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What is the Islamic Feminist Critique of Western Feminism?

Author: Christina Rebecca Prothmann

Table of Content
1. Introduction
1.1 Defining Western Feminism
1.2 Islamic Feminism
2. Islamic Feminist Critique of Western Feminism
2.1 Universalization of Western Woman’s Experience
2.2 The Construction of the ‘Third-World Woman’
2.3 The Role of Religion – It’s all Islam’s Fault!
3. Conclusion

1. Introduction

In 2012 a survey investigated what feminism meant to 1,300 women in the UK at that time. The majority of women reported the most important issues for them as: ‘Having real choice for women about our family, career and lives’, closely followed by ‘Equal rights and equal pay for men and women’. In short, feminism is closely associated with equal treatment in the professional sector, and the freedom to choose one’s path in life without external pressure (Netmums, 2012).

Another survey, conducted in 2010, questioned 2,152 Britons about their opinion on Islam. Of the total number of respondents, 69% stated that they believe Islam itself to be encouraging oppressive behaviour towards women (Mail Online, 2010). Yet another survey, from 2005, conducted in eight predominantly Muslim countries, examined how Muslim women feel towards their religion in terms of it being a source of oppression. The results from this survey illustrated that the vast majority of Muslim women do not feel oppressed and do not see gender discrimination as an issue in their respective country. Most of the respondents associated gender equality with Western ideals, but when asked whether Western values could facilitate progress in their countries, in terms of the economy, politics and gender relations, a clear majority negated this (The New York Times Online, 2006).

The opinion trends emerging in these three surveys do not seem to fit together. Britons define feminism as sexual freedom and see Islam as inherently oppressive, whereas the Muslim women questioned did not perceive their own societies as oppressive towards them, and disagree with the panacea for gender discrimination in the implementation of what they perceive as Western values. The relationship between these seemingly opposing perceptions and outlooks on feminism, Islam and what emancipation entails, are examined in the this paper by analysing the Islamic feminist conception of Western feminism. This is done by firstly defining the broad concepts of Western and Islamic feminism and secondly exploring the Islamic feminist critique of Western feminism by looking at the issues of universalization, the construction of the ‘Third World Woman’ and lastly the role ascribed to religion within feminism.