Islamic feminism: ‘If gender equality is reached, will it lessen the power of the man?’

“They say that I’m not supposed to be here. Apparently I’m not even supposed to stand here. And hold the attention that I command here. But I am here”. The spoken word by the religious, feminist MCs Poetic Pilgrimage is made to condemn the interpretations of Islam, which marks as foundation of Islamic feminism. It is used to empower women and challenge them to actively take a stand against the patriarchal system that is not prevailed by the Quran but rather by men within the religion but also outside the religion of Islam by men who benefit from the power structures.

Bönestund Foto: Fatou Touray, Afropé
Bönestund Foto: Fatou Touray, Afropé

Non-Muslims as well as Muslims have frequently discussed women’s bodies as well as their choice of clothing. The way women handle their bodies is seen as a direct reflection of social norms. Women wearing hijabs are commonly seen in the West as oppressed as well as a security issue when wearing niqab or burqa because the face is covered. These thoughts are grounded on a stereotype that has been placed on Muslim women for a long time. In contrast to West’s effort to disgrace the veil, hijabs are worn more today than ever. It serves as a divine symbol of faith but also of emancipation from the western world and its norms of female behaviour. It is of high importance to underline that the hijab is a personal choice and therefore if a woman choose to wear it, no feminists nor men, should undermine the free choice a woman holds to wear a hijab or not. The reasons why a woman veils according to the articles and books that I have read are many as well as different, which signalizes how broad the reasons to wear a hijab may be as well as the reactions to it. What I found interesting was an article by Sobral (2012) that emphasized how the hijab can be used, despite its main divine purpose, as a resistance materiality. A resistance to Western norms as well as Islamophobia, despite the threats they may receive because of the hijab. A statement that upholds integrity that cannot and foremost should not be broken down.

Foto: Fatou Touray, Afropé
Foto: Fatou Touray, Afropé

As I read about a young MC duo use their own voices to educate their own societies in resistance to what is taught in Western media about Islam as well as acknowledging inequality towards Muslim women. They reject the idea to mimic the former colonizers and become a reflection, which is common in a globalized world that values the West higher. With this in mind they create lyrics that elevates the Muslim woman to create their own version of what they want to be and thereby excluding other people’s opinion. By mixing Rap and Islam with a feministic touch, a hybridity is created. With a sense of modernity, active subjects as the duo Poetic Pilgrimage use rap with an agency to empower their own lives as an answer as well as resistance to the rulers. Islamic feminism is criticizing both the Western system as well as gender inequality within Islam. Even though there has been a slight integration of racial and sexual issues by western feminists, the issue of religion in relation to feminism continues to lack from a mainstream feminism, which thereby emphasizes the importance of young rap duos as the Poetic Pilgrimage.

It is important to point out that inequality does not lay within Islam per se, but rather with religious interpretations that are made to benefit men. Patriarchal systems are universal and are frequently shown in the western world. Feminism has to create a discourse that includes instead of objectifies the Other, which cannot be done without insight of the self. If the aim of one’s feminism is not to liberate all women, it cannot be called feminism nor the superiority that western activists can use to show that they hold the power of knowledge. It rises beyond the white middle-class woman. I therefore wish to see a change in the stereotypes we apply on Muslim women as well as Islam as a religion. It is highly vital to understand that Islam with a large umma hence different interpretations. The same goes for Christianity as for mainstream feminism.

I find it interesting to pose a final question to whoever reads this ‘If gender equality is reached, will it lessen the power of the man?’. The famous philosopher Foucault stresses that power can be increased for one group without affecting another’s. I argue that to reach gender equality, an empowering participatory feminist discourse has to prevail every part of our globalized world, which hopefully would establish equality and diminish unwanted power structures.

Ida Isatou Svenungsson
Ida Isatou Svenungsson


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