Islam and Feminism in Malaysia: How are they related?

By Amira Syafiqa

Feminism has been a popular term these days which emphasises on women empowerment. However, is feminism a bad ideology? Does Islam support feminism?

Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad’s wife, was a successful businesswoman. It portrays that a woman can work for herself and not to depend merely on men. Other than that, Aishah was the narrator of hadith where she narrated about 1,200 hadith of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. Besides, she was the Quran interpreter and became the source of information for the companions.

Both of them fought for women’s rights during the Prophet’s era. Hence, this shows the existence of powerful women figures in Islam to encourage other women to become successful as Khadijah and Aishah.

Feminism has gained attention recently as people keep debating whether Islam supports this ideology. In addition, is feminism in Islamic context similar to the western perspective? The answer is obviously no. The western view on feminism, or known as White feminism, is regarded as extreme, while in Islam, this ideology is more to fight for justice for women.

Do Islam and feminism relate to one another?

Based on the research, 59% said that the concept of feminism does not exist in Islam. Therefore, in Islam, it does not explicitly mention that this religion supports feminism but there are several verses in the Al-Quran that stated the need to respect women and to treat them with courtesy.

Some Quranic verses and hadiths stated that men are supposed to be kind and benevolent to their wives. Therefore, the act of violence towards women is totally erroneous and intolerable in society. Islam does hold the idea of feminism by pointing out how women should be treated and in upholding women’s position, integrity and dignity.

During Jahiliah era, women were discriminated against and female babies were buried alive. Hence, there were two surah that Allah created to defend women’s rights, which are An-Nisa and Al-Talaq. Both surah highlighted solely about women which depicted how special women are in Islam.

Other than that, the Al-Quran has established equality between men and women regarding basic social and religious responsibilities. For instance, both genders are supporters for each other and both need to perform ibadah, the same way as commanded by God. For example, praying, fasting, alms, pilgrimage, are among other fundamental practices in Islam.

Thus, Islam ensures full protection of women’s rights in domestic sphere where it is obligatory for men to provide to their wife such as financial responsibility of the family. Nevertheless, these rights of women are knotted with responsibility because Islam stresses on women’s greater role in domestic sphere.

Furthermore, a wife who works and has an income can use all the money for herself. This shows that Islam does not discriminate against women and provide rights for them. It is mentioned in surah An-Nisa verse 34, God has assigned men with the role of protecting and maintaining of women as well as financial responsibility of the family.

There are also hadith where Prophet Muhammad strongly advised Muslim men to treat their wives kindly. For instance, “The most complete of the believers in faith is the one with the best character. And the best of you are those who are the best to their women.”

Nurul Iman, a student from Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences (KIRKHS), said that having feminism belief is important as we are living in a patriarchal society that remains traditional since long time ago.

She said, “We are now living in a modern world where education is one of the crucial things in our life, so women need to be independent and work hard to get better life rather than depending on men especially for their money.”

Besides that, she mentioned about child marriage should be banned as it is important for the children to focus on education first. Noting that even though the older generation got married at young age, “it does not mean that children nowadays need to follow the norms as we are now a progressive society.”

Why is feminism still an issue in Malaysia?

Feminism is a belief for gender equality and it is still happening until today. Why does this problem still remain unresolved? Why are women still fighting for their rights?

We are looking at the violence towards women where most people believe that women who came forward to tell the truth were not taken in seriously in many countries. A survey conducted in Malaysia showed that 50% has come to an agreement that the reports on sexual harassment were generally ignored.

Also, statistics indicated that sexual harassment is seen as the main issue faced by women in Malaysia. Because of the issue that keeps rising which has portrayed violence against women, feminists have come out to speak up on the issues and wanted to halt such violations from happening.  

Other than that, there is misperception of society in women’s representation of leadership. It is unacceptable to hear that women cannot become leaders as it will challenge the patriarchy social structures and they may seem to be superior than men.

Moreover, 70% of IIUM students admitted that they are non-feminists. Nevertheless, most of them do not really understand what feminism means and they lack understanding of the term.

Feminists have always been stereotyped as those who are extremely hating men. It is quite often that people misinterpret the concept of feminism from Islamic and western perspectives. Thus, feminism is solely a belief that women need justice.

Some men are threatened by feminism as it challenges the fundamental relations in family, workplace dynamics, and social structures, particularly patriarchy. Moreover, any woman who fights for women’s rights is considered as demanding feminism and has negative perception. All of these misperceptions portray feminism as a bad thing while it actually means otherwise.

Is feminism necessary in this country?

As we are living in a Muslim majority country, it is difficult to change the mindset of some people who are still holding on to the patriarchal system. In addition, those who believe in patriarchy social structures usually have negative perception towards women. Therefore, we need feminism if there are people who still believe that rape happened because of how women dress or behave.

It is an issue when rape cases happened the common perception is always because of the way women dressed. This invalid reason makes it seem like victim-blaming. Feminism is needed if women are still being discriminated in workplaces and there are still females being deprived of acquiring good education and married off to the elders. Feminism is needed if women continue to be bullied and violated. Feminism is still needed if the state fails to protect women.

In fact, violence against women remains irresistible and keeps rising. Male ideology is being propagated where they keep saying women’s dressing are the cause of rape and they should have a proper behaviour. Syahira from Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences said, “It is crucial to speak out about violation towards women and promote equality and respect to both genders, men and women in society.”

Women’s March Day

The Women’s March day held on 9 March in Kuala Lumpur is a campaign where people gathered on the streets to spread awareness of women’s rights. It is a large-scale action coordinated by women’s organisations. The campaign is carried out with the slogan “End Violence, Respect Women”.

Many young women draw the line to deter violence towards women by expressing it through petitions like the official campaign. Furthermore, this campaign emphasises on greater socio-economic equality and political justice for women.

Women’s March demanded to end all violence based on gender and sexual orientation. Violence such as sexual harassment and physical violence are common cases that come across mass media these days, hence, causing young women, especially feminist activists, to stand up on this issue. Many issues involving violence against women happened and no action was taken to stop the problems from happening.

Not to forget about the case where Yousafzai was shot and almost killed at the age of 15 just because she went to the school and encouraged other girls to do the same. This issue depicts terrible experience faced by a girl.  Other than that, the campaign wants to ban child marriage and wants to ensure that women have rights and freedom to make choices on their own.

In Malaysia, there is still a lack of gender consciousness and sensitivity because of religious and cultural influences. In other words, the discrimination against women has somewhat been justified under the name of religion and culture which practises patriarchy. Hence, this campaign has been encouraged in support of women’s rights. ***

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