“White-masks and Muslim veils” – The perplexing case of the Muslim feminist

“Muslim feminists” have made liberalism a universal premise for their thinking whilst selectively using Shariah principles to justify unIslamic ideas, writes Ali Harfouch.

If there is one thing we can learn from the ways in which colonial-relations manifest themselves it is the process of colonisation and subversion is not necessarily a process in which an external agent/power subverts/colonises a “native” Muslim – quite the contrary – it has increasingly becoming the case that Muslims perpetuate their own process of self-colonisation. Mimicry at its finest albeit cloaked beneath the veneer of fancy discourses and ambiguity. An example of such is the recent plethora of “feminist” in Muslim communities across the West.

For practical purposes, we are not interested in whether or not a re-conceptualisation of feminism within an “Islamic paradigm” is possible or not. What we are interested in however are the Muslim feminist who wear white-masks and espouse an explicitly Western discourse whilst try to reconfigure Islam, through a dismal attempt at hermeneutics, so that Islam can conform to their liberal precepts. Worse yet, their academic credentials and ability to employ an “advanced” (as it appears to them) discourse puts them in an illusionary position of “authority”. The fallacy of the White-masked Muslim feminist is perplexing to say the least for the following reasons.

Subvert of reify patriarchal power-structures?

Feminism presupposes that there exists patriarchal power-structure which subverts women to the power and authority of men. The origins of any power-structure, it goes without saying, is historical i.e. they are not created out of a vacuum and in most cases are created by ‘men’ (to put it as simply as possible). Thus one is left asking – what is the value or benefit or seeking equality within the existing (intrinsically) patriarchal power-structures?

It would seem to be a far more fruitful endeavour if one sought to completely deconstruct and abolish those power-structures. Perhaps this is a lesson that our white-masked feminist can learn from the Prophetic method of change. Unfortunately this does not appear to be part of the defensive and reactionary campaign of individuals like Myriam Cerrah who are more keen on apologetically reinterpreting (read; mutating) the Qur’an and condescendingly attacking members of the Muslim community.

Secondly, when one speaks of “women’s rights” this also presupposes a set of rights and subsequently a political system which grants those rights. Accordingly, what system? There are no universal historical set of fundamental rights which the call for “women’s rights” refers to, therefore it is necessary that the call for women’s rights is complemented with the delineation of a particular system to both grant and secure those rights. In the end, they paradoxically end up reifying the very same power-structures which produced the initial inequality they set out to condemn.

Universalising liberalism and historicising Islam?

One of the explicit and unique features of revelation in Islam is its timelessness and its accessibility. It is timeless because it dealt with permanent features of man and society by providing permanent injunctions and it’s accessible because revelation was embodied in the most explicit means-of-communication – language.

The Qur’an draws on this feature repeatedly, for example “Indeed, We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an that you might understand” or “A Book whose verses have been detailed, an Arabic Qur’an for a people who know”. Another property of the Qur’an, by virtue of its divine origins and authenticity, is its epistemic authority i.e. an authority which reigns over any temporal and subjective discourses, ideologies, and so forth.

Myriam Francois-Cerrah
Myriam Francois-Cerrah

What is left of this timelessness, accessibility and epistemic authority if the most explicit of texts is denied in light of “Modern socio-political and economic conditions??” In other words, what is left of the Qur’ans claims to authenticity and authority if it is subverted to relative and contingent realities? This is precisely what the White-masked Feminist commit through their fallacious “hermeneutics”. Take for example the recent statement by Myriam Cerrah who denied the manifest meaning – the inheritance rights of women in Islam – in the verse: “They request from you a [legal] ruling. Say, “Allah gives you a ruling concerning one having neither descendants nor ascendants [as heirs].” If a man dies, leaving no child but [only] a sister, she will have half of what he left. And he inherits from her if she [dies and] has no child. But if there are two sisters [or more], they will have two-thirds of what he left. If there are both brothers and sisters, the male will have the share of two females. Allah makes clear to you [His law], lest you go astray. And Allah is knowing of all things.”

All the while, she is claiming to do so on the basis of Maqasid ash-Shariah (the objectives of Shariah) but in reality her reinterpretation is based on Maqasid al-Liberaliyyah (the objectives of liberalism). Consequently, she ends up universalising liberalism whilst historicising Islam despite the historically-sensitive origins of the former and the divine origins of the latter. If anything, her re-reading of the Qur’an is not to be seen as a creative exercise but rather an exercise in consumption and mimicry.

On another note, we noted earlier that any claim to recapture “women’s rights” must simultaneously point out the location of those rights (e.g. is it Modern society, the Qur’an, the “periphery” etc) however Myriam Cerrah paradoxically mystifies the real location of those rights by rejecting the possibility of a textual-location (the Qur’anic texts) and ambiguously drawing upon the “Maqasid”. Her act of negation and marginalisation of authentic locations is merely an expression of the colonised tendency to re-centre the West as the natural and fixated location of knowledge, legitimacy and rights.

In conclusion, historically speaking, the question of “women’s rights” in the Muslim world never emerged organically from the Muslim women themselves but emerged from intellectual circles (made up by men) who sought to fully “modernise”. Nadia Fadil’s work on “Islamic feminism and decolonialism” explains that the “women’s question” did not emerge due to the desire of women to be included as “equal citizens” (this is how it emerged in Europe); rather, it emerged as a project by Egyptian to be included in modernity and as a way for them to assert themselves as political and modern subjects.

There are of course many dimensions and underlying paradoxes that ought-to be exposed in the discourse of the White-masked veiled feminist movement however we will leave these for future articles. In the second part of this article, I will look at the discourse of women’s rights as a subtle Trojan horse being dragged into the Muslim world.

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