Gender & Identity Life

I’m Muslim, and I used to be ashamed to call myself a feminist. Here’s what changed.

Anyone that knows me, knows how much of a proud feminist I am.

Ever since ninth grade, it has been my most significant identifier. My love for feminism even drove me to want to study Journalism and Women’s Studies in college. The more I read about women’s issues, the more I wanted to leave my own impact on the world.

But I wasn’t always like this. When I first started calling myself a feminist in high school, someone very close to me told me that it was against Islam and that it was “too western” of a concept. I remember feeling hurt, confused, and guilty. I love being Muslim, but I also love being a feminist. I didn’t understand why I had to choose between two things that are a big part of my identity.

It was odd to me that there was this perception about Islam, even within the Muslim community, that women are not granted their rights. Some believed that if Muslims were to become feminists, they would start questioning a lot of the principles interpreted from the Quran.

But it just didn’t make any sense to me that so many people would believe in something that treated people unequally. So, like anyone going through an identity crisis, I started doing my own research.

I found that everything that person had said to me, and so much of what others thought about women’s status in Islam, could not be further from the truth.

Everything that I had heard about how Islam oppresses women and strips away their rights was simply not true.

It is not Islam that does this. It is some people’s misinterpretation of Islam.

I learned that Islam was the first religion to give women the right to inheritance. Not only that, but they have full control of any money they inherit/earn. Moreover, Islam prohibited female infanticide, a practice common in pre-Islamic Arabia, and one that still exists in some countries outside the Middle East today. Islam also encourages women to get an education and work, something that was exclusive to men around the world at the time.

These were all advancements for women’s rights the west only made years later.

The prophet even made sure to include how integral it is for men to respect women in his Farewell Sermon, which he delivered before he died. In one of the sayings of the Hadith, Muhammad says, “The best men are those who are best to their wives.” He also believed that a daughter was a blessing and a father’s pathway to heaven.

I quickly realized that it would be un-Islamic of me to not be a feminist. In fact, it was this realization that drove so many women and men to develop Islamic feminism, a form of feminism based on the interpretations of the Quran and the Hadith (a collection of the prophet’s sayings).

It is our responsibility as feminists and/or Muslims, to take the time to develop our understanding of the belief systems around us. We have to stop acting like feminism and Islam are mutually exclusive when they are not.

By Tamara Abueish

Intersectional feminist majoring in Journalism and Women's Studies at the American University of Sharjah. When she isn't running the Women Empowerment Club at her university, she enjoys reading, watching movies and going to the beach with her friends.