Who Does Islamic(s) Feminism(s) Belong To? by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Who does Islamic(s) feminism(s) belong to?

The answer to this question seems obvious: Islamic feminism belongs to all Muslim women who wish to adhere to it, and feminism is for everybody, as bell hooks said.

In reality however, it is not so easy. Even the most well crafted theories must be implemented by human beings who have been socialized under the Patriarchy’s rules and practices. Lived experience reminds us that feminisms of all kinds are marked by dynamics of power, internalized misogyny, lack of intersectionality, egos, and personal interests.

In this situation I wonder: Are feminisms, and Islamic Feminisms in particular, truly for everyone?

White feminism and patriarchy have treated Muslim women as lesser, as other. This otherness is legitimized through mechanisms of power linked to classism, racism, anti-black sentiment, education level, belonging to cliques, systemic violence, invisibilization, or simply by not following mainstream expectations.

Feminisms in religious spaces are not only necessary, but mandatory. Feminisms “on the margins”- like Islamic feminism, with respect to white feminism- are spaces for criticism of such marginalization and otherness as well as a re-creation of new ways of thinking about what it means to be a woman and how we relate to each other.  For example, this space offers women a chance to identify with one another rather than to compete as we have been educated to do by the the heteronormative regime.

It is sad to witness or experience feminists who are more concerned with endorsing the status quo than they are with challenging it. It is disappointing to realize that some women could never be heard in Islamic Feminism because “we only want the most progressives ones.” It’s a pity that the myth of an unbridgeable gap between activism and academia is validated as an unavoidable truth. It is violent to see scholars censoring criticisms by belittling and isolating dissenting voices.

Let me share a personal experience: Since I started working on a book to honor the life and activism of a South African Islamic Feminist, I’ve received a lot of support. But I have also been told that some peers were upset that a non-South African “dared” to lead this project, so they rejected the invitation to write for the anthology, based in national/ethnic reasoning. I am not offended by this but I think that it would have been better, and more in line with feminism, to engage in a face to face dialogue to discuss the controversy, rather than conveying those hurtful remarks through a third party.

If I mention this it is simply because my personal is my political… and my political, my spiritual. My views may be lacking academic background, but there is one thing I am sure about: Any reproduction of patriarchy and its tenets among feminists is “friendly fire” and therefore not friendly: it is oppression and it is anti-woman.

Naming ourselves as feminists or Islamic feminists or obtaining a PhD in Gender Studies does not automatically make anyone a feminist. Feminism is a practice, an ETHIC of intersectionality, lived out in everyday life, a verb. We BECOME feminists, not because of the label, but by consciously engaging  in decision making that uplifts women instead of destroying them, taking action that broadens the room of representation instead of gatekeeping and forming cliques, and finally endorsing practices and dynamics that result in strategic alliances, collaborative resolution of conflicts, and development of a sense of belonging.

So… to whom does Islamic Feminism belong? To Arab women? To academics who present during AAR? To activists on the frontlines? To those who wear headscarves? Is it about races and countries? About Who knows Whom? Is it a Women’s Liberation Movement or a VIP Ladies’s Club?

TO NOBODY and TO EVERYONE. There is no single Islamic Feminism, rather there are Islamic Feminisms that are in need of intentional dialogue with one another. I firmly believe these feminisms belong to all the women of the world. We say that Islam contains a message of social justice for all humankind, right? Then, the Gender Jihad of Islamic feminism that we advocate for, is on behalf of Gender Justice for all women;  not only Muslim women, but all who feel related with these foundations.

Given the diversity of identities, languages, struggles and opinions, the existence of controversy and contradiction within feminisms in Islam or elsewhere, are evidence of the undeniable and diverse humanity of women. Objects do not have a voice of their own, but women have diverse voices.

If, as Islamic feminists, we reject the idea of a monolithic Islam controlled by male voices, why would we want a monolithic Islamic Feminism that excludes some women’s voices?

The main idea of embracing feminism as a cause, whether your activism is intellectual or street-wise, is to make room for all women to be part of it, so that we can all join the struggle with our skills and talents, so we can create new knowledge through lucid criticism and debate, so we can see ourselves as people and recognize in others the right to be people, equally different as individuals. Being a feminist necessitates accountability in this regard. In Islamic Feminisms there is room for everyone by living the Tawheedic Paradigm we claim to believe in.

Feature Image By The Feminist Museum 

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is an international journalist and writer, community educator and awarded women’s rights activist. Independent scholar and lecturer in Religion,Gender and Politics.

Author: Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Consultora en desarrollo de capacidades. Educadora y analista en género, participación ciudadana y desarrollo sostenible en el marco de la Agenda 2030.

7 thoughts on “Who Does Islamic(s) Feminism(s) Belong To? by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”

  1. In my career I too have experienced “feminist” gate-keeping in the academy, with Christian feminists in many cases not feeling comfortable including voices outside their religion in the dialogue or including one Jewish voice or today restricting the dialogue to those professing one of the “Abrahamic” faiths. Siggggghhhhhhh There are of course other issues as well in the inclusion/exclusion dynamic.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes. Similar experiences happen in all women’s movements or feminists spaces at some point and I think that keeping quiet about is not helpful. I know many feminists who are dissapointed of feminism due to the reproduction of patriarchy and oppression in spaces where people should be struggling to be free of. However, this doesn’t make feminisms unworthy rather is an evidence of how much is needed and how critical is to live by the notion that the personal is political. Like Gloria Anzaldúa said: The change we imagine starts within.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree, I am a feminist, whether others like my brand of feminism or not. I never understand women who say… because feminists criticize x which I subscribe to, I am not a feminist. No, I am a feminist and if someone wants to exclude me, let them try. Nothing more to say.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Thanks for echoing that point on gat-keeping; I feel it is a pregnant topic! This topic remind me of a related experience:

      A few years ago I had submitted a paper on ecofeminism and feminist theology to a journal; it was examining the ecofeminist role of a male Buddhist patriarch. One of the reviewers sent a positive response, with a few helpful clarifying suggestions. The other reviewer pooh-poohed the whole paper concept, saying that “everything interesting and original that could be said about feminism and religion had been all been said by the end of the 1980s or so.”

      At first I was a bit shocked, but then I starting looking for data on feminist views held by religious non-white ethnic groups, and the only one I could find (in English) that focused on a non-white, non-American cohort had data from Mexico, and in that case the findings didn’t hold up so clearly in the culturally-varying case!

      So ultimately, it was a jujitsu move to use the perceived weakness as a strength; to address directly in the paper what data was existing from credible research, and how no empirical research at all could be found on the feminist views of the cultural group (Himalayan) that I was writing about!

      I find it is easy to become discouraged and throw in the towel, when considering academia, which seems to consistently reward hubris and punish original or unique thinking!

      I take comfort in Mary Daly’s example of persistence and her term “academentia!” (no offense intended toward those suffering ill effects of dementia directly or indirectly)

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Just give up religions created by men for men to be above women. We need at least a female co-founder to provide a female point of view.
    Islam was founded by a warrior formerly married to a powerful woman. I believe Khadija is far more interesting than Muhammed. When Muhammed was married to her, he was compassionate and preferred to leave his city in peace than to attack his detractors. Once Khadija passed away, arbitrary attacks, killings, raids and executions became the norm.
    So, if you want a feminist Islam, get rid of Muhammed and elevate Khadija to a position of founding partner.


    1. Oh! Paulina, un honor que te hayas pasado por aquí. (SARCASMO) Fíjate, no se me habria ocurrido en estos 12 años que llevo de investigación -acción en Islam y Feminismo, rescatar la figura de Khadija, ya que obviamente, a ninguna mujer musulmana se le ha aocurrido y no hay desarrollos al respecto (SARCASMO).

      Pregunta: ¿Este comentario es parte de tu tour por páginas feministas donde aleccionas y contra argumentas contra los feminismos de mujeres racializadas? He visto tus “aportaciones” en AFROFEMINAS, intentando degradar sus activismo y el componente racial en ello y tu apoyo a los supremacistas blancos contra Black Lives Matters y a favor de las acciones de Israel. Ya te he visto.

      Oh! Paulina, an honor that you have stopped by here. (SARCASM) Look, it would not have occurred to me in these 12 years of research-action in Islam and Feminism, to rescue the figure of Khadija, since obviously, no Muslim woman has thought of it and there are no developments in this regard ( SARCASM).

      Question: Is this comment part of your tour of feminist pages where you lecture and counter arguments against the feminisms of racialized women? I have seen your “contributions” in AFROFEMINAS, trying to degrade their activism and the racial component in it and your support for white supremacists against Black Lives Matters. and in favor of the action of Israel. I already knew you.


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