I received two emails yesterday inquiring as to what I thought about the Goatmilk debate on the compatibility of Islam and feminism. Seeing as the argument of the opposition was a collection of the usual pedestrian perspectives that conclude the two are irreconcilable, I hadn’t planned on writing about what I’ve already addressed over a number of posts. At the second email, I decided differently, though I have nothing new to add that Woodturtle or Metis have not explained already.
Tabbaa begins his argument stating that feminists are pushing to kill God.
Maybe the reader might have missed it, over the casual tone and charmingly friendly allusions to famous philosophers. Regardless, that is quite a serious charge, to suggest that women who are fighting for inclusion in their communities, for the right to interpret religious texts, for the right to participate in prayer without being cut-off by a barrier, for the right to inherit as much as their brothers because they no longer receive what they are entitled from their husbands (and therefore men are picking and choosing from Quranic verses), for the right to explain their interpretations without receiving rape threats, for the right to practice their religion as they truly believe it was meant to be practiced, for the right to enter a mosque, for the right of their credibility to not be subject and reduced to what their wear over their hair, for the right to equal testimony and equal accreditation after exposing how verses are deliberately misinterpreted—are pushing to kill God. That the attempts of these women to acquire the equality in the social sphere of men that they were given by God in the moral sphere are “futile and misguided.”
But Tabbaa isn’t talking about the women themselves or any of their actual interpretations! No, no, of course not. He evades that completely.
By discussing the epistemology of feminism and constructing his argument on its theory, he conveniently avoids addressing the practicality of its application. Instead of approaching feminism as a derivative of Islam—as many, dare I say most, Muslim feminists view the relationship between Islam and feminism—he argues that one attempts to engulf the other; his position is based on the presumption that Muslim feminists believe that feminism and Islam are mutually encompassing—that the interpretational approach to one conflicts with the interpretational approach of the other. That feminism is trying to kill God.
He comes to this fascinating conclusion by arguing that feminism is a Godless doctrine via incorporating critiques of society that contend the concept of objectivity and hold that all realities are contextual. Seeing that feminism is related to social justice—and doesn’t attempt to decipher the rules of Divinity by applying to it the power structures of civilizations and their functionality—that feminism has or has not God is a gross incongruity. By stating that “feminism, in all its variations, depends very heavily on postmodern theories of knowledge” he dismisses the entire branch of Islamic feminism (and several other applications and constructions of feminism) and directs his argument to a type of feminism centered and based on postmodernism, despite the fact that Muslim feminists define the framework of their feminism according to the dictations of the Qur’an and Prophetic tradition, and they extract the nature of Islamic feminism from the Quran’s own establishment of it when the presence of women were recognized in its revelations, when the rights of women were granted by God, when this movement was sealed into morality by substantiating verses even despite the protest and enragement of patriarchal men—the exact movements of a feminist wave.
It is the antithesis of feminism that we argue the knowledge of God is subjective and constructed as Tabbaa suggests in his argument, because it is the antithesis of feminism to apply the biases of men to God. This association of the masculine to God (or, in Islam, shirk) is what feminism has fought since the day it was born.
When Tabbaa claims that feminists wish to remove the power to interpret from the Author, he ignores the past few centuries of Islamic discourse that have done the same. He refuses to acknowledge that instead, Islamic feminism is revivalist, not reformist, that while Muslim feminists sometimes may not appear to replicate a previous civilization and the positions of its scholars, they strive essentially to seek what they sought. And that is the key. To seek what they sought, and to firmly reapply their moral code. Islamic feminism is not interested in removing God from the equation or leaving everything unrestrainedly open to interpretation—anyone remotely familiar with Islamic feminism, who has read the texts written by its most renowned scholars—would know that arguments are constructed with overwhelming historical support and in-depth analysis. Tabbaa’s bizzare claim that feminist logic would grant legitimacy to bin Laden’s interpretation as well as its own on the basis that everyone’s interpretation is equally valid shows a great deal of ignorance on the topic itself. Feminists are notorious for accusing people of pulling things out of their asses. If it doesn’t have textual support, or is a poorly constructed argument, it is an invalid exegesis. (That is why it is not an equally feminist claim that we live in a matriarchy, as a subjective man might argue.) In fact, Muslim feminists have accused patriarchal men of doing exactly this. It’s impressively amusing that Tabbaa would denunciate our reason of accepting all interpretations when he simultaneously argues that we challenge 1,000 years of knowledge on the impression of a conspiracy theory. (Silly ladies! You’re totally imagining that most Muslims can’t name a single female scholar off the top of their heads even when there are 40 volumes worth.)
The last part of his argument, on the basis that feminism is Western construct is what enrages me the most. I mean, none of this really enraged me until I got to the end. I left this in a succinct comment on Woodturtle’s post, and I will repeat it here:
Mohamad Tabbaa’s argument that ‘secularized modern theology’ is based almost exclusively around white men pissed me off in a way I can’t even describe. His OWN interpretations are based around God, of course, but feminists are just appealing to white men–which they shouldn’t be doing, because men of color like Mohamad Tabbaa own them.
This is the same crap black men told black feminists during the Civil Rights movement in the US. The very feminists who were fighting for the *liberation* of black men. This is because racism is SERIOUS, but sexism isn’t real. You silly woman, you are imagining it! Also, only white women came up with feminism right? It *belongs* to white people.
Men of color talk about racism as a means to avoid talking about/derailing from sexism.
What Mohamad Tabbaa can’t tolerate is his masculine privilege stripped from the shirk he practices when he associates it with God*, and handed back to him with a severe reality check. I’ve read his entire article and it’s the same uninspired tripe. What he’s afraid of his the word ‘feminist’–exactly for the reason that it checks his privilege; there is no other reason he would claim that Islam has the tools to free women and then disagree with feminists who say the same.
*not him specifically; masculine privilege specifically
After Tabbaa had published the article, he was confused about why feminists cared he is a man. This would be why. He does not realize that his perspective is infected with preconceived biases. That it is easy to criticize a movement when you are so removed from it. That he has contributed to centuries of patriarchal tradition by attempting to convince women that he knows what is best for them, that he’s got their oppressions and approaches all figured out. That they are trying to be like white people—the ones who think we’re savages—therefore they are race traitors. Because they are the property of their OWN MEN so HOW DARE THEY?
As Metis has stated, those who protest when someone calls herself a Muslim feminist have a certain fear and hatred in their stance.
With this he surrenders to the implanted idea that something as humane as equality is an invention of white people. He internalizes racism and by the mechanisms of white culture he accuses Muslim feminists of “acting white.”
I would be more than interested to hear from a woman who argues that Islam and feminism are incompatible and attacks the actual interpretations of Muslim feminists through a critical analysis of them, rather than attempting to construct a vague argument based on weak connections between feminism and postmodernism (and then using postmodernism for most of the argument.)
(Meme images for this post created by the fabulous Zeina.)