Central Issue in Debate Regarding Muslim Feminism Essay
Central Issue in Debate Regarding Muslim Feminism
Feminism or the concept of gender equality of women is an increasing ideology among the new generation of Muslim women in the most Muslim countries. There have been hot debates and discourse regarding about the identity and the role of the Muslim women to be played in the modern Muslim society in the context of the currently changing and evolving geo-political and socio-economical scenario. There are several issues, which are being discussed by feminist in the Muslim world, and among the most controversial and heatedly debated issues is the issue of “hijab” or veiling. Though the issues like the right of giving divorce and honor killing of Muslim women are also in hot debate but they are not as widely publicized these days, as is the issue of hijab. Hijab is the central issue currently in the debate regarding feminism in the Muslim countries. This paper will discuss the debate of hijab regarding feminism and how it has sprung out to be the central issue.
To the most Western or Westernized feminists hijab is a form of oppression on women and was imposed on them in order to control them and subdue them to the domination of the men. They perceive Islam as a religion with a long history of gender division and seclusion of women from the open society. They think that the modern Islamic world needs to reexamine the principles of gender inequality in Islam and make them compatible and adaptable to the modern civil society based on civil liberty and gender equity. Many modern feminists like Fatima Mernissi clearly rejects Islam as the symbolic capital of “wretched” and suggests that Islam must give way to secular civil society. (Majid, 1998) She considers the pre-Islamic period known as “jahiliya” or the time of ignorance as the “”exciting era of discussion and human rights.” (Majid, 1998) She further goes beyond any one has ever gone by desacralizing the holy Qur’an and reducing it to a mere historical document and arguing that “adopting secularism means further demystifying the transcendental process of revelation and solving all social issues through the power of human agency, not by uncritical resort to the male-constructed texts of Islam. (Majid, 1998) Most feminist argue that Quran does not imposes veil on women and the verses which are referred in this context explicitly orders to cover the body rather than face or the other verses were revealed in the special circumstances and were only applicable during that time. (Read & Bartkowski, 2000)
The debate of feminism is not only reduced to the westerners or pro-western reformers, but in the recent decades pro-Islamic reformers have taken the issue seriously and have advocated modern interpretation of Islam as an answer to gender equity under the auspices of the Islamic law and teachings. Nawal El Saadawi and Laila Ahmed are prominent feminists who claim that during early Islam women enjoyed high level of freedom and authority, which was later, eclipsed by clerical documentation and interpretation of Islamic law. (Majid, 1998) Saadawi sees a hope in the Islamic revolution of Iran and praises the recent debate among the countries intellect regarding certain issues, which are considered oppressive, and gender oriented in nature. (Majid, 1998) But these views are strongly criticized by feminists like Ann Mayor as they explain the prevailing dualism among the clerical ruling class as “any Iranian women who rebel against the forcible imposition of uniforms like chador are castigated as foreign dolls and minions of western imperialism, on the contrary Iranian men have the right to wear every modern western attire they wish without any accusation.” (Mayor, 1998)
Though the historical practices of veil or hijab is observed in strictly religious context, but the current emergence of hijab as a prominent example of symbolic notion among the Muslim women must be seen with a quite different perspective. According to different surveys have shown different opinion among the women practicing hijab regarding the reason they wear it. Some women expressed that they use hijab to feel secure, while some use hijab to express themselves as female Muslims and to keep themselves close to the their cultures and roots. This concept is quite common among the Muslim women living in the Western countries as they are quite concerned about being assimilated in the western society and losing their Islamic heritage and identity. In this manner modern hijab is quite different to the traditional veil and should be considered as a new device or phenomenon. (Berger, 1998, Read & Bartkowski, 2000)
The above mentioned arguments and opinions clearly designate hijab as the central issue in the debate regarding feminism, not only because it has become a symbol of oppression in the secular world and many countries who deem themselves as secular have imposed ban on it but also because the new generation of Muslim women has adopted hijab as a symbol of their Muslim feminist identity which is quite different from common the common perception of hijab among the secular feminists. The debate regarding hijab has been further intensified when Turkish government has lifted the ban on hijab in the government led universities, colleges and offices. Many Islamic countries where there wearing hijab has been officially imposed like Saudi Arabia and Iran have been under heavy criticism from the feminist groups but the government of these countries have stubbornly refused to heed upon the cry of the international community regarding the issues of gender equality and oppression. This has made hijab an outcry of the feminists’ agencies and group throughout the world and they have been campaigning against them and are motivating the western governments to compel these governments to bow against the will of the international community and the charter of the United Nations.
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