I about dropped my coffee when I saw the title of this article in PuffHo (The Official Journal of Regressive Leftism™); you can read it, if you have the stomach, by clicking on the screenshot. It was written by a freelance author, Gabby Aossey, who doesn’t appear to have much of an Internet presence, but is described by HuffPo as “a twenty-two year old senior at the University of California, San Diego studying Communications and Middle Eastern Studies.”
Muslims the “true feminists”? What does that mean? Aossey’s contention is twofold.
1. Muslim women are feminists because, by covering themselves, they free themselves from the objectification of the “male gaze” (my terminology), allowing themselves to be judged wholly by their character and actions. Aossey contrasts this modesty with the blatant show of flesh presented by non-Muslim women, which constricts them by making them conform to societal standards of beauty that require revealing acres of tempting flesh. The Western decadence, says Aossey, is instantiated by the “Free the Nipple” movement, in which women ask for the same right as men: to go bare-chested. Ironically, that campaign is also aimed at reducing sexual objectification of women. I don’t think it will achieve that until men become inured to seeing naked female breasts, but something like that has succeeded in parts of Europe where, as I’ve observed, at both beaches and public swimming pools women go topless without any harassment or even undue attention.
But most Western women probably don’t aspire to walk around topless, so Aossey’s comparison isn’t very apt. In another stroke of irony, Aossey argues that Muslim women preserve the temple of their bodies by a single act: covering up the hair with a hijab (my emphasis):
These modern [Muslim] women are not afraid to go against the grain in the name of their belief like wearing the hijab to covey their religious devotion. Hijab is the headscarf that is worn by Muslim woman and no; it is not supposed to be forced on them by their fathers and husbands. Wearing or not wearing the Hijab reflects a Muslim woman’s own a personal choice.
For me, this idea especially showcases feminism in America. With all of the pressures in our American society to have a certain physical allure; to have long, luscious hair, a skinny yet curvy body, flawless facial beauty, woman go through hell. With this, we succumb to the pressures that we generally think we are free of; we oppress our natural womanhood with constant worry about how we look to others around us. We do not have the courage to stand up to this societal critique and say ‘my body is not to be ogled at’.
For many Muslim women however, they strive to achieve just that. In this way, they liberate themselves from these everyday pressures. They actually have the courage to say hey, I am not an object of pleasure, I am a woman that commands only respect for who I am and not how I look. They have the power to self-liberate as well as the courage to diverge from the American norms. And they do not get attention from showing off their figure, but they get attention by how they present themselves. Muslim woman get respect and are looked at beyond aesthetics; they are actually taken seriously in their communities.
Isn’t this what feminism should be? Don’t women deserve consistent respect and to actually be listened to without drools or criticisms over our bodies and looks? I believe the answer is yes. In the Muslim-American community, and even in parts of the greater Muslim world, modest woman, whether they wear hijab or not, are respected and called upon, despite what our mainstream media feeds to us.
. . . I realized we have been conditioned to think that American women are the free and that Muslim women are the suppressed, but this is twisted to me. I finally understood who is really oppressed by a patriarchal society and it is us. Woman who wear hijab have freed themselves from a man’s and a society’s judgmental gaze; the Free the Nipplers have not. They have fallen deep into the man’s world, believing that this trend will garner respect.
There are several issues here, but let me say first that I don’t think all Muslim women are oppressed anti-feminists whose covering reflects their tacit acceptance genuine oppression: obeying the dictates of a misogynistic faith. There are Muslim women whom I see as genuine feminists, opposed to oppression and unwilling to whitewash their faith—women like Asra Nomani, Raheel Raza, and Irshad Manji (I’m not counting ex-Muslims like Maryam Namazie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or Sarah Haider, who say basically the same things as the three I’ve just named, but who are ignored or demonized because they’re apostates).
But let us not claim that Islam is in any sense a feminist religion. (Note that the article is called “Muslims are the true feminists,” not “Western Muslims are the true feminists.”) Although Aossey says the hijab shouldn’t be forced on women, in many places it actually is—and not only the hijab, but full body covering. That’s why the “morality police” exist in places like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, arresting or beating women if they show so much as an ankle or a wisp of hair. If wearing the hijab is truly a feminist’s “choice,” why was the garment largely absent before theocratic regimes took over in Iran, Afghanistan, and—soon—Turkey? Why do campaigns like #mystealthyfreedom exist, showing women in Muslim countries happily but sneakily doffing their hijabs.
And really, what case can be made that women wearing the hijab, but no other covering, get taken more seriously than Muslim women who don’t? If that is true, it would only be because that patriarchal religion has conditioned men to go wild at the sight of hair. I’m sure that wasn’t the case, for instance, in pre-Revolution Iran. The forced covering of women has in fact turned men into the very creatures that Islam says were there all along.
Here’s Aossey’s second point:
2. The culture of Islam is full of “empowered” women, like Khadija, Mohammed’s first wife, who was indeed described as a strong woman. She is a role model for the many true feminists who are Muslims.
Khadija, a woman, was the strength that allowed Islam to fully bloom. Just this one example gives us a view on how true Muslim women are; outspoken, driven, certain and courageous, the epitome of a feminist.
So it’s no surprise to see Muslim woman today modeling themselves after these prominent female figures. Muslim girls look towards these instances of strength for guidance in this scary, patriarchal society. These modern women are not afraid to go against the grain in the name of their belief like wearing the hijab to covey their religious devotion.
Of course Aoisse doesn’t mention another wife of Mohammed, Aisha, whom the Prophet married at age six and deflowered at age nine. And it is Aisha who serves to justify the odious yet pervasive Muslim practice of taking very young wives, sometimes girls who haven’t yet reached puberty.
And that brings up the most important failure of Aossey’s argument. What matters to us is not the history of Islam, or even its supposed tolerance of women, but how the faith is used to oppress women now. How can Islam produce “true feminism” when it often condones practices like genital mutation, multiple marriages (often with young wives), counting the testimony of a women only half as much as a man’s in court, not allowing women to drive or go out without a male relative, complete covering of the body to avoid inciting male lust, the demonization and even execution of rape victims, the reluctance to allow women to be educated, the “right” of men to beat their wives, and the culture of honor killing that is so pervasive that it happens in countries like Canada and the U.S.? If Muslims are the true feminists, which feminist women in the West would want to move to, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia?
And you can’t argue that these practices violate some nebulous feminism espoused in the Qur’an, for the Qur’an is regularly invoked by imams to justify some of these practices. You don’t have to do any tortured analysis to see that, either. Here are four examples ripped from the pages the Skeptic’s Annotated Qur’an (I find this version useful for locating both good and bad bits).
Males get twice the inheritance of females. Sura 4:11:
4:11 Allah chargeth you concerning (the provision for) your children: to the male the equivalent of the portion of two females, and if there be women more than two, then theirs is two-thirds of the inheritance, and if there be one (only) then the half. And to each of his parents a sixth of the inheritance, if he have a son; and if he have no son and his parents are his heirs, then to his mother appertaineth the third; and if he have brethren, then to his mother appertaineth the sixth, after any legacy he may have bequeathed, or debt (hath been paid). Your parents and your children: Ye know not which of them is nearer unto you in usefulness. It is an injunction from Allah. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise.4:
Women’s testimony counts but half of men’s. Surah 2:282:
And call two witness from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not at hand, then a man and two women, of such as ye approve as witnesses, so that if one erreth (though forgetfulness) the other will remember.
Men have the right to beat up their wives. Surah 4:34:
4:34. Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.
Men can marry prepubescent girls. Surah 65, verses 1 and 4:
O Prophet! When ye (men) put away women, put them away for their (legal) period and reckon the period, and keep your duty to Allah, your Lord. Expel them not from their houses nor let them go forth unless they commit open immorality. Such are the limits (imposed by) Allah; and whoso transgresseth Allah’s limits, he verily wrongeth his soul. Thou knowest not: it may be that Allah will afterward bring some new thing to pass.
. . . And for such of your women as despair of menstruation, if ye doubt, their period (of waiting) shall be three months, along with those who have it not. And for those with child, their period shall be till they bring forth their burden. And whosoever keepeth his duty to Allah, He maketh his course easy for him.
The hadith contain similar statements, and the interpretation of what I’ve taken from the Qur’an has been used to justify the statements in bold.
Of course the Bible itself contains some verses as invidious as this, but they have been largely diluted by the infusion of Christianity by Enlightenment values. My point here is 1). that the Qur’an is not a model for feminism, and 2). Muslims continue to use the anti-feminist statements in the Qur’an to mistreat women.
So, while there are some Muslim women who are true feminists (and I use that term to mean those who seek full equality of men and women under civil and criminal law, as well as in their treatment in society), it’s simply wrong to argue that “Muslims are the true feminists”. How can they be when so many engage in the systematic oppression and marginalization of women? Women in many Muslim countries, and even in Western countries, are simply forbidden from trying to gain the equality they deserve.
I’ll put at the end one post by a Thai Muslim who approves of the True Feminism of Islam: