There seems to be a lot of confusion about what Islamic feminism is for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Many who aren’t Muslim are quick to label Islam as a repressive religion especially to its womankind, and so essentially any kind of feminism a Muslim espouses can’t be real feminism. Many Muslims, however, don’t see the need to change 1400 years of Islamic tradition especially if it’s by Western-educated Muslim feminists. Furthermore, for many Muslims, subverting tradition seems unthinkable, even unIslamic, because many Islamic tenets remain unchallenged for centuries, and perhaps for good reason too: because God said so. So why rock the boat then?
There is a global shift from a world where women were largely uneducated and pretty much treated like chattel to a world that rewards women the social and economic independence to do what she wants. When this tide of change reached the shores of Islamic nations and communities, many male-interpreted Islamic laws tend to get in the way of women’s lives. This is where Islamic feminism steps in. Spearheaded by academics and activists, the movement’s greatest mission is re-reading the Quran from a feminist perspective and pressure for re-education and legal reform that will engender men and women equal in the eyes of the law and society.
The common understanding of feminism being Western and inherently incompatible with Islam is completely unfounded. While feminism is often considered a secular system of thought, its fundamental ideology of equality of the sexes and empowerment of women everywhere can be applied as a driving force to empower Muslim women (and disenfranchised Muslim men alike). What is Islamic about this brand of feminism is the Quran as its guide, and its aim to accommodate universal feminist values to the culture and lives of Muslim women. There is no way a Western brand of feminism is going to work say, in a village in Bangladesh, without taking into account the religious and social complexities that shape its existence. In short, feminist values has the potential to be indigenous as long as women realise that they will not be victimised by repressive traditions.
This is my quick and dirty definition of Islamic feminism, so it’s not complete. Anyone else has other things to add, feel free!