A great piece on Muslim feminism and Muslim women

Some of you may have caught the tweets last night regarding the article below which really struck a chord with us. Huma Munshi wrote a piece for Media Diversified that was regarding an exhibition she’d been to recently. It’s a fantastic and thought-provoking piece in which Huma carefully examines what it means to be a Muslim woman in Britain, the fact that the media portrays Muslim women in a certain way, how this contrasts to the reality of Muslim women and how it then may not be surprising that the very notion of a Muslim Feminist seems to be contradictory, and finally, Huma argues how important it is to have spaces in which Muslim women can talk about their bodies, which are often fetishised and politicised.

Anyway, it really is a great piece: I’ve included an excerpt below and a link to the full text. Enjoy!




Body Narratives sparks a debate on Muslim feminism

by Huma Munshi

As a Muslim woman, a space to share my story and talk about my feminism is scarce and (therefore) precious. I was reminded how important these spaces are to me as I attended the launch of the Body Narratives exhibition, A Different Mirror. A discussion with some of the organisers inspired this column.

To read the rest of this piece, which is published on Media Diversified, please click here.

Islam Doesn’t Oppress Women, (Some) Muslims Do…

It’s been a little while since our last post here at Life Of A Muslim Feminist, so I thought I’d better get myself into gear, pronto!

I was having a little think earlier on today, and it occurred to me that there were three key themes to the responses that came out of the hashtag back in January. This isn’t news at all, but I’ll still list them anyway:

  1. Muslims & Non-Muslims (mostly female) buying in to the idea of Muslim Feminists and sharing their experiences.
  2. Muslims, quite correctly, stating that Islam and the Qur’an already gives women plenty of rights, and then going on to question why we’d even need a Muslim Feminist movement.
  3. Non-Muslims expressing shock that Muslims could be feminists, because if they really were feminists, why would they continue in such a ‘barbaric’, ‘backwards’, ‘anti-women’ religion such as Islam.

Obviously those within group 1 are all good and we’d like to see more people buying in regardless of religion, race, gender or any other attribute society is obsessed with dividing people up by. Groups two and three really has got me thinking of late, why would any Muslim be opposed to feminism, and why would any non-Muslim think that the whole thing just doesn’t make any sense at all?

The answer to both lies within social media. The hashtag created by Noorulann created a lot of buzz and chatter on Social Media and not all of it was positive, and perhaps since the actual event this project hasn’t really discussed at great length the negatives that sprung up. But here we have an opportunity, to educate those within the latter two groups. That’s not to say that these people are uneducated, but more to say that they have been misled.

Starting out with Muslims that say the Qur’an has already given women a whole bunch of freedoms, so why on earth would Muslim women need to become a feminist? I think it’s very important to say at this point that Islam and more specifically the Qur’an does give a lot of freedoms to women, I won’t list them all here as I could be here for days, but if you are interested, please read this page (http://www.islamswomen.com/articles/do_muslim_women_have_rights.php).

So, given all of these rights and freedoms that women have in Islam, why then the need for Muslim Feminists? The problem that women in Islam have, is that so few Muslims of any gender actually fully understand the rights that were given to women in the Qur’an. Somehow over time a crucial part of the message has gotten lost in translation and, just as the Western world is male-dominated, so is the Islamic one. Things have gotten so bad for Muslim women, that people on the outside looking in, actually think that women are treated as second-class citizens within Islam. And this is true to a point, women are often treated as second-class in Muslim communities, but this is not Islam.

What needs to be understood here, from the Muslim point of view, is that Muslim Feminists are not challenging the very foundations of Islam whatsoever. We are not saying that Allah is wrong, that the Qur’an is wrong, that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was wrong. No, what we are saying is that Muslims are wrong. Muslims are wrong if they think that women are here to cook, clean, make babies and serve man’s every need. Muslims are wrong if they think that forced marriages are acceptable, that honour-killings are acceptable, that a life of parental oppression is acceptable.

Perhaps the Muslims that challenge the idea of Muslim Feminists believe we are in turn challenging Islam itself, if that is the case then those fears must be allayed now, for that could not be further from the truth. The more likely, and much more alarming, possibility is that those Muslims who challenge the idea of Muslim Feminists are afraid because they know that we are challenging the status quo they have so carefully built up and maintained over such a long period of time. If that is the case, it further proves the point that Muslim Feminism has a god-given right to exist.

And on to the third group of people, who believe that Muslim Feminism is an oxymoron. I hope that the last few paragraphs have helped to show you that the issue Muslim Feminists face is not an Islamic issue, but a Cultural one. I would certainly urge you to read the link I provided a little further up, you might be shocked to know for example that even as late as the 19th Century, women in Europe were not allowed to own property. In Islam, women have been able to own property since the 7th Century.

Without intending to sound patronising, the Media in this country have an awful lot to answer for across all walks of life, but on Islam & Muslims in particular they are hopelessly, determinedly clueless. The media message on Islam is almost always negative and even more likely to be false. Whilst some, not all, Muslims may well fit the stereotypes portrayed in the national press, 99% certainly do not. I would encourage any person, Muslim or otherwise, to question absolutely everything you hear, read or see whether that information comes from the media or otherwise. You could say that in the case of Islam and Women it’s quite similar to that of Guns and People:

Islam doesn’t oppress Women, (some) Muslims do.

And that is why the Muslim feminist movement is growing, because more and more are awakening to this fact and realising that it just isn’t right.


Stranger in a Familiar Land

Aaminah Khan

Aaminah Khan (jaythenerdkid) is a writer, activist and refugee support worker living in North Queensland. She writes about intersectional feminism and her experiences as a queer Muslim on Twitter and at her blog. Her other interests include popular culture, football, fashion and video games. Her mother will probably never stop embarrassing her by bragging about her in front of all of her friends.

My mother is a devout Muslim, and I believe she embodies many of the noblest qualities of a mumin – she is kind, loving, compassionate, forgiving, gracious, and loves Allah with all her heart. She supports me and the rest of her children in all of our endeavours, and although she’s never been particularly thrilled about my bisexuality, she’s never loved me any less because of it. She covers her hair with a hijab and wears only long-sleeved shirts and refuses to make plans without adding insha’Allah at the end.

I, too, am a devout Muslim, but I look nothing like her.

I wear miniskirts and high heels and wear my hair out, sometimes dyed ludicrous colours, sometimes cut short and tousled. I laugh and flirt with boys and girls alike in bars and at concerts, where I refrain from drinking alcohol but party along with my friends until the wee hours of the morning just the same.

I like to think this doesn’t make me any less of a Muslim. I carry my faith with me everywhere. I turn to Allah for guidance when I am lost or sad or afraid. I try to live a life of love and compassion in Allah’s service, to emulate the example of charity, kindness and good deeds set by our Prophet, peace be upon him. In my heart of hearts, I am at peace. I believe my relationship with Allah is a strong one. I feel the influence of the Most Beneficent in every aspect of my life.

Not everyone sees it like this.

When I initially stopped covering my hair, my mother said to me, “People will talk.” She was right. Members of the small Muslim community in my city started to whisper behind my back about how I had changed. When I started wearing shorter skirts, my mother asked me, “Don’t you care what people will say about you?” I told her I didn’t, that I wasn’t interested in the judgements of others, but it did hurt a little to know that people who knew nothing about me except who my parents were had formed opinions of me based on a chance encounter in a shopping centre or a glimpse of me running errands wearing shorts on a hot day. I wanted to walk up to these people, to tell them that I hadn’t changed, that my clothes weren’t indicative of my faith, that Allah was still the central concern of my life, but I knew it would make no difference. They’d branded me an outsider and would never change their minds.

I am a stranger in a familiar land. My views on the need for legal protections for sex workers, my support of the LGBT+ community, my insistence on dressing however I want despite what it makes people say behind my back: all of these things have marked me an outsider. Sometimes I feel as though the only Muslims here who don’t see me as a lesser being are my mother and her husband; even my own brothers and sisters don’t always understand why I feel the need to take the stances I do. Online, I’m subjected to repeated admonitions, both anonymous and otherwise, from people who feel the need to tell me that I’m not a real Muslim, that I’m letting Allah down, even that I’m going to hell.

I’m only human. Those things still hurt sometimes.

But what all those people don’t understand is that it is my faith that drives me to be the person I am. It is my belief in Allah that drives me to want to fight for equality – even equality for women unlike myself. It is the security and comfort of my faith that makes me brave enough to put myself forward, to help the silenced speak out. And whether or not other Muslims choose to believe it, it is my agency as a Muslim woman that makes me feel confident enough to wear my short skirts and bright lipstick. I ask myself: will I let other people decide what I can and cannot do with my own body, or will I make my own decisions in the knowledge that those decisions are between myself, Allah and nobody else? To me, the answer is clear.

It is a lonely life, sometimes. I feel lonely when my mother tells me that people ask her if her eldest daughter is still Muslim. I feel lonely when I say salaam to a fellow Muslim woman on the street and she looks at me in surprise. But my faith is with me always, and that comforts me during those moments, reminds me that my path is my own to tread and that I do not need anyone else’s permission to walk it. I fight for equality and justice in Allah’s name. I like to think that making the world a better place is worth the personal cost. And I know that even when I feel lonely, I am not alone. There are other Muslim feminists online, including queer men and women like myself, who have helped me regain a sense of Muslim fellowship that my experiences with Muslims in my everyday life had all but destroyed. I am incredibly grateful to them and to Allah for bringing them into my life.

I am a Muslim woman and a proud feminist. This path is sometimes lonely, sometimes fraught, sometimes difficult, but I believe it is the right one for me.

*InshaAllah means “God Willing” or “If God wills” in Arabic

I hate labels but I call myself a Muslim Feminist

Sabina Khan-Ibara

Sabina Khan-Ibarra is a freelance writer and editor.  She regularly contributes to her blog, Ibrahim’s Tree which she created after the loss of her infant son in 2011 and I am the Poppy Flower, where she writes about little things that go on in her life. She created Muslimah Montage as a platform for women to share their stories and inspire others.

I hate labels. Not to say I didn’t spend most of my youth trying to fit in and finding a label that described all of me. I took on many labels- “Muslim”, “Muslim Woman”, “Muslimah”, “American”, Pashtun, “Pakhtun”, “Liberal”, “Politically Active”, “Democrat”, “Green”, “Nerd”, “Preppy”, “Geek”, “Cool”, “Hippie”, “Hipster”, and lately, “Crunchy”. There are probably many more that I forgot to mention. I didn’t always hate labels. My dislike began when I realized that I couldn’t fit myself neatly into just one label and really be me.

Recently, during an interview, I was asked if I viewed myself as a Feminist. Without hesitation, I replied, “Yes, of course.” Not only do I believe that women should be equal to men in every way- with the same right, treatment, and opportunity- I pretty much do what i can to support any movement that defines, establishes, and advocates equal political, economic, and social rights for women. But then I was asked if I was a Muslim Feminist. I had to pause.
 I am definitely a Muslim, believing that there is only one God and that Muhammad (PBUH) was the last and final Prophet. I also follow the five pillars of Islam to the best of my ability. So that makes me a  Muslim and a Feminist, but was I a Muslim Feminist? 
I recently read a hashtag #lifeofamuslimfeminist on Twitter (a great read with many thought provoking tweets by the way) and noticed there were people, namely women, who didn’t like the label “Muslim Feminist.”

Some think that if you are a Muslim you cannot be a Feminist because they think that “Muslim Feminist” is a contradictory phrase. This I cannot even begin to comprehend. To me, Islam advocates equal rights for all.
 Others argue that by stating that we are Muslims, there is no need to add “Feminist” to the label since Islam is innately feminist. I agree that Islam is in essence a “Feminist” religion. Just by looking at the women in Islam, in the Quran and the Hadith, one notices that the women mentioned are all strong women. They are tested, just as the men are, and rewarded just as the men are. Treated equally. Maryam, Asiya, Khadija, Fatima, Ayesha, etc. How can we forget that Islam gave rights to women while most of the rest of the world still considered them as property- the right to own property, the right to divorce, etc. Feminism within Islam is not a new phenomenon and that is what makes it interesting when some deny women rights using the very same religion of Islam.

I specifically look at Khadija (RA) when I think of a Muslim Feminist. She was a well known, prosperous businesswomen and the first Muslim woman. She was a widow who approached (via a messenger) Muhammad (PBUH) with a marriage proposal. He was working for her at the time. He was also much younger than her and never married before. He accepted. Throughout their marriage and even after her death, she was known for her unwavering strength and wisdom.

Until Muslims and Non-Muslims today can understand the life of Khadija (RA) I will not drop the word “Feminist” when describing who I am. When Islam and Muslims rid itself of the ugly misogynistic reputation and when Muslims really understand the high and equal position of a Muslim woman, I will reconsider.

I feel that as a Muslim and a Muslim woman, it is my duty to be a Muslim Feminist until the day, inshaAllah*, women are truly equal to men politically, economically, and socially. I owe it to my children, both son and daughter, and I owe it to myself to be part of the change. Using the Quran and Sunnah as my guide, I plan to continue supporting any movement that equal rights for women in all aspects of life- at home, within the family structure, at work, in politics, in public, in the Mosque, at speaking events, in literature, in the news, in polls, in art, in schools, and everywhere.

I can’t speak for all women. Every Muslim woman is different, and that is what makes us human and beautiful all at once- our differences. Because we are not monolith, not every one will agree with my post, but because we are all entitled to our own opinions, let it be known- I am a proud, Muslim Feminist.

I call myself a Muslim Feminist, but I shouldn’t have to.

This post originally appeared on Sabina’s Tumblr blog.

*InshaAllah means “God Willing” or “If God wills” in Arabic

The Birth of a Movement

There I was, casually browsing through my fashion & beauty dominated twitter timeline when out of the blue, a completely unrelated hashtag catches my eye:


Some of these tweets, it was almost as if they were written for or about me. I thought that I was alone in feeling like I don’t belong anywhere. Men try to oppress me because I’m a woman, Muslims try to oppress me because I don’t fit in with their views of what a Muslim ought to be, Indians & Pakistanis oppress me because I don’t look like a proper ‘desi’ girl and white people expect me to be anti-Muslim because I don’t fit the stereotypes. Naturally you begin to feel like oppression is your whole life and wonder how long you can keep trying to fight off narrow-minded bigots. Sure, fighting off one set of bigots isn’t so difficult, but to fight off four sets? Give me a break!

Anyway, some of the tweets that were appearing on my timeline reached out of my phone, gripped a hold of my heart and pulled me right in:


I could go on for days listing all of the tweets that touched me, but the main point for me is that from such humble beginnings this hashtag completely exploded. As it turns out, my husband just happened to be Twitter-friends with the woman who started it all off: Noorulann Shahid aka @yxxnghippie! The tag itself brought Muslim feminists out of the woodwork and gave us a platform to air the grievances and daily difficulties we face. It showed us all that even though it often feels like it, we are not alone in our fight for fairness and equality. It gave us hope that we can each make a difference.

The problem is, like all good hashtags, it was a flash in the pan. Ok, admittedly it was quite a long flash in the pan, being that it went viral for a couple of weeks but it was clear that Muslim feminists of all shapes, sizes, colours and genders needed a place to keep this momentum going. It’s our hope that this blog and twitter feed will allow us to do just that. Those that seek to oppress us will be expecting the heat to die down eventually, but we can’t allow that to happen under any circumstances.

This is the birth of a new movement. A movement where Muslims, Non-Muslims, Men & Women will all come together to campaign and crusade for fairness in an unfair world.

So I’ll round off this first post with a quote from Rebecca West:

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”