Following the exciting debate, Islam or Feminism – which one can truly liberate women?, between myself and radical feminist journalist Julie Bindel, the official MDI Transcript of the opening presentation I delivered is available to read below. It is also available as a pdf, here.
This debate took place last November, and the transcript is being published following requests for it to be shared.
This is the transcript of the opening presentation for the debate:
ISLAM OR FEMINISM: WHICH ONE CAN TRULY LIBERATE WOMEN?
Delivered by Zara Faris in the debate with feminist journalist Julie Bindel.
LIBERATION – what is “liberation” – the word that’s invoked by virtually every group and movement jostling for its own territory today.
Everyone talks so passionately about wanting liberation for themselves (and in the case of Western cultural imperialism, imposing it on others) – but few talk about what it actually means. What do they need to be liberated from? What do they need to be liberated to? Unfortunately, even fewer people question the basis of their concept of liberation.
If, by “liberation”, people mean freedom from external influences, i.e. our environment, then this is impossible because, unless we’re created outside of the universe, humans are shaped and limited by their environments – for example by our families, societies and the climate.
And if, by “liberation”, people mean freedom from internal influences, i.e. human nature and genetics, then this is absurd because humans are defined by their nature – for example by our social instincts and basic need to eat.
The real question, therefore, is not whether we can attain freedom from either internal or external influences – but rather, the question is what influences should we embrace, and what influences should we reject. In essence, the question is how should we live, and how do we determine this? This can only be answered by examining the purpose of humans and no movement can offer “liberation” without knowing what human purpose actually is.
Currently, Western culture and civilisation is based on the dogma of individualism (of which feminism is simply a subset). Individualism makes the assumption that humans are merely individuals with no purpose except to exist as “individuals”.
HOWEVER, humans, like the cells in the body, aren’t merely individuals. They’re social creatures, defined by society, culture, parents, genetics, the languages they’re taught (which no human being can learn without being taught by another). They’re creatures that have many instinctive needs that can only be fulfilled by other people. This is why solitary confinement, for example, is one of the most inhumane punishments.
Humans were created in the universe, along with their nature and their genetics – humans didn’t create the universe, or their own nature or genetics. Humans are naturally, mostly passive recipients of all of those realities – of which there is no escape. And these realities emerge from a higher truth of which we’re a part. Individualism’s claim to put the individual above those realities is what it calls “liberation”, but is actually its biggest delusion, orphaning humans from their higher purpose, rendering their lives meaningless and vulnerable to oppression by the vanities of the strong in human society.
So, does feminism offer a purpose for women and can it really claim to understand what women, who are part of the human species, actually need?
Feminism, being based on individualism, claims it too wants to ‘free’ the individual from all ‘imposing influences’, like God, culture and society (including gender roles) – all in the name of “individual freedom”. But it lacks any idea about human purpose and, consequently, how humans, or more specifically female humans, should be living.
In this ideological void, most feminists ironically adopt imitation, making men and male roles the object of emulation. There are, of course, some serious problems with these dogmas, making feminism incapable of liberating women.
1. The first problem is the problem of Meaning and Purpose
Simply saying that women can do as they wish and give themselves their own meaning is like having a dictionary with words, but no definitions.
In offering women no valid purpose or meaning, feminism actually leaves women more open to the vagaries and capriciousness of those social forces that have always inculcated in them their tastes and preferences. Feminism is not liberating women from this base causality, it just creates new social pressures, constituting a new form of oppression against women.
For example, many feminists advocate that women should be able to wear whatever they want and reject social norms of propriety, which opened Pandora’s Box of Female Exploitation, with the fashion and media industry turning women into one dimensional sexual objects and mass consumers. New social pressures of beauty have caused the rise of eating disorders amongst women, with girls aged only15-19 having the highest incidence of eating disorders – and so much does this industry make the woman hate her body, that labiaplasty has become the second-fastest growing form of cosmetic surgery in the US and the third most-popular procedure in the UK. Although some feminists recognise these social pressures, they do NOT know how to challenge it without compromising the dogma of “individual freedom” that created them in the first place.
Another example – feminists claim that female liberation is being identical to male roles, making it incumbent on women to be successful career women and belittling women who choose to be full time parents as not achieving their full potential, and letting society down. Simone de Beauvoir, who catapulted the feminist movement, explained: “No woman should be authorized to stay at home to raise her children […] Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one. It is a way of forcing women in a certain direction.”
Can this arbitrary imitation really make women happier? Studies now show that women in business leadership roles are reported as 47% more likely to suffer from depression than men in similar jobs.
Furthermore, feminism cannot liberate people from the injustices caused by capitalism. Even if you had an all-female society, you would still have a large unjust gap between rich and poor. There is no alternative system posited by feminism for this – all they are arguing for is an equal representation in the unjust system. Rather than standing for social justice and challenging the economic system that has enslaved millions of men in debt, feminists have simply served up women for exploitation, too, by making it a necessity for women to work. Now, the powerful elite gets to enslave, exploit and tax the female half of society, too! Progress! They don’t care that the cake is poisoned, as long as they get at least half of it.
2. The second problem is the problem of Biological Reality
Almost all living creatures have organised gender roles, with different biological abilities across the sexes. Yet feminists are ideologically compelled to claim that somehow humans are exempt from this natural order and that gender differences are purely social inventions with no biological differences between men or women that should inform their social roles.
For example, the predominance of Testosterone in males has been scientifically shown to not just build physical muscle, but to increase psychological competitiveness, confidence and risk taking – making men more equipped to tackle hazardous and competitive roles in society. Psychologists have found, for example, that even girls that were exposed to very high levels of testosterone whilst in the womb, show more male-typical behaviours, such as increases in rough-and-tumble play and aggression, and more male-typical toy preferences.
Not only does feminism’s insistence that ALL women compete for traditional males roles at the expense of traditional female roles force women to unfairly compare themselves to men, but it also ignores women’s own tendencies and proclivities, and has now actually made it much more difficult for women to commit to motherhood or spend time with their families. It seems the only thing feminism ‘liberates’ women from, is from being women.
3. The third problem is the problem of Equality
Where does the obsession for absolute “equality” come from? Are we all biologically identical? No. Do any two people (regardless of gender) have equal strength, weakness, or ability? No. Equality does not exist in nature – so why do feminists think that humans should be levelled and forced into homogenous boxes?
And feminists too realised this when they saw that equal treatment of men and women still didn’t yield the “equal” outcomes they hoped for. Even in meritocratic environments, women still preferred a work-life balance that involved less hours then men, with many leaving their careers to pursue motherhood and family. Yet feminists insist on hiding this reality by claiming women were forced to make those choices due to supposed continuing gender discrimination.
Men and women also do not walk away from adult relationships on an equal footing – and instead of calling for better contractual safeguards for women, feminism has instead “empowered” women to have casual relationships without commitment, leaving women, quite literally, holding the baby. You see, feminists demanded the full suite of reproductive rights for women, such as the right to decide whether to keep, abort or give away their children, and reserved only the financial obligations for men. A woman has an automatic right to her children, regardless of whether she is married or not, but imposes a financial obligation on the man to pay child support whilst denying him a necessary right to a relationship with his biological children – in effect a tax without representation. Are these feminism’s “equal” rights?
Consider the female quotas for polished boardroom jobs – but the distinct lack of quotas for jobs that women simply didn’t want to do like garbage collection, animal slaughter, coal mining, bomb disposal, or fish trawling. Consider the feminist campaigns for women to receive the lion’s share of institutional support for domestic violence, cancer research, rape support, and so on, despite men being vulnerable at similar or higher rates.
Feminism has finally mutated into outright female privilege and gender sectarianism, demanding more of the privileges, for less of the responsibilities.
If feminism is supposed to be a response to the injustices it perceives, it is ironic that it has adopted same the modus operandi of its own perceived oppressors. Feminists didn’t liberate women from an oppressive system that perpetuates injustice – it merely gave them a stake in it. Should women achieve “liberation” through feminism’s injustice? Does this sound like a movement that can truly “liberate” women?
So what about Islam? How does Islam liberate us?
The reality is that Islam liberates us from enslavement to causality, by submitting ourselves to the ultimate Cause. Islam gives a purpose higher than selfishness and direction to both men and women, that provides us with a clear moral yardstick and a justification for what is just and what is not, and also a holistic method to achieve that justice that suits the human nature – and not just for one race or gender in society – but all of society.
Women are granted fundamental equality in the Qur’an. God says, “I do not waste the deed of any doer among you, be they male or female. The one of you is as the other” (Quran 3:195)
In Islam, ranking in the eyes of God and peers is according to virtue and justice – not wealth, looks, or power, unlike in the materialistic West.
Islam grants no privileges, giving authority to people only with commensurate responsibility and accountability. And while males are given gender roles of maintenance and protection of women, Islam liberates women by giving them mandatory rights over men. God provides, “And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable” (2:228)
Feminism gives no critical rights that women can expect from her marriage partner. However, Islam liberates women by giving women the rights to have her human needs fulfilled by her partner in marriage – which feminism and its individualistic basis doesn’t give. These include:
- The right to respect, affection and time from her husband
- The right to sexual satisfaction by her husband
- The right to shelter provided by her husband
- The right to food and clothing equal in quality to her husband’s
- The right to physical protection provided by her husband
- The right to a dowry and alimony
A man asked the Prophet (saaw): What do you say (command) about our wives? He replied: “Give them food what you have for yourself, and clothe them by which you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not insult them.” (Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 11, Marriage (Kitab Al-Nikah), Number 2139)
Islam also liberates women from sexual objectification, superficial competition and social pressure to dress in sexually revealing clothes or mutilate themselves to fit inhuman beauty ideals. A woman’s worth in Islam (in this life and the next) is purely by the content of her character. The thing about good character is that everyone has a shot, and it is fair. Islam allows women to pursue the worship of God, through any pathway she wants from being business women, CEO’s, judges, political ministers, and even join the army (although it’s not obligatory as it is for men). But because Islam caters for and provides a conducive environment to pursue motherhood, they are not forced to undertake work to support themselves – liberating them to work at leisure.
Unlike feminism, Islam doesn’t stop at justice for one gender, but rather – liberation for all. Islam posits an alternative to the exploitative unjust system of capitalism which, like feminism, emanates from individualism. Islam mandates an economic system that outright prohibits the abuse or exploitation of any person, male or female, for any circumstance, including commercial gain. It ensures the rich do not deprive poor women or poor men of their rights and, specifically, women are guaranteed sustenance and maintenance, whether they are married or not. Unlike individualism’s atomistic tendencies, Islam promotes and protects the family structure, which provides the bedrock of a support mechanism for everyone.
Finally, Islam liberates women and men by making neither submit to the other, or to the capricious and subjective vagaries of human vanities, but to something eternal, objective and transcendent, which does not succumb to prejudice, ignorance and bigotry, liberating us to be authentically human. Islam liberates us from a worldview such as feminist individualism that promises “freedom” but enslaves masses to blind conformance under new forms of oppression. In the words of the Creator, “Have you not seen those who make their desires their Lords? They are like cattle – nay they are worse!” (The Qur’an)
Unlike the gods of Feminism, our God is without Gender.