Dilemmas of Islamic and Secular Feminists and Feminisms

By Ahmed-Ghosh, Huma | Journal of International Women's Studies, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Dilemmas of Islamic and Secular Feminists and Feminisms


Ahmed-Ghosh, Huma, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

This paper explores ways in which a multifaceted understanding of Islamic feminism can contribute to productive dialogue about the future of Muslim women in both Islamic and secular states. Towards that end I will discuss the numerous interpretations of Islamic, secular, collaborative and hybrid feminisms that have surfaced in Islamic and non-Islamic nations. There is a pragmatic value to developing a standard for Islamic feminism that can be "modem" and held up to more oppressive local conditions/politics and their extremes of patriarchy. To do this, one needs a comprehensive review of what local oppressions exist in specific countries and what feminist angles can be brought together in a hybridized version. One needs to look at what coalitional functions can occur in different communities which can bring together Islamic, secular, and other discourses in a hybridized form that attend better to women's lived lives and sense of personhood.

Keywords: Islamic feminism, secular feminism, hybrid feminism

Introduction

This paper explores ways in which a multifaceted understanding of Islam can contribute to productive dialogue about the future of Muslim women in both Islamic and secular states. Towards that end I will discuss the numerous interpretations of Islamic, secular, collaborative and hybrid feminisms that have surfaced in Islamic and non-Islamic nations. In this paper, Muslim women's heterogeneous realities challenge mainstream feminisms, since these women's lives as products of local cultures and politics, do not fit into typical feminist ideological compartments. Muslim women's lives also do not conform to the rigid parameters of a secular or Islamic nation but are impacted by women's class, region, ethnicity and local politics. These variables could potentially give women the option to negotiate their status and rights contrary to the dominant ideology, but since 9/11, the current trend toward Islamization of nation-states tends toward a shrinking of this space.

In this paper I am advocating collaboration among Islamic and secular feminisms as a way of advancing the understanding of lived lives of Muslim women in Islamic states and other Muslim communities. There is a pragmatic value to developing a standard for Islamic feminism that can be "modem" and held up to more oppressive local conditions/politics and their extremes of patriarchy. To do this, one needs a comprehensive review of what local oppressions exist in specific countries and what feminist angles can be brought together in a hybridized version. One needs to look at what coalitional functions can occur in different communities which can bring together Islamic, secular, and womanist discourses in a hybridized form that attend better to women's lived lives and sense of personhood.

The reality for all women, religious or non-religious, is that they live in patriarchal cultures. Under patriarchy, there are situations where women willingly conform to Islamic norms (even if these norms are seen as oppressive by others) engaging in what I term "patriarchy trading," (3) which allows them to claim some agency (see Ahmed-Ghosh 2004). It also needs to be recognized that, in the discourse on Muslim women's rights, lives and status there is a contestation of global masculinities, and power games are played out through control over women's bodies. (see Ghosh, 2008) Recently, this contestation has become very obvious but it is not a new phenomena. As Bodman and many historians of Islamic regions have pointed out, "Since the Crusades, Western Europeans have tended to regard the Mediterranean Sea as a frontier to be defended against an alien religion." (1998:1) This, combined with resistance to occupation and colonialism of the Middle East and North African countries has lead to historical and political hostilities which continue to be played out today. Thus, one can also historicize the "political use" of women's bodies since the time of colonization. …

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