Between Feminism and Islam My Personal Journey from ‘Muslim Feminist’ to ‘Muslimah’

The author argues anyone who truly puts Islam before misogyny would enthusiastically seek to fight for women’s rights in accordance with Islamic principles, without having to identify as a ‘Feminist’.

As a young girl, I once asked the then-Emir of Kano Ado Bayero if I could take part in the biannual Eid durbar. He replied no, it was only for boys. When I asked him why not, he said simply that was how it was done. But even as a child, I found it unfair that riding horses during Eid was reserved for boys just because the culture says so; and so, when I discovered the word ‘feminist’, I was thrilled, thinking I had found my most definitive term, a validation of my beliefs and advocacies.

It was no surprise that, in 2018, I decided to write a thesis titled 'How to be a Muslim feminist' for my undergraduate degree from the American University of Paris. Throughout the paper, I emphasized that my definition of a Muslim feminist is anyone who is ‘as much a feminist as Islam allows he or she to be’. In other words, such a person could be a Muslim, Christian or a Jew who is a feminist in accordance with Islamic principles—and my ideas argued extensively to that effect. I chose to investigate my belief system, learning about the religion of Islam through a ‘feminist’ lens: What are the rights of the Muslim woman? Are Muslim women oppressed? Why are female voices silenced in Islamic debates? Why does Islam require two female witnesses in the place of one male? Why are men a degree above women? Why is polygamy allowed, but not polyandry? My questions were driven by a desire for gender equality–and not the search for knowledge–and for this reason, I convinced myself I was feminist, even though I was Muslim by birth. By the time I submitted the thesis, I had learned that I could accommodate all the different aspects of myself into a single identity. I became a ‘Muslim feminist’ and I began to introduce myself as such.

Despite these valid grounds for women’s rights, writing my thesis, I also discovered that many people who claimed to be feminists did so for reasons completely detached from Islam.

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