20.11.2016

Islamic feminism – a contradiction in terms?

The diversity in feminist positions, especially on grounds of how patriarchy has arisen and how it should be challenged and defeated requires to move away from a monolithic engagement against it

Photo: iStock by LSP1982

Feminist movements worldwide have devised different theories and approaches to tackle and change an order where males hold primary power in political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property to the detriment of justice and equality for all. While the struggle against the structures that support a patriarchal order is shared across the world, opinions diverge on whether the engagement against it can have a monolithic character.

The study by Ambar Ahmad, professor of international relation at the Kamala Nehru College in New Delhi, invites us to reflect on this point. To this end, she zooms in on strategies employed by movements standing up against patriarchal structures in countries and by groups where relations are dominated by Islamic religious laws and their interpretation. How do women in Islamic countries and societies engage with the struggle against patriarchy? Can we speak of Islamic feminism or is this a contradiction in terms, considering the tenuous relation between feminist theory and organized religion?

“There is extensive diversity in feminist positions, especially on grounds of how patriarchy has arisen and how it should be challenged and defeated,” writes Ahmad suggesting that “the best way to understand Islamic Feminism is to study what Islamic feminists do.”

And that is what the author does in this study. She begins by charting among other strategies also the challenging of male-interpretations of Islamic religious edicts. Alongside this demarcation of lines of engagement, Ahmed records also reactions to this and other ways employed by Islamic feminism to withstand the struggle in the search for new strategies to transform the relation between humans, towards gender justice and equality:

“The engagement with theological issues and the reinterpretation of texts has put Islamic feminists in a position of knowledge about the sources from where legitimacy for patriarchal politics is often derived. This enables them [the feminists] to mount a challenge to religious patriarchy from a position of strength.”

The study “Islamic Feminism – a contradiction in terms?” was commissioned by the FES India Office.

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