In Germany, a new ‘feminist’ Islam is hoping to make a mark

Inside the red-brick building that now houses the German capital’s newest and perhaps most unusual mosque, Seyran Ates is staging a feminist revolution of the Muslim faith.

“Allahu akbar,” chanted a female voice, uttering the Arabic expression “God is great,” as a woman with two-toned hair issued the Muslim call to prayer. In another major break with tradition, men and women — typically segregated during worship — heeded the call by sitting side by side on the carpeted floor.

Ates, a self-proclaimed Muslim feminist and founder of the new mosque, then stepped onto the cream-colored carpet and delivered a stirring sermon. Two imams — a woman and a man — later took turns leading the Friday prayers in Arabic. The service ended with the congregation joining two visiting rabbis in singing a Hebrew song of friendship.

And just like that, the inaugural Friday prayers at Berlin’s Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque came to a close — offering a different vision of Islam on a continent that is locked in a bitter culture war over how and whether to welcome the faith. Toxic ills like radicalization, Ates and her supporters argue, have a potentially easy fix: the introduction of a more progressive, even feminist brand of the faith.



Muslim Women Are Fighting To Redefine Islam as a Religion of Equality

koran-quran-womanAnyone learning about Islam from the headlines alone might think it was a faith powered by violence, inflexible laws, and sexism. In Nigeria, the extremists of Boko Haram kidnap schoolgirls to use as sex slaves and suicide bombers. A manifesto distributed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) allows girls to marry at age nine and states that women should work outside the house only in “exceptional circumstances.” It’s not only extremist movements that treat women as second-class citizens, but also Western allies in the fight against them. Whether it’s Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from driving, or Egypt, where a husband can divorce his spouse without grounds or going to court, options denied to his wife, most Muslim countries run on the premise that men have a God-given authority over women.

But Muslim women are fighting back. While despotic governments and extremists battle for power, Islamic scholars, community activists, and ordinary Muslims are waging a peaceful jihad on male authority, demanding what they say are God- given rights to gender equality and justice.

From Cambridge to Cairo to Jakarta, women are going back to Islam’s classical texts and questioning the way men have read them for centuries. In the Middle East, activists are contesting outdated family laws based on Islamic jurisprudence, which give men the power in marriages, divorces, and custody issues. In Europe and the United States, women are chipping away at the customs that have had a chilling effect on women praying in mosques or holding leadership positions. This winter, the first women-only mosque opened in Los Angeles.


Can Islam Be Compatible with Feminism?

apr28-03_2It’s safe to say that the first two things Americans think of when they think of Muslims are violent terrorist attacks and the oppression of women.

In the minds of many—ranging from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to Bill Maher—Islam is uniquely violent and sexist.

Images of women shrouded from head to foot, and stories of women arrested for driving cars, beaten for showing their hair or wearing nail polish, and prevented from going to school or aspiring to be anything other than chattel are the backdrop to intensifying rhetoric  about a “culture war” between the West and Islam.

Oppressive fundamentalist regimes, from the Taliban to the Islamic State, do, in fact, target women.

Resistance to these regimes by brave Muslim women, like Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, inspire people in the United States.

But it is a peculiarity of U.S. foreign policy that our country drums up support for wars and bombing raids that kill mass numbers of civilians by denouncing the oppression of the same people we are bombing. Enormous damage has been done to civilian populations around the globe in recent decades in the name of democracy and freedom.

The image of the oppressed Muslim woman is part of this destructive propaganda campaign.

After September 11, 2001, the U.S. public supported the war in Afghanistan, primarily in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center. But the real heartstrings appeal was the oppression of women there. Contributions flowed to school-building and development projects that aimed to free Afghan women from opression.

But the U.S. military has not succeeded in liberating women in Afghanistan. Instead it has inflicted massive suffering and death—and the situation of women, though better than during the Taliban era, remains dire.

“There are slight improvements in women’s lives in urban areas, but if we look at statistics, Afghanistan remains the most dangerous place for women,” Reena of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan told Democracy Now! on the tenth anniversary of the invasion. “Self-immolation [and] suicide rates are extremely high. It has never been this high before. Domestic violence is widespread. Women are poor. They don’t have health care. It has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.”


Bid to boost feminism among Muslim women

Islamic feminist voicesFor many feminists the hijab is a glaring symbol of male oppression and the patriarchal power of religion. But now there is a small but growing number of Muslim women looking to take their places in Britain’s rapidly expanding women’s movement.

A new project to connect Islam to feminism has been launched to tackle long-standing concerns that religious Muslim women are excluded from the women’s rights debate.

In what is a deeply controversial area for many in Islamic communities and for many mainstream feminists, the linkup between a Muslim charity and the project is seen as a pioneering step to bring women from different cultural backgrounds together in the battle for sexual equality.

The social enterprise Maslaha, established by the Young Foundation to work on improving social conditions in Muslim and minority communities, said the programme had attracted a huge response in the past few days.

“An awful lot of Muslim women have felt excluded from the debate about women’s rights and this project really focuses on bringing ordinary women into a debate about Islamic feminism that has so far only really been heard in academic circles,” said Latifa Akay of Maslaha.

She said the online resource was bringing out some extraordinary responses from British Muslims who reported feeling previously isolated.

“This is really taking off. Islamic feminism is not a new thing, which will probably surprise most people, but Muslim women have the same core concerns as white, secular, British women: the workplace, discrimination, childcare.


When a Christian and Muslim met in Paris

Women of faith face extra challenges – within our religious communities and outside of them – to have our voices heardVirgin-Mary-007

It’s the season when nearly a third of the global population is preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I am a Christian and I love this time of year, but not necessarily because of the focus on the Christ child. Don’t get me wrong, I am awed by the doctrine of the Incarnation, but to be honest, I get much more excited about Easter, the resurrection and the idea of a God that can redeem even death.

Rather, what I love about the current season is the spotlight, however brief, it shines on a poor, courageous young girl named Mary. Maybe it’s because I love any excuse to give a platform to any woman typically regulated to the margins of socio-political, ethno-cultural and religious narratives. We gloss over the significance that for at least a few chapters of the traditional Judeo-Christian narrative Mary, a second-class citizen as a woman in her historical period, is given a voice. And her voice is one that not only converses with the divine, but sings of God’s remembrance and provision for the marginalized.

Whether we choose to admit it or not, the reality is that women are still marginalized in religious traditions centuries later. Women of the Abrahamic faiths are still working, not only to speak aloud, but to have their voices heard and recognized as valuable and necessary. I wonder what it would look like if women across faith traditions began talking together about this shared challenge.

In my own recent personal experience, a young woman walked up to me while I was greeting folks during the church coffee hour after a discussion in Paris about women of faith telling their difficult stories.

I stared for a second too long at the dichotomy, she, a Muslim woman in her 20s wearing a turquoise colored hijab holding my book titled, Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith. I asked her name and signed the book. Then I asked if she was a member of this church. I knew the answer but didn’t want to make any assumptions. I am too familiar with being on the receiving end of rash judgments.