feminism, Nationalism and Development in the Islamic Imaginary and it is fair to say a lot of my mates weren’t overly impressed. A couple even quoted verses from the Qur’an to make a point that my views were unislamic. But you see, mainly for two reasons, I am always uncomfortable when people use religious texts to justify the maltreatment of a particular group of people simply for being who they are.

Firstly, it is laughable because even as they quote the “submission” verses, which they believe are sacrosanct they so conveniently ignore other religious edicts. The hypocrisy is always palpable. They also conflate the treatment of women/girls with relationship between husband and wife. Feminism has no interest in spousal politics/relationship insofar as relationship dynamics are ethical without any form of abuse.

The best of examples lies in the way RasulilLaah Mohammed (SAW/PBUH) conducted himself in relation to women. How did he treat his wives? How did he treat his daughter? How did he treat women?

When a man brought a case before him, it was looked at on merit. When a woman brought a case before him, it was looked at on merit. In the almost four decades of married life, Muhammad (SAW/PBUH) never for once hit any of his wives, so what’s unislamic in calling out spousal battery or even the mutilation (FGM) of girls which is alien to the shariah? This is what feminists I believe are fighting for. That women should be treated equitably with dignity and respect, that girls should be offered same opportunities as boys to develop to their full potential.

One needn’t go far in the Qur’an to find a verse on equity. In Qur’an 49:13 after Allah tells us that we (mankind) are all one, he admonishes us that “surely, the most honourable among you in the sight of Allah, is the one who is more pious among you”. So it doesn’t really matter whether you’re male or female, black or white, Chinese or Yakut, in the sight of the Almighty, we are all the same save our deeds. But my friends choose conveniently to not see it that way. It’s all about interpretation and the way the positionality, worldview and ideologies of the interpreter colors their lens of interpretation.

I always cringe when people use religion to justify the marginalisation or oppression of a people. This is utterly dangerous and needless because often, it has more to do with politics than with the religion they purport to practice. In 13th to 17th century Europe, tens of thousands of people, mostly women were burnt at the stake mostly by the Catholic Church for being witches. We have seen time and again, extremists quote Qur’anic verses to justify their atrocities. The vast majority of us Muslims have resolved that this is done “not in our names”.

In Saudi Arabia, for generations women were banned from driving. That ban was recently lifted. What changed? Religion? The times? Their thinking? Or their interpretation of religion?

In Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, a man can divorce his wife simply by saying the word talaq (divorce) three times. This is in spite of the fact that there is a full chapter in the Qur’an outlining the procedures involved in divorce. Divorce is also discussed in detail in another chapter aptly titled Women (Nisa’a). This, however, is not practiced in the rest of the Islamic world.

So what’s the difference between the Islam they practice and the one the rest of us practice? To what extent do social norms and cultural values color our interpretations of the religions we practice?

This is why I don’t trust anyone that uses religion to justify the oppression of women or any other group of people. Religion was never meant to be a tool of oppression. It cannot and should not be used to hold anyone down.


About the Writer

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






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