Yesterday saw a spectacular debate organised by the Muslim Debate Initiative between two articulate and experienced speakers and advocates of both Feminism and Islam. Before the event, many people were interested to see the arguments both sides would use – however, there were some Muslims and non-Muslims asking ‘Why can’t the answer be both?’ – in fact there were four positions on this topic. Some Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) would argue that neither Islam nor Feminism liberates women (nor men). So which one of these four positions would demonstrate the strongest intellectual arguments on the day? Well, we gave the speakers one hour in total to make their case, and gave the audience, one hour of the Q/A session to make comments and pose questions. The event was well attended and completely packed out – and people were standing on the sides! Here’s some of what happened:
Julie Bindel made her case that she is not against Islam only, but against all religions which deny women their own ‘autonomy’, she cited anecdotes of her bad experiences with Christianity, and also with Muslim women reporting unfair treatment in Muslim countries. She made the case that Women’s liberation should not come from a (MAN-made) religion telling them what to do, but ‘from themselves’. She doesn’t say women should give up religion, but that ultimately it should be women who are the ultimate authorities over religion, not the other way round. Curiously, Julie conceded that men and women are different and that it isn’t fair merely to give them both equal rights and power – for, according to her ‘if you put an equal number of men and women in a parliament, the men’s half would shout louder than the women’s half’. She argued that the world is dominated by the corrupt male-created system of ‘the patriarchy’, and must be completely overturned.
Zara Faris started the debate making a very succinct speech starting with the most pertinent question ‘What is Liberation?’. She posited that Humans can never transcend causality, their own fundamental nature and genes, nor the Universe. They never created themselves, nor their environment, nor are they able to free themselves from need of, and effects by, other people – in essence we are social creatures. Individualism, which is the foundational concept of Feminism [think of feminism as Gender Individualism] which posits that Humans are self-contained and disconnected ‘Individuals’ is therefore manifestly delusional and wrong. Not only this, but critically, it gives NO purpose to humans – which, leaves women leading meaningless lives, unclear about what to do except follow whatever society tells them, which actually allows them to be manipulated by others defining their purpose for them. Zara referenced the Quranic verse ‘do you not see those who take their own desires as their lords, they are like cattle, nay worse’ to illustrate Islam’s understanding of this evident human phenomenon.
Zara continued by positing that Islam liberates women for this base causality by transcending the materialist considerations of beauty, wealth and power, and frees women (along with Men) to submit to the ultimate Cause, Allah (swt). Zara then illustrated an amazing point – Islam liberates women by giving them certain key rights that NOT EVEN THE WEST OR FEMINISM are able to give – the LEGAL right (in marriage) to her husband’s time, affection, financial support, physical protection and sexual satisfaction. Something the West doesn’t give as rights. The West (i.e. Feminism) merely concerns itself with what women ‘can do’, not Women’s human needs – Amazing!
Islam offers women liberation to be women – unlike the Capitalist societies that after feminism require women to work to support themselves (and penalise them for wanting to be mothers, or spend time with their families – which statistics IN THE WEST show that MOST women choose to leave their full time jobs to pursue), Islam OBLIGES Men to provide for women (without denying women access to jobs). The effect of Islam, is to cater to the natural tendencies amongst humans, without denying others, who are exceptions to the norm. Women are then free in Islam to work because they WANT to, not because they have to [besides, who says ‘work’ is a privilege, last time I checked the word ‘work’ is different from the word ‘leisure’…).
This cannot be replicated in a system based upon Human Individualism which advocates Women should ‘support themselves’, and Men (also being individuals ‘free’ from obligation) don’t have to care, or even support the women they engage in casual sexual relationships with. Individualism ‘frees’ people from being obligated to eachother, while making everyone but the strong, more vulnerable. Zara emphasised that while Islam brings freedom from the law of the jungle, Individualism subjects people to it.
Julie’s points throughout the debate were repeated, but what I found lacking was in any solutions to the problems of poverty, capitalist injustices or even the problem of women’s sexual objectification! Julie cited the usual Feminist arguments that women face domestic abuse and sexual assault – and argued that Feminism is required to Liberate women from this things. Zara countered that not only does Feminism NOT have a solution to these problems, but Feminism’s one-gender focus actually misses out a few shocking truths. These problems are not ‘Female problems’, these are Human problems. Any human can be an oppressor, so focusing on one side leads to sexist politics. For example, Zara brought up official statistics showing the rates of domestic violence occur within Lesbian relationships were equal to male-female relationships at the very least, with other statistics showing that it was higher in many cases. She also cited statistics that women were slightly more likely to be the perpetrators of Child Abuse than Men! Zara also pointed out that in the UK it is legally impossible for women to rape a man through forced conventional intercourse, because rape is defined exclusively by use of male genitalia! Why didn’t Feminism deal with these issues? Because it can’t, its exclusively focused on what males do, and not what female do. Islam, however, focuses on what ALL HUMANS do.
The Question and Answer Session
The Q&A session was very interesting, as we had a highly mixed audience with Muslims, non-Muslim Feminists, and Feminists who IDENTIFIED THEMSELVES as ‘Feminists from Muslim backgrounds’ – there were also Men’s Right’s Activists (MRAs) in the audience [for those who don’t know, MRA’s are a reaction to feminism – who hold the same creed as Feminists (i.e. Individualism) but apply the focus to the abuses and injustices against men – and frequently they and Feminists clash with each other – despite holding the same creed of Individualism. Some MRAs advocate a rejection of ‘male chivalry’ within culture and law, as an unfair privilege for women! I recommend any who studies the Western Civilisation and its culture, to study them too as an interesting phenomenon].
One Feminist identified as Egyptian and a ‘Feminist from a Muslim background’ – she said that she has problems with Islam, and decried how the Abrahamic religions discriminated against women. She strangely argued that before these religions spread to Egypt, the PHARAONIC system treated women equally!! [Well, with SISI in power, perhaps Egypt is more to her liking now?].
Points were made for and against Feminism – including the MRA’s engaging in a lively discussion with Julie Bindel.
One question that arose was ‘why can’t Islam and Feminism be compatible?’. Interestingly, both Julie and Zara agreed with eachother that they can’t. This simply because, as Julie argued, religion restricts women’s ‘autonomy’, like their ‘sexual autonomy’. Zara explained that Individualism puts the individual above all other concerns, making humans the arbiters of truth and falsehood, and good and bad. This runs contrary to Islam, which posits the Creator of the Universe and Mankind, as the highest point of reference for mankind. Humans can never be free in the absolute sense, they can only choose whether they are enslaved by the strong, politicians and fickle human society telling them what to do, or they can submit to the Creator of all things, who is free of ignorance, bigotry and prejudice – taking humans above these things and bringing true Human Liberation.
Zara summed this up nicely when she said ‘Unlike the Gods of Feminism, Our God is without Gender’
[The debate was fully recorded by IQRA TV. They will broadcast the footage in one months time (along with uploads on Youtube & Vimeo which will be showcased on all MDI platforms]