|'Western feminist researchers in general hold
the belief that once a society is dominated in certain spheres
by men, women will become suppressed and passive group' (Duval,
Western feminism is the continuation of a historical process.
One can argue that the basis of western feminism is the
product of sole gender domination of the Church and the
crude discrimination between man and women and the denial
of women in terms of western social rights. It was the period
when males species, governed, culminating to exclusive power
and ownership on all aspects of socio-economic life. While
women were regards as subservient species denied from any
kind of rights either to express her views or to any social
participation. Today feminism pursues women emancipation
from any kind of bondage, or in which segregates women from
the caravan of male supremacy, occupational equality, equality
in social and political status, male and female equality
in social rights and their rights in regards to children.
From their perspective there is no disparity between man
and woman in relation to private and public sphere. Feminism
is merely a secular ideology. Fundamentally feminism, not
only has any concept of divine principles, but on the contrary
and in many cases religion is regarded as the main source
of inequality between man and women. In other wards like
other principles of secular liberalism, main theories and
principal values of feminism is arise from mental creation
of human desires.
According to the principal that majority of feminist share
with regard to subjective equality between men and women
in terms of social and individual ability and right, feminist
theorists argue that most of the organized religious belief
systems which dominate the historical and modem world are
profoundly sexist. There are three major feminist theories
about religion - the radical, the liberal and reformist
critique of existing practice and the utopian creation of
a new counter culture practice.
The racial theory of feminism with regard to religion represents
the Marxist and Social theory. They believe in principal
Religion is the opium of the masses and in particular religion
consider as a main reason for the inequality of men and
women in the society. The liberal theory also share the
same idea that religion and in particular Christianity is
major source of typical presentation of gender issue. Elizabeth
Cady Stanton in her book 'The Woman's Bible' made the first
major feminist contribution to changes in Christian religion.
Stanton believed that the language and interpretation of
passages dealing with women in the Bible were a major source
of women's inferior status. The central message of Christianity,
Daly (1973, 1978) claims, is sadomasochism legitimized in
torture. Susan Griffin (1981) also agrees that a fundamental
theme of the Western Christian tradition is its hatred of
the flesh, which is based on an idea that woman's body calls
man back to his animal nature.
From the reformist perspective religion should be reformulated
in a way that religion can create an equality between men
and women in all aspects of human life. From their perspective
religion has been legitimized masculinism throughout the
history, therefore they see a serious need for rewriting
the religious doctrine based on feminist principal.
Indeed not all feminist think the same, one can categorized
them in the following categories:
1. Amazon Feminism:
Amazon feminism is concerned with 'physical gender equality'.
It rejects die idea that certain characteristics or interests
are inherently masculine (or feminine), and uphold and explores
a vision of heroic womanhood. This is a sort of radical
feminism which questions why women must adopt certain roles
based on their biology, just as it questions why men adopt
certain other roles based on theirs. Radical feminism claims
to draw lines between biologically-determined behaviour
and culturally-determined behaviour in order to free both
men and women as much as possible from their previously
Firestone argues that the origin of the dualism lies in
'biology itself - procreation', a natural or original inequality
that is the basis of the oppression of women and the source
of male power. Men, by confining women to reproduction nature,
have freed themselves for the business of the world and
so have created and controlled culture. The proposed solution
is to eliminate natural differences between the sexes by
introducing artificial reproduction. Nature and the private
sphere of the family will then be abolished and individuals,
of all ages, will interact as equals in an undifferentiated
cultural or public order (Pateman, 1987: 111).
Mary Daly (1978) makes Amazon into a metaphor to describe
women who are fighting to affirm the true identity of our
foremothers. This accepts that aggression can be used by
women to develop an entirely separate and self-contained
women's culture. This perspective even influenced their
interpretation of God. For example, Merlin Stone suggests
that the term was used to describe Goddess worshippers who
fought to protect their temples.
It looks for fragmentation of all old norms, values and
customs of the older generation and today's society with
regards to women. Their policy is concerned with the deconstruction
of all traditional principals without establishing any systematic
principal for the position of women within the modem or
3. Liberal Feminism:
This is the variety of feminism that works within the structure
of mainstream society to integrate women into that structure.
Its roots stretch back to the social contract theory of
government instituted by the American Revolution. Liberalization
of women according to liberal democratic political system
is their main slogan for women all over the world.
4. Material Feminism:
A movement in die late 19th century, which aimed at liberating
women by improving their material condition. It had focussed
on releasing the burden of housework and cooking duties,
which was a chore on the shoulders of women in the household.
5. Socialist Feminism
Marxism recognizes that women are oppressed, and attributes
the oppression to the capitalist/private property system.
Thus they insist that the only way to end the oppression
of women is to overthrow the capitalist system.
'one of the main theories of Western feminism, socialist
feminism believes that women are second-class citizens in
patriarchal capitalism which depends of its survival on
the exploitation of working people, and on the special exploitation
of women. Socialist feminism argues that we need to transform
not only the ownership of the means of production, but also
social experience because the roots of women's oppression
lie in the total economic system of capitalism (see reed
Socialist feminism argues that men have a specific material
interest in the domination of women and that men construct
a variety of institutional arrangements to perpetuate this
domination. Socialist feminism goes beyond the conventional
definition of economy to consider activity that does not
involve the exchange of money, for example by including
the procreative and sexual work done by women in the home.
Socialist feminism has a theory of epistemology which takes
the view that all knowledge represents the interests and
values of specific social group, by describing historical
variations in practices and in the categories by which values
are understood (Eisenstein, 1979),
Socialist feminism is now engaged in a more adequate explanation
of women's subordination in order to show how types of production,
not ordinarily considered economic, can be understood in
economic terms. The ideal is that women and men might disappear
as socially constituted categories. Socialist feminism is
attacked by radical feminism because it obscures and occludes
an understanding of how central the institution of heterosexuality
is to women's oppression (Ferguson, 1982).
The analytical observation based on social class structure,
merely stems from the materialistic perspective based upon
the capacity & the aptitude of the members of the society.
In this respect, a person who enjoys a greater economic
prosperity is considered as a cream of that society, labelled
as upper class citizens. On the said ratio, a person or
persons with lesser degree of the financial gains are categorized
in to lower level of the social ladder. On this respect,
women as second class citizenship, from materialistic perspective
requires detail analysis in such social milieu. From the
divine observation, the aim of a pious & healthy society
is to utilize the opportunity of life given by the creator.
To utilize the equal opportunity of life can not be limit
to economic opportunities. Hence forth, the spiritual opportunities
plays an important to direct the society towards peace &
tranquillity. From this point of view, humanity is based
on the foundation of utilizing human virtuosity for the
purpose of individual classification. In this regards, there
exist no difference between male & female. The existence
of male and female inequality is the product of cultural,
social and political situation in a society, which tolerates
such a specified criteria, as a result of unequal material
opportunities and the superimposed distinction upon male
and female gender.
6. Radical Feminism
Radical feminism argues that women's oppression comes from
our categorization as an inferior class to the class 'men'
on the basis of our gender. Radical feminism aims to destroy
this sex-class system. What makes this feminism radical
is that it focuses on the roots of male domination and claim
that all forms of oppression are extensions of male supremacy.
The central thesis of radical feminism is the belief that
the personal is political and that woman-centredness can
be the basis of a future society (Eisenstein, 1984).
Certain issues put radical feminism at odds with other
feminist perspectives, specifically a socialist view of
the centrality of class and a black view of the centrality
of race. Juliet Mitchell criticised Firestone in particular
and radical feminism in general for not speaking of women's
oppression in a historically specific way (Mitchell, 1971).
In the 1970s radical feminism gradually abandoned the 'linear',
male style of traditional political theory and moved into
a poetic and metaphorical mode. A radical feminist paradigm
is till emerging. Radical feminist differ in how they name
reality because they use a limited range of concepts, such
as rape or slavery, to bring together apparently disparate
phenomena such as marriage and prostitution.
What we have explained here so far is different approached
of western feminism. With in the diversity of the theories
of feminism one fundamental conclusion can be established
that feminism no matter liberal, radical, Amazon or socialist
feminist share one common idea among them is that religion
is one of the major barriers for revitalization of women's
right in the society, hence their approach is either secular
approach or in some cases anti-religion. The second common
idea among all feminists is mono-sexism inclination which
caused sacrifization of one sex for the other.
II. Muslim Responses to Feminism
Although the movement for revitalization of women rights
has established 'm Islam, it may be argued that social,
cultural and political circumstances have resulted different
perception of Muslim women in the society. Therefore we
are observing variety of responses of Muslim scholars and
Muslim women movements to the social phenomenon of feminism
in the West.
The position of Muslim women with in the family and society
has been central concern of many scholars since the beginning
of Islam. The process of modernization and movements of
feminists in the West have accelerated the women's discourse
in the Muslim world [see Mernissi (1993), Nair (1994), Basit
(1997) and Moghissi (1999).
We can categorize the theories on the position of Muslim
women within the society in five different approaches:
1 Apologetic Feminism
Apologetic Feminism is basically embodied in liberal feminism
of Muslim women. Liberal and Secular perspective of Muslim
activists and Muslim Scholars have lead them towards apologetic
reaction ( Mir-Hosseini, 1996: 285). This group either try
to adapt religion to feminist principal or accept feminism
as an inevitable way of life for Muslim women whether religious
principal could established accordingly or not.
This group of feminist re-reading the sharia texts to introduce
women's right according to Islamic values (see Mir-Hosseini,
It is important to find out whether their aim is reformation
or reconstruction of women's position in the family, society
and the whole social structure and public sphere.
In the Christian and Judaic feminist tradition the holy
text regarded as limited by its historical context and thus
fragment it, classifying the fragments according to what
is regarded as either universal and essential or culturally
relative (Roald, 1998: 18).
According to Duval (1998: 46) 'Islam is viewed as the main
origin of the prevalence of sexual inequality in the Middle
East'. From western feminist point of view Islam and in
particular veiling is the main barrier for Muslim women
and in general Muslim society to become civilized. 'In the
Western eyes only by giving up these "peculiar"
and "intrinsic" practices, would Muslim societies
move forward on the path of civilization. The veil, for
the colonizers but also in the vision of contemporary western
political culture is the most visible marker of the 'otherness'
and 'inferiority' of Islamic societies' (Duval, 1998: 48).
Early Arab feminists, such as the Lebanes Nazira Zayn ad-Din,
incorporated feminist ideas into an Islamic frame of reference.
In 1928 she published a book called removing the Veil and
Veiling, which aroused the anger of Muslim scholars (Roald,
Amin's book, 'Women's Liberation' (1989) marks the entry
of the debated around the veil, in which the veil epitomized
Islamic inferiority. The veil is an example, other principal
and Islamic values which might introduce a sort of gender
otherness is and has been considered as inferiority for
Muslim women in an apologetic manner to Western feminism.
Apologetic approach is a very secular. According to Jayawardena
the emergence of feminist movements is basically a general
movements towards secularism, a new concern with social
reform and modernity and ascendance of an enlightened indigenous
middle class. Their main concern with women's rights included
the issues of education, seclusion, veiling and polygamy,
coincided with a broader agenda about progress and the compatibility
between Islam and modernity(Kandiyoti, 1991: 3).
2. Reactionary or Defensive Feminism:
A movement which emphasis on the idea that Muslim women
have already obtained an equal and respectful position (based
on Islamic tradition) without the need of further reform.
From their perspective not only western oriented Muslim
women have highlighted the status of women in Muslim societies
but Islamists, male and female, have also joined the debate,
stressing the liberating potential Islam has for women (Roald,
3. Holistic Approach:
These activists and theoreticians do not isolate women
from absolute society. They see women's rights and position
within the whole structure of the society and avoid the
segregation of society in terms 'Feminism' or 'Masculinism'
or any sort of mono-centric approach. In oppose to feminism
for the last decades masculinism has become a popular topic
across the advanced capitalist world (Connel, 1995).
According to Holistic approach society as whole including
men and women are addressed to their individual and social
responsibility without any mono-sex inclinations. The major
differences between Holistic view points of Muslims and
western feminism is refereed to the methodology of understanding
and establishing the rights and responsibility of women.
While the feminist of western hemisphere, regardless of
religious saying, or whether in principle, religion is from
against; insists upon woman rights and her role in society,
while feminism perspective is mono-sexism perspective and
neglecting the valuable place of man and woman side by side
as unifying force in family and society, Holistic approach
looks at one comprehensive position of women and men in
public and private, in society ad politics.
One of distinguish scholar who uphold the Holestic approach
was Motahhari. He explained the reasons and the necessity
for different treatment of women in Islam according to biological
and psychological differences between men and women, while
the apologist try to re-read the holy text in line with
changed condition of the current society (see Mir-Hussaini,
Western social scientists' approaches reflect a high degree
of ethnocentrism in assuming that liberation for Muslim
women has to follow the same mono-centric line as the American
and European women's movements. It is expected that these
goals are universal and that they should more or less be
followed in the same order (Ahmed, 1992 and Joseph 1994).
For the last three hundred years Islamic Thoughts in different
spheres has been influenced by western alien thoughts. The
common denominator of all imported ideas were in the direct
relationship with centres of political powers. Powerful
domination of the West was the result of demonstration of
wealth and capital against poverty and powerlessness. The
transformation period of the industrial revolution, the
renaissance in thinking in the west and the formation of
the basis of ideological modernism, were the most important
vacuums in Islamic world for the past three century. 19th
and 20th centuries witnessed the defensive response or ideological
and religious resistance or absolute assimilation in to
Western Modernism. Western modernism belongs to western
history, western religion and changes in western intellectual
At the end of 20th century more than six hundreds million
Muslim populations were subjected to the system of political
democracy, still western politics blaming Islam for non-democratic
doctrine and labelling Muslims as a fundamentalist and terrorists.
According to Brian Turner (1994: 78), 'Islam was perfectly
compatible with the modernization project involving, as
it did, a high degree of secularization of traditional religious
cultures', but from his perspective 'Islam cannot deal satisfactorily
with post-modernity which threatens to deconstruct religious
messages into more fairy tales and to destroy the everyday
world by the challenge of cultural diversity. The problem
of cultural perspectivism is an effect of the pluralization
of life-words brought about by the spread of a diversified,
global system of consumption'. This is due to the fact that
in post-modem era, the subject matter of human life is in
ongoing changes, therefore no definite verdict can not be
Western feminism is also the product of modernism and postmodernism.
This movement and school of thought fundamentally and principally
is in serious conflict with Islamic tenets. However, in
many instances and subject matters propounded by feminism,
are in uniformity with the Islamic views on woman, but from
Islamic perspective entering into this domain, is another
background for loosing the principles and values of the
No doubt that throughout the history, women were suppressed
and deprived from their fundamental rights. Also without
a shadow of a doubt, that women natural disposition and
their talents and strength in many fields are far more intelligent
then men, but unfortunately has been unjustly damaged. The
vanquished of women talent and potentials resulted in nonentity,
unable to manifest their natural dispositions. Throughout
the history, with men took such advantages that the inability
of women's true potentials and her gifted abilities were
totally ignored. History witnesses the bitter truth of male
This is a fundamental theory in sociology that 'you can
not have modernization technology, urbanization and bureaucratization
without the cultural baggage that goes with it and this
baggage is essentially a post-Enlightenment system of thought
(Turner, 1994: 8).
From the holistic approach the oppression of women in the
past should not result institutionalized oppression based
on secular feminism. The Islamic world and Muslim women
societies must observe their duties and rights from divine
perspective. From their perspective, if this principle is
accepted that the wisdom of almighty God is the absolute
benefactor for any society at large and He knows the best
deliberation for social happiness or aberration of a society.
Consequently, the policies of our social and individual
rights must be based upon such wisdom. Salvation of Muslim
world emphatically depends on independent observation for
the need and the interest of society facing the western
vacuum, depends on returning to the pure massage of religion
and the revival of Muslim women integrity and emphasis must
be on manifesting the rights of Islam. Total submission
of holistic Islam indicates that man and woman are two fundamental
members of the society. Islam has provided independent and
cooperative roles for them. This will be the revival of
Muslim women, individual and social rights.
While feminism will lead to social deviance, also masculinism
will unbalance the coherence of individual members of the
society creating deviance and unhealthy social setting.
Mono-sexism create social deviation and social fragmentation.
From the holistic perspective the direction of western
feminism, in essence is a negative and secular out look
to religion. In reality the foundation of feminism thought
is a serious confrontation to divine observation, therefore
can not be a reference to the revival of Muslim women rights
and neither can guarantee the happiness and healthy Muslim
society at large.
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