Islam and feminism

Although is not explicitly stated, many Muslim men seem to blame women for their sexual needs, as they force them to wear the hijab and niqab, so they will not seduce them with their bodies or provoke their desire. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

By Maryam Assaf / Gatestone Institute

Lately, western Muslim “feminists” such as Linda Sarsour or Yasmin Abdel-Magied claim that Islam is a “feminist religion” that respects women’s rights. “Islam to me,” says Abdel-Magied, a Sudanese-Australian author, “is the most feminist religion”.

By claiming that Islam is “feminist,” these self-appointed advocates seem to be trying to convince others that Islam is keeping up with modernity, human rights, and democratic values. This, sadly is a lie, and one that unfortunately seems told to facilitate the assimilation of Islam into Western countries and to improve its image.

The religion of Islam is supported by Sharia, a set of religious laws that organize the lives of all Muslims. Sharia — originally, in Arabic, “The Path,” but in modern times meaning Allah’s laws and recommendations — is based on the Quran and the hadiths, which are sayings and deeds of the prophet Muhammad, regarded by many Muslims as the perfect man.

Under Sharia, however, Muslim women enjoy fewer rights than men. In inheritance for instance, “The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females”(Quran 4:11). This law is applied even in countries such as Tunisia or Algeria, in which the legal system is not based on Sharia. As a result, Muslim women habitually inherit far less money than men, an injustice that virtually forces them, economically, to stay submissive to men. It is also a situation that has built into it the reason this law is never repealed by any parliament.

Another “tradition” perpetuated by Sharia is polygamy: allowing Muslim men to have up to four wives:

“And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphan-girls, then marry (other) women of your choice, two or three, or four…” Quran (4:3).

Countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, under the pretext of “practicing Sharia,” have thereby legalized — and thereby even further cemented — the submission of women.

In addition, both men and women from their earliest age, are indoctrinated by a male-dominated society to think that staying subjugated is part of a woman’s fulfillment of her duty toward both her husband and her religion.

Women in Islam are often regarded as men’s possessions — here to satisfy and please them whenever their men wish:

“Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth [righteousness] for yourselves.” (Quran 2:223).

The concept of women as objects of desire has often led to complicated outcomes:

“Beautified for people is the love of that which they desire — of women and sons, heaped-up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land. That is the enjoyment of worldly life, but Allah has with Him the best return.” (Quran 3:14).

From it, “Jihad al-Nikah”, sexual Jihad, has arisen. “Nikah”, in Arabic, actually has multiple meanings, which include temporary marriage as well as offering oneself as a “comfort” to Muslim fighters on the battlefield. Young women recruited by ISIS for “Jihad al-Nikah” are basically “sex toys,” concubines, pleasuring terrorists for a few hours.

Another setback is that Muslim women are actually ordered to be obedient toward their husbands, who are considered superior to them: “But the men have a degree over them [in responsibility and authority”]” (Quran 2:228).

Sahih al-Bukhari Book 48 Hadith 826 states that:

“Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:

“The Prophet said, “Isn’t the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?” The women said, “Yes.” He said, “This is because of the deficiency of a woman’s mind.”


“Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:

“Once Allah’s Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o ‘Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Apostle ?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.”

If women try to rebel, they are permitted to be abused by men both physically and psychologically:

“Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them.” (Quran 4:34)

These are just some of the ways women are led to remain, obedient and resigned, under men’s control. Many Muslim men treat their women as if they were servants, concubines and sometimes even objects, but, not as if they were human beings with rights.

Women are also sometimes just demonized — used as a metaphor for undesirable situations: “Indeed, those who do not believe in the Hereafter name the angels female names” (Quran 53:27).

Women are often perceived by many Muslim men as perfidious creatures who use cunning and trickery to compensate for their physical weakness. The men seemingly take no responsibility for their actions.

Although is not explicitly stated, Muslim men, in this way, seem to blame women for their sexual needs, as they force them to wear the hijab and niqab, so they will not seduce them with their bodies or provoke their desire.

Paradoxically, a study was led by Gallup and the “Coexistence[1]” foundation, in twelve Muslim countries[2], to see how to improve relationships with Western countries and fight against received ideas. The study showed that, contrary to what the Western world thinks, most Muslim women living under Sharia law apparently do not feel oppressed.

They are told that Western females’ emancipation and gender equality mean denying fundamental values, such as family and the dignity of females. Many Muslim women therefore feel superior to Western women because what Westerns consider “oppression”, is for these Muslim women, a protection against deviating from “the right path.” These women believe that they are regarded as valorous and valued more greatly by the men who oppress them. Many have even been convinced that their forced seclusion is for their own good. Staying on “the right path,” nevertheless, means staying subjugated to males and their authority. Sadly, staying subjugated means moral decay.

Recently, when Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi announced his intention to establish equality in Tunisian women’s inheritance, and abolish the law that prohibits them from marrying non-Muslim men, these decisions created a huge national uproar. They were strongly opposed, especially by women, who said they wanted to follow Allah’s orders to the letter.

The passage of these laws raised the question if those countries, such as Tunisia, want to be governed by civil or religious law.

On July 28, Tunisia actually passed a law protecting women against rape and domestic violence — but the ruling “does not set out provisions” to provide funds in a timely way for women’s shelters or assistance.

Many Muslim women consider following Western principles and values, which contravene Islamic values, immoral. Western values such as gender equality, women’s emancipation, and secularism often are in direct violation of Islam’s values, in which males are considered superior to females, and dictate that Islam should exist as the only religion. Women often therefore prefer to stay with the known, the principles of Islam.

Another important reason Muslims women accept remaining subjugated to males is that according to Sharia, it is males who should go out to work and earn a living, while, women must stay at home to take care of their families and do the household chores. Many women apparently like the idea of being supported by a husband and not having to find an outside job. Nowadays, a large number of young women do not even finish their studies, but instead stay home to wait for their “prince charming” to get married. They would apparently prefer to be their husband’s “slave” and “concubine” to working to support themselves is probably often the main reason they reject Western values such as feminism and gender equality.

In Muslim male-dominated societies, which consider that husbands actually “complete” women, some males even take advantage of the needy situation of single women, to abuse them. That is a significant reason why some women do not seek divorce and stay in unwanted relationships — because their husbands represent social protection for them.

Thus, Sharia laws educate Muslim women not only to be resigned, but even to accept injustice and to consider it normal — if not valuable. They are thereby making a significant contribution, alongside with men and religion, to locking themselves in a lifelong imprisonment.

Women’s oppression has a long history, doubtless long before the advent of modern religions. As men are physically stronger, women have needed them for protection. Males may have used their power to abuse women, who then accepted their supposed inferiority to men. Progressively, an entire male-dominated culture was established, making it even easier for men to dominate women even more. Inequality in opportunities and access to education for men only boosted this dominant relationship by making males more capable of economic independence. This way, women became financially dependent on men who hold the fate of their women in their hands. This arrangement, reinforced by religion, made sexism look innocent by putting it in a religious framework.

In conclusion: please note that these thoughts are not a criticism of Islam. I do not strive against Islam or any other religion. I am a believing Muslim, but a bit curious and always asking questions.


Maryam Assaf is a young Muslim woman based in the Middle East.

[1] The Saudi engineer “Mohamed Abdellatif” has founded ” Coexistence” as a charity foundation to promote understanding between Abrahamic religions, through dialogue, learning, studies and researches.

[2] Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.



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