Faith-Based Feminism

By Daisy Khan

RELIGION - If God had desired to exclude women from equal relationship with the Divine and essential participation in fashioning human societies, God would have created an all-male humanity. Of course, God did not. Instead, from the beginning of time, women have served indispensable and instrumental roles in founding religions, spreading justice, and building civilizations. It is this legacy that we draw upon for faith-based activism.

My faith empowers me as a woman, and it inspires my activism. I am not alone. In fact, I consider myself one humble inheritor of the grand legacy of American women's faith-based activism. From Harriet Tubman to Susan B. Anthony to Amelia Boynton Robinson, faithful women throughout American history have shaken up the status quo, driving some of our country's most remarkable examples of broad political and social change, including the abolitionist, women's suffrage, and civil rights movements. This great American story of women compelled by their faith to struggle for their freedoms, as well as the freedoms of others, continues today with Muslim women's faith-based activism.

Unfortunately, many Americans assume that Islam oppresses women or renders them of lower value. On the contrary, my faith unequivocally declares my equal value as a woman. Islam instituted revolutionary change in women's status and rights. The Prophet Muhammad was a radical feminist of his time and an ardent activist for women's improved position in his Arabian society, advocating for their right to own property, obtain divorce, and procure inheritance, just to name a few. Similarly, Islamic history is full of powerful, influential, and exemplary women. In the Prophet's own life, one finds his wife Khadijah, who supported him - emotionally and economically - during the most difficult years after the religion was founded, and 'Aishah, whose political activism and religious knowledge left an indelible stamp on the tradition.

The remarkable contributions of women as scholars and teachers of sacred text is an impressive record reflected throughout Islamic history. For example, in Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam, Oxford University scholar Dr. Muhammad Akram Nadwi demonstrates how over eight-thousand prominent Muslim women scholars shaped early Islamic thought. Even today, Muslim women in both Muslim-majority countries and as part of minority communities have a rich legacy of excellence in their roles as political, social, and spiritual leaders, artists, professionals, scholars, activists, and caregivers. Many Americans would be surprised to know that five Muslim-majority countries have been led by Muslim women since 1990.

Nevertheless, I would be naïve to contend that Muslim women do not face gender-based inequality in various cultures. Yet, we must be careful to avoid conflating Islam and its core teachings on women with the actions of some Muslims. I do not blame people for this misconception because I recognize that the ignorance or misinterpretation of Islam frequently results in the discrimination and disempowerment of women. However, what we have seen in places like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan is the exploitation and deep misunderstanding of Islam and the prophets' teachings.

In response, we can witness an important revival in Muslim women's face-based activism. One such example is an initiative I have spearheaded: the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equity ( WISE represents a global, diverse movement of Muslim women that are using their faith in Islam, both as inspiration and justification, to empower Muslim women. WISE is one manifestation of this larger trend.

Like innumerable women in this country, my faith has compelled me to assertively and unapologetically pursue peace and justice, both as an empowered woman to secure women's human rights and as an active citizen for the betterment of society and humanity. In doing so, I walk in the giant footsteps of Tubman, Anthony, and Robinson, and Khadijah, 'Aishah, and the muhaddithat.

About Islam & Feminism:

I am a Muslim and a Feminist

Muslim Women Studying for the Future

Behind the Veil, a Muslim Feminist

Disobedient Muslim Women

Islam and Feminism: Are the barriers coming down?

Taliban and Afghan Women

Islamic Feminism: What's in a Name?

The War, the Women, the West

Little Mosque on the Prairie

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