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This Is What Muslim Feminism Looks Like

A new generation of Muslims want to do things differently. This is especially true for women — Muslim feminism has never been as visible as it is now.

A mother and daughter wearing hijabs.

Feminism is particularly strong within the new generation of Muslim women.

Chaimaa Boukharsa


“The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and pay purification tax and obey Allah and His Messenger.” (Qu'ran, 9:71)

We've been seeing more and more initiatives to expand the theological offer to the Muslim community by integrating the female component. The new generation of Muslim women has a spiritual, intellectual and theological conscience and wants to defend its place in the religious hierarchy. It also wants to contribute to the decision-making process beyond the social and psychological role that they are being assigned.

However, the establishment still resists these initiatives and clings to a model of Islam where Muslim women have long been relegated and confined to small spaces in mosques.

A female struggle within Islam

Despite the fact that they have and have had the same roles as an imam, a shaykh or a spiritual guide through preaching, erudition, etc, the limitations of the exercise of these faculties are evident. There’s a need for urgent diversification of religious leadership that really reflects human and social equality before God (that is currently not carried out in reality).

The differences of opinion on Muslim women reveals a community of believers torn.

An example of this is that it would be impossible to have all the Islamic jurisprudence that we have today without the fundamental role of the great female Muslim scholars in various fields. Note that the leaders of the four main schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali and Hanafi) were mentored by women.

The differences of opinion on Muslim women reveals a community of believers torn between different mentalities, cultures and interpretations of canon law regarding women. Now, it would be convenient to find the necessary pedagogies so that Muslim communities accept the plurality of legal opinions on the question of women in particular.

Today, the real struggle of Muslim feminists, who live in a system dominated mainly and culturally by men, is to face the authority and control that is posed and imposed on the Muslim community that leaves behind female realities (and feminists). This same struggle will initiate an unprecedented change and that will have repercussions in favor of the well-being of all members of the community.

Two women walk in the courtyard of a mosque.

Two women walk in the courtyard of the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Nick Fewings

The double fight of Muslim women

There is an intersection of discrimination suffered by Muslim women: misogyny and Islamophobia — the double fight. The problem of Muslim women is always caught between two extreme perceptions: one by certain absolutely rigid traditionalist Muslims and, on the other hand, some people outside the community perceive Muslim women as completely submissive and oppressed. Both are extremist perceptions, and I personally do not identify with either of these representations.

The place that Muslim feminists have been given in public debate is almost non-existent. However, Muslim feminism, even though it is a minority, has never been as visible as it is now. And on the ground, things are changing. In community events at the European level, we can see that efforts are being made to offer space to women, although it remains marginal (especially at the local level where it is practically nil).

Therefore, women, in addition to facing criticism from some Muslim men, also have to be alert and attentive to Islamophobic attacks. Let us not forget that the issue of Islam in Spain and in Europe, in general, is extremely sensitive. On occasions, when women denounce misogynistic behaviors within the community, it is used as an opportunity to reinforce the Islamophobic rhetoric propagated in the public opinion, by the media and some politicians.

It can be a balancing act

So what to make of women's rights advocates concerned about the case of Muslim women under the cloak of these radical imams, while at the same time attacks on veiled women have always generated indifference among those "advocates"?

We Muslim women have a voice to speak and we must criticize sexist behavior, but at no time can these complaints be taken advantage of and/or used to establish and reinforce Islamophobia. Speaking in the media without fueling the stigma of Muslims can certainly be a balancing act.

* Chaimaa Boukharsa is a Moroccan Activist and Muslim feminist based in Spain. She is an Arabist and Islamologist with a master's degree in cultural diversity.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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