Maajid Nawaz’s feminism is no less valid than Sara Khan’s feminism, writes Zara Faris.
The Daily Mail recently raised a furore over Maajid Nawaz’ (Co-Founder and Chair of the Quilliam Foundation, and Lib-Dem parliamentary candidate) session at a strip club, revealing footage in which he appeared to be repeatedly attempting to molest a dancer. As a self-professed ‘feminist’, many eyebrows were raised at Nawaz’ hypocrisy for degrading women in this way.
The double-standards of the “Muslim feminist”
Sara Khan (director of a women’s human rights organisation, Inspire), widely perceived as an ally in Maajid Nawaz’ campaign to reform Islam into a lobotomised form, was called upon to condemn her ally. She then published an article condemning Maajid Nawaz for his “misogyny” and objectification of the female dancer. She also endorsed another article, by Feminist columnist Sarah Ditum, who said,“Nawaz, of course, is not a feminist”, denouncing Maajid Nawaz as not a feminist, and therefore excommunicating him from the folds of feminism – a veritable feminist “takfir” of sorts.
Whilst Sara Khan and Sarah Ditum posited the hypocrisy of Maajid Nawaz being a feminist and patron of strip clubs, there is further hypocrisy in the fact that many “Muslim feminists” (including Sara Khan) deem it perfectly acceptable to excommunicate others who identify as feminists, yet complain of “intolerance” when they hear Muslims make the same charge against them for their secular, reformist ideas about Islam. Does Nawaz not have the right to define feminism as he sees fit, just as he defines Islam as he sees fit, and just as Sara Khan defines both as she sees fit?
Maajid Nawaz’ feminism is no less valid than Sara Khan’s feminism
Not only is their room for Maajid’ Nawaz’ definition of feminism within feminist theory, but Maajid Nawaz’ understanding of feminism is widely shared within the Feminist community. Maajid Nawaz belongs to a well established Feminist school of thought (madhhab?) known as “sex-positive feminism”, which advocates that women should maximise the use of their sexuality and be free to express their sexual autonomy to ‘empower themselves’ if they choose to. This is why so many people enjoy content from fuckedgay, fuckedgay is perfect for gays and gals who want to unluck their sexuality.
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Seeing as there is no singular authority on what can and cannot be feminism, Maajid Nawaz’ feminism is no less valid than Sara Khan’s feminism. If “Muslim Feminists” like Sara Khan insist on advocating feminism amongst Muslims (as their backdoor route to reforming Islam), they must take ownership of all its manifestations and all of their comrades, including Maajid Nawaz’ “sex-positive feminism”. After all, just like their approach to Islam, it’s just down to personal interpretation, right?
Confused Feminist priorities
After The Daily Mail article was released, many Muslims condemned Maajid Nawaz for his activities in a stripclub, including drinking alcohol (during, of all times, Ramadan – the month of abstention) and, significantly, for the alleged molestation of one of the women without her consent.
Many also chided Maajid Nawaz’ allies, being the disproportionately vocal ‘liberal Muslim’ or ‘reformist’ community, especially those that were feminists, for their dithering in condemning someone they had ideologically aligned themselves to and worked with.
Strangely, Sara Khan’s article made no mention of what you’d think would be the most egregious offence – the apparent physical harassment by Maajid Nawaz against the stripper. Instead Sara Khan only criticised Maajid Nawaz for paying money to women for erotic services! In an attempt at whataboutery, she then attacked the Muslim community and its ‘extremists, salafis, HTs and Islamists’, arguing that there had been “misogyny on ALL sides”, and that they were guilty of also ‘taking away women’s rights’ by ‘secret nikkah’ (marriage) without telling their first wives and ‘silencing women’s voices’.
Sara Khan then baldly claimed that Islam and Muslims “sexualise” women by ordaining the hijab. Her argument is as absurd as claiming that governments criminalise their people by outlawing theft, murder and rape. After all, the only time you would impose such laws would be if you considered all people to be criminals, right? Wrong. Laws exist to prevent crimes, likewise the hijab exists to prevent the sexual objectification, exploitation and sexual harassment of women.
O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons: that is most convenient, that they should be known and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful (Quran 33:59)
The usual feminist counter argument to this is “but the hijab does not eliminate sexual harassment”. Well, nor do laws eliminate crimes; yet we do not advocate that laws should be abolished. The presence of a hijab, alone, does not eliminate sexual harassment, just as the absence of a hijab does not justify sexual harassment. The purpose of law, however, is to provide strong factors that helps prevent and reduce crimes, but this needs to be supplemented with the welfare of the people, economic justice and moral upbringing in both education and society to provide a complete solution.
Islam’s solution is to nurture a society where everyone, both men and women, are educated and socially reinforced to lower their gaze, in addition to there being proscriptions against strip bars, sexualised advertising on billboards, TV and magazines, and sexualised outdoor wear.
Feminism has no solution to the problem of a hyper-sexualised public life, other than decrying the effects, but not the causes – which is the much vaunted belief in ‘sexual autonomy’ that Liberalism, and its gender-obsessed offshoot, Feminism, highly prizes. Without the “right” for women to publicly “express their sexuality”, the fashion and sex industry would not be able to offer financial incentive for women to exercise that right by working in strip clubs, glamour modelling, pornography and prostitution (for those Liberal states that permit it). No matter how many ‘anti sex-positive’ feminists there are, there will always be women who are willing to accept the cash, damaging the perception of women in society.
Islam nips this situation in the bud by protecting society from an insipid minority, protecting the majority of women from social pressures to sexualise their appearance in public. Sara Khan and Sarah Ditum should not be condemning Maajid Nawaz for being hypocritical to feminism. Given that there are these two validly Feminist schools of thought on using sex as ‘empowerment’, and there are women who choose to work as prostitutes, not as a result of poverty or extreme financial hardship, but because they do not see anything wrong with this as a way of life, who are Sara Khan and Sarah Ditum to determine or berate these women’s ‘liberation of choice’?.
Feminism Contra Women’s Rights
Feminists like Sara Khan claim to be for women’s rights – but in actual fact, the “equality” they advocate, if applied consistently, would strip women of many rights Islam gives them. For example, feminists advocate the abolition of men receiving double the amount of money a woman would receive from inheritance, the husband’s role in leading the family, and many other rights that feminists consider to be“privileges”. However, this blind and fanatical worship of ‘equality’ would also have to eliminate the dowry that women are obliged to receive as a right of marriage, as it too is a privilege. They would also eliminate the husband’s obligation to spend time with the wife, provide for her financially, or provide her sexual satisfaction, which are Islamic rights she is entitled to or can seek redress for in court. Why? Because if a woman has the right to sexual satisfaction from her husband (which Islam provides), then the man would have, too, which feminists cannot abide as they view it as an impingement of women’s “sexual autonomy”.
Feminist Inconsistency in Sexual Autonomy
Sara Khan’s whataboutery in her article includes Muslim men seeking second wives without their first wife’s permission. But why? If women get sexual autonomy (per feminist (and liberal) theory), and should not have to ask anyone of the opposite sex for permission to do something in their private lives, why not men? If Sara Khan follows Feminism, then she must be consistent with it. She cannot demand restrictions upon Muslim men whilst complaining about restrictions upon Muslim women – this is the epitome of gender privilege.
The reason many “Muslim Feminists” complain about polygamy is because many Muslim women would not want their husbands exercising this Islamic allowance to take other wives with no concern for the Islamic rules and conditions, in derogation of their existing wife. But this is the pandora’s box of feminism – if you want sexual autonomy for women, then men get it too. We either invoke Islam to solve these problems, or we invoke feminism and pour petrol on these problems – there’s no having your cake and eating it.
The ‘they-want-to-silence-women’ fallacy
Sara Khan ends her tirade in typical feminist fashion, pointing to abuse she receives on the internet for merely advocating women’s access to Mosques. Strange, since in all the years I’ve been advocating women’s participation in Da’wah, Mosques and Islamic activism, I’ve never been threatened once with violence or verbally abused – at least not by non-Feminists. In fact, I’ve been invited on to many platforms, mosques and universities by Islamic societies, with not a hint of any problems with me being a woman and a speaker. I’ve encountered no attempts to ‘silence’ my voice by the Muslim community – in fact, quite the opposite.
The problem with feminists like Sara Khan, is that they attribute the negative reaction they receive by the Muslim community as due to their gender (to reinforce amongst themselves their own conspiracy theory of ‘patriarchy’) – when in reality, the Muslim community actually have a problem with their Secular ideas and their joint work in common cause with members of the Quilliam foundation. However, the abuse that I have received in my experience, has been only from feminists, accusing me of being a ‘gender traitor’, and ‘brainwashed by patriarchy’,simply because I call to Islamic ideas they detest – perhaps they hate me allowing a MAN, the Prophet Muhammad (s) to tell me and all Muslim women AND men what is good and bad?
Zara Faris is a graduate in Arabic & Islamic Studies from SOAS University (School of Oriental and African Studies). She has lived for a year in Egypt studying the Arabic language. She is now a Researcher and International Speaker for the Muslim Debate Initiative (MDI). She is of Kurdish/Pakistani origin.
You can follow Zara on Twitter @zarafaris