Gender wars are not new. They come and go, evolve into a new name, with a new face, a new “revamped ideology” and a new twist, since the beginning of time. Not to be left out, by any means necessary, despite the thousand years of “civilization” backing us, is the post-modern world we are currently living in now.
Modern world feminism was born in the West two hundred years ago as a response to hundreds of years of patriarchy where women were denied their rights economically, socially and politically. Extreme examples include whereby a menstruating woman would be viewed as filthy and dangerous in equal measure, and were completely isolated as a result; Athenians kept their women in chambers at home, only allowed to mix around with slaves, as a woman’s role in the world was perceived merely to produce children; let’s not even begin to talk about the Roman practice of the Vestal Virgins.
Male hegemony was so perverse that even when Christianity came, it did not improve the fate of women; women were believed to be the source of all sorts of evils and bad luck then. As a result witch hunters were everywhere, justifying their acts against women with the most atrocious of claims. This continued all the way into the Dark Ages.
This is not to say that there were no feminist movements even then. Initially focusing on eliminating women suffrage in the pre modern era, feminist movements quickly gained momentum, peaking during the age of enlightenment in the 18th century to progress into including cultural inequalities, gender norms and the role of women in society.
But despite the room to grow and the enviable force feminists are often associated with, in these current times, they are nowhere near the solution that they seek; namely peace between genders. In fact the post modern feminists have taken upon themselves to also shoulder more responsibilities like LGBT rights and reproductive justice.
The reason for this lies in the fact that most often than not what feminists seek are equality both in chances and outcomes between men and women. This inadvertently narrows down the meaning of success into something that is very restricted in its temporal definition.
This is in contrast to women in the Muslim world whose place in society is defined by the divine knowledge that is Quran. This explains why feminists find they constantly need to redefine themselves, debating again and again on their fundamentals as time progresses, getting more and more angsty along the way.
Patriarchy also occurred in the Arabian peninsula, prior to the arrival of the Prophet s.a.w. Aishah r.a narrated Hadiths explaining how women were chosen for marriage back then of which most were not that far off from prostitution. Female progenies were killed in childhood, naked women were paraded around the Kaabah and virgins were given as sacrifices.
However, ultimately, the arrival of the prophet in the late 500s signalled the commencing of the Islamic empire and with it the absolute elimination of the paganism that were against the tenets of Islam. Included in these were the drastic improvements in how women were viewed and treated. Laws regarding marriage and aurah for example, quickly restored the honour of women in general.
The áyah describing how men and women are regarded as equals and are only differentiated by Allah in terms of their deeds, and the laws of inheritance raised the social standing of women to be at par to men. In addition to this, Islam duly recognizes the biological, physical as well as instinctive differences between a woman and a man through for example the áyah that mentions of how a man is stronger than a woman.
The Qurán is also scattered with mentions of heroines of the past such as Maryam and Yukabid, and the Hadith as a highly regarded source of knowledge is scattered with women narrators such as Aishah r.a and Umm Salamah. Elevated from paganism, Islam went on to produce one of the greatest and longest civilizations the world has ever known.
While Europe wallowed in the mire of the Dark Ages in the 1800s, Islam produced advances in science, mathematics, literature, medicine, architecture, religion as well as many other fields of discipline from as early as the 600s. These achievements are irrespective and in complete abandon of which sexes matter in which field. Women were scholars, doctors, palace secretaries, soldiers and advisors to kings long before education was even allowed to women in the west!
The end of World War II brought about modern feminism and introduced it to the Muslim world. The boom of globalisation in the 1980s hastened this process and with the advent of social media ideologies that were previously noted to be foreign and unidentifiable to our culture became a mere click away.
Being appealing by being modern and accommodative, feminist movements have attracted the young and Western educated effectively. A Muslim generation that lead their lives further and further from the classical teachings have also led to ignorance further deepening the rooting of this ideology.
Modern feminism encompasses a slew of ideologies, offshoots, and internal disagreements: radical feminism, cultural feminism, liberal feminism, anti-porn feminism, pro-sex feminism, third-wave feminism and womanism.
Out of all these, liberal feminism is the most prevalent and accepted more widely. Liberal feminists believe in the autonomy of the female character, personally and politically, with personal freedom as its fundamental value. Even though there are disagreements over the definition of freedom among liberals. And there again the core problem of the feminist movement arises again.
Has the inconsistency not dissuade you yet?
Islam has laid upon a woman the perfect mould and guide in the shape of the Qurán and the Syariah. She is given ample room to bloom and grow to her fullest potential as a Muslimah, in any field she seeks to excel in, from within a guaranteed protection that is divine in nature. History is witness to that.
What more can we ask? As Muslims we are liberated from the judging and ever changing definitions the world forces us to conform to. It is beyond the capability of a human being to obey to every whim and fancy of its mind, much less a whole bunch of current generation!
But being human, we are prone to yearnings, for the things we don’t have and things we wish for. These yearnings are not impeded as a Muslim, in contrast, it is encouraged, but it must be guided. Only then will it taste the fruition of what it seeks. Allah has promised us this.
O you who have believed, fear Allah and seek the means [of nearness] to Him and strive in His cause that you may succeed. (Al Maaidah: 35)
And the only way to fully understand is to empower ourselves with the true classical knowledge that the Prophet has taught His companions. Only through understanding the Qurán and Sunnah do we strengthen our beliefs enough to repudiate the flawed ideologies that change faces everyday and taunt us with their empty promises.
Dr Siti Nurhayati Adznan