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Women’s Rights without Feminism

Notes from Ustadha Zara Faris


By Omar K Neusser


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The Prophet (the blessings and peace of Allah upon him) said:

“The best of you is the one who is best to his wife, and I am the best of you to my wives.”
Narrated from Ibn ’Abbas[1]

خَيْرُكُمْ خَيْرُكُمْ لأَهْلِهِ وَأَنَا خَيْرُكُمْ لأَهْلِي‏

The Prophet (the blessings and peace of Allah upon him) also said:

"O Messenger of Allah! I want to go out and fight (in Jihad) and I have come to ask your advice." He said: "Do you have a mother?" He said: "Yes." He said: "Then stay with her, for Paradise is beneath her feet."
Narrated from Mu'awiyah bin Jahimah As-Sulami[15]

فَالْزَمْهَا فَإِنَّ الْجَنَّةَ تَحْتَ رِجْلَيْهَا

Women’s Rights without Feminism

Some notes from Ustadha Zara Faris, at the podcast “Coffee with Karim” on Islam and feminism[2]

  1. A generic definition of feminism: the movement for equal rights of men and women.[3]
    Those are obvious goals which cannot be denied, but usually feminism is more than this.[4]

  2. Feminism is one approach among others towards women’s rights just like capitalism and communism are different approaches or points of view to economics. So too, there are different forms of answers to women’s rights and Islam provides a completely different approach.[5]

  3. When it is asked to where Islam - regarding women’s rights - is implemented, then it would rather be found in Muslim communities than in Muslim states and legislatives. This is because many Muslim societies are not functioning according to Islamic principles,[6] and there are several reasons for this.[7]

  4. The core difference between feminism and Islam’s approach is that feminism tends to be based on the dogma of individualism.

  5. Individualism is the idea that each human being is nothing more than an |-individual-| and we are told that the primary purpose as an individual is to maximize autonomy to do what you want to do.[8]

  6. Feminism is an ideology that makes the female individual rather than the male individual the arbiter in working out of what is good for women.
    In Islam[9] we make God the arbiter and the individual the agent in that. These are two different paradigms.[10]

  7. Patriarchy: The common thread in the feminist discourse is the idea of patriarchy, that women have been oppressed by men throughout history and continue to be so.[11] Therefore feminism movement(s) seek to challenge what they perceive to be male domination of women.[12]

  8. Western feminism has so many iterations.[13] The first wave feminists didn’t even use the term feminism. The third wave of feminism is influenced or formed by postmodernist assumptions, it cannot answer what does sexuality, sex and gender mean.
    On top of that, feminism today has a new problem: the trans-gender identity syndrome: it threatens women’s sex-based rights and hurts women and girls.[14]
    This is such a quagmire and there is a need for clarity like never before.

May Allah increase us in knowledge, and
May Allah protect us from the evil and guide us on a path toward Him!

The blessings and peace of Allah on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions.




  1. Graded Hasan, Sunan Ibn Majah 1977, sunnah.com  ↩

  2. The title of this page is also the title of Ustadha Zara Faris’ new book. The podcast episode is here: Coffee with Karim: Muslim Women & Feminism or on podcasts.apple.com
    Ustadha Zara Faris has her webpage at zarafaris.com, and she has been interviewed at qantara.de and other places.  ↩

  3. Christianity and in some respect Judaism have had a different historical development, it was a struggle to secularize Christianity, but it was secularized, and this manifestation of Christianity is (today) accepted as a norm, as being different to what it was.
    For Islam it’s [different,] because for us these things [the public as well as the private sphere have to be ruled by the same principles, they] cannot be separated.  ↩

  4. Feminism has gone far beyond the notion of equality between the sexes. It has permeated the natural relationship of man and woman in mostly negative ways, and while each fighting for their bit of sunshine in this world, not realising that the clouds of enmity destroy the good weather.  ↩

  5. Islam doesn’t promise a utopia by any means, but it promises an optopia, it tries to calibrate different aspects of society such as they are an optimum performance, not perfection.  ↩

  6. We don't have a present day model at which to point to, to show the way Islam ought to be manifested in society.

    For example we can discuss all day about the God-given right for a woman to manage her own economic affairs, and be provided for, but these are but pipe dreams in situations of poverty.

    Men and even young men go out to provide for their families, [not for their own frivolous consumption.]
    So her right to be provided for depends on the economic situation in those societies.

    Or f ex Muslim women have the God-given right to obtain legal remedies in the case of divorce, or marital discord, or events which she may face in terms of family law, but this depends on the duty of those in authority and to manage people’s affairs justly. also pipe dream where there is lack of Islamic authority or courts to hear such complaints justly.

    3rd. Or the God-given rights for men and women to seek knowledge, within means. This becomes hazardous or impossible if the streets are filled with violence or war or poverty.

    See Debate Recording: This House Believes That Shari’ah Law is Fairer than English Law
    Where the only contention was: ”Why isn’t there an example to which we can point to today?” See above.

    Muslim communities are in a state of rehabilitation, after colonialism, and a very rich and sophisticated history of jurisprudence, of ijtihad, of legal reasoning, of development and of refinement - and due to colonialism cut to an end] (Question: what about finding the perfect Jewish, Christian, Buddhist etc. state?)  ↩

  7. The are several reasons for Muslim societies are not functioning according to Islamic principles, not the least the devastating impact of colonialism, and later in the post-colonial period until today, the meddling of Western and Eastern powers in the affairs of the Muslims, also corruption, authoritarianism, dictatorship and wars with the resulting dire situation.

    In the colonial period the Islamic traditional social, economic and spiritual infrastructure was destroyed to a large extent (See f ex French colonialism, Islam and mosques, p.59), and in the post-colonial period which we are in today this process has continued, all in the name of progress and democracy. It is an ongoing policy to change the Muslim identity in those countries, but also applied to certain characteristics of the culture of the South in general, always in the name of equal rights and development.  ↩

  8. Autonomy: the right or condition of self-government. (Oxford Dictionary of English)

    Conversely we know that humans are not merely individuals, humans on every level need social interaction, a need in a very primal and necessary sense, and we are defined to some extent by society, by culture, by parents, by genetics, and the languages that we are taught. If we think about the fact that no human being can even learn language without depending on another human being and we are inherently dependent on one another.

    Given the fact that we are not merely individuals, like cells in the body, Islam’s approach is different. So it’s not about maximizing the autonomy for the individual and often doing that - maximizing our autonomy - or giving the individual almost the delusion that liberation means liberating oneself from all of these influences is actually really misleading, it’s not possible to do that, and it ends up orphaning us from our higher purpose and often we end up therefore vulnerable to pression by those who happen to be stronger in society of the time.

    On the other hand we find that Islam does liberate us (and the term ‘liberate’ is questionable) from this sort of enslavement to causality, because it gives us - the Creator as the One to who we must maximize our autonomy to serve. That is what - for being a Muslim - it gives us a purpose that is higher than focusing on just ‘the self’.  ↩

  9. There is also the recent phenomenon “Islamic feminism”, which is used to garner support from the Muslims, as a kind of back-door to reformation. The term feminism is best avoided altogether.

    ”Islamic feminism” seeks to reinterpret many of the primary sources, like the hadith, because they claim that this scholarship has been derived by men. This is actually completely false, because throughout history there are thousands and thousands of female scholars. Recently Shaykh Akram Nadwi wrote a book which documents over 8000 female scholars and that is only in one Islamic science, in the science of hadith.

    Long before Western liberalism, in Islam women were given:
    - rights of inheritance
    - marriage rights, even the right of divorce
    - economic rights
    - the right to education  ↩

  10. Paradigm:
    - a typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model: society’s paradigm of the ‘ideal woman’.
    - a world view underlying the theories and methodology of a particular scientific subject. (Oxford Dictionary of English)  ↩

  11. This theory emerged out of the Marxist idea of class-struggle, which now-a-days has been widely disparaged and forgotten, and it morphed into the struggle of the sexes (feminism against patriarchy, basically women against men), and most recently into the struggle of gender-identity activism as opposed to the sexed-based viewpoint (that a man is a male and a women is a female).  ↩

  12. Liberal or secular feminism is the most accessible type of feminism today, it has concepts such as equality, freedom, empowerment, liberation, words which many non-Muslims will feel are good things, although those terms are very general, they need to be defined.  ↩

  13. The latest iteration of feminism is ’intersectional feminism’, it brings in other disciplines such as historical studies, social studies etc, which is an admission that feminism alone doesn’t have the answers. It is based on so many particular ideological presumptions, that in the end it has no clear idea of what to do about all sorts of situations, such as the hypersexualization of women (and men) in society, about poverty, or about environmental issues, it doesn’t have the tools.  ↩

  14. ”The concept of ‘gender identity’ makes socially constructed stereotypes, which organize and maintain women’s inequality, into essential and innate conditions, thereby undermining women’s sex-based rights.” Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights: Full Text - Women’s Human Rights Campaign
    This is only to shows how much our ‘liberal’ Western societies have lost the sense of decency, beauty and what is right.
     ↩

  15. The whole hadith:

    أَخْبَرَنَا عَبْدُ الْوَهَّابِ بْنُ عَبْدِ الْحَكَمِ الْوَرَّاقُ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا حَجَّاجٌ، عَنِ ابْنِ جُرَيْجٍ، قَالَ أَخْبَرَنِي مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ طَلْحَةَ، - وَهُوَ ابْنُ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ - عَنْ أَبِيهِ، طَلْحَةَ عَنْ مُعَاوِيَةَ بْنِ جَاهِمَةَ السُّلَمِيِّ، أَنَّ جَاهِمَةَ، جَاءَ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَرَدْتُ أَنْ أَغْزُوَ وَقَدْ جِئْتُ أَسْتَشِيرُكَ ‏.‏ فَقَالَ ‏"‏ هَلْ لَكَ مِنْ أُمٍّ ‏"‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ نَعَمْ ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏"‏ فَالْزَمْهَا فَإِنَّ الْجَنَّةَ تَحْتَ رِجْلَيْهَا ‏"‏ ‏.‏



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Related texts:
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* Living Islam – Islamic Tradition *