'Religious Bypass': Shielding a so called “XXXX Feminist”

It’s usually hard to find an objective line between truth and falsehood when scrolling through certain social media debates and thus a person makes the best judgment when they assume it is pure banter – gelled with half-baked points and whole ignorance and you just flow with the tide. It all of a sudden however becomes an eyesore and discomforting when ‘elders’ shabbily decide to address the specific topic’s intricacies with their clichés on auto-repeat; thereupon unconsciously de-legitimizing genuine grievances and arming cyberbullies to carry on their wanton diatribes and harassment of virtual handles and victims through ‘keyboard Jihad’.

To start with first, I’d have to ask how do we assess origins of various terms and lexicons and to what extent is justice achieved (by realizing their intended meanings) when they are related to contexts to which they are practiced in a specific place today? To keep it simple using analogies from an Islamically biased perspective, let me respectively examine two liberal models by the name modern ‘Democracy’ and ‘Nationalism’.

What exactly is in ‘Democracy’ in itself that captivates for example Muslims around the globe to want to embrace and partake in one in their respective societies despite the jeopardy of neo-liberalism? When juxtaposed with its literal definition alone, isn’t such creed even antithetical to the doctrines of the ‘Sharia’? Which implies by its popular cliché that one would expect decisions to be determined by the whims of the people for ‘better for worse (anarchy)’ or no? If we have just a case study to examine in over 300 years of such system of governance, the 2011 Presidential elections (Nigeria in focus) will suffice. But is that really where the story ends or begins?

Beyond the maxims (of Islamic jurisprudence), how could we have from the onset perfectly reconciled the idea of a ‘nationalistic identity’ or crude ‘Nationalism’ with the texts which emphatically rebuke any sort of (path leading to) chauvinism whatsoever? Even when the facts show that in the last three centuries, the most dead (from Napoleonic era and past the world war years) were caused by nationalistic chauvinism? Wouldn’t this have hindered a seeker of knowledge like Dan Fodio in the current era as he journeyed through Zinder/Niamey routes? Ignore the fact that artificial demarcation goes right across Muslim lands for now but will that be describing or depicting whole truths about the impact of nationalism on the individual today?

Coming back to the theme, I believe the term “Muslim Feminist” is problematic for a number of epistemic reasons amongst which it sounds more like a repetition of some sort. I may go ahead to state that as for now(only), I don’t recommend sisters embracing it so as not to have their intents lazily misconceived with those of so called “modernist Muslims” in the west (I elaborate more on this in my upcoming piece On Feminism: Towards becoming Responsible Qawammuns). But how semantics or ‘language ping-pong’ frequently usurps the underlying issue in contention (which is the plight of our women) is the bedeviling issue here – which have always been based on empirical facts and vivid realities.

Firstly, while one expects clarity from activists regarding the labels they adopt, I must bluntly say that consistently attempting to reconnect the Feminism our sisters espouse to a form of Feminism promoted by the western imperial project (or the white race) showcases ‘intellectual laziness’. If we agree that there is a problem in picking on a liberal ideology that isn’t characteristically rigid as the liberal ideologies we (may) have been forced to embrace (based on the examples I highlighted earlier), then the next step should be to research on the kind and strands of Feminism that have been documented other than make simplistic and harmful assumptions. Such strands exist due to its malleable definition that allows for ‘communal commonsense’ within respective societies around the world to define it. To simply put, what we (as society X) understand as justice and equality (which are the central virtues and goals) but which stakeholders consciously refuse to enact (in other maintain a profitable status quo) should be rightly agitated for – in a western context, to lessen the unfair burden of responsibilities and expectations their so called secular societies put on their women. It is for this obvious reason white women in the USA could get to vote and black women didn’t until the civil rights movement as it didn’t appeal to their commonsense at the time.

To elaborate a little more on ‘communal commonsense’, this may come in form of a criterion to which the community defers to e.g. ruler ship, constitution (as in the West) or maybe perhaps even a ‘scripture’. In the case of a constitution for example, they may be agitating for what clearly hasn’t been outlawed by constitution and yet appeals to humanistic goals(good or evil) since it was formed based on cultural and rational perspective of an era. Fast forward, for our local women, all that an educated ‘Muslimah *insert label here*’ would be required to do is to submit ‘equality’ in the context of its definition to the judgment of the sovereign legislator above(which is in tandem with the scripture) and then replace the word with ‘equity’ as a practicable task to be achieved. The criterion may (most likely) be the all the sources of Sharia (not just primary sources except if one is driven by “modernist”-esque motivations. Therein the knowledge/origin (epistemology) debate is put to rest at least temporarily.

Secondly, and even worse is that this same laziness manifests itself in a way that infuses a harmful logical fallacy into their sermons. The fact that a term itself originates from the west and a specific period doesn’t in anyway translate to its entire theme been a western product. If ‘women resistance’ is adopted as a lose translation for Feminism, then an African history junkie  knows already that this phenomenon ‘without a label’ can be traced back in time to at least 17th century Angola area. This kind of Feminism however isn’t narrowed to gender equality struggle but resisting colonialism as topmost priority – where the ideal/average woman wasn’t expected to assume the role of a warrior and thus is at risk of submitting in the face of her protectors defeat. ‘Resistance’ (for community good) has thus been the major philosophy of ‘African Feminisms’ around the continent. Of course our women weren’t left out as similar antecedents where recorded in colonial Nigeria when for example the Brits began to tax Igbo men heavily and using them as puppets to collect taxes from their women. The end result was a coalition of women that sacrificed their lives and abolished such injustice right when Feminism in the west was still unveiling itself. The point is African Feminism doesn’t just exists as a strand but also contains its own defined objectives and goals relevant to confronting peculiar issues related to its people and not the western woman’s ‘privilege headache’. This is aptly summed by Zaynab Alkali’s protest (whom like other prominent women activist resisted the label initially) for ‘home based’ Feminism in the book ‘PostColonial African Writers’. “Alkali calls for a new feminism which emphasizes the improvement of social, economic, and political status of women.  She rejects the western idea of feminism as based on strict gender equality and often, an anti-male stance. Alkali’s feminism reflects that of many African writers who, through their writings, struggle against cultural traditions and class privileges that have prevented women’s progress.” One can clearly see that the Feminism is fluid enough to rightfully(since it is rooted in a woman’s intrinsic nature) pursue humanistic causes and the term itself only helps to galvanize women into a global sisterhood community while pursuing their objectives in respective communities. One needs not quote a verse to back such endeavors as you can find a plethora of them endorsing Ma’aruf (good customs) and warding of Munkar (evil) which is the default mission of a Muslim as a Khalifah (ambassador) on earth.

Lastly, is this vague idea of “religious correctness” that is independent of a legal validation or ‘Sharia compliance’ evaluation. This problem in my opinion is not only rooted in one’s societal biases but also stems from a communal problem – which is the lack of creativity and critical thought amongst Muslims – arising from colonialism (no thanks to Europe). Thus, in an era where we have Muslims embracing liberal sciences and synthesizing it with Islamic tenets without much foundational qualms (e.g. Islamic Psychology or even Islamic Economics), I struggle to understand where the constraints for our conscious Muslimahs emanates from while they attempt claiming, redefining some kind of ‘ism’ or whatever non-Islamic epistemology with orthodox Islamic knowledge. With the current faux representation of ‘Islamic Feminism’ by the so called ‘modernists’, the urgency for development of a field that teaches ‘rights’ in Islam without appeasing cultural status quo and appealing to burgeoning neo-liberal desires cannot be overstated (which is the main gist of my upcoming thesis).

But even if everyone forecasts a disastrous cocktail or concoction in the fusing of two ideologies, what exactly is a quintessential example of a modern day application of this pure “Islamic Culture” we talk about?  A case study should be a single former or current Sharia “practicing” state that had an “Islamic Model” to addressing issues such as VVF infections and maternal mortality stats in our region, empowering more young brides education wise and challenged the other non-esoteric agitations of the local Feminist cliques (off social media of course) beyond capital gains and status (which is totally “sharia compliant” in the first place anyway). This is keeping in mind that there has been very little implementation of even the so called secular policies across the mass strip of the predominantly Muslim north. The point shows ideas are or have been hardly the problem for us.

For a start, as a popular journalist will say to paraphrase that we haven’t been a people that have lacked ideas…. We just can’t “walk the walk”. Implementation of such rigorous project requires credible ‘institutions’, diligent work and Plan Bs to kickstart a conscious driven project from the top. Na where the ‘wahala’ take start be dat. This of course leads to yet another question regarding ‘responsibility’ in the midst of this blame apportionment due to ignorance of religion. From the start, there is a general refusal to acknowledge that the harms from within weaken the walls that reduces our immunity to outside ideologies. This is such that we are pre-occupied with misplaced paranoia’s taking center stage ahead of issues ravaging us. Quoting an African adage, “If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm”. There wouldn’t be a need to chastise half-baked “Muslim Feminists” because they wouldn’t exist if we had kept to our responsibilities as Imams and Qawammuns (overseers, protectors etc.) of our families and societies.

So even after the ‘cultural consensus’ from reading inferred deductions of the verse (Nisa: 34) as “women’s inferiority to men” and then turning it into clichés and anthems, we are left with vacant posts to be filled; there is a refusal to accept that leadership in all ramifications from the family unit to community has failed – which clearly epitomizes the state of our polity today. So as we sing Islam gave Women rights 1300 years ago, it entrusted such responsibility to Men not to be used as clichés to bark at the disenchanted – we are thus witnesses to our creativity today, no need for History books. If a Man truly feels, the “Muslim Feminist” is ignorant, can he point at one single credible school (devoid of allegiances) in each capital that her and her cohorts can be referred to for easy access to pure knowledge or resources?

Where are the make shift facilities for women?  With the deficit of female experts, have you ensured non intermittent/easy access to male scholars? Any institutions to protect and safe guard women from maltreatments, abuses etc.? Popular agencies to keep check on maternal health anybody? Heck, even to maintain existing agencies to safeguard proper rights and cater for tarbiyyah of the children we burden them to produce and up bring(in teams) –  is a problem. I’d like to quickly point out that it doesn’t require a prophecy to realize that a growing privileged class of women will soon resort to blindly following foreign experts (and celebrity preachers) as they become more accessible through virtual social mediums at the expense of Ulamas on ground. The excuse for the new Fitna will not be “refusal refer to Islam” to address on ground issues anymore, for how much facilities were available to accommodate and teach them about what constitutes a ‘Fatwa’ and ‘Ethics of disagreement in religion’? Where were the pathways to accessing ‘on the ground’ scholars to address pertinent issues affecting them? It surely wasn’t the responsibility of any obedient wife/sister fulfilling the commands in submission. Any reason for agitated women to not make a conspiracy theory out of this?

The life of our beloved mothers of today and tomorrow should be more sanctimonious than politicking between ideas when a potential ‘make shift’ ideology can attempt handling such tasks in the interim; via skillful persuasion and galvanizing of women to instill traits of resistance in themselves while we(the overseers) continue to falter in our capacity as Imams and divinely ordained Qawammuns. We have little time on our side in this new era for experimentation and waiting for new holistic ideas to conform to creed while mortgaging the lives of our ‘equal halves’. Here I quote the lose words of Ibn Qayyim: “Whatever the way by which Justice and religion are attained, they are part of religion and do not run against”. Example: We’ve had ‘Salafism’ and ‘Sufism’ at different times in history come in and help pose as reform ideologies in other to revitalize faith by instilling values and purpose to the salvation path; beyond just emphasis on vivid practices of Islamic pillars as well as Halal and Haram that the experts were absorbed into. Despite the pathetic yet predictable states of their strict adherents today, these sub-cultures were formed to repair defects affecting the nation’s (Ummah) spirit and hindering its progress.

Coming back to philosophy and underlying reality debates, if it appears that there seems to be more ‘money oriented’ “Muslim Feminists” then it’s not at all rocket science. Join me in tracing the roots for a second. Firstly, men are entrusted with the responsibility for handling provisions. After corruption sips in, when Provisions from ‘The Provider’ become entitlements and “rightful properties” amongst other worldviews, then it’s not at all unexpected to see a woman even demand for things like “equality”. Yes she has been demeaned to be viewed entirely from materialistic lenses as now ‘property’ way from the ordained ‘companion’ status. It is why such concessions like polygamy that should be seriously adopted today are susceptible to faulty premonitions and evil. Again take note that the leaders here aren’t women for one evil begets another despite their faults. We create environments to produce radicals and not the other way round. The material/class inclined “Feminist” is not in any way different from the ‘House Lady’ that requires high maintenance and exorbitant dowry before consent. Both are products and prisoners of a bastardized society whose god is the Naira bill (NB: they are totally ‘sharia compliant’, yet in our dealings we must distinguish between Fatwa and ‘Taqwa’.)

In summary, it should be a lot simpler. The origins of modern democracy may have birthed a civilization mirroring an (evil) empire today i.e. USA. But in the same hemisphere, you have the Scandinavians – a civilization comparison of at least 3 countries – whose form of beneficial governance (devoid of heavy neoliberal influence and comprising of socialist aesthetics) and moderate nationalism can serve as a model democracy for the third world. Our form of Nationalism doesn’t have to be as chauvinistic as South Africa or the west either as we can learn and choose to be either pre(Nazi era) or post(modern day) demilitarized Germany. The unfolding Rohingya story should suffice in this case when we think about non-Islamic ideas of citizenship and privileges. There is thus room for creativity from ‘homebased Feminism’ in such line if it functions without whimsical adherents. In this era, where disappointingly activism is the closest path to enjoining communal good, the sisters ‘may’ be able to utilize a form of (Islamic) goal-oriented Feminism to galvanize each other in sisterhood and enjoin such in a manner that transcends association by faith. For now, there are no proofs that African feminism will pursue western Feminism’s endeavor like for example the LGBT crusade. If ‘Communal commonsense’ in a western context means transgender rights today, for us Africans, it is eradication of diseases plaguing women and kids(Polio, VVF etc.), girl-child education, and shattering ‘class privileges’ sustained by unearned authority amongst  a plethora number vivid issues ravaging us and comfortably ignored by stakeholders.

Again the point is simple, we can go about promoting our so called “Islamic solution”, devoid of institutional support (or a framework) without having to deride those of activists and victims we don’t ally with. The idea that women can just begin digging into any text (without existing tutors and leadership) to espouse their rights is sardonic when we know the reality of how one is to approach the Sharia. You also won’t find a slate containing commandments on “Women’s rights” anywhere and that’s because even if all the enshrined rights are collated from the canonical texts, interpretation will still be subject to different constraints relating to for example time and society. One needs not mention the other demands and baggage culture has put on them that may deny them the luxury of time to pursue knowledge beyond basic Islam101. As a matter of fact, beyond the frequently regurgitated clichés, pursuing known individualistic goals of the Sharia and responsibilities related to gender has been a long practice of our women in trying times except that it has been further curtailed by culture and has resulted in producing consistent snail paced results when graphed with accelerating harms of society.

We’d also have to figure exactly what this new inimitable, inbuilt ‘Islamic cultural reform’ strategy looks like that is unyielding to customs. It begs the question as to why we have varying Muslim cultures that are oppressive if such monolith is easily practicable. One thing that is certain is that every ideology to be actualized by humans has an equal failure probability regardless how one attempts to ultra “Islamicate” it (for lack of a better word). The conditions and inner states of the people must change before we think of actualizing holistically pure ideas. It is for this reason that there is no state that is fit to holistically practice sharia from top to bottom. These secular institutions and ideas we coopt should hence be seen as temporary measures to curing debilitating defects as we renew intents towards a sharia compliant society. It’s either we choose to leave the semantic debates for ‘gutter twitter’ alongside other waste topics or risk becoming the prominent deviants in the middle of this apathetic state. Under our very nose, ‘nationalism’ we vehemently defend was used to exploit a region in the name of “common wealth”. You couldn’t find a single religious denomination to speak out against such subtle atrocious acts. Unlike such sustained injustices on groups, we must realize that “a nation cannot rise higher than its women and thus silence to these issues until “noisy slogans” erupt will continue to be akin to the Jahillyya era act of burying the girl child alive.

To get our acts right first and foremost, when peddling the same old clichés, we should take a look at the other fingers pointing underneath at us as we point a finger at disgruntled folks. We must transition from mere talkers to walkers and begin as soon as possible with community reforms. Institution building, facilities, resources, periodic but steady accessibility to ‘on-ground’ scholars, health and sanitary issues and training groups of female experts amongst others should be our topmost priorities as Qawammuns and Imams. That’s a simpler way to contain so called “attention seeking” women (or “Muslim Feminists”) from a pool of silent victims than manufacturing academic refutations destined for the middleclass archives or dustbin – with little to no effect on the women struggle. Guiding (not dictating) women in line with Islamic tenets, irrespective of the path they espouse is hence our primary responsibility.

 So while we continue to appeal to distractions, one can expect in the interim an increase in the number of resilient ‘outlaws’ – probably latter day Hajiya Sawaba and Zaynab Alkali –  regardless their  level of knowledge of the doctrine they are comforted by. It’s not unprecedented as we’ve produced people with such will in history who have ventured into what was deemed as ‘other businesses’. Some strayed and corrected their flaws for history to teach while others achieved their interim goals. One can however expect that if we continue to sustain this level of incompetence, then inevitably our own bloods will usher in the next generation of varying Feminist ideologies under our very roofs. In the meanwhile, let’s kick start ‘enlightened discussions’ away from yesterday’s ignorance

I end with the word of the elders; whatever good that has been written is the manifestation of the divine and any wrong is certainly from the writer. May we be guided aright.

Photo Credit: Salafi Feminist

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