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.
“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 the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
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.