Here, feminism is defined as an ideology that identifies unequally many and restrictive powers that men hold over women, making a sex hierarchy, in society, and seeks to change or remove the structures that maintain these powers. Anti-feminism is defined as the ideology opposed to this change or removal, finding that no hierarchy exists or identifying the hierarchy but finding its existence to be just.
- The questions about women that people ask to Muslim religious authorities in the U.S. are largely unrelated to the struggles that women face today. There are plenty of explanations as to why Islam does not state that women are less intelligent than men, and Muslims across the political spectrum are willing to assert and defend the idea that Islam does not teach its followers to hate women. However, womens’ intelligence in an absolute sense and whether women should be hated are not the matters upon which feminism is hotly debated today.
- The debates on feminism that U.S. denizens do engage in today include: the definition of sexual assault and the responsibilities of each sex in preventing it, the necessity of equal pay for equal work, the division of domestic labor between the sexes, the level of autonomy women have in deciding when and how to be pregnant and give birth. Each of these matters relate to specific and concrete powers that feminists currently struggle to gain for women, and anti-feminists currently struggle to keep from women. The allocation of these powers are only indirectly related to vague notions of whether women are and should be respected. Scholars and community leaders in the U.S. Muslim community have comparatively much less to say about these specific and relevant powers publicly than about whether women are viewed favorably or not in a vague sense.
- Feminism, as it is currently manifested by fighting for these powers, does not directly contradict the Qur’an. The Qur’an does indeed explicitly provide legal obligations that give men some powers over women, such as by necessitating that men receive more share of an inheritance than women in a similar social position (Qur’an 4:11), or by requiring two female witnesses where one male witness is sufficient in some legal matters (Qur’an 2:282). However, the Qur’an does not as directly provide legal rulings on the division of domestic labor, sexual violence (outside of fornication and adultery), etc.
- When U.S. Muslim scholars and community leaders do publicly express positions on feminist matters as it is actually discussed today, a great deal of interpretation outside of the Qur’an must be made. Furthermore, such interpretations rarely come from direct rulings found in the ahadith (recorded sayings and actions) of the Prophet (SAW). When Muslims take the anti-feminist position and attempt to back the position with evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah, it is usually only done by a process of induction: they assume that if men hold greater power over women in some matters, it is because of a divine encouragement to be the more powerful sex generally, so they should continue to hold this power in many other matters.
- When anti-feminist positions are taken by Muslims more generally, there often isn’t even a need to resort to religion at all, let alone the Qur’an and Sunnah, for justification. Secular anti-feminism is often more than enough to convince men and women to take “socially conservative” positions. Muslim feminists should therefore be aware of when, perhaps unknowingly, Muslims rely on secular anti-feminist ideas to argue their position.
- Like many other political issues, debates around these social relations between men and women cannot be ignored and avoided by the Muslim community by labeling them as “fitna”s/”fitan.” Whether a Muslim wishes to shed the labels of feminist/anti-feminist in preference for a universal “Muslim,” economic and sexual violence still occurs, and as long as the Muslim has the opportunity to lessen, increase, or ignore the violence, they will be held accountable for their decision on the Day of Judgement inshAllah. A Muslim feminist should therefore never disdain to proclaim themselves a feminist, and should combat anti-feminist ideas wherever they may arise.
- It is just as absurd to claim that studying the Quran and Sunnah is sufficient for understanding and changing society as it is to claim that studying these sources are sufficient for understanding and changing the human body, computer programs, or any other subject of science. Deep understanding of these two foundations of Islam are absolutely necessary to ensure that our learning and application of any other field can be done in a way that pleases Allah, and should therefore be encouraged. Still, Muslims interested in understanding the nature and consequences of women’s and men’s roles in society should never feel that studying feminist theory is superfluous or optional.