Joumana Haddad

December 27, 2012

Islamic feminism: Stockholm syndrome




“If you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your menstrual blood - if it makes you sick, you've got a long way to go, baby.” - Germaine Greer


“Love thy hijacker.” This is the first sentence that comes to my mind every time I come across the expression “Islamic feminism.”


I often hear some Muslim women assert: “I am a Muslim and a feminist.” And I can’t help but feel depressed by this obvious oxymoron. These women are convinced, or want to be convinced, or want to convince us, that Islam and feminism are not mutually exclusive, because they need a compromise between the teachings of their faith and their dignity as human beings. Yet what positive change does this compromising strategy lead to with a religion like Islam that is solidly resistant to reform (since the Quran is believed to be the verbatim word of God), and that is considered not only a spiritual practice, but a way of life? A religion that is demeaning to women in different aspects, and clearly states that men are “superior” to women, allows men four wives, gives men the right to beat up their “disobeying” women, etc…


Actually, all monotheist religious texts are inherently misogynic and against gender equality, however we cherry pick them. They compete on enforcing patriarchal standards—humiliating women, classifying them as men’s property and oppressing them. Taking one verse from here or there in order to prove that this or that religion promotes women as equal to men is a futile exercise, to say the least. First and foremost, you cannot embrace a religion selectively. You don’t use one or two ingredients and overlook the rest in order to fabricate for yourself a comfortable co-existence between your self-respect and your inability to admit the obvious.


Can we be Christians, Muslims or Jews and fight patriarchy and defend gender equality from within our religions? Answering “yes” is nothing but one of the many expressions of the contradiction we are living in. These three religions have the same attitude toward women: oppressive and unfair. So when will we stop compromising and attempting to achieve real change from within the “rotten fruit”? When will we admit that there is no harmony possible between monotheist teachings (as they are to this day) and women’s dignity and rights? Think about it: If the God they have invented was really as merciful, as compassionate, as gracious and as just as they all claim Him to be (and don’t get me started on the male nature of their deity), wasn’t He supposed to have established an equal vision of humankind?


Not only are the monotheist religions biased against women, but they are, all three of them, racist, sexist, homophobic, merciless, bloody, and biased against humanity, freedom and human rights. They are even biased against common sense. They are ManMade and PowerMade institutions that aim at controlling people and their lives. All of them have, throughout their history, used wars and terrorism to promote their objectives and survive the secular forces that threaten their continued existence, not to mention that their exclusivism has frequently fostered violence against those that are considered outsiders.


I don’t mean to be harsh: I know it is easier for women in Muslim countries to try and make the change from “the inside” instead of being ostracized or threatened because of their radical stances. Fine. Do that, by all means. But stop saying you’re a feminist. Because you are not. You can’t be. You are either a Muslim, or a feminist. The same applies to Christians and Jews. You want to sound modern and progressive, but to all those who really understand the meaning of the term “feminism,” you are just a person in denial, at best.


You see, being a true feminist essentially means aiming at being equal to men. Sometimes going back to a dictionary can be a necessary exercise. The Webster defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” while the good old Oxford says it is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” Neither mentions complementarity, nor similarity (for those who still idiotically revoke feminism on the basis of the biological differences between men and women). Neither defines it as being “kind, or respectful, or polite, or loving, or nice, or generous” with women, nor any of this condescending, elusive, sugar-coated crap that religious people use in order to prove that their God is the good God. Both dictionaries talk clearly, I’d say mathematically, about EQUALITY: equal opportunities, equal rights, equal treatment. No more, no less. Case closed. Luckily some things are too straight to the point to be reinterpreted.


On the other hand, women’s liberation worldwide has always happened in a secular context, and it is important—and vital—to remember that. Of course, secularism is not the sole guarantor of gender equality. It is not enough by itself; but it is a necessary condition for achieving that.


And nobody should dare say that these ideas of mine are a result of a “Western” virus I picked up (which is the easiest accusation thrown in the face of any Arab defending secularism, freedom, women’s equality, etc.)—as if there was such a thing as Arab freedom vs. Western freedom, Arab dignity vs. Western dignity, etc. Human rights are universal, not a Western monopoly. And it is degrading to us Arabs to see them as a Western exclusivity. Go back to the Universal Declaration that most Arab countries have (theoretically) embraced and you’ll see what I mean.


Accordingly, I am sorry for all those good-willed women and men out there who are trying hard to reconcile the irreconcilable through extremely convoluted interpretations, but I have to repeat: monotheism and feminism inevitably exclude each other, unless you are deliberately turning a blind eye and being choosy in your understanding of both. In that case, you could very well be self haters: hostages that defend and love their captors. We can’t only blame men in this context and insist on portraying women uniformly as impotent victims and men as merciless tyrants. Victimizing women and demonizing men is a vicious circle, and male domination is not the only culprit in the shortfall: There is also a lack of will by some women to assert their autonomy and/or to leave their “torturers” before they completely destroy their self-esteem. And women have proven on many occasions to be their own worst enemies.


If it were not the case, how could we explain, for example, the fact that some Western old-guard feminists defend today the different types of Islamic veils, including the burqa, and other repressive Islamic practices? They claim they do so in the name of cultural relativism, but they’d be better off focusing on human rights’ universality.


To cut a long story short, stop contextualizing, interpreting, deducing, looking at the “bigger picture,” searching for hidden meanings and doing mental aerobics in order to deal with the uneasy questions. Face the elephant in the room: Islamic feminism is a delusion, a misconception and an oxymoron, again. Islam and feminism cannot be compatible by any stretch of imagination.


Come to think of it, and since interpretation is open for all, monotheism could very well be one of the metaphorical meanings of that dirty menstrual blood that Germaine Greer is talking about in the above quote.


And it is about time we go through menopause, ladies.


Follow Joumana Haddad on Twitter @joumana333


Joumana Haddad is author of many books, among which “I killed Scheherazade.” Her latest book, “Superman is an Arab-On God, marriage, macho men and other disastrous inventions” (Westbourne Press, London, 2012) is now available in Lebanese bookshops and on Amazon.







Great, now repeat that sentiment about five thousand times and people like me will stop thinking you're silent about the plight of women in Islam. Well, you've got the voices. Time to start using them. Otherwise, if you keep beating the crap out of 'western' men while ignoring the misogyny of Islam, people like me (an atheist man who absolutely despises Islam) will be tempted to become Muslim simply out of spite and desperation and the fact that, when it comes to Islam, western feminists seem to be completely silent. Maybe b/c they're afraid of their liberal 'compatriots' calling them 'racists' or whatever. And when you repeat that sentiment, try doing in on 'youtube' or on the news where people will see it. This forum is not my typical stomping ground.


BUT, you can believe that there is a higher power who created everything (ie God) and believe in Him/Her and be a feminist right? I agree with literally everythinggg you say except or atheism. I do agree that religion is man-made bullshit that leaves the real God out of the picture. As a personal spiritual belief i believe that God does not interfere in this physical world, for some reason we are made and meant not to know. Feminism, yes. Religion, hell no (pun intended). Belief in God? Irrelevant!


The sense of justice is one of the most wonderful ideals of Islam, because as I read in the Qur'an I find those dynamic principles of life, not mystic but practical ethics for the daily conduct of life suited to the whole world. "Acquire knowledge, it enables its professor to distinguish right from wrong; it lights the way to heaven

majd el Arabi

yes, and lot of women don`t make money at all, if some women truly seek equality in all aspects, i as a man don`t mind, yalla, 50/50 in rights and duties, here i am curious to know how many "natural" women would support Joumana`s campaign.!!


It seems that "feminists" are confusing treating men and women equally with treating them fairly. We need to treat men and women fairly, not equally. Treating them equally is not fair to them. You can't expect men to have the emotional capacity of women (exceptions aside), nor women to have the physical capacity of men (exceptions aside). Would a woman want to compete in the Olympics with men? It won't be fair. Would you expect a man to carry a child and go to labor? It won't be fair, leave alone possible. Focus on fairness, not equality. Equality can be fair in certain cases (like having the right to vote, equal treatment under the law in most cases...etc). Actually, in some cases a woman asking for equality is simply not ambitious enough! I ask our better halves (Joumana included) to be less stressed-out and anxious about being equal and more true to their nature. Demand fair treatment not equal treatment. Warning: if you demand equal treatment, you might actually get it :)


Read this: http://radicalprofeminist.blogspot.com/2010/03/muslim-feminists-heard-here.html and please before writing an article, do your research...Enough slandering, mocking, and insulting the readers' intelligence.


Equality? If women are dying for equality, let them start off with buying apartments and proposing to men while paying all the expenses, and if they want to divorce, they will need to pay him the required money plus his future expenses. If that doesn't sound right to you, then you either going for double standards or a hypocrite!!

majd el Arabi

RBH, right fellow, wayyyyyyyy to go, lot of questions, no answers.

rani isred

you know an article is going to be good when it starts with a quote from a sexist transphobe. it's even funnier when it continues to pretend to try to make an argument about religion and sexism but ends up just being racist. it isn't picking and choosing to decide how you interpret your religion- it's okay to be critical of your religion and make your own mind up about it. saying that isn't possible is like saying the religious have no minds of their own which is quite offensive. also your article just problematises religion as opposed to being deep and critical and looking at the reason for womens oppression. saying it is religion is simplistic and denies that religious women can liberate themselves without loosing something that they might feel is an important part of their identity as well as disqualifying many women already fighting against gender oppression from being feminists. it's paternalistic like that. also if you want to compare with non-muslim or non-religious countries then you would find many of the same sexist ideas existing(no equal pay, no abortion rights, women being judged by their appearance(as you did with veiled women), victim blaming, slut shaming, etc).

natural feminist

Marvellous article in the ME world. I agree 100%. It's exactly what I think but couldn't have said it so well, nor even dared sometimes on some forums with westerners talking about ME. Because, many are very strange, leftists maybe or some form of believers, but saying anything so strong about religion and women often brings a reaction, even from women themselves. Do continue. So sad that in so many countries this author would be arrested or punished in some way. See how it coincides with the Indian outrage at the raped girl and the terrible situation of women there. See how many women are killed after being raped in muslim or even Hindu societies, it's unbelievable. I'm very lucky, a bit of an exception for my time, but of course many others were too. I think a certain form of independance is also from one's upbringing but it can be discovered later. I was a student of 18 in 1967 when I 'ran away' with another young man, and it was a small scandal, but nothing like in other countries where it's impossible even today. It was in Scotland and France. I also read a couple of feminist books in the early seventies, but didn't feel like joining the feminist movement, I didn't need to. I managed to get jobs where I was free of masculine sexual blackmail (very prevalent), and managed to save my wages and buy my own house and later have a child with someone. I only discovered the muslim world in 2009, with the Iranian protests and have followed the 'arab uprisings', ever since learning more and more about that world, and elsewhere I love geopolitics. I'm just reading any feminist style of article with great joy, and realize that non western women certainly won't have my freedoms in my lifetime. It will take a very long time, but modern communication technology will be the basic promoter of change as nothing can be hidden today, thank goodness. What is needed in parallel to womens rights is an added article in the Universal Human Rights Charter, to allow children to be raised free of religion. Today it's 'free to have religion', and it must be recognized as a crime to indoctrinate children because their brains are are changed for life. Don't let people like RBH deter you, just battle on and explain over and over, what the basics are. People can have religion if they want, but it's only in countries that have become free from the TYRANNY of religion that women have found equality. 'Free from religion' is mostly because people have become indifferent to religion mostly because of normal scientific modern thinking and the revelation of all the disgusting abuses of those religions. I would say that many western countries need to read your article because there is a great danger today with islam invading western countries where all sorts of pressures are applied, with devious means, and methods. Most people are ignorant of the meaning of Islam and think it's a 'just another religion', and despite all sorts of attacks and car bombins or 9/11 etc, the politicians don't seem to realize what goes on at the grassroots level, or they don't express it. Only the extreme right talk about it, so the others don't, just not to be aligned with them. But the islamisation of the whole muslim world in the last 30 years is showing it's ugly head. I wish that those former leftist feminists would wake up and stop as you say, supporting that 'multi culti' niqab, because they are now totally ridiculous and are hypocrits. Always keep to basics and not be swayed by all the bla bla, there is no other way.

majd el Arabi

one more question to Joumana : if a family is consisted of a Husband and a Wife and three children, and if a disagreement about a major issue occurs about a major issue, and if the Husband and Wife couldn`t reach an agreement, what should be the solution? who should take the final decision??? only one, who is ??? el tanzeer keer sahl, it`s so easy to preach others and dream "sweat" dreams, however, life is much more complicated, give us your bright solutions Joumana, it`s not enough to complain, we need practical solutions.


Few days ago a parish priest in the north of Italy displayed a flyer on a church bulletin board titled "Women and killing - healthy self-criticism. How often do they provoke?", where he says: "The fact is that women are increasingly the cause...and end up exacerbating tensions by leaving children to themselves, keep dirty houses, put cold dishes on the table, buy fast food and provide filthy clothes. So if a family goes to the dogs and is pushed to crime often the responsibilities are shared". Weak reactions from the Church, strong reactions by the Catholics. But the root of this insanity is inside the Church. The slaughter of women in Italy continues. Joumana, you are absolutely right. I adore you, you know.


Joumana, with all do respect to you, you're basing your commentary on Islam based on its followers actions and not on the religion itself. You're not well informed about the religion and obviously don't have the right or clear idea about it. The religion in itself has nothing wrong with it, and it did emancipate women ever since it started. If you're arguing about the fact that women are supposed to veiled, for an example, and you view that as a sort of male opperssion, haven't you known that men by religion should also be veiling? This is in an act of keeping their eyes away from the women when the men are in the women's presence. Haven't you watched the Syrian drama Bab El-Hara, they did that a lot there? Should I call this male veiling a form of female oppression?!! Besides, there can never be gender 'equality,' Joumana. To explain this better, if a woman has the right to carry a child in her womb for an example, should a man have the right to have a womb to carry his child too?! It's nonsense! Whether you like it or not all of you so-called 'feminists,' our biological differences are facts and they help us develop our behavior, our actions, our way of living, and hence, our gender roles. We can have similar rights based on our gender biology, but not equal rights. Fix your language! 20th century so-called 'feminism' has ignored science, biology, hormonology, and religious fundamentalism (not extremisim) and focused on creating a whole new different state of reality based on the contemporary state of society at that time, as well as western cultural aesthetics and structure and abandoning of religious ties and morality. If you're an atheist, which you're clearly are, please keep your opinions and beliefs to yourself. Also, the world missed the right form of feminism, which is why women are more exploited today than ever before in history, and the funny part is that they're even happy about it! They're showing off more skin and wearing tighter clothes and more outrageous make-up than ever before and are acting more sluttier (funny, it's even become a female norm) - so typical. So, women with such mentality, my dear Joumana, should they also have 'equal' rights in heading a family like a man would? Whether you like it or not and I know you'll never admit it, a man is more modest than a woman. His behavioral actions and logical reasoning (which is granted to him by his biology) elects him to be the head of any family. Lastly, there's nothing wrong with the concept of monotheism and God has no gender, my dear. Do not be offensed by referring to 'him' as a "He" in English or "Huwa" in Arabic for any language is inconsistent and is nothing but a human creation; hence, it is prone to mistakes. God sends his message in the language of humans for humans to understand it. Do not throw your anger on God or monotheism, throw it on the people. And for God's sake, focus on people's actions and culture and leave religion aside. To take on religion or to comment about it, you have to have all the knowledge there's about it. So, I am not saying, "be quiet, Jumana," I am saying, "speak it right!"

Bekaa Woman

What Haddad calls "cherry picking" others call making up their own mind. It's not black and white


First of all I would like to say something, feminism is not just a word like table or tree so you can just take the definition from a dictionary and copy paste and assume you explained what feminism is. It is a concept full of history, cultural meaning, and psychology and it can not be explained outside this frame, or else you would be convincing only those who know nothing about feminism. My next point is that there are several waves and types of feminism. Being a feminist and a religious person doesn't go hand in hand with what type of feminism? Honestly I am not going to comment on the Islamic Feminism because I'm not a Muslim but I can certainly comment on the Christian side. First of all the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was inspired by many sources including the Bible for the bible and JESUS CHRIST advocates equality between all humans and not just men and women. Saying that all religions used violence to spread is a legitimate argument however we as Christians refer to Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ never used violence to force anyone into believing in him. The church did, but then again every institution has corrupted individuals that misuse their power and deviate from the main goal. I completely agree with the notion that humans are humans and rights are rights all over the world. But the mindset of humans varies according to culture and that is not wrong, because if we as oriental people choose to think differently than people from the west it doesn't mean one of us has to be either wrong or right. Human rights are and will always be universal but not embracing their ways of life doesn't categorize us as beasts like you are trying to portray us." Enlightenment" is not dropping religion and being secular. One last point in order not to make my comment and longer you said that something about God : If the God they have invented was really as merciful, as compassionate, as gracious and as just as they all claim Him to be wasn’t He supposed to have established an equal vision of humankind? This clearly shows how little you know about Christianity or Theology. God gave us the freedom to believe in whatever we want and when he saw us deviating from the right path he sent his son to us, he didn't just manipulate everyone's brain in order to make them believe in him. God does not treat us as if we are computers that he reprograms. He sent his son as a messenger and some chose to believe other chose not to. Again GOD IS FREEDOM and each of us willingly can choose what to embrace and what to reject.

majd el Arabi

one question to Joumana and her fans: if it happens that you loved a man, would you take the initiative and ask him to marry you ?


Why is it that "equal" must be "same"? The problem with modern feminism is that it encourages men and women to be the same, not equal. The word "feminism" is derived from the word "female", so why is it that feminism encourages females to be more like men? That goes against the very idea of feminism. If a women recognizes that "equal" does not mean "same" and values her differences as a woman, she is a true feminist and can also be Islamic, Christian, etc... You do not have to be dressed in jeans, head uncovered, on birth control, in the workforce to be equal to a man. You can be covered from head to toe, and take care of the home and be equal to men. Who says that dresses and oants arent equal? Who says that staying home is not equal to working? Maybe YOU can not be a feminist and follow a mootheistic religion, your understanding of feminism does not allow you to do so, but others certainly can. For the record, I am not saying that the treatment of women in some Islamic countries is equal or right, but that is not because of Islam, that is because of the government and extremists.

Nick McConnell

You go, girl! My wife, my daughter, and I thank you.


Joumana Haddad ha sintetizzato, per quel che si può in un articoletto, splendidamente un argomento molto complesso. Sono del tutto d'accordo per le tre sorelle monoteiste (the three sisters of monotheism). Mandi

Dark knight

Bullying and patronizing and to make it worse, not an original idea in sight. To compensate, the writer buses in a seemingly shocking quote from Greer to show us that she is somehow outre. Bottom line, if Ms Haddad weren't an Arab no one would listen to her. Take that away and her feminism is old hat.


Joumana you sound like a thirteen year old who just got the idea that religion might be man-made and goes around arrogantly repeating "religion is the opium of the masses", thinking he's a genius. How about we evolve from this philosophically immature and over-simplistic hypothesis and try to think deeper and wider about the causes, elements and effects of religious philosophy and theology before we fall-back on the tired, young activist mono-speech?


If females want to show skin, it's because they're females, not real women or ladies. If females have a proper IQ, they wouldn't go for such behavior in the first place and allow the media to control their minds about what to wear and how to act silly - typical. And yes, I have made my point clear about the similarity of rights and not equality, and I am not pretending that I know more about religion than you, it's obvious that I do, and I am not here stating that I am a priest or a sheikh or a rabbi, I am here stating facts that I know about religion that neither you nor Joumana know!


I agree with some of your points and disagree with others. Im not gonna talk about the religious side because Im not gonna pretend like I know Islam more than you do. But you can not say women should have similar right and not equal rights to men. Why not have the same rights? You said something about biological differences but I tell you that women and men have the same intellectual abilities and can think as clearly as men. You can not say men are superior to women in terms of decision making and in terms of IQ because they are not. The make up and skin showing has nothing to do with anything. IF females want to show skin its their choice, if they want to wear make up its their choice, plus you can not generalize on that point. IN addition to that men wear shorts and go topless on beaches, why you don't criticize them as well?


Right to the point, well said!


Well said, Theonymous.


Thumbs up!


You are right, such people do exist, but the idea i was pointing out is that the males, in the Arab world, are the ones being expected to do all of that, the females might do that out of their personal preference, no chains attached. What females should really seek is maybe to be able to give their children nationality/name, increase punishment against rapists (although in Islam rapists should be stoned to death), and such... Not the freedom to look like a slut, and act like a whore.... In Islam, males are NOT superior to females, they each got their own role in the community for a reason!


Then let them start paying... and stop nagging about men not being 'manly enough' for them if they don't work and get money.


Thank you so much, FINALLY. I thought I was the only one commenting against the author of this article and now I know I have supporters. They want 'equality?' Well, so do we!


you know that lots of females are buying their own houses, you know these days it is hard for a male to buy a house on his own, most of the time both a man and his wife buy the house together. What we are talking about is deeper than income you know? Lots of females make money much more than their men ..


It's what Joumana keeps asking for... indirectly, and we can sense it just as we can sense the brightness of the sun in the middle of the day.


why should anyone be on the top of the other? They can simply have the same rights


Way to go, Majd! Women like Joumana want to simply put the Women on top of men and call it feminism and gender equality! How hypocritic!


Your thoughts of Islam are also wrong due to your lack of knowledge about the religion jsut as Joumana's. By the way, the niqab is not part of Islam. It's a historic Yemenite cultural practice that was later embraced by the people of the region. See? You lack the knowledge, my dear.


FGH, DNA tests could be done today. What about the days of the stone age?!! You've shunned away millions of years of humanity when something like this couldn't be identified. In addition, DNA tests are very dangerous to take place while a woman is pregnant. I as a man deserve to know if I'm the father during the pregnancy and not just after it!!!


FGH, A woman is controlled mainly by her emotions and that 'clogs' her judgments most of the time. Just as Joumana's inability of controlling her emotions and wasting our time listening to her nonsense about negative feminism (because there's something that can be called positive feminism) and attacking religions without any knowledge of them.


A simple DNA test can be made where the father is determined


In such a case the woman can take the final decision, so what? Says who the man in this family is smarter than his wife, biologically speaking, they have equal awareness and similar intellectual abilities. These days, females are educated more than men and they tend to score better on tests.


Way to go Majd. How about when a woman marries more than one man and then she gets pregnant. Who's the father during the pregnancy period?