Margot Badran is an historian & a
specialist of gender studies, with a focus
on the Middle East & the Islamic world.
She did her MA from Harvard University
& DPhil from Oxford University. She
acquired a diploma in Arabic and Islam
from Al Azhar University, Cairo .
A Senior Fellow at the Center for
Muslim-Christian Understanding at
Georgetown University, Badran is
currently a visiting fellow at ISIM
(Institute for the Study of Islam in the
Modern World) in Leiden, The
It is a movement for social, cultural, political and economic
equality of men and women. It is a campaign against gender
inequalities and it strives for equal rights for women.
Feminism can be also defined as the right to enough
information available to every single woman so that she can
make a choice to live a life which is not discriminatory and
which works within the principles of social, cultural, political
.and economic equality and independence..
It was coined in France, in the 1880s by Hubertine Auclert who
published La Citoyenne. The newspaper was a forceful and
unrelenting advocate for women's enfranchisement, demanding
changes to the Napoleonic Code that relegated women to a vastly
inferior status. The newspaper demanded that women be given the
right to run for public office, claiming that the unfair laws would
never have been passed had the views of female legislators been
heard. .
Feminism is the radical notion that women are people, so it is a movement of
equality between women and men regardless of nationality, age or religion. As
Badran says, “ Feminism is a plant that only grows in its own soil.”
For example, in our country or any other Muslim country, we find some feminists
who use the Qur’an and the Hadith in order to clarify the evidence that God
imposes the equality between men and women. This so-called Islamic feminism.
The term Islamic feminism began to be visible in the 1990s in various global
- Iran, by the scholars Asfaneh Najmabadeh and Ziba Mir Hosseini explained the rise and use of the term
Islamic Feminism in Iran by woman writing in the Tehran woman’s journal Zanan.
- Saudi Arabia, by the scholar Mai Yamani who used the term in her book Feminism and Islam.
- Turkey, by the sholars Yesim Arat and Feride Acar,
they used the term Islamic Feminism in their articles
In the 1990s to describe a new feminist paradigm
They detected emerging in Turkey.
- South Africa, by the activist Shamima Shaikh who
Employed the term in her speeches in 1990s.
Islamic feminists are looking into the basic texts of Islam in context
of real life situations for concrete ideas. Islamic feminists are using
Islamic categories like the notion of ijtihad. The tools can be
different like linguistic methodology or historiosizing. But the frame
should be within Islam, not foreign. Islamic feminism is speaking for
justice to women as Islam stands for. It’s a tool to remind people
what Islam is for women. The term Islamic feminism is an idea of
awareness preaching that men and women have equal rights based on
re-reading the Quran, re-examining the religious texts and telling
people to practice it. Some people, who do this for the sake of
women, don’t call themselves Islamic feminists. Some have
stereotypical notions about feminism and others believe that we need
a term to develop a discourse and fight the cause. It’s a rethinking
process anyway.
Islamic feminism circulates globally with great speed, Islamic feminism
is spreading infinitely faster and globally via the Internet and the
Satellite. It has a vibrant presence in cyberspace reverberating in what
Fatima Mernissi colourfully calls the "digital Islamic galaxy."
The new Islamic feminist paradigm began to surface a decade and a
half ago simultaneously in old Muslim societies in parts of Africa and
Asia and in newer communities in Europe and North America. For
example, in Iran, immediately post-Khomeini, Muslim
women, along with some male clerics, associated with the
then new paper Zanan, as Muslims and citizens of an
Islamic Republic called, in the name of Islam, for the
practice of women's rights they found being infringed
upon or rolled back, grounding their arguments in their
readings of the Qur'an as the virtual constitution of
the republic.
When secular feminism first emerged in several Muslim
communities early in the 20th century, it articulated
women’s rights and gender equality in a composite
discourse interweaving of nationalist, Islamic modernist,
and humanitarian arguments, and later drew upon human
rights and democracy arguments. Islamic feminism, which
appeared in the late 20th century, grounded the idea of
gender equality and gender justice in the Qur’an and other
religious sources. Secular feminisms erupted on the scene
as nation-based social movements in Muslim contexts
whereas Islamic feminism surfaced in the form of a
discourse in the global arena. It was not long before
secular feminists accessed Islamic feminist arguments to
strengthen their long-fought and exceedingly frustrating
campaigns to reform Muslim personal status codes and in
making demands in other areas when Islam was given as a
pretext for withholding rights
For example, women activists in Morocco mobilized a
combination of Islamic and secular feminism in
pushing for the reform of the Muslim Family Law or
Mudawwana. They did this with great success as we
witnessed in the 2004 revision, replacing the
patriarchal model of the family with an egalitarian
Different techniques are being used. Towheed is the central principle of
Islam; it says none should be equaled to the God. But some men say you
should obey me and should not obey this and that. This is against towheed.
Islamic feminism wants to go back to Quran, not to the jurisprudence
created by different people. According to Islam, only the Quran is divine,
Shariah is not divine. Here, you go back to history, understand it and come
back to the present. There are linguistic analysis and contextual analysis.
For doing ijtihad, you have to understand Quranic Arabic, modern Arabic
and the context of revelation.
Islamic feminism understands many hadiths are taken out of context; some
hadiths are weak and shaky. So people and scholars are re-reading and reanalyzing them. They are called women-hating hadiths by Islamic feminists.
The new gender- sensitive, or what can be called feminist hermeneutics
renders compelling confirmation of gender equality in the Qur'an that
was lost sight of as male interpreters constructed a corpus of tafsir
promoting a doctrine of male superiority reflecting the mindset of the
prevailing patriarchal cultures.
There is a movement underway in Qur’anic scholarship to engage in a new
interpretation of the Qur’an. Throughout Islam’s history, interpretation
of the Qur’an has been traditionally the duty and responsibility of men.
The problems with this are obvious. By not letting women have a say in
interpretation, a major perspective is being silenced.
Amina Wadud, in her book Qur’an and Women:
Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s
Perspective, makes a strong case for this new reading
and provides some decent interpretation herself..
Some people are unaware of the importance and value Islam
places upon women. Women who do not know this reality, as well
as all people with insufficient knowledge of the Qur'an, try to
protect their rights by working within their worldview, which
follows the logic of unbelief. Social conditions around the world
make this reality very obvious. For example, many women
continue to be exposed to ill-treatment, violence, and
unemployment, and need to be taken care of after their
husbands have either divorced or abandoned them, or have
The equality between men and women is also seen in the fact
that Allah gives them equal rights in this world...
We made everything on Earth adornment for it so that We
could test them to see whose actions are the best. (Surat
al-Kahf: 7)
Every soul will taste death. We test you with both good and
evil as a trial. And you will be returned to Us. (Surat alAnbiya': 35)
*Feminist hermeneutics has taken three
1- revisiting ayaat of the Qur'an to correct
false stories in common circulation, such as the
accounts of creation and of events in the
Garden of Eden that have shored up claims of
male superiority;
2- citing ayaat that unequivocally enunciate the
equality of women and men;
3- deconstructing ayaat attentive to male and
female difference that have been commonly
interpreted in ways that justify male
‫متربص فتربصوا‬
‫” ق ل كل‬
‫فستعلمون من أصحاب الصراط‬
‫السوي و من اهتدى“‬
There always have been, and will be, competing interpretations of Islam’s sacred
texts. The power of any interpretation depends, not on its correctness, but on
the social and political forces supporting its claims to authenticity. Fully aware of
this, feminist voices and scholarship in Islam are challenging, on their own terms
and from within the same tradition, those who use religion to justify patriarchy.
The women in Musawah and many of the reformists in the Iranian Green
Movement insist that the Shari‘a is an ideal embodying the justice of Islam, that
justice today must include equality, and that consequently patriarchal
interpretations of the Shari‘a are completely unacceptable..
“I wish someone would have told me that, just
because I'm a girl, I don't have to get married.”
~Marlo Thomas...
“Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts
to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, "She doesn't
have what it takes." They will say, "Women don't have
what it takes." ~Clare Boothe Luce ...
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