What Christian Feminists and Muslim feminists have in common

December 21, 2013

An article published in The Nation this month is titled, “The Rise of the Islamic Feminists.” What especially caught my eye was the summary line directly under the  headline: “Muslim women are fighting for their rights from within Islamic tradition, rather than against it.” I thought, “That’s exactly what we as Christian feminists have been doing all these years! “

So here’s a little assignment for you. Read the opening paragraph of ”The Rise of the Islamic Feminists” in two different ways. First, read it exactly as it’s written and learn what’s happening in the women’s movement within Islam. Then go back and read the paragraph again, but this time substitute the words, “Christian,” “Christianity,” “Bible,” and “Christian feminism”  for “Islam,” “Koran,” and “Musawah.”

Go through the rest of the article to look for other specific places where there are clear parallels between what feminists of faith are trying to do from within both Christianity and Islam without abandoning either their faith or their feminism. Note, too, what is said about traditional male interpretations of the sacred writings in both religions.  Think about sentences like this one: “According to Anwar [a leader in the feminist movement in Malaysia], many Muslim women spend their entire lives believing that their oppression is justified by Islamic teachings, such as the concept of a husband’s authority over his wife.”  Do you see any parallels there to certain ways Christianity is often taught and the effects of these teachings on Christian women?  On Christian men?

Notice, too, the way many of these women feel after they learn that their religion can be interpreted as providing women with liberation rather than limitation.  (Hint: See the last sentence of the third paragraph of the article.)  Look for other examples throughout the article that show how much Christian and Muslim feminists have in common.  Similarly, Jewish feminists are also pointing out the importance of women’s voices, imaginations, experiences, and perspectives in interpreting the Torah. 

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni is an independent scholar, writer, and editor. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992).

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