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Baraza! 7 - Contemporary Islamic feminism and the challenges confronting it in Muslim Societies
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In Baraza 6 we presented introductory articles on ‘Islamic Feminism: the Beginning’ which explained what Islamic feminism is all about, with a basic info kit on Islamic feminism’s central ideas, as well as mapping out the history, emergence and development of Islamic feminism throughout the Muslim world today.

In this issue of BARAZA 7 we look at contemporary Islamic feminism by (a) identifying and profiling some key Islamic feminist actors, scholars and activists around the world; (b) highlighting the role of, and challenges confronting, Islamic feminist movements in two large Muslim countries, Egypt and Indonesia; and (c) two articles on the situation in Egypt post-Arab Spring which exemplify the continuing struggle and challenges confronting Islamic feminist movements in Egypt today.

Islamic feminism is currently at a crucial stage of having to face up to constant challenges from patriarchal political parties or movements as well as authoritarian and semi-democratic states both within and outside the Muslim world. Patriarchy remains strong in the family and society as it is often legitimised and used by religious authorities.

Ratna Osman, the Executive Director of SIS, describes her personal journey to becoming a Muslim woman committed to the belief in and advocacy for women’s rights and gender equality.

Shahril Hamdan, in his short biography of Ziba Mir-Hosseini, describes the experience of a scholar-activist who is currently in the forefront of a global struggle to promote Islamic feminism and realise its potential to bring about gender justice using the frameworks of Islam and human rights.

Fuad Rahmat discusses the contributions of numerous Egyptian thinkers to early Muslim reformist thought, setting the scene for modern-day discussions of gender equality.

The essay Islamic Feminism: Reflections from Egypt, by Mulki al-Sharmani, goes on to describe how Islamic feminism has been defined, categorised and critiqued in scholarly or academic literature, especially by Muslim women working within Egypt or elsewhere, such as Margot Badran, Omaima Abou-Bakr, Asma Barlas and Ziba Mir-Hosseini. It also outlines a brief history of the emergence, trajectory, significance, and challenges of Islamic feminism in Egypt.

Ala’i Nadjib in her article Feminist Movement in Indonesia examines the socio-political contexts of women’s movements and since the 1990s the significant influence of literature written by Muslim feminists such as Fatima Mernissi and Riffat Hassan among others. She argues that Indonesian women’s movements began with a focus on empowerment issues in the areas of education, health care and economic development but finally expanded into an engagement with religious ideas and texts. Islamic feminism was partly borne out of the participation of women in Islamic women’s mass organisations such as Fatayat of Nahdlatul Ulama and Aisyiyah of Muhammadiyah.

See also our centre spread by Shanon Shah on Contemporary Islamic Feminism: Key Thinkers and Activists Around the World to understand who they are and what they do to advocate women’s rights.

Fatima Seedat in her article When Islam and Feminism Converge analysed the terminology of Islamic feminism as viewed by important key players such as Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas and Ziba Mir-Hosseini. She pointed out that while some academics choose to remain neutral towards the feminist label, they are optimistic about convergence with it to achieve social justice.

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