Responding to the Goatmilk Debates on Islam and Feminism: Part Two

Recently, the “Goatmilk” blog hosted a debate, with the resolution: Islam is Incompatible with Feminism.  Speaking for the motion was Mohamad Tabbaa, and opposing it was Katrina Daly Thompson.

Not surprisingly, several MMW writers had something to say in response.  The reactions of Syma, Nicole, and Eren are shared here in two parts.  You can find Part One here.

Eren: Tabbaa talks about feminism but fails to make it clear that feminism is not a monolithic body, and arguably, is not a Western invention [Multiple Critique: Islamic Feminist Rhetorical Strategies]. As a matter of fact, a lot of the Muslim feminist scholarship go back to the images of A’isha and Umm Salama (two of the Prophet’s wives)[The Veil and the Male Elite] to draw on the fact that women have been involved and addressed by Islam and the Qur’an from the beginning. An important point is that, unlike Tabbaa’s interpretation of what feminists (he never fully explain which feminists he is talking about) are trying to impose on Islam,  many Muslim feminists do not dismiss and deem as useless the historical body of knowledge that permeates different aspects of Islam (Islam is not monolithic either). Instead, some Muslim feminists recognize that scholars are products of their own times, personal experiences and biases.

Nicole: We need Islamic feminist voices.  Platitudes like Mr. Tabbaa’s “oh the Quran is enough” don’t give Muslim women equal treatment in practice.  As Katrina Daly Thompson said in the counter argument,

“Feminism and Islam both need Muslim feminists—Muslim men and women who believe in the full humanity of women—to fight against gender discrimination within Muslim cultures and spaces.  When feminist demands—such as ending gender segregation in mosques—seem to conflict with the long-standing practices of orthodox Muslims, we need a space for open discussion and debate where feminist viewpoints and interpretations can be heard.”

This is the type of discourse we need concerning Islam and Feminism.  Not “Islam is sufficient” because right now in practice it isn’t, and it won’t be as long as men (like him!) are running the show in our masajid.

Syma: The truth of the matter is that feminists are not all privileged white women with college degrees. Feminism should not be equated with post-modernism; speaking from personal experience, I can say with great ease that many feminists are NOT post-modernists (personally, I don’t find post-modernism to be appealing at all, and I am a proud feminist), and the academic/cultural movement that is post-modernism is, to an extent, imposed upon the concept of feminism.  Furthermore, even if one does agree with the concepts of post-modernism, there is no logical connection between the goal of killing God and the academic concept of post-modernism. In fact (despite my disagreement with post-modern thought), given the infinite nature of God in Islam, I am inclined to say that the “endless possibilities” handed to us by post-modernism are all viable candidates for truth in the eyes of God.

Tabbaa’s argument reads like every conversation I’ve had with someone who thinks feminism isn’t relevant or important or compatible with their belief system.  Feminism is simple: the belief that all people, regardless of gender, are and should be equal in the eyes of society and God.  The rest becomes technicalities and matters of form that are not quite as important as the belief in egalitarianism. For this reason, I love feminism for one the same reasons I love Islam: to begin your journey in Islam, you must believe in the words of the Shahadah, and that is it.  The rest of your life is spent seeking and understanding how to make yourself better for God and better for mankind in the name of God.  Feminism feels totally compatible with Islam because its primary aim is to ensure that everyone remains equal, not just in God’s eyes, but society’s eyes as well.  My feminism is simply an extension of my worship of God, and I am sure that many other Muslim feminists feel this way as well.

Nicole: Using fifty-cent words and citing Barthes does not a valid argument make.  I’m going to lump him in the group of people Ms. Thompson calls “Muslims who don’t understand what feminism is.” Can somebody make him stop talking please? Next!

Editor’s Note: I am traveling this week and will not be able to moderate comments as quickly as usual; I apologise in advance for the delays.

  • Jannah

    There’s this perpetual debate in black-and-white terms between “Islam is inherently misogynistic” and “Islam is inherently feminist.” Neither of these two propositions is quite accurate. The reality of women’s rights in Islam is complex and dependent on context. In ancient Arabia, women had been powerful. But by the time Islam first appeared, Mecca had become a patriarchal system where women’s former rights had recently been degraded, and the society was crumbling from the social injustices resulting from the patriarchal takeover. A very large part of Prophet Muhammad’s mission was to criticize and correct these raw inequities in a recently patriarchal society. Islam reaffirmed the rights of oppressed classes like women and the poor, and in so doing strengthened the system which remained patriarchal. In subsequent years, the patriarchal system of Islam degraded women’s rights again, only this time within a stable social order. The basis exists for restoring women’s rights within Islam, although it will still be a patriarchy unless the premises it’s built on are radically restructured.

  • Yassir

    I wish you guys would deal with the argument, instead of just crying foul. There is no point in saying, “Tabaa is wrong about feminism because in my experience “feminism really means this”. You’re just privileging your own position, definition, which means you’ll never lose a debate, ever. Since everyone is destined to be wrong, or ignorant, or unwilling to see what you assume is the primary definition of feminism.

    In a debate, one party, can give an alternative view, believe it or not, and Tabbaa constructed a relationship between feminism and post modern thinking, that opposes the standard view; could you address it? Please, could you say it is wrong for x, y, and z reason? Instead of saying its wrong because I think feminism really means a, b, c … lol

    Apart from him stating his position, I outlined his argument, the point is about individual subjectivity? It was a critique on modern day identities; You gonna address that any time soon

    And for the last time syma, he did not say feminism = post-modernism.

    Besides, you going on about how you worshipping God is in the same vein as being a feminist, because both strive for equality, only proves Tabbaa’s point, that you reinvent religion as you go along to suit your subjective impulses.

    What a load of rubbish — its like Irshand Manji’s infamous argument “lesbianism is approvable” because its beautiful and God loves beauty.

    Fine, then, sine we’re doing what we want, and since “beauty” and “equality” are suddenly objective when religion isn’t, dispute the following: Osama bin Laden is a feminist too, because he strives for equality, and so are the taliban, because they want a just society. lol

  • Jannah

    Actually, that makes a lot of sense. An aesthetic ethics.

  • Hamza21

    I was going comment but Yassir said everything I was going to say. His analysis of this subject is dead on.