She was looking for religious grounds for her thesis on “the oppression of women in Islam ‘, but Marie Laure Rodriguez found no discriminatory passage in the Koran (sic). Moreover, she discovered a precursor text of gender equity. Forever a “feminist“, the Basque turned to Islam 28 years. Today, eight years later, she is the president of the Union of Muslim Women in Spain (Umme), which has organized in Madrid on Sunday the ‘4th International Congress of Islamic Feminism”.
“I’m more feminist since I converted to Islam, because my religion allows me to be a liberated woman,” says Marie Laure categorically that defines Islamic feminism as a movement seeking the liberation of Muslim women within Islam.
The first Muslims to be called ‘feminist‘ were writers and intellectuals of the Maghreb in the 70’s. Formed in European universities, they discovered that they had nothing to do with the secular feminism emerging in the West. Their struggle (jihad in Arabic) was different and they wanted to support the struggle for equality in the teachings of Muhammad. At the same time a partnership was born in Malaysia under the name “Sisters in Islam“, a pioneer in the struggle to liberate women from the yoke of political power that subjected them in the name of religion.
Women stoned by relatives, burned by spurned husbands, cliterydectomy and the burqa aren’t examples of the empowerment of women but a reality in certain Muslim countries. Also they amount for “100% of the information on women in the media.” Feminists say that none of these aberrations is justified by Islam. “Interpretations are the result of misguided policies and concerned to perpetuate women’s control over the ‘sharia’ (the code governing morality and private behavior of Muslims,” says Zahira Kamal, former Minister of Women in Palestine.
These feminist groups, who base their fight on the right to education of women and their access to government, have resulted in little changes in the Muslim world. They quote reforms by Moroccan Mohamed VI-first monarch to ask a woman to decide, on a Friday of Ramadan, the sermon in a mosque and who by law reserved 10% seats in parliament for women-, or changes in civil law Palestine, as the age of marriage and the repeal of the figure of the ‘guardian’ of women. But the roots of patriarchy and the rise of fundamentalism in countries like Iran and Afghanistan pose a serious setback for the fight.
There are currents within Islamic feminism. Moderate and radical, but they all flatly refused to talk about the veil, hijab-(and banning) because, they say, “is an excuse to distract from other substantive issues.” Some carry it always, some never, some “sometimes, because it is a symbol of submission,” argues Marie Laure.
But most Muslims believe that Islamic feminism is “a threat” to their traditions and religion. Women as Masuma Assad (Union of Muslim Argentinian Women) for whom Islamic feminism “is aimed at the destruction of Islam to uphold the principles of secularism in Islamic societies.”
Recently, the association leadered by Marie Laure, the Umme, called on those responsible for Spanish mosques to allow women access to the front door. “If we entered 15 centuries ago on an equal footing and a front door, why in the XXI century in a democratic country we do not?” they asked.
The men who run the more progressive mosques, asked women to take the decision. The majority decided not to break the consensus. Do not change the system. Despite this setback, the Umme believe that their movement is still a minority, but has a future. Its president, Marie Laure, thinks so: “The second generation of Muslim women, who have greater access to education, they begin to question the religious model they inherited, that has nothing to do with the essence of Islam and soon called for changes” .
Has “Marie Laure”, the “feminist convert”, really read the Qu’ran? Because in the Surah An-Nissa (dedicated to Women) there are several interesting things which are really against that “feminist view”:
- 4.3: “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice“.
- 4.11: Men should have the part of two women in inheritance.
- 4.34: “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given them (more) strength that the others and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all)“.
- 4.43: “O ye who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say,- nor in a state of ceremonial impurity (Except when travelling on the road), until after washing your whole body. If ye are ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from offices of nature, or ye have been in contact with women, and ye find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth, and rub therewith your faces and hands. For Allah doth blot out sins and forgive again and again“.
- 4.176: “They ask thee for a legal decision. Say: Allah directs (thus) about those who leave no descendants or ascendants as heirs. If it is a man that dies, leaving a sister but no child, she shall have half the inheritance: If (such a deceased was) a woman, who left no child, Her brother takes her inheritance: If there are two sisters, they shall have two-thirds of the inheritance (between them): if there are brothers and sisters, (they share), the male having twice the share of the female. Thus doth Allah make clear to you (His law), lest ye err”. And Allah hath knowledge of all things“.
Then there is the famous hadith about the “intelligence” of women, who are of course, deficient:
Once Allah’s Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o ‘Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Apostle ?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.”
In this other Hadith, the idea of women as “deficient in intelligence” beings is repeated:
On ‘Id ul Fitr or ‘Id ul Adha Allah’s Apostle (p.b.u.h) went out to the Musalla. After finishing the prayer, he delivered the sermon and ordered the people to give alms. He said, “O people! Give alms.” Then he went towards the women and said. “O women! Give alms, for I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-Fire were you (women).” The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is the reason for it?” He replied, “O women! You curse frequently, and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. O women, some of you can lead a cautious wise man astray….”
So, where is the feminism? I celebrate that they want to defend women’s rights within Islam, but I these verses are very clear (and they are not the only ones there are) in which the Prophet explains his (chauvinist) views on women. The problem is not that in his moment (VIIth century) he had those views. The real problem is that today there are “islamic clerics” defending them, “because it appears in the Qu’ran and, uff, if you defy the Qu’ran“. For example, wife beatings:
More videos of the kind here.