"Discover Islam" week discusses feminism and religion

    On February 26, UW-Madison Professor Asifa Quraishi-Landes and Hind Makki, a fellow at USC’s American Center for Religion and Civic Culture, spoke about Feminism and Islam as part of Muslim-cultural Student Association’s “Discover Islam Week.”

    In “The Many Faces of Feminism: Secular and Religious,” which was co-sponsored by Northwestern’s Panhellenic Association (PHA) and the Multicultural Greek Council (MGC), NU Sociology Professor Ann Orloff introduced the two speakers.

    For Orloff, Makki and Quraishi-Landes represent “a group of perspectives that have been important and seek to bring a global perspective to feminism.”

    Orloff introduced the idea of agency in feminism and a tradition of struggling for political freedom.

    “The situation of women can be a good index of political struggle in the modern world,” Orloff said. “It has been especially significant… around questions of Islam and the western tradition.”

    Makki presented a case for a more inclusive version of feminism.

    “I believe that in the modern era, the Muslim world and the European world have engaged with each other in ways that … negatively affected Muslim women,” Makki said.

    Makki discussed her background as a Muslim of Sudanese descent and the roles of her mother and grandmother in shaping her views.

    “When my mother came to the United States, she was shocked that a woman’s wage was not equal to a male wage,” Makki said. “She was surprised that she had to push back against ideologies that she didn’t in Sudan.”

    Makki used her personal experiences to place the feminist movement in context.

    “Defining who is a feminist is critical for human rights,” she said. “Feminism and the fight for equal rights is not defined the same for different groups at different times.”

    According to Makki, the diversity of the Muslim community can help the feminist movement be more inclusive and diverse.

     “When you look at Muslim women, there is a biculturality and biraciality,” Makki said. “Muslim women … are not a monolith, but [part of] the most racially diverse community in the U.S.”

    In Makki’s view, the marginalization of Muslim women has been tied to a colonial history.

    “I think it’s critical to think about our own living history,” Makki said. “[Colonization] became part of the international narrative around the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

    Quraishi-Landes, a renowned Islamic law scholar, addressed the cultural clashes between secular European feminists and Muslim feminists. In her view, well-meaning efforts by secular feminists can often hinder rather than help women accused of violations of Islamic law. Instead, feminists should appeal to classical interpretations of the Shari’ah, which holds more weight in Muslim countries.

    “Classical Islamic law insists that women have the right to an education,” she said. “Women have a right to own property and the right to fight on the front lines in combat. All the jurists insist that [a man] may not harm [his] wife.”

    Quraishi-Landes focused on the need for a broader understanding of strategy within the feminist movement.

    “Strategy is one of the faces of feminism,” she said. “I’ve been seeing a lack of strategy on women’s rights.”

    According to Quraishi-Landes, Shari’ah Law is often misunderstood and can be used to help women in Muslim countries.

    “There is a presumption that Shari’ah is bad for women, [which] is a widespread attitude that is part of the problem,” she said. 

    As described by Quraishi-Landes, Shari’ah law is flexible, but the classical interpretations are generally the most authoritative. The enterprise of rediscovering classical interpretations of Islamic law and using them to help women in the modern world is integral to Quraishi-Landes’ vision of feminism.

    “All of this work is a face of feminism. It’s a Muslim face, a Shari’ah-minded face … very different from what people typically think of.”


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