Can Islam Be Compatible With Feminism?

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There is an opinion that the life of Muslim women is full of restrictions, which are allegedly direct regulations of the Islamic faith. It is believed that a religious woman is a priori at the mercy of patriarchal norms, can not voluntarily make a decision and consciously observe practices. Part of men believes that women who confessing Islam have an inferior position in family and society. Some claim that it is written in the Quran and Allah wants adherents to follow it while others say that there are religious discourses such as penetrating traditions which are presented under Islamic principles (Brown, 2006; Hoel, 2013; Nicolau, 2014). This paper adopts a feminist perspective to argue that the Quran provides equal rights for both genders but unfortunately, women’s right is limited because everything is presented with man’s incorrect interpretation of holy texts. There will be explained the religious discourses that make misconceptions in Islam by providing evidence about women’s freedom of choice and independence.

One of the stereotypes for non-Muslim people is that women in Islam are not allowed to receive an education and to have an occupation. Such statements are based on ignorance of the standards prescribed by Islam and are based on attributing to Islam the wrong understanding and wrong practice that comes, in particular from pre-Islamic customs. After careful study of the main sources of Islam, it becomes clear that in Islam women were not locked up and their rights have not been violated in any way based on the following reasons. One of the most important rights that Islam granted to women was the right to education. Both Brown (2006) and Nicolau (2014) share similar perspectives towards the right to education is a duty for all Muslims. In this way, the search for knowledge is a sacred responsibility for every person who professes Islam. The most likely reason for this is that a person who is educated will know how to distinguish good from bad, truth from false and be blessed by Allah (Nicolau, 2014). Another widespread belief is that after a marriage Muslim woman should stay at home and do households chores. In Islam, a woman no matter married or not is considered a person with her own rights, not just an attachment to her husband. For example, she has the full right to own and control her property and earnings even after marriage. According to Brown (2006), it is man's responsibility to support and provide finances for the family, which shows that a woman is not obliged to work. Nevertheless, if a woman decides to work, she can do it, but the main thing is that it does not harm her physical condition and benefits society. If a woman decides to work, she has the right to spend her money only on herself or her family and neither father or husband has the right to dispose of her money (Brown, 2006). In view of the above, it can be seen that women in Islam can study and work without any restrictions while stereotypes in western countries draw wrong conclusions about women's freedom.

Islam supports women's freedom in choosing how to dress up and the veil is a way for Muslim women to express themselves. However, today one of the debates between Western and Islamic feminists is about appearance. Most people are outraged by the 'veil'. It is the religious clothing of Muslim women which closes their body from the rest of the world. Hoel (2013) observes that all Muslim veiled bodies for western people indicate that women are passive and suppressed. It is believed that woman is obliged to wear a hijab while interviewees have commented (as cited in Brown, 2006) that veil is the sign of Muslim women’s right as they can be sure that they have legitimate and safe access to the public-private field. A possible reason for wearing hijab is establishing resistance to western cultural norms. Moreover, wearing the hijab is everyone’s choice and women should not cover their bodies against their will. According to Nicolau (2014), during the women’s emancipation movement in Egypt, the first school for girls was opened and they had an opportunity not to wear a veil. Traditional Muslim women disagreed and condemned them while Muslim feminists use the Quran as proof to persuade that there is no text that obliges to wear hijab. In addition, before Islam, in the Middle East, there were ideas of privacy, spiritual purity and modesty. For this reason, women were forced to dress privately. With the advent of Islam, which also preached modesty, the requirement to cover your face from outsiders was justified by religion, although there are no such strict rules about clothing in Islam. Therefore, the above examples support the notion that there is no limitation for women in dressing and it is all about distorted thinking of the older generation because of the established traditions before Islam.

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Relationships in the family should be built on the decent treatment of each other and all violence is forbidden in Islam, especially against a woman. However, some people are convinced that man can beat their wife and it is legitimate in Islam. According to the Quran, men have rights to physically assault their wives, which leads to the assumption of men's dominance over women (Nicolau, 2014). As pointed out by Hoel (2013), forced marriages, female reproductive mutilation, honour-killings and sexual violence considered as legislative practices for the non-Muslim world. The main argument against assault is that there are different experts’ translations and the reason for this is their different perception of the holy text (Brown, 2006). According to Brown (2006), Qur’an highlights that husbands can not leave a mark or damage the wife’s skin in any way. This is a correct representation in Islam of what should be. Although, in practice, there is a problem with women's rights which exists in male understanding and interpretation of the Quran in many countries including Muslim countries. Therefore, women’s rights are inviolable which should not be denied and not contested because men and women are equal which gives them all the relevant rights to protect their own life, honour, property and dignity. Furthermore, Nicolau (2014) can point out that women in Islam are to some extent even higher than a man by having superior human qualities. Women in Islam have an important place in relation to Allah and society. It is considered as a treasure that requires care and a gentle attitude. Hence, a woman creates and regenerates life by nature. She gives birth to new people, educates them and prepares them for life in this world.

Despite the above misinterpretation, the polygamy is allowed by Quran which is inherently unequal and therefore morally objectionable. Quran allows men to have up to four wives while a woman can marry one man. (Nicolau, 2014). Nicolau (2014) highlights that a woman would have a cruel punishment such as imprisonment till the death if she cheated her husband. However, man acts as normal after infidelity and man does not think twice before with which woman, he wants to have sex behind wives’ back (Hoel, 2013). In addition to the above, there is a culture with patriarchal characteristics and their influence. As pointed out by Brown (2006) people with a wrong cultural background consider forced marriages as normal however forced marriages are inappropriate under Islamic law. Furthermore, it is argued that woman can marry on Muslim man whereas man can have a wife who does not confess Islam (Brown, 2006). Nonetheless, according to the translator (as cited in Brown, 2006), it is the husband’s responsibility to teach religion to his wife. Fortunately, as observed by Nicolau (2014), the percentage of polygamous marriages is decreasing. Along with this, this is an obligation for a Muslim man to treat all his wives equally and it is financially difficult because each of them should have a separate house and be provided with appropriate to her social conditions (Nicolau, 2014).

After careful consideration, it can be seen that women and men were created the same and the biological difference does not give any reason for their differences in preaching, punishments and rewards (Nicolau, 2014). Supporters of Islamic feminism are sure that the source for Muslim activists can only be sacred texts. In their opinion, the prophet Muhammad protected women, and the Quran gave them the same rights as men almost one thousand three hundred years ago. However, Islamic literacy is low in our society and the perception of Islam goes through certain countries, where in fact it is not Islam that prevails, but the principles and customs that were before Islam, and therefore there is a distorted view. In order for a woman to know and appreciate what Islam has given her, it is necessary that knowledge about this universal religion reaches each of adherent. Women should be informed about their rights, which are provided for in the laws of any country and in the Quran. Consequently, by raising the level of faith and knowledge among women, it will contribute to the spiritual development of the younger generation and all stereotypes will be destroyed. A10[image: ]


  1. Brown, K. (2006). Realising Muslim women's rights: The role of Islamic identity among British Muslim women. Journal Women's Studies International Forum, 29(4), 417–430. DOI:
  2. Hoel, N. (2013). Corporeal bodies, religious lives, and ‘women's rights’: Engaging Islamic body politics among Muslim women in South Africa. Journal Agenda, 27(4), 79-90. DOI:
  3. Nicolau, I. (2014). Women’s right in Islam. Journal Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, 6(1), 711–720. Retrieved from
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