Dr. Lois Lamya' al Faruqi
Although there are some features of the feminist cause with which we
as Muslims would wish to join hands, other features generate our
disappointment and even opposition.
One of the Islamic traditions which will affect the way in which Muslim women respond to feminist ideas is the advocacy in Islamic culture of __an extended__ rather than a nuclear family system.
..The Holy Quran itself
exhorts to extended family solidarity;
see Quran 2:177; 4:7,176; 8:41; 16:90; 17:26; 24:22
Our Islamic traditions also prescribe a much stronger participation of
the family in the contracting and preservation of marriages.
...other adult family members act
The move away from the cohesiveness which the family formerly enjoyed
in Western society, ... and the accompanying rise in individualism which many
feminists advocate or at least practice, are at odds with these
deep-rooted Islamic customs and traditions.
INDIVIDUALISM VS. THE LARGER ORGANIZATION:
Islam and Muslim women
generally advocate molding of individual goals and interests to accord
with the welfare of the larger group and its members.
The rampant individualism often experienced in
contemporary life, that which treats the goals of the individual in
isolation from other factors, or as utterly supreme, runs against a
deep Islamic commitment to social interdependence.
DIFFERENTIATION OF SEX ROLES
(In an Islamic environment a differentiation of male and female roles and
responsibilities in society) is specified. Feminism, as represented in Western
society, has generally denied any such differentiation and has
demanded a move toward a unisex society in order to achieve equal
rights for women. By "unisex society," I mean one in which a single
set of roles and concerns are given preference and esteem by both
sexes and are pursued by all members of the society regardless of sex
and age differentials.
...The roles of providing financial support, of success in
career, and of decision making have been given overwhelming respect
and concern while those dealing with domestic matters, with child
care, with aesthetic and psychological refreshment, with social
interrelationships, were devalued and even despised. Both men and
women have been forced into a single mold which is perhaps more
restrictive, rigid and coercive than that which formerly assigned men
to one type of role and women to another.
This is a new brand of male chauvenism with which Islamic traditions
cannot conform. Islam instead maintains that both types of roles are
equally deserving of pursuit and respect and that when accompanied by
the equity demanded by the religion, a division of labor along sex
lines is generally beneficial to all members of the society.
This might be regarded by the feminist as opening the door to
discrimination, but as Muslims we regard Islamic traditions as standing
clearly and unequivocally for the support of male-female equity.Quran,(33:35)(16:97) also 2:195; 4:124,32; 9:71-72
It is only in relation to each other and society that a difference is
made - a difference of role or function. The rights and
responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of a man, but they are
not necessarily identical with them. Equality and identity are two
different things, Islamic traditions maintain - the former desirable,
the latter not. Men and women should therefore be complementary to
each other in a multi-function organization rather than competitive
with each other in a uni-function society.
The equality demanded by Islamic traditions must, however, be seen in
its larger context...the economic responsibilities of male and
female members differ to provide a balance for the physical
differences between men and women and for the greater responsibility
which women carry in the reproductive and rearing activities so
necessary to the well-being of the society.
Does this mean that Islamic traditions necessarily prescribe
maintaining the status quo in the Islamic societies that exist today?
The answer is a definite "No."...The Quran
reproached those who believed woman to be inferior to men (16:57-59)
and repeatedly gives expression to the need for treating men and women
with equity (2:228, 231; 4:19, and so on). Therefore, if Muslim women
experience discrimination in any place or time, they do not and should
not lay the blame on Islam, but on the un-Islamic nature of their
societies and the failure of Muslims to fulfill its directives.
SEPARATE LEGAL STATUS FOR WOMEN
Muslim individual, whether male of female, retains a separate identity
from cradle to grave. This separate legal personality prescribes for
every woman the right to contract, to conduct business, to earn and
possess property independently.
POLYGYNY Polygyny is...instead regarded as the exception
to the norm of monogamy , and its exercise is strongly controlled by
II. DIRECTIVES FOR THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT IN AN ISLAMIC ENVIRONMENT
INTERCULTURAL INCOMPATIBILITY OF WESTERN FEMINISM
Since the history and heritage of Muslim peoples have been radically
different from that of Western Europe and America, the feminism which
would appeal to Muslim women and to the society generally must be
correspondingly different. Those legal rights which Western women
sought in reform of English common law were already granted to Muslim
women in the 7th century...if feminism is to succeed in an Islamic environment,
it must be an indigenous form of feminism, rather than one conceived
and nurtured in an alien environment with different problems and
different solutions and goals.
THE FORM OF AN ISLAMIC FEMINISM
Above all,...Muslim women view the
teachings of Islam as their best friend and supporter.
Any difficulties (stem from) alien ideological intrusions on
our societies, ignorance, and distortion of the true Islam, or
exploitation by individuals within the society.
Second, any feminism which is to succeed in an Islamic environment
must be one which does not work chauvenistically for women's interest
The good of the group or totality is always more crucial
than the good of any one sector of the society.
Third,..."Din,"includes,a wide spectrum of
practices and ideas which affect almost every aspect of the daily life
of the Muslim individual. Islam and Islamic traditions therefore are
seen today by many Muslims as the main source of cohesiveness for
nurturing an identity and stability to confront intruding alien
influences and the cooperation needed to solve their numerous
contemporary problems. To fail to note this fact, or to fail to be
fully appreciative of its importance for the average Muslim - whether
male or female - would be to commit any movement advocating
improvement of women's position in Islamic lands to certain failure.
It is only through establishing that identity and stability that
self-respect can be achieved and a more healthy climate for both
Muslim men and Muslim women will emerge.