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

Responding to the Goatmilk Debates on Islam and Feminism: Part One December 21, 2011

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.

Syma: I took the liberty of mapping out Tabbaa’s argument as to why Islam and feminism are incompatible, and it certainly seems like a straw-man argument when you strip it down; it is based upon a fallacious understanding of the concepts being discussed:

Feminism = Post-modern thinking

Post-modern thinking = denial of accessible objective truth

Denial of accessible objective truth = Goal of killing God

Goal of killing God = Feminism

Tabbaa’s argument is problematic because it equates the death of God with the concept of feminism. It is rhetoric at its finest: present the reader with a flawed understanding of the initial concept, and continue to hyperbolize concepts and ideas to extreme endpoints, which leads to a “logical” conclusion that is completely off the map.  Here is an example of a similar set of arguments that many Muslims as a whole have been subjected to:

Terrorists = people who blow up buildings

People who blow up buildings = people who were responsible for 9/11

People who were responsible for 9/11 = Muslims

Muslims = Terrorists

It seems evident after comparing those two arguments that Tabbaa is doing something very similar to the sort of people who espouse the “truths” of Islam: he is reducing feminism to a single and somewhat extreme mindset.

Eren: Mohamad Tabbaa makes a good point in saying that nowadays people often try to reconcile Islam with all sorts of things. However, unlike Tabbaa, I do not think that Islamic or Muslim feminism is about “modernizing” Islam. One of the main arguments against Islamic feminism, as Tabbaa himself discusses, is that it is a Western construct that is attempting to enter Islam. This is an assumption that continues to perpetrate a value judgement about the West being “modern,” and Islam being unable to get there.

Although Tabbaa goes on to say that if feminism is valid, bin Laden’s interpretations are too, the problem with this is that again he makes a value judgement, implying that feminism, like bin Laden’s actions, is violent, extreme and irrational. One of the things he does not seem to understand is that Islamic or Muslim feminism is about conversations, exegetical discussions, challenges, activism and exegetical work. It is not about irrational and violent impositions or “modernization.” Conversely, Thompson’s argument falls somehow in the other side of the spectrum by not acknowledging that Islamic and Muslim feminism face similar challenges to “traditional” scholarship: Feminist exegeses rely, to some degree, in their “own correctness”  [A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’an: Readings 4:34].

Nicole: Mr. Tabbaa lost me with his academia-speak; I stopped reading somewhere around Roland Barthes.  No seriously, if I got him right, feminism isn’t part of Islam because feminism is a construct in the response to the Patriarchy or something?  Or that reconciling God with western feminism is somehow taking away from tawheed? Whatever his intentions, let’s get to the heart of the matter: why is a man pulling the “real Islam” card when it comes to feminism? In other words, why is he reappropriating the religion to justify anti-feminism, while explaining his position as “putting feminism in its proper frame”?  Am I the only one to be offended by this pseudo-intellectual and ultimately male Muslim –yes, let’s call it Hislam – point of view?

As a female convert, I’m used to being called not Muslim enough, or being told that some of my views on gender equality are clouded by my bad white girl way of thinking.  But Mr. Tabbaa’s post brings Hislam to a new level when he says “So, where to from here? Well, Muslim feminists must now make the choice between the Islamic paradigm, which is centred around God, or the secularised modern theology, which is based almost exclusively around (white) men.”  In his logic, any notions of feminism are exclusively flawed by modernity, which is a pretty narrow reading of feminism.

I also think he clouds the issue of race and gender in the paragraph he says “And so, naturally, the white middle-class enlightened objective free western woman must now come to the rescue of the imperilled and unable female Muslim victim.” While in another context, this is a justifiable comment, I don’t see him talking about the point of view Muslim women either. Oh yeah, because he is a Muslim man, and that’s enough.

Check back tomorrow for part two of the conversation!  (Please note also that I am traveling this week and will not be able to moderate comments as quickly as usual; I apologise in advance for the delays.)

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