Opinion

Religion is fundamentally patriarchal and anti-woman

Religion is fundamentally patriarchal and anti-woman

As US suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton once said:

You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded woman.

In one Hadith, Mohammed, Islam’s prophet says: “I have left behind no fitnah more harmful to men, than women” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim). Hatred of women is a recurring theme in all major religions. There is a Jewish prayer recited by men that says: “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler the universe who has not created me a woman”.

In the Bible it says: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:11-14) This is also evident in Hinduism, Buddhism …

For those who only see the surface, there is an apparent contradiction that is often not understood. On the one hand, Islamic law and states are the beginning of the end of women’s rights. A pillar of Islamist rule is the attempt to erase women from the public space. On the other hand, women are everywhere – making sure they are seen and heard.

This female presence is palpable in all areas, including against the veil, gender segregation, opposition to Sharia … The extent of control of women and their bodies is a measure of the power and influence of the Islamists just as the extent of women’s autonomy is a measure of the resistance against Islamism  but also Islam and religious “morality”.

Those only looking at the surface, see women’s active presence and resistance and wrongly credit Islam and Islamism. In Iran, for example, they credit the “reformist” faction of the Iranian regime. To me, it’s like crediting apartheid in South Africa for the black liberation movement or segregation in the US for the civil rights movement.

This absurdity is only possible today because of identity politics and cultural relativism, which no longer acknowledges citizens and human beings but homogenised religious identities that unsurprisingly coincide with the impositions of Islamists and the ruling class. This is why everything from gender segregation to the veil and Sharia are sanitised and legitimised at the expense of women’s rights. Only in a  world where identity politics and cultural relativism reign supreme can the likes of Islamic feminism be given any credence.

But in my opinion Islam can never be feminist.

Religion can never emancipate women.

In fact any positive change in women’s condition, is not thanks to Islamic laws, states or Islam but despite it. It’s in fact thanks to women’s resistance against Islam and Islamism.

Of course that is not to say that believing women, Muslim women, cannot be feminists. Of course they can – just as men can be feminists and women misogynists – but one can only be feminist if women’s emancipation trumps religion. Whilst people – even believers – can be feminists, religion cannot. Religion is fundamentally patriarchal and anti-woman.

“Islamic feminists” like Shirin Ebadi will say that women have full rights under Islam and if they don’t it is “not Islam at fault but patriarchal culture that uses interpretation to justify whatever it wants”.  Yet the Quran and Hadith are overflowing with anti-women rules and regulations. Stoning to death for adultery, for example, is in a Hadith, while wife beating is in the Quran. Islamic feminists will say the mistreatment of women is because of “bad” interpretations.

The problem with “good” versus “bad” interpretations is that yours is just one of many. Even if you have a “good” interpretation, it is the Islamists who decide; they run the state, they make the laws. But more importantly, are there “good” interpretations that are good enough for 21st century women? If you follow the “good” interpretations, you will soon realise the absurdity of this line of defence.

Take Sura al-Nisa (the women), [the fourth chapter] in the Quran 4:34, where it says: “As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly)  …”

“Islamic feminists” will say that men have been made to wait, are not obliged to beat their wives, and when they do, they must not leave marks and beat their wives with thin sticks …

These are the justifications of those who are more concerned with defending Islam than defending women’s rights.

From a women’s rights perspective, no woman should be beaten – “disobedient” or not.  Full stop. End of story.

If you want women’s liberation, you cannot leave women’s rights and lives at the mercy of religious rules and interpretations.

You have to choose – do you side with women’s rights or religion – you cannot defend both as they are antithetical to each other.

The fight for women’s liberation is a fight against Islam and Islamism. Also, it is a fight for secularism – the complete separation of religion from the state. Secularism is a precondition for women’s emancipation. Secularism is a women’s issue.

Rather than excuse and justify “good” religious interpretations and “moderate” or “reformist” Islamists, it would serve our societies better to defend citizenship rights irrespective of beliefs. It would serve our societies better to insist on secularism and women’s equality – not western, not eastern but universal.

• The above is a shortened version of Maryam Namazie’s speech at the Founding Congress of Enlightenment Feminism in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan, where she spoke about Islam and Islamism as the greatest stumbling blocks for women’s emancipation and how Islamists target women and girls first – whether in Tehran, Peshawar or Manchester.

8 responses to “Religion is fundamentally patriarchal and anti-woman”

  1. Vivienne says:

    In the 1970s, women were able to use images of the Goddess for inspiration and empowerment. Matriarchal ideas were helpful as we renegotiated the terms of women’s engagement with society.

    I note with pleasure that in the substantial Prison Writings of Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish leader also refers to the ancient goddesses of the region as a way of honouring women and criticising their exclusion from political power. The Goddess is referred to as a way of re-thinking social relations, and criticising patriarchy.

    Perhaps these are not strictly religious references: they are poetic images used to reaffirm our connection with the Earth and with one another.As a pagan, I celebrate the cycle of the seasons, and thinking of the Goddess and her consorts in their many forms is a way of maintaining psychological health: we recognise the archetypal stories we dwell in as we move through the stages of our lives.

    I would define myself as an atheist, or an a-gnostic, if challenged to stand on one side or the other, but really, I think that not all religious imagery is pernicious. It is the systematisation of spiritual life into an organisation with totalitarian rules, and punishments for transgression, which is so toxic.

  2. Peter Sykes says:

    “…and thinking of the Goddess and her consorts in their many forms is a way of maintaining psychological health: we recognise the archetypal stories we dwell in as we move through the stages of our lives.”
    Sorry, but that sounds like a load of old cobblers. “Believe” in a nonexistent goddess is good for psychological health. WTF
    You may misunderstand atheism (?)

  3. Seff says:

    Hi, Rem, Paul, Angela and b..john
    I thought you would be thrilled to the bits by this peace of news.Because I am. The son of Polish Prime Minister BEATA SZYDLO was ordained to the Holy Priesthood on 27th of May.

    As for “Religion is fundamentally patriarchal and anti-woman”. However, very few Polish women feel offended unless they are ill-minded feminists.They ought to find a good shrink to talk their problems over. According to official statistics in 2011 there were 20243 nuns while only 8983 (monks or friars). The numer of women attending regularly Sunday Mass and taking in the Holy Communion was 67% in 2016.It is worth noting here that in 2016 40% of Poles attend Sundaymass. There is slight rise from 38% in 2015 to up to 40% in 2016. Women also outnumber men in Confession 4 to 1 (of whom go to confession 4 times a month or more often). As for daily prayer 64,9% of all Polish women declare to do it regularly; at least once a week 16,6%, once a month 4,7%. In Poland in 2015 lived 35,5 million people of whom 32,2 million declared to be Catholics. To sum it up your arguments do not hold water. If really women felt offended and discriminated then there would be more men then women in Polish churches. What about Irish and British Catholic Church? Do you know sth about it?

  4. Vivienne says:

    I’ve probably understood atheism since before you were born, but I am able to make a distinction between a literal belief in a deity, and an appreciation of images of what human beings wish for, and fear.

    In a society in which women are oppressed by patriarchy, & the only female religious role models are one who allegedly performed an unrepeatable feat, and another who is blamed for the existence of sin, seeing an image of the Lady of the Beasts, whose function is to protect the natural world, or of an independent- minded and sexually assertive Isis, is useful. It allows one to imagine women differently.

    That is why Abdullah Ocalan uses the image of the Mother Goddess in the antipatriarchal prison writings which underpin the remarkable, inspirational Rojava Constitution.

    Just because you’re an atheist, it’s not compulsory to be ignorant or completely without understanding of the way humanity has historically used religious imagery. Ocalan doesn’t literally believe in a goddess any more than I do, but he sees how configuring the sacred differently can result in a different set of ethical and political norms.

  5. Vivienne says:

    I might add that my post doesn’t state anything about “Believe”, or as I think you meant to say, ” belief”.

    Using images of goddesses of Nature is simply a way of reminding oneself of the passing of the seasons: ” Now the land is sleeping”, ” Now life comes back to the land” etc. As the physical tendency in the northern hemisphere is to remain indoors in the warmth when it’s cold & dark outside, that seems like an appropriate time to be introspective. When Spring arrives, it’s time to sweep the inner and outer detritus of Winter away and fare forth, renewed. Once you can separate literal belief from art, it’s possible to make good use of the past without being bound by it. Perhaps your atheism isn’t quite that free and confident yet.

  6. Infidel753 says:

    A minor point on the citation from Sûrat al-Nisâ’ — at the end of that part the Arabic just says “wa-dribûhunna”, meaning “and beat them”. There’s nothing in the Arabic that says “lightly” — this is an interpolation some translators add, to make the quote sound less bad.

  7. EA Miller says:

    What a wonderful planet this would be if women had the freedom world-wide to make their own choices without barbaric, antiquated, oppressive religions dictating their every move for thousands of years. Imagine all the brilliant scientific, philosophical, and cultural contributions they could have added to enrich humankind. Imagine every woman reaching her maximum potential without hindrance. Imagine. EA Miller

  8. John P Cavicchia says:

    Sikhism, from what I’ve read, was actually very pro-women when it was first founded. According to guru Nanak in the guru granth sahib, we are all god’s bridesmaides. Women had the right to full participation in all rituals and ceremonies and could be heads of worship. There are also other non-major matriarchal religions including sects of Hinduism.