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Features, Guest Posts

Feminism and Islam – a view from the inside

Shaheena Salahuddin is a British Muslim who has worked as a refuge project worker for a well known domestic violence organisation.  She has a degree in Sociology and Criminology and with a passion for human rights, Shaheena has been actively involved in various campaigns of Amnesty International.  Her main focus is on Women and Children’s rights with regard to domestic violence. You can follow Shaheena on twitter @TheConTWINuum 

We asked Shaheena the following questions:

Do you find that there are any obstacles in being a Muslim and a feminist? 

I personally don’t feel as though there are any obstacles in being both a Muslim and Feminist. I was born to Muslim parents but never really practiced my religion until a few years ago. I was, of course, always a feminist and prior to researching Islam (for myself) I did believe it to be impossible. This understanding was based on my perception of what Islam stood for by looking at the way that others practiced and also by others interpretation i.e. the media. It was a friend that first spoke to me about Islam on a level that I could understand and appreciate the true sentiment. I wasn’t actively looking to practice religion but she handed me a copy of the Quran with English translation and I read it, I haven’t looked back since. From my point of view, the Quran has a positive message with regards to women and their status. I can see how people would gain a negative understanding but this is largely down to the fact that culture is often mixed with religion and most interpretations or translation of Islamic texts have been conducted by men. I have a copy of the Quran translated by a woman “The Sublime Quran” by Laleh Bakhtiar.   If I have a question relating to Islam, I normally seek out a female Imaam, I try to avoid asking men because I don’t feel that they can understand feminist issues (that doesn’t mean to say that all of them are incapable). Also, as a Muslim, you have to believe that God intended for all beings to be equal to one another, I’ve included a link that mentions particular verses that refer to equality: Equality of Men and Women

Are there stereotypes in the Western world of Muslim women?

Without any doubt there are many stereotypes of Muslim women. We are weak, submissive, censored, abused and uneducated martyrs. I cannot begin to explain how this angers and frustrates me. I am not saying that there aren’t Muslim women like this (we live in a patriarchal world after all) but the perception is that we are all subjected to mistreatment and have no rights, because of our religion and the way that we look. For twenty seven years of my life (I’m nearly 30), I walked around without my hijab, I wore pretty much what I wanted, I mixed freely with men and I totally enveloped myself in British culture. Whilst there was nothing wrong with this lifestyle, I never felt as secure and self assured as I have done since I chose to cover up and avoid male company. Prior to wearing headscarf, I was constantly ogled at, I had been groped on a number of occasions in public, I felt anxious about my self image, constantly dieting and spending a fortune on hair and makeup products. I cannot begin to tell you how liberated I felt the day I wore my headscarf and covered up, it was bliss! BUT according to our lovely press, and indeed, many Western feminists, wearing hijab/nikaab/jilbaab is an infringement of our human rights. Yes, there are women who are forced to wear these garments but there are many, many more that choose to do it. These women are largely ignored because they do not fit in with the political agenda of our time, which endeavours to paint Islam in a negative light.

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