If we go by the definition of feminism as an ideology to empower women, there is no difference. However, historically speaking, Muslim women lost the rights they had due mainly to the tribalisation of Islam, which was dominated by patriarchal values.
In the West, on the other hand, women had no rights but won them through a great deal of struggle known as ‘feminism’. But there are significant differences between Islamic and western feminism. Islamic feminism is based on certain non-negotiable values, i.e. equality with honor and dignity. Freedom comes with a certain responsibility in Islamic whereas in the West freedom tends to degenerate into licentiousness, not in law but certainly in social and cultural practices. In western culture, sexual freedoms have become a matter of human right and sex has become a matter of enjoyment, losing its sanctity as an instrument of procreation.
Though the Quran does not prescribe hijab or niqab (covering the whole body with a loose garment, including the face), as generally thought, it lays down certain strict norms for sexual behavior. Both men and women have right to gratification (a woman has as much right as a man) but within a marital framework. There is no concept of freedom for extramarital sex in any form. In a marital framework, it is an act of procreation and has much sanctity attached to it.
It is important to emphasize that in a patriarchal society men decided the norms of sexual behavior. It was theorized that a man has greater urge for sex and hence needed multiple wives and that a woman tended to be passive and hence had to be content with one husband at a time. The Quran’s approach is very different. It is not a greater or lesser degree of urge which necessitates multiple or monogamous marriages.
There is emphatic emphasis placed on a monogamous marriage in the Quranic verses 4:3 and 4:129. Multiple marriages were permitted only to take care of widows and orphans and not to satisfy man’s greater urge. Verse 4:129 gives the norm of monogamy and not to leave the first wife in suspense or negligence. Thus, as far as the Quran is concerned, sexual gratification is a non-negotiable right for both man and woman tied in wedlock. Hence a divorcee and a widow are also permitted to remarry and gratify their urge.
In western capitalist countries, woman’s dignity has been compromised and she has been reduced to a commodity to be exploited. Her semi-naked postures and her sexuality are exploited commercially and unabashedly. It is totally against the concept of woman’s honor and dignity. Unfortunately, many western feminists do not consider this objectionable but accept it as part of women’s freedom. Some (though not as many) even advocate prostitution as a woman’s right to earn a living.
This is against the concept of Islamic feminism, which while sanctioning sexual gratification to be as much of a woman’s basic right as a man’s prohibits extramarital sexual liaison. This, on one hand, upholds a woman’s honor and dignity, and on the other, exalts marital relations to the level of sanctity, restricting it for procreation. Islamic feminists have to observe certain norms which western feminists are not obliged to.
INSAF BROHI, MEHAR,
Dadu, November 18.