A Blueprint for Int’l Muslim Women Organisation

Muslim women seem to be stranded at the crossroads, with extreme feminism at one side and ethno-cultural traditionalism on the other, both trying to crush them into bits, feels Dr. Zeenath Kausar, Associate Professor of Political science at International Islamic University, Malaysia and famous Islamic activist.

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Muslim women seem to be stranded at the crossroads, with extreme feminism at one side and ethno-cultural traditionalism on the other, both trying to crush them into bits, feels Dr. Zeenath Kausar, Associate Professor of Political science at International Islamic University, Malaysia and famous Islamic activist.

Dr. Kausar, in her recent book titled Muslims Women at the Crossroads: The Rights of Women in Islam and General Muslim Practices, has tried to highlight the whole issue and presented a comprehensive course of action to come out of this pathetic situation and as well as empowerment, emancipation and development of Muslim women in the light of Qur’an and Sunnah.

Starting with the critical exploration of feminist concepts of empowerment in the context of globalisation, she criticises feminist ideas extensively. The author did not agree to the term “globalisation”. According to her, the term globalisation is ascribed to the present phenomenon of western hegemony at the socio-economic, cultural and political level. The appropriate terms for this may be “western globalisation” or “contemporary colonisation” or ‘western hegemonisation. Hence, it is argued that there is the globalisation of the feminist perspective of women’s empowerment not the globalisation of women’s empowerment from a holistic perspective. (p. 4)

She also reveals that the UN is globally promoting the feministically constructed western model of women’s empowerment. It is also argued that the women’s movement of the US cannot be promoted as a global movement for all cultures and civilizations in the world. However, she does believe, it is true to a certain extent. Due to some socio-cultural, political and other reasons, women have been denied even their genuine position and role in family and society. But it doesn’t mean that all men as such form a class against women and thus all men are against women’s empowerment. It also doesn’t mean that all men are inimical to all women and there is tug-of-war between the genders. So this problem should be studied and addressed; not in a confrontational but peaceful manner. (p. 8)

According to the author, man and woman are ‘equal’ but they are not ‘identical’. This means that man and woman are equal but they are different from each other biologically. Biological differences between men and women are natural. (p. 9)

Unlike feminists, she outright rejects the idea of equality and measurement of women’s empowerment in terms of the fulfilment of 50% quotas and considered this standard of empowerment a tool of undermining women. (p. 10)

Criticising Simone de Beauvoir’s idea of women’s empowerment, who believes that “women should not be given this choice to either be at home or work outside for empowerment but No, women should be authorized to stay at home to raise her children and society should be totally different”, Dr. Kausar considered it again devaluation of women.

Dr. Kausar also rejects the idea of division of life in religious and worldly. She considers men and women vicegerents (khalifah) of Allah. She strongly believes that Islam stands above all kinds of discrimination against women and provides men and women with a unique platform for action following which they can attain peace, prosperity and development. (p. 61)

Analysing the gap between the rights of women in Islam and general Muslim practices, she outlines the Muslim families who follow their own ethno-cultural traditions, which are not necessarily Islamic, create an autocratic atmosphere in the family with male-domination and make their families mini-monarchies. While those Muslim families, who emulate western ideologies, including feminism and adopt a western lifestyle, tend to become mini-showrooms. There is a lack of compassionate relationship in such families among family members and they perceive themselves as mechanical and isolated individuals pre-occupied in their race to material advancement and obsessed with their own absolute rights with hardly any concern for their moral obligation towards each other. (p. 75)

She admits, although women in Islam are allowed to pursue any Islamically permitted economic activity while performing their responsibilities as wives and mothers and keeping themselves within Islamic etiquette, they are generally discouraged. Age-old and cultural conventions do not allow women to participate in economic structure. Therefore, it is necessary to differentiate between real Islamic teachings and general ethno-cultural practices, which are mislabelled as Islamic. (p.100)

Political participation of Muslim women is discussed under two levels: i) participation at general level means casting vote, to join and campaign for a political party or to support any candidate for an office, to stand for any position in the legislative assembly, to seek any other position of ministry and any other office except the headship of the state; and ii) participation at the level of headship.

According to the author, general political participation is like other activities; it is also a form of ibadah and part of the comprehensive Islamic way of life. However, participation of women at the level of headship is a highly controversial issue. It needs discussion at full length while keeping contemporary conditions in mind as well as the Islamic spirit.

Discussing educational rights to women in Islam, she concludes that acquisition of knowledge is made obligatory for both women and men. However, she clearly points out, the Islamic philosophy of knowledge is different from the western philosophy of knowledge. The purpose of seeking knowledge in Islam is to appreciate signs of Allah and to follow His injunctions in all walks of life.

In short, it is argued that although Islam has given many important rights to women to play a dynamic role in family and society, Muslim women are trapped at the crossroads.

On the one side, the extreme and influential trends in feminism attract them towards their own model of development and empowerment which is not Islamic and even harmful to them, and on the other, some of the writings of some scholars and some local cultural traditions of Muslims put a lot of pressure on them to remain passive, submissive and inactive in life. Thus, women often find themselves in a dilemma at the crossroads – whether to tread the path of extreme feminism or that of their own cultural traditionalism? Hence, it is the high time for Muslim women to be critical, analytical and reflective of both feminism and ethno-cultural traditionalism of Muslims and appreciate and follow the Islamic perspective in all aspects, including women’s issues. This alone would help them in their true development, real empowerment and success here and in the hereafter.

The author also feels an urgent need of an international Muslim women’s organisation for the development, empowerment and emancipation of Muslim women in its real sense. She has also given a detail draft for that, which includes aims and objectives, activities, and structure, etc.

This book is marked by simplicity and lucidity of language in spite of its academic nature. One can find reference to the Qur’an and Sunnah and Islamic history for each and every argument. However, critical analysis of neo-Islamic scholars and Islamic feminists is missing. Nevertheless, this is a work of reference must for libraries, academicians, sociologist and researchers as well students of Islamic Studies. Islamic activists can hardly afford to miss it, especially women and girls.