Article Op-Ed

What the World Needs to Understand About Islamic Feminism

What the World Needs to Understand About Islamic Feminism

Author Asma Elhuni by

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On a recent airing of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Bill interviewed feminist and activist Gloria Steinem. There was great backlash from some of her statements while on the show, such as saying young girls follow Bernie because the boys do. She later apologized for the statement, admitting it could mean young women were not serious about politics.

What I do not understand is why no one is calling Bill Maher out on his obsession with Muslims and Islam promulgating hate every chance he can- yet it’s Gloria who is being critiqued for recognizing the dynamics of Muslim culture and the struggle for women’s liberation within it.

Now lets discuss the other controversial statements that have her in the hot seat – her remarks on Islam, feminism, and the Prophet Muhammed. There are several things worth pointing out to a non-Muslim audience.

First, one of the biggest critiques that many Muslims have of the West stems from a history of colonial and post-colonial attitudes of saving people they see as inferior or backwards. This included killing people, forcing humiliating practices upon them, and forcing people to work and give these powers their resources. It also included critiquing their faith, practices and customs, all the while pretending to “rescue” these people from their backwards ways as they impose their “progressive” practices.

To the heart of the matter, Gloria gets that it’s unfair to judge Muhammed with today’s standards of liberation. She understands that for his day, he was most definitely a reformer giving women rights that were better than most societies at the time. This included the right to refuse marriage, to divorce, to inherit, and to keep their wealth. Though these things are practices we take for granted today, at the time- they were revolutionary.

Many Islamic feminists today actually use the argument that we fail today because we stopped what Muhammed and the Quran started. Gloria recognizes this and points out the heroic efforts of Muslim women who are working to change the system. She also knows that our society has vilified a religion and it would be paramount to lying if she does not mention the facts that many Islamic feminists have stated over and over again about their beloved Prophet. I kind of wish she told Maher that size does matter; there is no one size fits all for feminists, and we must respect that the needs and grievances of one particular group may be different from another.

Though she goes on to declare monotheism is the problem (as if only monotheistic faiths have a history of sexism), she makes the point that this is a problem in all faiths, but she fails to realize that if there were no religion, sexism would still exist. No religion, country, or people has a monopoly over sexism. Established religions merely make use of religion to legitimize the sexism they already practice in order for the system to continue. Many forget that there are feminists within the religious narrative fighting a system they know “man” has influenced but served on a tray as God’s will.

So If we are truly serious about fighting sexism we must not assign it to one particular phenomenon or society, as that limits the soldiers fighting against it. We must call out bigots like Bill Maher who never lose a chance to attack, degrade, and ridicule Muslims.

So thumbs up to Gloria for having the guts to say what many Islamic feminist would like the world to hear. I may not agree with you all the time, but know my respect for you just tripled.

You can watch the interview here:

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