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The Koran as a source of Feminism

Feminism and Islam, at first sight nowadays, appear to be opposed. Micheline Bochet-Milan attempts in a practical way to shed a new light on this subject, especially in the case of Morocco.

By Micheline Brochet-Milon

Translation Louise Thunin
In Europe and most especially in France, the image of the Muslim woman is too often reduced to the queston of a headscarf as a symbol of submission if not servitude, considred as inherent in Islam.
A few emblematic figures of « lady imams » stand out aginst this sad landscape : Shirin Kahn-Kahn in Denmark, Kahina Bahloul or Eva Janadin in France. The former comes from a Turkish-Danish family ; the second is a Franco-Algerian. These « marginal » women claim to represent a new reading of the Koran. But are they figures of an Islamic feminizing of the Koran in reference to the struggle against patriarchy, or are they a real renewal in Islam where women would be both the yeast and the rising ?
Diverse Movements
In the Muslim world, there are some « feminist » struggles that are indistinguishable from theological reflection. In Indonesia, feminist movements have existed for a long time and founded their arguments in favor of feminine religious science for which they have created universities. In Malaysia, women grouped together in a vast movement with international ramifications ; « Sisters in Islam », have been struggling for about thirty years for the constitutional recognition of equalty between men and women and their positions in religious institutions. Their combat is based on the tafsir, the traditional science of commentary. Through the movement Musawah (equality in Arabic) created by women, they bear the standard for equality and justice in the Muslim family, leaning both on religious sciences and international rights in the national of struggle for the elimination of all forms of discrimination toward women. Equally, in the Maghreb, feminist demands mix together in the same movement, the patriarchy feeding on an archaic interpretation of sacred texts or so-called. In a society where religion permeates all of life and where Islam and belonging to the national community are inseparable, it is impossible to bring up the subject of theological reflection while setting aside poitical advancement concerning women.
The Example of Morocco
In this respect, Morocco, where a few reforms or spectacular political gestures have not managed to upset the dominant patriarchy, is emblematic of the contradictions and resistances of muslim societies. Indeed, since 2004, the principle of male-female equality, was recognized on the occasion of the reform of the mudawana (family code) which grants the same responsiblity to both parents in the management of a family. It was the subject of a tough battle ! This principle of equality was again reinforced by the Constitution of July 1st 2011, whhere it is specified that rights are exercised in « the respect of and consistent with the laws of the Kingdom » ; that is, the Islamic references, with the risk that contradictions can be birthed in its interpretation. Moreover, since its creation in 2006, women can enter training for imams, to become mourchidat, a religious poisition that does not allow them, according to tradition, to lead prayer. That did not keep a woman, Nuzha Najii Mekkaoui, law professor, doctor in islamic science and presently ambassador to the Vatican, to be the first woman recently invited to give a Koranic reading before the King during Ramadan.
Women also have a place in the heart of the Rabita Mohammedia of the Oulemas, a public oranization, created in 2006, whose mission is to promote an open and tolerant Islam. They direct the Center of research and training in interreligious studies, but also the Center of feminine research in Islam, led for several years now by Asra Lamrabet, an internationally recognized theologian, even though her message is not always well received in her own country. It is true that breaking with tradition, her theology is founded on ijthihad, a personal interpretation of sacred texts, based on a historical-critical reading of the Koran, where she points our the novelty of the time of its revelation, reminding us that it is addressed to human beings (insan)without distinction of gender. From this « feminist » reading of the Koran, which she considers alone to be sacred, she underscores the role of women as it appears in the Sunna, (both an anhology of words of the prophet and a narration of his life, providing examples of the Arabic peninsula that she places in the context of the seventh century. She insists on the indispensable distinction that must be made between the Koranic text itself, the text alone, and the figh (islamic law and jurisprudence from the interpretation of the oulemas, docteurs of the law, the Koran and the Sunna), elaborated in the 19th century, and that still rules today the patriarchal and dicriminatory status of women in Muslim countries. Holding these two on the same level leads to a dead-end, due to the dichotomy between the religious code and the evolution of Muslim societies. In the question of inheritance, where the man inherits one part, the woman inherits a half-part. This is emblematic : traditional Muslims the world over become stuck on this question, disdaining objective law (constitution and laws) which recognize the equality of men and women.
Religious Feminism
Contrary to western feminists, these new Muslim theologians, including Asma Lamrabet, consider themselves feminists in a strictly theological context, of and by Islam, in the name of the Koran. In their view, it bears a liberating and equalitarian message that is a way of access to the universal principles of dignity, equality and emancipation. Nevertheless, Asma Lamrabet is convinced, as was the great sociologist Fatima Mernissi (died in 2015, and whose work in the seventies and eighties inspired the emancipation movements of women in Morocco) was convinced that the way out of islamism and its derivatives must necessarily pass through the reforms of political regimes on the path of equality and democracy. A theological revolution is inseparable from a political revolution.


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