A combination of Islam and feminism was advocated as "a feminist discourse and practice articulated within an Islamic paradigm" by Margot Badran in 2002.[1] Islamic feminists ground their arguments in Islam and its teachings,[2] seek the full equality of women and men in the personal and public sphere, and can include non-Muslims in the discourse and debate. Islamic feminism is defined by Islamic scholars as being more radical than secular feminism[3] and as being anchored within the discourse of Islam with the Quran as its central text.[4] As a "school of thought", it is said to refer to Moroccan sociologist "Fatema Mernissi and scholars such as Amina Wadud and Leila Ahmed".[5]

Advocates refer to the observation that Muslim majority countries produced several female heads of state, prime ministers, and state secretaries such as Lala Shovkat of Azerbaijan, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Mame Madior Boye of Senegal, Tansu Çiller of Turkey, Kaqusha Jashari of Kosovo, and Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia. In Bangladesh, Khaleda Zia was elected the country's first female prime minister in 1991, and served as prime minister until 2009, when she was replaced by Sheikh Hasina, who maintains the prime minister's office at present making Bangladesh the country with the longest continuous female premiership.[6]


Islamic feminists

Main article: Hermeneutics of feminism in Islam

Islamic feminists interpret the religious texts in a feminist perspective. They can be viewed as a branch of interpreters who ground their arguments in Islam and its teachings,[2] seek gender justice and the full equality of women and men in the personal and public sphere, and can include non-Muslims in the discourse and debate.

Islamic feminism is defined by Islamic scholars as being more radical than secular feminism,[3] and as being anchored within the discourse of Islam with the Quran as its central text.[4]

During recent times, the concept of Islamic feminism has grown further with Islamic groups looking to garner support from many aspects of society. In addition, educated Muslim women are striving to articulate their role in society.[7]

Umm Yasmin, of the Centre for Muslim Minorities and Islam, says that feminism is often mistaken as a western movement, but that Muslim feminists have been active since the early nineteenth century. Muslim feminists tasks aren't to reform the religion of Islam, but rather "promote gender equality within a secular society".[8] Yasmin further concludes that Muslim feminists have "adapted" their views "in which Islam can be contextualized" in order to advocate equality between men and women paralleling with their faith; for Islam doesn't condone violence against women.[8] Since the nineteenth century, both men and women question the legal system regarding the Sharia Laws effect on women such as strict veiling, education, seclusion, polygyny and concubinage. In reforming these social issues, Muslim women started advocating for legal change, establishing schools for girls, and opposing to veiling and polygyny.[9] In support of Yasmin's argument, Fatema Mernissi undermines that the ideal Muslim woman being portrayed as "silent and obedient" has nothing to do with the message of Islam. In her view, conservative Muslim men manipulated the religious texts of the Quran to preserve their patriarchal system in order to prevent women from sexual liberation; thus enforcing justification of strict veiling and limitation rights.[10]

Feminism in Islam

Main article: Hermeneutics of feminism in Islam

Margot Badran says that Islamic feminism "derives its understanding and mandate from the Qur’an, seeks rights and justice for women, and for men, in the totality of their existence."[11] She explains in her writings that radical Islamists (political Islam) have corrupted Islam with the image of patriarchy and oppression to women. This image is what the rest of the world sees and understands Islam to be.[12] Asma Barlas shares Badran's views, discussing the difference between secular feminists and Islamic feminism and in countries where Muslims make up 98% of the population, it is not possible to avoid engaging “its basic beliefs.”[13]

Fatima Seedat agrees with both Barlas and Badran about the importance of feminism in the Islamic world. However, she debates the term “Islamic Feminism” is unnecessary since feminism is a “social practice, not merely of personal identity.”[14] Seedat believes the convergence of both Islamic and feminism creates more conflict and opens more doors for “Islamists” to interpret or misinterpret the Qur'an to suit their political needs. She believes it is important to speak about and illustrate how feminism has existed in the lines of the Qur'an. By separating the two and giving their own space, it will be more inclusive to everyone (men, women, Muslims and non-Muslims). In the same article, “Feminism, and Islamic Feminism: Between Inadequacy and Inevitability,” Seedat explains that the existence of such a term separates Muslims and isolates them from the rest of the world and the universal feminist movement. She states in her essay the importance of sharing with the rest of the world what Islam has to offer feminism, and to show the true image of Islam by not referring to themselves as Islamic feminists.[15]

Moroccan writer and sociologist, Fatema Mernissi is widely recognized as the founder of modern Islamic feminism.[citation needed] Her famous feminist piece Beyond the Veil explores the oppressive status of women in Islam, sexual ideology and gender identity through the perspective of Moroccan society and culture.[10] Beyond the Veil argues against the discourse on women's sexuality by breaking their silence with providing a voice against the dominance of male patriarchy.[16]

Context in the Quran

“O mankind! Fear your Lord Who (initiated) your creation from a single soul, then from it created its mate, and from these two spread (the creation of) countless men and women.” (Qur’an, 4:1)[20]

Allah created both men and women as equals. They were formed from the same soul and the same spiritual nature with neither superior to the other, as shown in the above verse[21]

"وَٱللَّهُ جَعَلَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَٰجًا وَجَعَلَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَزْوَٰجِكُم بَنِينَ وَحَفَدَةً وَرَزَقَكُم مِّنَ ٱلطَّيِّبَٰتِ أَفَبِٱلْبَٰطِلِ يُؤْمِنُونَ وَبِنِعْمَتِ ٱللَّهِ هُمْ يَكْفُرُونَ "

النحل ١٦:٧٢

"And Allah has made for you spouses of your own kind, and given you through your spouses children and grandchildren. And He has granted you good, lawful provisions. Are they then faithful to falsehood and ungrateful for Allah’s favours? (72)" An-Nahl 16:72[22]

''وَٱلْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَٱلْمُؤْمِنَـٰتُ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَآءُ بَعْضٍ ۚ يَأْمُرُونَ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ ٱلْمُنكَرِ وَيُقِيمُونَ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ ٱلزَّكَوٰةَ وَيُطِيعُونَ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُۥٓ ۚ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ سَيَرْحَمُهُمُ ٱللَّهُ ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ''


The believers, both men and women, support each other; they order what is right and forbid what is wrong; they keep up the prayer and pay the prescribed alms; they obey God and His Messenger. God will give His mercy to such people: God is almighty and wise. — Abdul Haleem[23]

'' 3:195 فَٱسْتَجَابَ لَهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ أَنِّى لَآ أُضِيعُ عَمَلَ عَـٰمِلٍ مِّنكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَىٰ ۖ بَعْضُكُم مِّنۢ بَعْضٍ ۖ فَٱلَّذِينَ هَاجَرُوا۟ وَأُخْرِجُوا۟ مِن دِيَـٰرِهِمْ وَأُوذُوا۟ فِى سَبِيلِى وَقَـٰتَلُوا۟ وَقُتِلُوا۟ لَأُكَفِّرَنَّ عَنْهُمْ سَيِّـَٔاتِهِمْ وَلَأُدْخِلَنَّهُمْ جَنَّـٰتٍ تَجْرِى مِن تَحْتِهَا ٱلْأَنْهَـٰرُ ثَوَابًا مِّنْ عِندِ ٱللَّهِ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ عِندَهُۥ حُسْنُ ٱلثَّوَابِ ''


Then their Lord responded to them, "I do not waste the deed of any doer among you, any male or female. The one of you is as the other (Literally: some of you from some others). So, the ones who emigrated, and were driven out of their residences, and were hurt in My way, and fought, and were killed, indeed I will definitely expiate them of their odious deeds, and indeed I will definitely cause them to enter Gardens from beneath which Rivers run." A requital from (the Providence of) Allah; and Allah has in His Providence the fairest requital. — Dr. Ghali[24]

Pre-nineteenth century role models acceptable to modern Islamic feminists

Khawla bint al-Azwar, was a legendary female Muslim warrior/soldier during the life of the prophet Mohammad. Her brother, Dhiraar al-Azwar, trained her to fight and she fought with him in many battles. It is said that it was not known that she was a female when in battle because all soldiers were dressed in loose clothing and wrapped themselves in cloth to protect themselves from the sand and dust. After proving herself as a soldier by showing her talent and skill in combat, she revealed herself to the men she fought next to.[citation needed]

History and context

Ahmed Elewa and Laury Silvers say that, in the past 150 years or so, many scholarly interpretations have been developed from within Islamic tradition itself that seek to redress grave social wrongs perpetrated against Muslim women.[25] For example, new Islamic jurisprudence is emerging that seek to forbid social evils like female genital mutilations, and equalize family codes (Personal law), clergy, administration-level equal-participatory opportunities in mosques for women, equal opportunities for Muslim women to become judges in civil as well as religious institutions.[25] Ahmed Elewa and Laury Silvers say that modern scholars perceive their work as restoration of rights provided by God and the prophet but denied by society.[25]

The Muslim world is going through change and upheaval; Islamic states will need to democratize with a focus on human rights, social justice and gender equality. Muslim women with tools of Islamic feminism are playing important role in an ongoing process of change. For example, in 2012, Jordanian women protested against laws that allowed the dropping of charges if a rapist marries his victim, Tunisian women marched for equality for women in a new constitution, Saudi women protested against the ban against car driving, Sudanese women created a silent wall of protest demanding freedom for arrested women.[26] Elizabeth Segran describes the Islamic feminist struggle of Malaysian activist Zainah Anwar, and states that just talking about human rights mentioned in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) does not create immediate resonance with ordinary women; since Islam is the source of their values, integrating human rights frameworks with Islam makes sense.[26]


Islamists are advocates of political Islam, the notion that the Quran and hadith mandate a caliphate, i.e. an Islamic government. Some Islamists advocate women's rights in the public sphere but do not challenge gender inequality in the personal, private sphere.[27] Su'ad al-Fatih al-Badawi, a Sudanese academic and Islamist politician, has argued that feminism is incompatible with taqwa (the Islamic conception of piety), and thus Islam and feminism are mutually exclusive.[28] Margot Badran of Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (now the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding) argues that Islam and feminism are not mutually exclusive and that "Islamic feminism, which derives its understanding and mandate from the Qur'an, seeks rights and justice for women, and for men, in the totality of their existence. Islamic feminism is both highly contested and firmly embraced."[29]

Nineteenth century

The modern movement of Islamic feminism began in the nineteenth century. The Iranian poet Táhirih was the first modern woman to undertake Qur'anic exegesis. Born and raised in a traditional Muslim family, she became a prominent member of the Bábí Faith, during which time she openly denounced polygyny, the wearing of the veil, and other restraints put upon women. One of her most notable quotes is her final utterance prior to her execution in August 1852, "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women."[30]

Egyptian jurist Qasim Amin, the author of the 1899 pioneering book Women's Liberation (Tahrir al-Mar'a), is often described as the father of the Egyptian feminist movement. In his work, Amin criticized some of the practices prevalent in his society at the time, such as polygyny, the veil, and purdah, i.e. sex segregation in Islam. He condemned them as un-Islamic and contradictory to the true spirit of Islam. His work had an enormous influence on women's political movements throughout the Islamic and Arab world, and is read and cited today.

Despite Qasim Amin's effects on modern-day Islamic feminist movements, present-day scholar Leila Ahmed considers his works both androcentric and colonialist.[31] Muhammad 'Abdu, an Egyptian nationalist[32] and proponent of Islamic modernism, could easily have written the chapters of his work that show honest considerations of the negative effects of the veil on women.[33] Amin even posed many male-centered misconceptions about women, such as their inability to experience love, that women needlessly (when they had very good reason to) talk about their husbands outside their presence, and that Muslim marriage is based on ignorance and sensuality, of which women were the chief source.[34]

Less known, however, are the women who preceded Amin in their feminist critique of their societies. The women's press in Egypt started voicing such concerns since its very first issues in 1892. Egyptian, Turkish, Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese women and men had been reading European feminist magazines even a decade earlier, and discussed their relevance to the Middle East in the general press.[35]

Twentieth century

Aisha Abd al-Rahman, writing under her pen name Bint al-Shati ("Daughter of the Riverbank"), was the second modern woman to undertake Quranic exegesis, and though she did not consider herself to be a feminist, her works reflect feminist themes. She began producing her popular books in 1959, the same year that Naguib Mahfouz published his allegorical and feminist version of the life of Muhammad.[36] She wrote biographies of early women in Islam, including the mother, wives and daughters of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as literary criticism.[37] Fatema Mernissi has argued that much of the suppression of women's rights in Islamic societies is the result of political motivation and its consequent manipulative interpretation of hadith, which runs counter to the egalitarian Islamic community of men and women envisioned by Muhammad.[38]

Some strains of modern Islamic feminism have opted to expunge hadith from their ideology altogether in favor of a movement focusing only on Qur'anic principles. Riffat Hassan has advocated one such movement, articulating a theology wherein what are deemed to be universal rights for humanity outlined in the Qur'an are prioritized over contextual laws and regulations.[39] She has additionally claimed that the Qur'an, taken alone as scripture, does not present females either as a creation preceded by the male or as the instigator of the "Fall of Man".[40] This theological movement has been met with criticism from other Muslim feminists such as Kecia Ali, who has criticized its selective nature for ignoring elements within the Muslim tradition that could prove helpful in establishing more egalitarian norms in Islamic society.[41]

Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan

Main articles: Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan and Meena Keshwar Kamal

Meena Keshwar Kamal (1956 - 1987), founder of RAWA
Meena Keshwar Kamal (1956 - 1987), founder of RAWA

The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) is a women's organization based in Quetta, Pakistan, that promotes women's rights and secular democracy. The organization aims to involve women of Afghanistan in both political and social activities aimed at acquiring their human rights and continuing the struggle against the government of Afghanistan based on democratic and secular - not fundamentalist - principles, in which women can participate fully.[42]

The organization was founded in 1977 by a group of intellectuals led by Meena (she did not use a last name). They founded the organization to promote equality and education for women; it continues to "give voice to the deprived and silenced women of Afghanistan". Before 1978, RAWA focused mainly on women's rights and democracy, but after the coup of 1978, directed by Moscow, and the 1979 Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan, "Rawa became directly involved in the war of resistance, advocating democracy and secularism from the outset".[43] In 1979 RAWA campaigned against the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, and organized meetings in schools to mobilize support against it, and in 1981, launched a bilingual feminist magazine, Payam-e-Zan (Women's Message).[43][44][45] RAWA also founded Watan Schools to aid refugee children and their mothers, offering both hospitalization and the teaching of practical skills.[45][46]

Twenty-first century

In 2015 a group of Muslim activists, politicians, and writers issued a Declaration of Reform which, among other things, supports women's rights and states in part, "We support equal rights for women, including equal rights to inheritance, witness, work, mobility, personal law, education, and employment. Men and women have equal rights in mosques, boards, leadership and all spheres of society. We reject sexism and misogyny."[47] The Declaration also announced the founding of the Muslim Reform Movement organization to work against the beliefs of Middle Eastern terror groups.[48] In 2015 Asra Nomani and others placed the Declaration on the door of the Islamic Center of Washington.[48]

Feminism in the Middle East is over a century old, and having been impacted directly by the war on terror in Afghanistan, continues to grow and fight for women's rights and equality in all conversations of power and everyday life.[49] There is currently an ongoing debate about the actual status of women in Islam, with both conservatives and Islamic feminists using the Quran, the hadith, and prominent women in Muslim history as evidence for the discussion on women's rights, with feminists arguing that early Islam represented more egalitarian ideals, while conservatives argue that gender asymmetries are "divinely ordained".[50]


Sister-hood is an international platform for the voices of women of Muslim heritage founded in 2007 by Norwegian film-maker and human rights activist Deeyah Khan through her media and arts production company Fuuse.[51]

Sister-hood was relaunched in 2016 as a global online magazine and live events platform promoting the voices of women of Muslim heritage. Within six month of its relaunch as an online magazine, sister-hood won Espoke Living Best Website at the 2016 Asian Media Awards for highlighting female equality as well as creating awareness of issues affecting Muslim women.[52] Sister-hood magazine ambassadors include Farida Shaheed from Pakistan, Egyptian Mona Eltahawy, Palestinian Rula Jebreal, Leyla Hussein of Somali heritage and Algerian Marieme Helie Lucas.

Sisters in Islam

Zainah Anwar

Sisters in Islam (SIS) is a Malaysian civil society organisation committed to promoting the rights of women within the frameworks of Islam and universal human rights. SIS work focuses on challenging laws and policies made in the name of Islam that discriminate against women. As such it tackles issues covered under Malaysia's Islamic family and syariah laws, such as polygamy,[53] child marriage,[54] moral policing,[55] Islamic legal theory and jurisprudence, the hijab and modesty,[56] violence against women and hudud.[57] Their mission is to promote the principles of gender equality, justice, freedom, and dignity of Islam and empower women to be advocates for change.[58] They seek to promote a framework of women's rights in Islam which take into consideration women's experiences and realities; they want to eliminate the injustice and discrimination that women may face by changing mindsets that may hold women to be inferior to men; and they want to increase the public knowledge and reform laws and policies within the framework of justice and equality in Islam.[58] Prominent members are Zainah Anwar[59] and co-founder Amina Wadud.[60]

Muslim women's quest for equality

Groups like Sisters in Islam and RAWA, have done substantial work in uniting members of Islam for the uplifting of women. Major members of this movement have argued for increased recognition in theological approaches as seen when Ziba Mir-Hosseini says:

‘Secular feminism has fulfilled its historical role but it has nothing more to give us’ […] I will simply repeat here that rejection was not my intent, but rather, then as now, I call for a reconciliation and transcendence of the distinction. We are all heading in the same direction, but we also need to recognise and value the diversity in our approaches and create spaces where different feminisms and voices can work together towards the same goal.[61]

Many Islamic feminists argue that their inequality doesn't come from the Koran, but how people have interpreted the messages of the Koran.[62] More specific efforts include those of the group Muslim Women's Quest for Equality when they petitioned the Supreme Court of India against the practices of talaq-e-bidat (triple talaq), nikah halala and polygyny under the Muslim personal laws illegal and unconstitutional[63][64] in September 2016.


In 2009, twelve women from the Arab world formed the global movement Musawah, whose name means "equality" in Arabic. Musawah advocates for feminist interpretations of Islamic texts and calls on nations to abide by international human rights standards such as those promulgated in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Musawah's approach is modeled after that of Sisters in Islam. Secular feminists have criticized Musawah, arguing that Islam is shaky ground on which to build a feminist movement, given that interpretation of Islamic sources is subjective.[26]

International conferences on Islamic Feminism

Few International conferences on Islamic Feminism could take place, once such International Congress on Islamic Feminism was held in Barcelona Spain in 2008.[65] Musawah ('equality'; in Arabic: مساواة) is a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family, led by feminists since 2009, "seeking to reclaim Islam and the Koran for themselves".[66]

Musawah movement operates on the principle that patriarchy within Muslim countries is a result of the way male interpreters have read Islamic texts.[66] and that feminists can progressively interpret the Quran to achieve goal of international human rights standards.[66] A first female Muslim clerics congress was held in Indonesia in 2017.[67] The Muslim women clerics congress issued a fatwa to lift the minimum age for girls to marry to 18.[67] Malaysian feminist Zainah Anwar informed the women clerics congress that women do have equal right to define Islam and that women need to fight against male domination in Quranic interpretations.[67] During the congress, Nur Rofiah, a professor in Quranic studies stated that, Islam asks every human being has to elevate the status of humankind, and polygamy does not, and that polygamy is not the teaching of Islam[67]

Areas of campaign

Personal law

See also: Islamic marital jurisprudence

Manal al-Sharif speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2012 about the #Women2Drive campaign she co-founded.
Manal al-Sharif speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2012 about the #Women2Drive campaign she co-founded.

One of such controversial interpretations involve passages in the Quran that discuss the idea of a man's religious obligation to support women.[68] Some scholars, such as anthropologist Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban in her work on Arab-Muslim women activists' engagement in secular religious movements, argue that this assertion of a religious obligation "has traditionally been used as a rationale for the social practice of male authority."[68] In some countries the legislative and administrative application of male authority is used to justify denying women access to the public sphere through the "denial of permission to travel or work outside the home, or even drive a car."[68] On Sept. 26, 2017 Saudi Arabia announced it would end its longstanding policy banning women from driving in June 2018.[69] Various female activists had protested the ban, among them Saudi women's rights activists Manal al-Sharif,[70] by posting videos of them driving on social media platforms. One of the women's rights activists from Saudi Arabia, Loujain al-Hathloul had been imprisoned for more than 3 years and was sentenced on 28 December 2020 to a total of 5 years and 8 months in prison for allegedly conspiring against the kingdom in alignment with foreign nations following her protest against the ban on driving for women in Saudi. Two years and ten months of her prison sentence was reduced leaving only 3 months of time left to serve. However, the charges against her were false and the authorities denied arresting her for protesting against driving ban on women in Saudi Arabia. The prosecutors who were charged with torturing her during detention; sexually and otherwise, were cleared of charges by the government stating lack of evidence.[71]

Islamic feminists have objected to the MPL legislation in many of these countries, arguing that these pieces of legislation discriminate against women. Some Islamic feminists have taken the attitude that a reformed MPL which is based on the Quran and sunnah, which includes substantial input from Muslim women, and which does not discriminate against women is possible.[72] Such Islamic feminists have been working on developing women-friendly forms of MPL. (See, for example, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women for argument based on the Qur'an and not on what they call medieval male consensus.) Other Islamic feminists, particularly some in Muslim minority contexts which are democratic states, argue that MPL should not be reformed but should be rejected and that Muslim women should seek redress, instead, from the civil laws of those states.

Dress codes

Main article: Islamic feminist views on dress codes

See also: Haya (Islam), Islam and clothing, Awrah, Purdah, and Hijab by country

Mannequins showing different styles of hijab head-covering
Mannequins showing different styles of hijab head-covering

Another issue that concerns Muslim women is the dress code expected of them. Islam requires both men and women to dress modestly; this concept is known as hijab and covers a wide interpretation of behavior and garments. There is mixed opinion among Muslim feminists concerning externally imposed control. Sufi groups such as Al-Ahbash do not make it mandatory for women to wear traditional Islamic clothing, even allowing jeans.[73]

Despite the controversy over hijab in sections of Western society, the veil is not controversial in mainstream Islamic feminist discourse, except in those situations where it is the result of social pressure or coercion. There is in fact strong support from most Muslim feminists in favor of the veil. Many Muslim men and women now view the veil as a symbol of Islamic freedom.[74] While there are some Islamic scholars who interpret Islamic scripture as not mandating hijab, many Islamic feminists still observe hijab as an act of religious piety or sometimes as a way of symbolically rejecting Western culture by making a display of their Muslim identity.

A small fringe of Islamic feminists, including Fadela Amara and Hedi Mhenni, oppose hijab and even support legal bans on the garment for various reasons. Amara explained her support for France's ban of the garment in public buildings: "The veil is the visible symbol of the subjugation of women, and therefore has no place in the mixed, secular spaces of France's public school system."[75] When some feminists began defending the headscarf on the grounds of "tradition", Amara said: "It's not tradition, it's archaic! French feminists are totally contradictory. When Algerian women fought against wearing the headscarf in Algeria, French feminists supported them. But when it's some young girl in a French suburb school, they don't. They define liberty and equality according to what colour your skin is. It's nothing more than neocolonialism."[75] Mhenni also expressed support for Tunisia's ban on the veil: "If today we accept the headscarf, tomorrow we'll accept that women's rights to work and vote and receive an education be banned and they'll be seen as just a tool for reproduction and housework."[76]

Sihem Habchi, director of Ni Putes Ni Soumises, expressed support for France's ban on the burqa in public places, stating that the ban was a matter of 'democratic principle' and protecting French women from the 'obscurantist, fascist, right-wing movement' that she claims the burqa represents.[77][78]

Woman modeling contemporary hijab fashion
Woman modeling contemporary hijab fashion

Equality in the Mosque

See also: Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosque

A survey by the Council on American Islamic Relations showed that two out of three mosques in 2000 required women to pray in a separate area, up from one out of two in 1994.[79] Islamic feminists have begun to protest this, advocating for women to be allowed to pray beside men without a partition, as they do in Mecca.[80][81] In 2003, Asra Nomani challenged the rules at her mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia, that required women to enter through a back door and pray in a secluded balcony.[79] She argued that Muhammad didn't put women behind partitions, and that barriers preventing women from praying equally with men are just sexist man-made rules.[79] The men at her mosque put her on trial to be banished.[79]

In 2004, some American mosques had constitutions prohibiting women from voting in board elections.[82] In 2005, following public agitation on the issue, Muslim organizations that included the CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America issued a report on making mosques "women-friendly", to assert women's rights in mosques, and to include women's right to pray in the main hall without a partition.[79]

In 2010, American Muslim Fatima Thompson and a few others organized and participated in a "pray-in" at the Islamic Center of Washington in D.C.[79] Police were summoned and threatened to arrest the women when they refused to leave the main prayer hall. The women continued their protest against being corralled in what they referred to as the "penalty box" (a prayer space reserved for only women). Thompson called the penalty box "an overheated, dark back room."[79] A second protest also staged by the same group on the eve of International Women's Day in 2010 resulted in calls to the police and threats of arrest again.[79] However, the women were not arrested on either occasion.[79] In May 2010, five women prayed with men at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque, one of the Washington region's largest Islamic centers.[80] After the prayers, a member of the mosque called Fairfax police who asked the women to leave.[80] However, later in 2010, it was decided that D.C. police would no longer intervene in such protests.[83]

In 2015 a group of Muslim activists, politicians, and writers issued a Declaration of Reform which states in part, "Men and women have equal rights in mosques, boards, leadership and all spheres of society. We reject sexism and misogyny."[47] That same year Asra Nomani and others placed the Declaration on the door of the Islamic Center of Washington.[48]

Equality in leading prayer

Main article: Women as imams

In 'A Survey and Analysis of Legal Arguments on Woman-Led Prayer in Islam named “I am one of the People”' Ahmed Elewa state that not because of external expectation but in due course with enlightened awareness Muslim communities should adopt women lead mixed gender prayers, in the same research paper Laury Silvers emphasizes on example of Umm Salama who insisted that women are 'One of the people' and suggests women to assert their inclusion with equal rights. Ahmed Elewa and Laury Silvers research calls contemporary prohibitions of women lead prayer frustrating.[25]

According to currently existing traditional schools of Islam, a woman cannot lead a mixed gender congregation in salat (prayer). Traditionalist like Muzammil Siddiqi states that women are not supposed to lead prayer because “It is not permissible to introduce any new style or liturgy in Salat.” In other words, there must be no deviation from the tradition of men teaching.[84] Some schools make exceptions for Tarawih (optional Ramadan prayers) or for a congregation consisting only of close relatives. Certain medieval scholars—including Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838–923), Abu Thawr (764–854), Isma'il Ibn Yahya al-Muzani (791–878), and Ibn Arabi (1165–1240) considered the practice permissible at least for optional (nafl) prayers; however, their views are not accepted by any major surviving group. Islamic feminists have begun to protest this.

On March 18, 2005, Amina Wadud led a mixed-gender congregational Friday prayer in New York City. It sparked a controversy within the Muslim community because the imam was a woman, Wadud, who also delivered the khutbah.[85] Moreover, the congregation she addressed was not separated by gender. This event that departed from the established ritual practice became an embodied performance of gender justice in the eyes of its organizers and participants. The event was widely publicized in the global media and caused an equally global debate among Muslims.[85] However, many Muslims, including women, remain in disagreement with the idea of a woman as imam. Muzammil Siddiqi, chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, argued that prayer leadership should remain restricted to men[85] He based his argument on the longstanding practice and thus community consensus and emphasized the danger of women distracting men during prayers.

The events that occurred in regards to equality in the mosque and women leading prayers, show the enmity Muslim feminists may receive when voicing opposition toward sexism and establishing efforts to combat it. Those who criticize Muslim feminists state that those who question the faith's views on gender segregation, or who attempt to make changes, are overstepping their boundaries and are acting offensively. On the other hand, people have stated that Islam does not advocate gender segregation. Britain's influential Sunni imam, Ahtsham Ali, has stated, "gender segregation has no basis in Islamic law" nor is it justified in the Quran.[86] Ahmed Elewa and Laury Silvers deduce that with lack of any explicit evidence to contrary one ought to assume, women lead prayer adds nothing new to God established worship but just a default state of command expects men and women both to lead the prayer.[25]

Internet & Social media impact

Internet & Social media debates opened up easy access to religious texts for Muslim women which helps them understand scriptural backing for the gender equality rights they which they fight for.[87]


Conservative Islamist views and criticism of (Islamic) feminists

In Sahih Muslim, a canonical book of hadith,[88] Abu Huraira (one of the Companions) reported that a person came to the Prophet and asked: "Who among the people is most deserving of a fine treatment from my hand? He said: Your mother. He again said: Then who? He said: Again it is your mother. He said: Then who ? He said: Again, it is your mother. He said: Then who? Thereupon he said: Then it is your father." This is one example that many scholars[who?] use to show the inclusion of women and their rights in the Quran/Islam.

From the Quran: Surah 4:19[89] O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may take away part of the dower ye have given them,-except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and God brings about through it a great deal of good.[90] In this scripture it is explained by Sahih Muslim that this speaks to men to take care of their wives, and those who do not will suffer the consequences. Naik explains that this is not to give men a higher status than women, but to give them the role of caretaker because they are created physically stronger than women. He stresses on the different roles they are given as men and women because of how God created them. Men are providers and women are the caregivers at home, given more patience, resilience, and the ability to forgive more than men.

The Quran says:[91] Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men, and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women".[92] This demonstrates that Muslim men and women are spiritually regarded as equals and woman can attain the same of devotion to God as men. Allah created men and women to equally follow the same commandments and entitled the same rights, but only distinguished them based on their marital status. Men and women are expected to fulfill the same duties; worship, prayer, fasting, almsgiving and pilgrimage to Mecca.[93] The Quran says:[94] "fear your Lord who created you from a single soul and of its kind created its mate, and from them twain spread many men and women." Single soul signifies that both sexes are unified together as one soul, belonging to the same species and having the same propensities.[citation needed]

The Quran also says in verse 2:282: "O you who believe! When you contract a debt for a fixed period, write it down. Let a scribe write it down in justice between you. Let not the scribe refuse to write as Allah has taught him, so let him write. Let him (the debtor) who incurs the liability dictate, and he must fear Allah, his Lord, and diminish not anything of what he owes. But if the debtor is of poor understanding, or weak, or is unable himself to dictate, then let his guardian dictate in justice. 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." This implies that the testimony of two women is equivalent to that of a man in financial matters, as women may not be as familiar with matters of finance and debt if they are mainly homemakers. The second woman’s role was mainly as an assistant, to remind the other of anything she may forget. Today, most scholars agree that if a woman has knowledge of finance, her testimony may be regarded as equal to that of a man in such a case.

Notable people

Main article: List of Muslim feminists

See also

In particular countries


Further reading

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