We are identified by different names and titles, some show endearment, some show status, and some are mere markers of where we are from, what language we speak, and what groups we belong to. I’m called and referred to by different names, for example I’m a daughter, sister, wife, professor, friend, blogger, Qatari, woman, among others. Still the new title I’ve been given is a bit troubling. Some colleagues, readers, and students have started calling me a feminist or have asked me if I am one. I had students and reporters framing and introducing their questions with: “As a feminist, what do you think of this and that”? I’ve also noticed that some of the search engine terms that people use and through which they are directed to me blog are: Feminist Amal Al-Malki, Feminism and Amal, and the likes.
In all honesty, I don’t see it as an accusation as I do teach a course on Islamic Feminism, and have published several articles on the topic. I’m also involved in women leadership and empowerment programs on campus. I am a scholar and an educator who happens to be a woman belonging to a region that is witnessing prosperity and progress and women are certainly beneficiaries of this phase as much as men.
As much as I would love to be known as an advocate for women’s rights, the term “feminist” troubles me! The first question to ask is whether the term itself is derogatory. The answer is of course not. No one can deny what feminism has offered women everywhere. The problem is that when the naming comes from this part of the world, I’m not sure that the connotations are neutral. Some people still connect feminism to Western feminism and even worse to cultural imperialism.
The problem with this narrowed perception is that people use feminism as a homogeneous term while it is not. There are different feminisms in the west and the States and the same applies to feminisms in Arab and Muslim countries. There is the Islamic feminism which grounds their arguments in Islam and its teachings and is different than Muslim feminism which uses arguments outside Islam, for example national secular law or international human rights agreements.
Some condemns feminism because some of the early attempts took secular and drastic approaches, like taking off the hijab in Egypt and burning the Abayya in Kuwait. Still you can’t judge these actions unless you look at each particular case individually and analyze the sociopolitical contexts in which they appeared. And let us not forge that t the feminist movements in the Arab world were the first to stand behind Muslim women’s right to don the hijab in France and saw it as a practice of religious freedom that should not be affected by any secular law.
The idea of women coming together is scary to some, assuming that the outcome of such gatherings cannot be good for men. Not all feminist are women, some are actually men. Believe it or not some of the prominent figures promoting women’s education and emancipation at the beginning of the 20th century in Egypt are men, like Qasim Ameen, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and Mohammed Abdu.
Am I a feminist? I am a female who is very conscious of the gender roles assigned to me as a woman in the society, some of which are very limiting to my potentials. I am a woman who thinks that women should share decision making positions with men, especially the ones where men decide on what is better for women, or make laws that will affect women as much as men in the society. I am a woman who thinks that women are still not granted their full rights that God has granted them. I am a woman who calls for a drastic change in how society perceives women. Does this make me a feminist? I though it makes me a human! But again, I don’t really mind if I am called one now that I made my case. I am a feminist, like many men and women out there calling for social justice and freedom for all.
This entery was published in March as a column in Woman Today, a Qatari based monthly magazine