Let’s talk about Feminist equality, not just equity.

“I, personally, do not self-identify as a Feminist or feminist because of epistemic issues I have with contemporary Feminism. That does not mean, however, that they do not carry legitimate tools and that I do not take the good knowledge and ideas produced within the discipline of Feminism into my own life and practice. After all, it were Feminist analyses that showed me how capitalist and statist mechanisms strip me of my stature as an equal in my society, how my body is used to promote grand scale consumption and how I am taught to expect little of myself and my gender from a young age. Can I not use Feminism as a description and Islam as a prescription?” – Sana in The Islamic Monthly

Women dismantling gender roles every day, but what about our men?

SubhanaAllah, I’m not sure why it is so difficult to accept for women in our community the legitimacy to identify with feminist notions/arguments/ideas about equality. Even in Dr. Yassir Qadhi’s beautiful article on the recent issue with Abu Esa’s posts, we see a qualified, limited permission to identify with feminism.

He says:

” I firmly believe that the sacred texts of Islam, the Qurʾān and the authentic Sunnah of our Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), are the ultimate sources of our theology, legal code, and ethics. Hence, any attempt to discredit these sources is one that I will oppose in every way possible. I will not and cannot accept that men and women are physically, physiologically, emotionally, biologically, and psychologically the same. Any claims of this nature contradict known facts, lived experiences, and explicit Scripture. Hence, the Shariah views men and women as having complementary roles in society and in family, not identical. While men and women are spiritually equal, and both have equal opportunities to earn Allāh’s Pleasure and Paradise, in this world, the Shariah takes these differences into account, and does have different sets of laws for them in some arenas (not all). Any attempt to claim otherwise is simply wrong and untenable in light of the Islamic tradition, and I will oppose it as a Muslim scholar and theologian.” MuslimMatters

I’m only using his comment as a springboard to highlight the dire need for more conversation on these issues, I’m not saying what I argue is implied in his words.

I wish our scholars could be more precise about how they envision this to play out in terms of gender roles.

Spiritually equal … that is clear and understood … that in the sight of Allah they are equal.

Now, I understand the shaykh refutes the notion of equality in terms of physiology and psychology, but what does this then mean? That women can’t do what men do? Who sets the limits? How do we know if a woman is physiologically capable of this role or not? How do we know if psychologically,  she is able to fulfil a role or not?

I mean other than giving birth and breastfeeding, what other roles confine a woman to the ‘feminine’? What other ‘feminine’ roles is a man not capable of doing? What are we actually talking about when we regularly and consistently assert that men and women are not equal according to Islam?

Equity, as in they are different. Again, who determines this difference? If the Quran and sunnah are our guide, then we can easily conclude that other than that the man is financially obliged, and the woman is children obliged (which some even question), what else does gender limit?

If a man is responsible for earning, does that mean a woman can’t enter into this role, as in, earn? Who has the authority to put this limit? If a woman has a child, does that mean the man doesn’t have to parent? Who has the authority to determine these responsibilities?

Men and women are different, but what does that mean? A woman can’t do a man’s job? Who defines what a man’s job is?

And here I come to the point that Sana made in her article, where she emphasized that the Quran and sunnah are not in a vacuum, but are texts that we read with our interpretations that are contextual. Islam is universal because it allows and accepts the role of context in producing new meanings.

When Allah subhanahu wa taala prescribed the role of men and women, he didn’t provide us with a guide so that we then begin to say women should breastfeed and men can’t do the dishes.

I think both breastfeeding and doing dishes are honourable jobs, but they need to be freely negotiated between men and women, without reference to some sort of prescription based on a literal interpretation of religious text. What does Islamic law have to do with whether a woman wants to be a doctor or be a stay at home mum?

Women should not be guilted into roles because they are physiologically and psychologically different because we do not know and I believe it is a serious sin to arrogantly assume without evidence that a woman should do something that Allah did not say she needs to do. The reality is that many women are dismantling gender roles, and contributing in various ways for the sake of Allah beyond their prescribed mother role, but what about most men?

Let me just express that I don’t understand, men are different, as in, they aren’t as soft or nurturing, or kind as women? How are they different? Just because he is the breadwinner of the house, does that mean Islam is saying he is unable to be nurturing and soothing towards his children and loved ones?

As far as I know, the prophet was sent a mercy to mankind. He was tough on the disbelieving enemies, and the opposite on the believers, first of whom are his family. He was a parent, and we cannot reduce his responsibility to being a source of income, but we don’t need law to tell us this, it should be naturally mandated!

So until we actually know (which is probably never because scientific research can only provide correlation) how men and women are different, who are we to set limits on what we can or can’t do based on sex? Who are we to prescribe instead of respect and value and educate men and women on negotiating responsibilities according to what works for them in the context that they live in, bearing in mind, of course,  the ethics of Islam. Is this feminist discourse? Maybe, it is,  so what?

Dr. Qadhi goes on to say:
I also recognize that the Shariah allows for change and reform in some areas, and I feel it is imperative that religious scholars, duly trained in the sacred sciences, take the lead in such reform. Historical traditions are not necessarily sacred and immutable, and I welcome changes that the Shariah allows. It is of little concern to me whether one wishes to call these types of reforms ‘Islamic feminism’ or not. What matters is meaningful change that the Law allows and which betters the lives of Muslim women, not cheap slogans devoid of meaning. Yet, I would be unwilling to call for reform in, say, the Islamic laws of inheritance, since these have been explicitly laid out in the Sacred Texts.”

We need reform, and I think as a community this starts in embracing complexity instead of trying to give answers to social issues that are dynamic and need hard work and long term effort to negotiate and resolve. It’s easy to say men should do this amd women should do that, but how fulfilling is this, and more importantly, how just and fair?

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