Brooke Lee, CASWE Graduate Student Representative, McGill University
Islam. Feminism. Bring either of these topics up at a party and there might be some eye-rolling, heavy sighing and even a desperate attempt to change the subject. Ok, there is one similarity to start, but the following list is actually meant to decrease the gap between these two structures that seem so opposite of each other. Isn’t it true that Islam is totally oppressive against women? Isn’t it also true that Feminism stands completely against organized religion and power structures in general? How is it possible then, that these two things could be related to each other in any way???
1. THEY both DISCUSS ONE ‘ALL-POWERFUL’ FORCE
Allah is the all powerful force in Islam; society is the all powerful force in Feminism.
2. EACH is PERCEIVED as ONE GROUP yet is ACTUALLY SPLIT into MANY DIVISIONS
Islam is divided into many different sects, the two main ones being Sunni and Shi’a. A sect is a subgroup; in this case a religious one. Feminism is divided into many different categories (radical, liberal, environmentalist, etc.). Both Islam and Feminism strive to be whole; yet, there are still many divisions within them.
3. EACH is COMPOSED of a SISTERHOOD
Islam is often mistaken for an oppressive force against women. In reality, the respect of women is highlighted repeatedly in the Qur’an. To start, the term ‘sisterhood’ is used to express a connection of women in both Islam and Feminism.
4. THE WAY that both are VIEWED is often VERY RESTRICTIVE
Islam is commonly mistaken for an ‘Arabic’ religion, when it is actually meant for everyone; Feminism is commonly mistaken for a ‘female, white, middle-class,’ social movement, when it is actually meant for everyone.
5. THEY both ENCOURAGE INTELLECTUALISM
Both Islam and Feminism encourage the pursuit of knowledge and they are based upon a wide range of collected philosophies. As can been seen from this list, many philosophies are shared between Islam and Feminism.
6. THEY both FACE CONSTANT SLANDER
Both Islam and Feminism have bad reputations for being violent and hateful forces in the world. Muslims are viewed as crazy terrorists who kill in the name of Allah and feminists are viewed as angry, man-hating lesbians. Ignorance keeps these misrepresentations alive.
7. WHEN we TAKE a CLOSER LOOK…
Both structures are about humility, respect and equality among humanity. Humility means to be humble; to hold one’s individual self with lesser importance than that of the greater good.
TO EXPAND ON THAT…
8. THEY both EXIST to BETTER our COMMON HUMANITY
Religions (like Islam) help individuals to better themselves and in turn, to better society overall. Feminism is also about empowering oneself and bettering society overall. Both structures place value on building a strong community.
9. THEY both ENCOURAGE MODESTY
Both feminism and Islam embrace modesty in terms of physical beauty; Muslim women wear hijab and Muslim men wear a ‘mental hijab’ (they lower their gaze). Feminists encourage women to embrace their natural beauty. In terms of materialism, Islam despises waste and extravagance and Feminism despises economic capitalism (a.k.a. the excessive waste of consumerism; for example, sweatshop factory production).
10. THEY both ENCOURAGE a HIGH RESPECT for NATURE
Both feminism and Islam encourage the ethical treatment of animals, that is, they both value all life forms on this planet. This commonly appears in the form of both vegetarianism and environmentalism for feminists and in a Halal diet for Islam. Halal is an Arabic word that means ‘permissible’ and in terms of diet it means: an animal has been slaughtered in the most humane/least painful way possible before it is consumed.
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So there you have it. In social activist research, the comparison of Islam and Feminism is the perfect candidate for a ‘null hypothesis.’ Null hypothesis is the expectation that two things will have no relation to each other; whatsoever. On the contrary, it can be seen that Islam and Feminism are actually carrying a similar message. Why do we care about this? Well, this is beneficial in the sense that both Islam and Feminism have the potential to be viewed as strong and positive institutions in our society. Unfortunately, more often than not, they are viewed as the opposite of this.
This must change.
Both Islam and Feminism are good for humanity and they are actually compatible with each other. Together, these structures are even stronger and more empowering for individuals in society than one is on its own. There is no need for Islam and Feminism to stand apart, but there is certainly a need for them to stand together.