Feminism in Islam is not a facade

File photo: Kempen menentang keganasan terhadap wanita

The world has a negative preconceived idea regarding the status of women in Islam only because of the Muslim men and women who embrace such extreme chauvinistic views, writes Syerleena Abdul Rashid.

Activists walk from Perlis to Sabah to campaign against violence to women and girls
Activists walk from Perlis to Sabah to campaign against violence to women and girls

Over the years, women have had to struggle to make our voices heard, and in most regions across the world, it still is an uphill battle.

Among the communities that are the most oppressed globally, women tend to be right on top of that list. The misery a women has to endure will multiply by tenfold if she happens to belong to a minority group and comes from a lower economic class.

Women have been blamed for just about everything. Men blame us for wearing tight clothing and donning make-up which apparently ‘begs’ us to be sexually assaulted or harassed, a notion that makes me ill just thinking about it.

We have been blamed for the breakdown of family values, social ills and various degrees of marital problems. We have been the scapegoat for a majority of miscalculated decisions men have made throughout the course of history either in real life or in literature (e.g. Lady Macbeth, Delilah and Eve).

Feminism is not a facade.

Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) president Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman said at a press conference a few weeks ago, “The model introduced by the west is a model that will destroy women especially Muslim women… all these slogans of women’s liberation, under the name of women’s rights, would actually turn women into objects of trade and help their attempt to dominate the world and Muslims” (The Malay Mail Online, 27 April 2014)

His remarks only reaffirm that chauvinism and patriarchal beliefs still exist in several Muslim communities. They also expose the level of ignorance people like him have regarding gender issues and feminism.

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But what is disturbing is that people like him only continue to become increasingly vocal. As more media space is given to them, there is a concern that the public will begin to accept these half-baked theories as whole-hearted truths.

Media play an important role in influencing public perception and instilling dogmas that can be damaging if the right level of understanding and literacy is not available.

The world has a negative preconceived idea regarding the status of women in Islam only because of the Muslim men and women who embrace such extreme chauvinistic views. The patriarchal values and conservative approach to gender issues show a level of ignorance that leads to discriminatory policies and rules – which have an impact especially on women within their community.

Highly oppressive regimes like that in Saudi have aggressively continued to oppress their women folk through extremism-inclined ulamas. By doing this, they have done a great injustice by thwarting the real teachings of Islam.

The recent wave of Islamisation, which has made its way to our shores, further threatens to destroy Malaysian values and especially, harass my fellow Muslim sisters as this wave takes on an uncompromising view of religion and gender roles.

Malaysians are caught in a tug of war battle between renewed conservatism and secular progression. It is not uncommon to hear reports of Muslim child marriages or biased views regarding survivors of rape and domestic violence. It is also not uncommon to come across communities that continue to deny the rights of education for women and young girls.

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Prophet Mohammad (peace be unto him) urged the followers of Islam to respect women, to treat us as equals, to give women the same rights as men and to encourage women to participate in the development of the community and the nation. He believed in not leaving anyone, any gender, behind in pursuit of improving the way of life and in the quest of faith.

Unfortunately, over the years, many Muslims have forgotten this message and would rather believe in hypocrites shrouded behind the mask of religion. These days it would seem that the more religious a man is, the more oppressive his views on women.

These oppressive views are nothing more than the practice of patriarchal values subsumed in religious interpretations and practices. Increasingly, more Muslim women have succumbed to this hypocrisy either due to ignorance or due to feelings of hopelessness or of duty and obligation to be a good Muslim woman.

Feminism is about fighting for women’s rights, social justice and gender equality. Women need to rise above patriarchal tyranny. It is about empowering women, making sure their thoughts and opinions matter, that they have access to education and ensuring that their contribution to the country matters as much as the opposite gender. It is about rebuilding their confidence, encouraging them to dream big and to inspire communities and fulfil their potential.

After all, humankind would not exist today if it were not for women. It has often been said that our wombs are the gateway of life.

There is no Judeo-Christian agenda like what Isma’s president might want you to believe about feminism. When Islam gets hijacked by the holier-than-thou attitudes of an uncompromising ultra-pious factions, it is not a wonder that many women and men turn against these extremist views and welcome moderate or secular humanist views out of frustration and anger.

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There is no cynical plot, and there are no suggestions that embracing human rights or women’s rights encourages people to embrace ‘ungodliness’ and treat women like commodities.

If anything, it teaches the exact opposite. Equality, liberty and human rights are ethics nurtured by faith and were upheld by none other than Prophet Mohammad through revelations bestowed upon him by God.

The Qur’an reveals that all men and women are equal; therefore, people must not be judged according to gender, physical beauty and material wealth. A person’s character and intellect are the things that one should strive for. Islam also encourages its believers to fight for the liberation of the oppressed and respect one another, irrespective of religion.

In an ever-changing world, society has become increasingly complex. We discover new things about life, the world and ourselves.

Religion is a belief that most of us accept as true, but the way religion is presented to the masses needs further scrutiny. There is nothing wrong with raising questions, seeking intellectual discussions and embracing critical thinking concerning religious matters. Denying that right is far more dangerous and detrimental to the people and to the religion itself.

To accuse something of being a façade or of being “ungodly“ without any justification is simply uncouth and foolish.

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15 May 2014 12.25pm

Well, we certainly cannot agree with you more. This is not just opinion, this is truth. We have
to stick to the truth. Truth is NOT painful. It is the shattering of lies that is painful. But once these
lies are shattered, they are shattered for good. You will be set free and only sky will be your

It is sad that millions of women in many Islamic countries are treated as sex commodity and placed
as second class citizens. They are not given freedom of choice, nor freedom to make decision.
Supression and submission are the rules of the day. To them control is more important than growth.

In the light of this It is enlightening to see now more and more women taking bold steps to free themselves
from the schackles of blind submission and to reclaim their deprived status in this patriarchal society.

From what I gathered this writer is the ONLY woman in Penang holding the Helmsman Certification
and the ONLY woman Bumiputra in the whole male dominated Malaysia. A groundbreaking achievement.
This speaks volumes for feminism.

15 May 2014 10.01am

Well done Leena,very timely written.Right on the dot.