Liberté, Egalité, Féminisme?

Mayanthi Fernando in Dissent:

FemThe ideas articulated in Islamic Feminisms have also been circulating informally in Muslim French women’s reading circles for over a decade. Born and raised in France, and committed to basic liberal feminist notions of liberty and equality, these young Muslims sought to distinguish between the patriarchal cultural traditions of the Maghreb—like demanding modesty and virginity from young women but not young men—and what they view as “authentic” Islam. In groups like Al Houda, young women gathered to criticize the sexism of conventional Islamic exegesis and jurisprudence—which largely treats women as wives, daughters, and mothers—and to explore new ways to conceptualize Islam. They were just as critical, however, of mainstream feminism’s claim that women’s emancipation entails the rejection of religion and religious norms. As Islamic feminists, they argued, they could be both devout Muslims and committed to gender equality. Islamic feminism, spearheaded by scholars and activists, began to emerge globally in the late 1980s. Unlike secular feminists, Islamic feminists begin with the premise that the Quran constitutes Divine Speech. From that basis, they argue that equality is the founding principle of Islam, and that the Quran endorses equality between the sexes. Thus Amina Wadud’s Quran and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective (1992)—a key text in this movement—reinterprets passages used to justify sexist and misogynist practices (such as the beating of recalcitrant wives and the unequal distribution of inheritance, for example) and argues for very different meanings.

In a similar vein, Asma Barlas, a Pakistani academic who teaches in the United States, claims in her influential “Believing Women” in Islam (2002) that the Quran is explicitly “egalitarian and antipatriarchal.” Contrary to popular belief in much of the Muslim world, Barlas contends, the Quran expects both sexes to live by the same moral standards, and this moral equality between men and women means that chastity and modesty are as incumbent upon men as they are on women—a point reiterated again and again by young Muslim feminists in France. Islamic feminists also argue that the Prophet Mohammed defended the rights of women in a tribal society known for its misogyny, and they point to the active presence of women in political life and on the battlefield in the early days of Islam. Wadud, Barlas, and others argue that Islamic teachings used to justify the gender inequality endemic to so many Muslim societies today derive not from the Quran itself but from Quranic exegesis (tafsir), undertaken for centuries by men whose own misogyny has come to eclipse the revolutionary message of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. Hence the need to re-read the Quran against the grain of centuries of interpretation in order to recover Islam’s true principles.

More here.