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  Feminism and Muslim Women  
  How Far do We Need It?  
While discussing themes such as Feminism and Muslims women, it would be a natural proposition to interrogate: can the conciliation between the two ever be a possibility or are both to be termed as sharply contradictory or anti-thesis of one another? This paradox can be resolved if only the feminism could be completely defined. However, defining feminism is a tricky proposition in itself, since it can be regarded as a diverse collection of social theories, political movements and moral philosophies, which claim to focus on containing gender inequality and promoting women’s rights, interests and issues in society. It would be a mistake to consider feminism to be a single ideology. Over the time several sub-types of feminist ideologies have developed, construing its patterns and trends according to time-space. All these categories of feminist ideologies are not based on similar principles, many a time they are in sharp contrast. Hence several contradictory reasons of women’s oppression and injustice in a society are given. In one such instance it can be said that whereas radical feminism attempts to draw a line between biologically determined behaviour and culturally determined behaviour in order to free both men and women as much as possible from their previous “narrow” roles, the Separatists on the other hand advocate separation from men; sometimes total, sometimes partial as the necessary “fist step” for personal growth. This is just one of the numerous contradictory stands within the feminist ideologies.
There are at least thirty-one subtypes of feminism, each promoting its own ideas of “equality” and tends to see the world through a certain lens, which often leads them to prejudice. Hence, it is difficult to ascertain in the cloud of such diverse views the end of feminism.
Ironically, there is an urgent need of revival of the true Islamic ethos once again in Muslim societies. There are two trends prevalent among Muslims for the restoration of Muslim women’s rights in the society. One is based on the principles of modern western notions of equality and rights in society. These women who profess to be Muslims in their identity find the western mores of women’s liberation and gender roles as the solution to all the problems faced by Muslim world. The other group insists on the wholesale copy of the 7th century Arabia of the Prophet’s time, unquestioned and unexamined and opposed to modern complexity as the only solution to Muslim women’s sufferings. However, the redress of Muslim women’s problems has to be worked out in our society sticking to the sources of Islam and avoiding any cultural or social customs and historical precedents.
Apart from discussion and reformation of Muslim women’s identity, a system of legal reforms must be constructed that can be implemented today for the full status of women as given by the primary sources of Islam.
The status and role of Muslim women are neither represented by self-proclaimed modernists like Asra Nomani and Irshad Manji with their views of free mingling of sexes nor such laws which prohibit women from even driving the cars and taking part in the political process.
As a scholar suggests that the true Islamic identity must be restored and this must necessarily be insisted on by striving from within an Islamic perspective. Women’s progress must not be confined to making certain legal amendments, but there must be an effort that must strike at all levels of society. This would in first place require us to have certain in-house debates on very crucial and pertinent matters. However, it must be borne in mind that, if the aim of this exercise is to enforce justice then this journey is worth embarking upon and would lead to workable solutions. But, if one turns out to pander to one’s own ego, whether male or female, then this journey may be highly susceptible to mere flagrant and futile mental and intellectual excursions.
We must also have some real Muslim women activists in the field who would advocate for Muslim women’s rights and also create awareness amongst the masses. Further we must also train such confident, knowledgeable, energetic, dynamic young Muslim women, with an ability to differentiate between gems and stones offered by prevalent theories of women’s emancipation, who can represent the true Islamic values and ethos in every walk of life and be the living examples of Muslim Women’s role and status.
It can be assumed that the role of Muslim women activists may not necessarily be in contrast with feminist ideologies. In many a sphere these movements can be allies of Muslim women and men in restoration of just laws in the society. However, Muslims must also devise and chalk out their own sphere and boundaries in consonance with the Islamic sources and plan to familiarise the same with the masses.
[The writer is a Research Scholar at Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh and is now a volunteer in the Ladies’ Wing, Islamic Research Foundation, Mumbai]
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