ISLAMIC TREATMENT OF WOMEN vs FEMINISM
A review of the public Debate at the University of Dublin.
On tuesday (18th Feb 2014) I attended a sensitive debate at University College Dublin (UCD) on ‘This House Believes Islam Treats Women Right’.
This debate was co-hosted by the UCD Islamic Society and Law Society. The subject would cover Women’s Rights in Islam. My opponent, who would be arguing the case that ‘Islam doesn’t treat women right’, was Rebek’ah McKinney-Perry, the gender equality officer at the Student Union of University College Dublin. She identified herself as a strongly committed Feminist – yes, I know.
It was an interesting and lively debate, full of feminist mischaracterisation of Islam, cheap feminist emotional-rhetoric and inconsistencies! Debating Feminists turned out to be quite fun, especially when I turned the debate around, and instead of Islam being subject to judgement by Western criteria, I put Western ideology, society and Feminism in the dock – to justify itself!
I enunciated the Islamic perspective of women, as fundamentally equal to that of men in the eyes of God. I clarified that when it comes to women in their capacity as humans, they have the same expectations as men upon them (e.g. righteousness, just conduct, worship of God etc).
However, in their capacity as one of the two sexes/genders, their role, along with the male roles TOO, revolve around the family. Islam does not believe in Individualism, but rather the fundamental unit of Islamic society is the family. As such, both the female and the male role is tied to the family unit, and both are expressed as having a relationship to this role.
I enumerated the many rights of women in Islam, and the duties males have towards women. However, I shifted the debate onto the offensive, and discussed the Western treatment of women, how women are depicted as sexual objects, and how social compulsion has made women judge themselves to be measured by their visual appearance, needing to display themselves in order to have worth. I posited that Islam saved women from that, by ordaining modest clothing (for both sexes), and limiting the public sphere to purely professional considerations, not sexual tension and ‘politics’.
My opponent was somewhat taken aback slightly, and declared that her knowledge of Islam was limited, and she would only comment on how Muslims and Christianity treats women, but conceded that Islam could possibly treat women well ‘in theory’. However, she recovered quickly to claim that a religion is defined by its practitioners, and Muslim communities [also] suffer from abuses of women, would ultimately mean that Islam treated women badly.
Rebak’ah conceded that women are sexually objectified in the West, but that its not women’s fault, and that Islam shouldn’t treat men or women like they are ‘base creatures’ who ‘can’t control themselves’, and spun my argument to attempt to imply I was claiming that people would rape eachother if they were without modesty. Rebak’ah mentioned that women should be free to wear whatever clothes they wanted, as dressing attractively was done to make themselves ‘feel good about themselves’, not to attract attention for others!
In my response, I noted that she conceded that the Islamic law treated women well, however, I disagreed with her that the actions of Muslims define Islam. Islam is based upon solid sources, the Quran, and the example of the Prophet Muhammed (saaw). These things define Islam, even if only one muslim in the world practices it. We are not post-modernists, which believe all ideas are relative, the Quran and tradition of the Prophet, is the lighthouse by which all Muslims guide themselves. Unlike Feminism, Islam has clear (mubeen) guidance.
Rebak’ah then retreated to her back-up strategy to claim that Islamic interpretation had been mostly done by men throughout history, and this had led to slanted interpretations of Islam. I strongly rebuked her as being ‘sexist’. Is she saying that men are incapable of producing a fair and objective interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah? Are men’s minds deficient?! Yes Feminists, two can play at that game.
I corrected my opponent’s deliberate misleading of my arguments regarding the issue of public modesty in Islam. The issue was not one where people would ‘rape’ eachother if they see eachother with revealing clothing (why are feminists so obsessed with rape every time some talks about modesty!- seriously, some Feminists, should get counselling). I clarified that dressing provocatively affects each other as humans – something we can’t just mentally switch off. I also posited that women wearing sexually explicit clothing in public, is equivalent to sexual harassment that they would charge men with, if men behaved in a similarly sexually provocative way to women.
Rebak’ah had used the oldest feminist argument there is, namely, that women wear attractive clothing merely to ‘feel good about themselves’. I responded that if a woman was stuck on an island, with no one else, and no hope of rescue, I don’t think she’d ever care again about how good she looked!
My opponent declared she was ‘outraged’ by me equating a mini-skirt to groping, and then declared she was ‘patronised’ that I would assume she wears make-up for the sake of other people.
I was amazed, the Feminist had misrepresented what I said, and spun it. Not only that, but she used typical feminist strategies (i.e. declaring one is outraged, insulted or patronised by an argument of one’s opponent, in an attempt to gain some moral high ground). My colleague in MDI, Zara Faris, who specialises in debating Feminists, had told me that this was a typical feminist tactic, but it has to be beheld to truly be believed!
Of course, Feminists tactics were just not going to work here, I have no time for cheap rhetoric. I took her to task, pointing out quite abruptly that she had lied against my argument, as I mentioned nothing to do with groping! My opponent has just pulled that out of thin air (the video record will show this – its why we record our debates). I reiterated again, that if males can be criminalised if they act in a sexually lewd or ‘offensive’ [ref term used in the UK law] way to women in public, than if Feminists truly believed in equality, much of women’s summer clothing should also be criminalised too. But alas, for Feminists, male sexuality is demonised, and female sexuality, granted free rein to harass men in the public space. Zara Faris already wrote an amazing article arguing this case.
I pointed out to my opponent that it is not patronising to observe that women who need to look beautiful to feel good, has already made beauty the measure of goodness and self-worth. That’s my point, and her problem.
I then re-iterated how the West socially compels women to detest the role of being a mother and a house wife, and judge women purely by their economic output! Feminism has forced women to become men, and by making women want to ‘have it all’ they’ve condemned her to having to do it all.
This opened up a can of worms, where me and my opponent debated everything from Individualism, to gender roles! She posited the Feminist approach to gender was merely to demand equality.
I argued that Feminism actually demands privileges for women, with no real equality granted to males, or equality of treatment. Why is it, I argued that Feminists demand 40% quotas for women in the boardroom, yet are conspicuously silent from demanding 40% female quotas for miners, lumberjacks, soldiers, construction workers or security guards? When shall we see Feminists campaign for women to be turned down for nursing jobs in order to fulfil 40% male quotas? The answer is never. Feminists want to ensure females enter into top jobs (even at the cost of turning down potentially better candidates just because they are male), while leaving males to do the dangerous, dirty and hard labour jobs.
Men and women are equal in worth, but not identical in nature, and have complementary roles in dealing with family, reproduction and responsibilities.
Rebek’ah used the standard Feminist argument ‘those feminists don’t represent feminism’. She was exposed for her double standards. She attempts to show how Muslims treating women ‘not right’ are acting upon an interpretation of Islam, yet refuses to acknowledge her fellow Feminists who do things according to an interpretation of Feminism!
The fallacy behind this argument is simple – bring us the holy book of Feminism, and its ‘Sunnah’ (recorded tradition of an infallible example of Feminism), and show us how other Feminists are not being true to it? My opponent couldn’t show that, and so she lost all credibility in the eyes of the audience – especially when I countered, that Islam can produce those things which act as a criterion upon which to hold Muslims to. The basic Islamic rights for women, are not contested in Islam, and there is no ‘multiple interpretations’ of what a good Islamic marriage looks like within Islam.
Finally, Rebak’ah made a last ditch, and frankly pathetic argument to say that ‘women would leave Islam, if they are forced to choose between feminism, and an incompatible Islam”, she then argued that Islam should be changed to a more Liberal interpretation, to accommodate Feminism, and hence help ‘retain women in the faith’. I slammed down that argument – of which, needs no reiterating here the obvious response.
My opponent was in over her head in this debate, I suppose she hadn’t expected nor had known the Islamic understanding of women’s rights, nor did she expect the Western ideology of Individualism, and it’s offshoot, Feminism (gender individualism) to be put on trial and challenged – vigorously. But this is something Muslims must realise, it is not Islam that needs to justify itself according to the criteria of Western ideology, but rather it is Western ideologies that need to justify itself according to the rational (Islamic) criteria.
All in all, a great debate!!
A strange turn of events happened after the debate – an Irish non-Muslim woman approached me and thanked me for my arguments, and giving her something to think about. However, I was then approached by a lone ‘Muslim’ MAN who believes in Feminism, and then proceed to berate me for ‘misrepresenting feminism’ by focusing on some Feminists actions which not all feminists agree with – and so ‘is not feminism’.
If I had a penny for everytime I heard that argument…. Needless to say, I sent him packing by asking me to point me in the direction of the definitive interpretation of Feminism upon which all Feminists agree. Failing that, then what right does he have to dictate what is feminism and what is not – especially when other feminists have an equal right to define feminism their way. I also noted that the Political organisations, lobby groups and campaigners I cited were all MAINSTREAM, POPULAR and NON-CONTROVERSIAL amongst Feminist circles (e.g. The UK Fawcett Society). If anything, it was his (mis)understanding of Feminism that was fringe.
What is the world coming to, when the non-Muslim Woman thanks me in the name of truth, and the ‘Muslim’ MAN argues with me in the name of falsehood? A strange one.