This week, The Guardian is running a series of articles on whether or not religion is good for women. I suppose if whether you speak from first-hand experience or from news stories and statistics, you will find that religion with its roots firmly planted in patriarchy is never going to be good for women. Savitri Hensman wrote about the conflicting nature of religion while Cath Elliot has a strong case on misogyny in the Catholic church – both are very good reads by the way. Though so far since Monday there hasn’t yet been a piece on women’s position in Islam yet, but when it does come out I will try to be the first one to read it!
On a more personal level, the Islam that I grew up with in Malaysia wasn’t always so kind to me. Let’s just say for simplicity’s sake that I had a religious upbringing with too much dogma but too little heart: more don’ts than do’s, more fear than love. Consequently, I chose the non-commital middle path for some time, avoiding both blind conservatism and areligious belief. But later I felt that I lacked the capacity to speak sincerely and intellectually about my faith, which wasn’t good – for a rather wise man had once said, “those who stand in the middle of the road will only get run down”.
All that changed when I found feminism and all its different strands. Islamic feminism, I learned, strives for a gender-equal re-interpretation of the Quran providing textual evidence of a more woman-friendly Islam. Quranic re-interpretation offers Muslim women a chance to validate unclaimed rights and in effect dramatically improve their legal and social status. Still, with all the potential to creating a fair society for everybody; cis and trans men, women and children alike, gender equality remains a contentious issue systematically dismissed by those in the seat of religio-political power.
Yet patriarchal religions claim to empower women. Such claims are always supported by the view that the separate roles men and women play are of equal value albeit as different as night and day. And so it’s easy to employ these claims to justify women’s roles as helpers rather than leaders, complete as wives and mothers rather than as individuals.
The fear in the hearts of many religious anti-feminists lies in the prospect of what I call ‘uncontrolled’ equality and the claim to every right under the sun, from easy access to contraceptives and abortion, becoming a female imam of a mixed-congregation, to marrying a non-Muslim man or even a person from the same sex, among other things. Though often these rights are conflated with the so-called rights to offend and abuse. Take for example the ridiculous idea that ‘excessive’ societal equality will lead to institutionalised paedophilia and granting humans the right to ‘marry’ animals.
So now I want to hear from you; your thoughts on the place of women in religion. Though I’d like to remind readers that this a safe space for discussion and not a place to judge other commentors or myself, and so I will not allow offensive comments along the lines of sexism, racism, trans and homophobia, or religion-bashing of any form.