As a young woman, I was attracted to the language of equality and social justice and felt compelled to take a position in the feminism debate. “How could anyone support inequality or injustice?”, feminists would accusatorily ask. “Stand on the right side of history,” they’d say, presenting feminism as the default position, a fait accompli that I needed only approve. However, after I examined the terms, arguments, and underlying framework of feminism, it became clear that I was emerging with more questions than answers. The lack of clear definitions, the shallow and subjective readings of history, and the inconsistency between the figureheads and intellectual powerhouses of the movement all drove me to consider an alternative.
I drifted to the other side of the debate and was disappointed by the lack of answers among anti-feminist reactionaries. The same vitriol, inadequacy, and inconsistency prevailed, though it was arguably even worse in reactionism and pseudo-intellectualism. Moving from one camp to its equal and opposite extreme revealed that they are, neither in substance nor in form, not significantly different. In fact, both movements operate in a closed circuit, fueling each other within the same paradigm. On one side, feminists and social justice warriors and on the other, “red pilled,” purported champions of traditionalism, male dominance, and even science.
Rivals in the Gender Wars: One and the Same
Both of these movements talk over women, ignoring everything that contradicts or undermines their arguments – as if this were all a game and not immediately consequential to half the world’s population. The harms of the feminist paradigm, including immediate physical ones, like unlimited abortions and “liberated” sexuality, to familial and social ones, with individual whims superseding collective considerations make it unsurprising that one might seek answers elsewhere. However, anti-feminist activists dismiss, with tired slogans like “not all men” and “feminazis,” the slightest concern over issues like women’s access to healthcare or education and characterize such concern as an attempt to shame men. Anti-feminists activists label any man who agrees with criticisms or calls on other men to embrace and utilise their manhood in support of women who face oppression as controversial, prejudiced, and “whipped.”
The biggest loser between these two movements is intellectualism, decency, and level-headedness, as both build from the same self-defeating foundation: either men consistently oppress women or women consistently oppress men, thus affirming the subscription of both movements to an inevitable, even natural, physical and metaphysical inequality of men and women. While feminists purport the problem is a patriarchal society that marginalizes women and forces demeaning compromises in favour of the masculine, “red pill” vigilantes maintain that society is increasingly and viciously misandrist and forsakes and problematizes masculinity. Such emotional, exaggerated, and high volume diatribes presume a dystopia for both genders: in the eyes of feminists, a violent world order of male supremacists achieving their lust for power through the subjugation of an eternally inferior gender, or in the eyes of anti-feminists, a world in which all women are (amazingly) both vicious ideologues driven by anger and incoherent emotional wrecks incapable of managing their own affairs, let alone those of entire societies.
The Remedy of Sacred Law
What is the alternative to these movements? How can Islamic law, morality, and ethics emancipate women from both the slave labour of the workplace and the tyranny of male members who in traditional societies control all the aspects of a woman’s wealth? How can it prevent sexual abuse and harassment by men, behavior that seems to have only amplified today, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the efforts of feminism? As Muslims, we must deliver Islam in a relevant manner that explores diverse societies and how the sublime moral beliefs of Islam can shape a well-ordered society.
John Rawls (1921-2002) first defined the term “well-ordered society,” as a society in which “…all citizens accept the principles of justice and know that their fellow citizens also do so, and all citizens recognize that the basic structure is just. The full philosophical justifications for the principles of justice are also knowable by and acceptable to all reasonable citizens.” As Wael Hallaq argues in The Impossible State, the pre-modern Islamic society that operated under the Shari’i paradigm was an exemplary form of the well-ordered society, in which everyone knew his rights. One did not need highly trained lawyers speaking in jargon with high fees to represent them in courts where they would feel out of place. The Shari’i justice system was simple and clear, as any person, Muslim or non-Muslim, could go directly to a judge, and because all understood the language of the Qur’an and the morality that underpinned society, could demand his or her rights.
Inheritance laws exemplify this. In pre-modern Islamic societies, women inherited less than men in four scenarios, similar to men in ten scenarios, and more than men in fourteen scenarios. The complexity of equity in the Shari’a was not a confused and contradictory framework, but an intricate mosaic of rights and responsibilities that served the well-ordered society. The Shari’i paradigm harmonizes between the sexes and dissolves many feminist and anti-feminist polemics. This paradigm is predicated on divine revelation and ‘Urf (the common knowledge and traditions of the people), both of which have been epistemologically eviscerated in the modern world that defines itself as secular and progressive. Divine revelation holds no authority and the tradition of our forefathers is decrepit, leaving us to the whims of man – the very antithesis of a well-ordered society – and to our dilemma today.
It is clear, then, that reactionary theories cannot resolve today’s issues. They merely operate within the paradigm that has birthed feminism, selectively and irrationally pontificating and neglecting the real problems men and women face. There is no attempt to reconcile these two camps: only an endless stream of contrarian invectives and no practical solutions to maintain the dignity of both those in need of help and those with the power and privilege to offer alternatives. Overcoming the self-serving polemics on all sides requires more than a return to reason and sensibility. It necessitates a well-grounded and comprehensive framework that re-centers Allah ﷻ and accounts for individual and collective concerns, complementarily honouring and privileging both men and women. We must move away from zero-sum discourse towards the makings of a well-ordered society, where harmony prevails over discord, and we are guided by the words of our Creator:
The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. [9:71]
About the author: Mariam is a pharmacy and biotech student living in Egypt. Her interests include literature, ethics and social theory. You can follow her on Twitter here.