Do interpretations of Islamic texts subjugate, or empower women? Read the story about Islamic feminism.

Do interpretations of Islamic texts subjugate, or empower women? Read the story about Islamic feminism.

The ever evolving ideology of feminism shifts shapes as it travels from culture to culture and transcends through progressing civilizations. The advent of Islam brought new standards for the Arab women 1400 years ago. Now when the 21st century feminism comes in contact with Islamic practices, it initiates debates on whether the interpretations of Islamic texts subjugate, or empower women.

Sharia Law

Looking at the standards of women’s rights in countries like Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, one can easily infer that Sharia Law comes down as a strong subjugating force on women. However this wasn’t the case 1400 years ago. Islam sprung up in the Arab society where women were nothing more than sex objects. There were no rights and no social status.

It is also reported that in the pre­Islamic Arab society , giving birth to a girl was considered such a huge shame that newborn daughters were buried alive. Thus, for 7th century Arab world, Islam was a feminist identity as it stood against these inhumane practices. For the first time in history, women were granted a decent status in the society. They were given the right to divorce, right to inheritance, right to work, and the barbaric practice of female infanticide was declared prohibited.

Even with all that, there are certain aspects of Islamic culture that don’t get in line with the present day feminist values. The element of masculine control over women, definite roles and numerous women­specific regulations, polygamy, and the fact that a woman counts equal to half a man in legal and financial matters, are a few factors that many advocates of women’s rights would argue against.

There are other issues as well, but they become debatable when looked through different perspectives. For instance, the practice of Hijab (Headscarf) can be a symbol of feminism for some, and at the same time a subjugating factor for others. In such cases, it is important to know the context of a given practice.

According to many of my Hijab observing friends, their headscarf fights objectification. “When I’m wearing a hijab, I feel confident because I know that people’s attitudes towards me will be based upon my personality and intellect, not on the way I look”, an Iranian YYGS student expressed.

At the same time, I know families that force their daughters to wear Hijab against their choice, taking away their very freedom. In a similar way, many other Islamic practices can come of as both empowering or oppressing when looked through different lenses.

Luckily, Islam as a religion is not as inflexible as most people would perceive. “ Ijma and Qiyas ” are tools in Islam that have been used various times in the past to interpret Islamic teachings according to the changing world.

Islam started 1400 years ago, with currently ongoing exponential growths in technology and innovation, it can become extremely difficult for Muslims around the world to compete with the changing world if they don’t reassess and reinterpret some of the Islamic teachings under the light of present day requirements. A consensus and approval of Islamic scholars on the issue of women’s rights can not only help Muslims around the world in improving their life quality, but will also clear up many prejudices and stereotypes against Islam.



Featured picture: Flickr/Copyright: Rakib Arnab

Sohaib Nashit is a Yale Young Global Scholar 2016.

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