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Debates, Feminism, Islam, Media Appearances, TV

TV Debate: Do Muslims Need Feminism?

Not long ago I was invited onto the Islam Channel to discuss ‘Feminism and Islam’, which really ended up discussing the question, Do Muslims need Feminism, or do they need Islam? The full video is now available to watch on YouTube. Please watch, and share widely.

The discussion was televised live on the Islam Channel on 6th September 2013, and the guests were:

Zara Faris (myself) – Muslim Debate Initiative (MDI)
Catherine Heseltine – Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK)
Iqbal Nasim – National Zakat Foundation (NZF)

Oh, and here’s a sneak preview of what you can expect in the video:

I explained what the common threads were between the different forms of feminism, (i.e. the idea of male domination, or ‘patriarchy’) and demonstrated why, when it came to so-called “Islamic Feminism”, these claims were neither true in history or in the present times (briefly explained below).

In our history, it is not true, for example, that men dominated Islamic scholarship (such as the interpretation of hadith) resulting in male bias against women. In reality, not only were the hadith themselves narrated by women in huge numbers, but biographical dictionaries documented subsequent female scholars in the THOUSANDS (who were even teachers of male scholars too!). In parts of Central Asia, there were influential female scholars in such great numbers that no fatwa was issued from a house without a signature of the wife or sister or daughter (whichever was the female scholar) of that household. And the decline in female scholarship today is very much matched by a decline in male scholarship, too. So, when feminists claim that Islamic scholarship has been dominated by men, they do a better job of wiping women out of history than the “patriarchy” allegedly did!

I also explained how the early Western feminists denigrated Muslim men and women in their books (even during the time that Muslim women had it better than their Western counterparts) – even good old Mary Wollstonecraft – and how this narrative was used by colonial powers to divide and weaken the fabric of Muslim societies (whilst, unsurprisingly, rejecting feminism on their own home soil!), and how it is still used today to discredit and undermine Islam.

In the present times, the Muslims are in a state of homelessness, anarchy and desperation, which has wrought havoc on the lives of both men and women – this is not an issue of gender but simply one of justice. For example when Mohamad Bouaziz set himself on fire (igniting the Arab Spring), he was one of hundreds of thousands of Tunisian, Algerian and Egyptian men frustrated by the extreme unemployment, corruption, and tyrannical rule of their lands. He just wanted to be able to provide for his family with dignity – yet feminists didn’t describe his situation as a “mens rights” issue, did they? The struggles Muslim men and women face today are great matters of injustice that we have to address holistically. We should target the root of the problem in accordance with Islam, whose justice is comprehensive in this life and the next and does not have a gender preference.


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