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The F-Word

June 7, 2009 by Sammer Z  

Filed under Activism & Media, Women's Rights


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    Say the F-word in a circle of Muslim men or women you’re on your way to being an outcast. Say the F-word while donning a hijab and you will confuse most non-Muslims. The muffled mockery, accompanied by quizzical looks and condescension, goes something like this: “as though you, with your outdated religious beliefs, would have any idea what rights or freedom even are.” But maybe I misheard - after all, I can’t hear anything through that thing on my head, can I?


    I’m one of those “feminists.”


    The label doesn’t stick either way. That’s alright, I’m not looking for labels, and I don’t fit comfortably into stereotypical boxes.


    We, the women of Islam, have failed if we continue to allow others to define feminism for us and do not challenge definitions that exclude all but a certain few. We are the flag-bearers of this great religion which gave us revolutionary rights and freedoms; we must portray its strength through our actions. We cannot continue to blame the media, the “west,” and others for distorting our image. We must own up to this responsibility. If we silently do not participate in our communities, show no opinions, emotions or beliefs but rather complacently allow our men to be our voice (inaccurately, at times), then we are playing into the stereotypes of our image. It is this complacency which will shoot ourselves in the foot.


    As Muslimahs we have a great responsibility to Allah (swt), ourselves, our communities and to the representation of Islam.  We carry the banner of Islam constantly, whether we want to or not, whether we realize it or not, whether we wear hijab or not. Our actions and words are never perceived as those of just another woman/girl. Simply being aware of this is no longer enough! If this is how the world looks at us, we must use this to our advantage.  Let them look at us, our actions, our lives and associate it with Islam, but let us reflect the true spirit of Islam in our characters.

    Often, we’re confused about what our roles should be, how much should we go out, participate, speak up? We can take a cue from the Muslim women in the past, such as Fatimah al-Fihri, who started the world’s oldest university to date.  I have seen Muslim women all over the world use and cherish every opportunity to participate and create programs to educate and introduce change for the better. Is it not more pressing while living in “free” countries we utilize that freedom to its utmost extent? Should all of us start madrassas ? No, we’re not all qualified to, however, each of us has something unique to offer our community. Tap into your talents and benefit others with them. Some of us are eloquent writers, orators, talented artists, love working with children, savvy business women, and techie computer people. Turn your hobbies and pastimes into opportunities for enriching your lives, gaining reward from Allah (swt) and enhancing our communities.

    We face many issues within our communities: How many Muslimahs are abused and go through life unsupported? How many lack basic education?  How many non-Muslims or even Muslims have you recently talked to about the positive aspects of being a Muslim woman? To change these negative stereotypes we don’t need to wait for millions of Saudi-backed dollars or week-long conferences. Great movements, revolutions and shifts in paradigm began through word of mouth. If we do not believe that we can enact this change, and subsequently follow through with it, then we [i]are [/i] the oppressed, ineffective, weak women others accuse us of being.

    Now what? You’re all riled up and ready to tackle this head on, but how? What can you do today empower yourself and other Muslim women? Here are some ideas how we can convey the message that Muslim women are intelligent, active and productive members of society.

Educate yourself about your rights and responsibilities:

Take Islamic classes (there are online institutes and there’s always the library)

Read about Muslim women in the past and contemporary history, there are more than you think.

Subscribe to MuslimahSource for seminars and workshops on learning AND doing more!

Take up a cause, participate in charity work. Islam is a way of life, so live it! Our religion is deeply rooted in enacting social change and care. Part of dealing with our problems is looking at the bigger picture. Think Big Locally! Help find the cure for cancer, go green, or adopt an orphan.

Fight Breast Cancer

Fight Diabetes

End World Hunger

Sponsor an Orphan

Pet Rescue - look for local opportunities through your Humane Society or Petsmart

Heart Health


Domestic Violence



Look for local opportunities to give your time and get involved in your communities:

Match your skills and interest with opportunities in your area!

Find your local masjid and get involved

Create your own program!

Be confident that you are backed by the religion of Allah (swt) 

Have an idea that wasn’t mentioned? Please share it in our comments section.


22 Responses to “The F-Word”

WM says:

June 8, 2009 at 3:12 am


What is the use of the ‘f-word’ but a need for external validation? What is this need for external validation but, as Sherman Jackson reminds us, a continuation of the ‘colonised’ mindset? Why use a word when it doesn’t even apply to you? You aren’t first, second or third-wave feminists so why cling to the label?

When Fatimah al-Fihri founded Qayrawan uni, she didn’t do it as a feminist; she did it as a woman.

B says:

June 8, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Qayrawan was founded around the time of Harun al Rashid. Are you comparing the men of that era to the men of our times?

Fatimah al-Fihri did it as a woman, because men were men back then, as opposed to the insecure and egotistical Muslim men of our times.


WM says:

June 9, 2009 at 3:47 am

Wait- so you want men to be like the men of those times? Then give up your right to work, and affirm your commitment to absolute and unswerving obedience to whichever man it is you want to marry. You feminists are all the same; you want to have your cake and eat it too.

And men then were *more* egotistical, if anything; they didn’t have to give a damn what their wives thought, more or less.

Sammer Z says:

June 8, 2009 at 8:07 am

Why use it, indeed. At the core of what we mean is stand up for women’s rights as defined by Allah(swt). As women we face many obstacles and challenges which have deemed it necessary to deprive us these rights and so, we use the term feminist.

Your reaction to the usage is interesting, would you be one of those to outcast the muslimah “feminist?”

Current score: 3 +1

June 9, 2009 at 3:55 am

‘At the core of what we mean is stand up for women’s rights as defined by Allah’- that isn’t what feminism is, and no feminist defines it as such.

‘Your reaction to the usage is interesting, would you be one of those to outcast the muslimah “feminist?”’- Like Ibn Taymiyya, I would first ask what you *mean*. If I find that the ‘feminist’ finds certain ideas unpalatable, for example, those that the community has (historically) agreed upon, then yes. If otherwise, and ‘feminism’ is just a catchall for her insecurities, then no.

Unfortunately, as I’ve often found, Muslim feminism is exactly that- a phenomenon living on the intellectual margins of Islam. Think of the ‘enlightened’ feminisms of Mernissi, Abu Zaid, etc.


Sammer says:

June 9, 2009 at 2:33 pm

I just defined it as such. =)

The article does not address or contend with obeying one’s husband.

It is unfair to write me and all Muslim women who want their rights as being egotistical or that they don’t listen to their husbands and somehow don’t keep them happy.

WM says:

June 9, 2009 at 2:47 pm

‘It is unfair to write me and all Muslim women who want their rights as being egotistical or that they don’t listen to their husbands and somehow don’t keep them happy.’

Yes, it is. Which is why I didn’t, lol.

How can you address feminism without addressing that and related issues?

WM says:

June 9, 2009 at 3:59 am

For example, the idea that the obedience due to a husband is greater than the obedience due to one’s parents- nobody has disagreed about this. Or that a wife is obliged to respond to the needs of her husband. Or that she must obey him, in what is not unlawful. Anybody who rejects this is ‘on the margins’.

WM says:

June 9, 2009 at 4:22 am

‘At the core of what we mean is stand up for women’s rights as defined by Allah(swt). As women we face many obstacles and challenges which have deemed it necessary to deprive us these rights and so, we use the term feminist.’

Again, why isn’t the term ‘Muslim’ enough? Doesn’t this (term) embrace everything you’ve described?

WM says:

June 9, 2009 at 6:41 am

@B: I’ve thought a little more about what you said- about there not being any ‘men’ around. If that was true, it would be because of a commensurate lack of ‘real women’ (fortunately it isn’t true, but I’ll continue).

Your problem is that, as I’ve said, you want to have your cake and eat it. You expect ‘real men’, but aren’t prepared to be the reverse. You claim to be friends of some kind of modernity- and yet, for the life of you, there are things about modernity that you despise. You want an old-fashioned man, but only the parts you like- you want to be able to pick and choose. As for those parts you find difficult- the expectations of complete obedience, patriarchy, egotism, whatever- you discard those. And women- feminists, especially- have a real problem with even the abstract concept of ‘obedience’ to their husbands (an utterly Qur’anic prescription)- how many of them would accept the hadith that, ‘were it halal for one to prostrate to another…’ (etc)? And I ask you- how many of you can accept it without your egos being ruffled?

You can’t reasonably except your rights, if you’re remiss when it comes to the rights of others. Duties are reciprocal; a wife who is negligent can’t really expect her husband to be attentive, and vice versa.

Last time I checked, men were qawwamun over women- men who satisfied the rights of their wives (financial maintenance etc), and in doing so were entitled to obedience (doesn’t that word grate a woman every time she hears it?). This is an absolute, and if you want to make compromises, surely you should expect to have to make them yourself.

B says:

June 9, 2009 at 5:36 pm

I am a guy.

Make up your mind, were men back in the day, more egotistical i.e. more manly? Or is it the other way around? You can’t stand on both sides of the fence.

WM says:

June 10, 2009 at 4:57 am

Read my response and it’s fairly obvious what’s being implied.

You’re a guy? Bearing in mind your admission that there are no men anymore, lol, what exactly are you trying to tell us about yourself boyo?

AlDaEah says:

July 6, 2009 at 4:33 am

This response is for WM…

So, where is the ayah that says that “men are entitled” to their wives “obedience?” And what does “Qawamun” mean to you - whose teachings on it do you follow and what is their interpretation? I ask because it seems like you are misinformed… I do not claim to be an expert, I am a learner who is seeking information and what I have learned is that as a woman- I obey Allah’s laws and not mans… my husband is to obey Allah’s law by taking care of me and treating me with respect and dignity and the reverse is true. Allah (SWT) has given and protected for women’s rights… remember, WM, on of the key practices is humility… al-salamu alaykum. WM says:

June 9, 2009 at 6:42 am

@ SammerZ: for example, a woman who believes that her husband is her [means to] ‘paradise and her hell’ (as per the hadith) is not a feminist, so a true Muslimah can’t really be a feminist.

Amatullah says:

June 10, 2009 at 12:16 pm

I don’t think a women who does what you’ve listed in the article is a Feminist, rather she is just a good Muslimah and Mu’minah. I personally am not in favor of using a different term because Allah azza wa jal has already defined us and we have been given the name “Muslim” for a reason.

This F-word does not have a great connotation in our communities and inner circles, which is why I’m not in favor of using it. Personally when someone mentions “Muslim Feminist” I think of Asra Nomani or Irshad Manji…I don’t think of sisters on MuslimahSource, for example.

One thing I learned about language is that there are three ways to define a word, and one of the ways is through the culture/customs (’urf). Take for example the word “gay”…It used to mean happy and pleasant and now it means homosexual. If I wanted to find a word for “happy”, I would not use “gay”, even though it still carries that definition, because of the connotation it carries. Similarly, “feminist” *in my opinion* carries way too much baggage and negativity to be used to describe a practicing Muslim sister, although the intention behind its use is a good one.

I hope that made sense  I like the lists you’ve put together mashaAllah, jazaki Allahu khayran. Allahu ta’ala a’lam.

B says:

June 10, 2009 at 3:36 pm

You have to admit that the situation of Muslim women in our communities is bad. Advocating and calling for their Islamic rights generally places you in the “feminist” category, whether you like it or not.

Amatullah says:

June 10, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Yes but my comment was more in relation to sisters calling themselves feminist on their own accord. If someone else calls you that for standing up for the haqq, then that’s their problem, not yours.

I was just getting to the point that, in my humble opinion, I would not want to be categorized as a feminist because of the connotation it carries. Alhamdulillah, I am nearing completion of my social work studies, I am an active member of the community and have worked in hospitals, nursing homes and the masjid’s social services office…If I am labeled a feminist for this work, then so be it, but I would not call myself that. Allahu ta’ala a’lam.

Sammer Z says:

June 10, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Salam alaikum

Sister Amatullah, Jazakillahu khair for your thoughtful comment.

Does that mean if someone calls you a feminist you are offended? and if you are defining words by their common usage and within that usage you are defined as a feminist, does that not make you a feminist?

I would like to challenge the current definition of this word and its negative connotations. If a good word (gay) can be turned bad, then why not the reverse? If Muslim women make an active effort to fight for their rights and become productive members of society and are called feminists, the “urf” definition would change.

I understand the taboo behind the word and I’m glad you have read into it. JazakAllahu khair for the work you are doing in your community. WE definitely need more sisters like you out there. =)

Amatullah says:

June 11, 2009 at 1:26 pm

wa alaykum salam wa rahmatullah ukhti,

I would not be offended, but I would not like it. I know that sounds wrong but I just can’t help it  The word reminds me of women who speak out against Islam rather than doing any good for the deen.


You are right though, we can change this word to have a positive connotation inshaAllah. It will take a lot of work though  Barak Allahu feeki.

Sarrah B says:

June 14, 2009 at 9:07 am

Jazakh Allahu Khair for this article! I love throwing that word around just to mess with people’s heads and as an opportunity to start a dialogue about why I love being a Muslim woman and how empowering it is! I am not one who favors labels, but when they can be used as a whats-it, something to draw attention and then create positive dialogue, I say go for it.

Two of my favorite pieces in this article 1) the call to personal responsibility and 2) examples/suggestions to approach this holistically - we tend to think of being Muslim in only a spiritual sense and not as a way of life.

Holly says:

June 16, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Salaam Alaikum I have often said we are the ones responsible for everyone! Think about it…our families, husbands, and children rely on us. We are literally marked by our scarves as Muslims.

It is up to us day in and day out to live right the Prophe SAWS told us to give charity and even a smile is a charity. I am always trying to do every bit I can whether that be volunteering at work, feeding the poor once a month through the Islamic program, or just being extra nice to someone who is having a rough time. InshaAllah Allah will make it even easier for me to do this and much more.

May Allah bless you and I want to give you EXTRA kudos for reminding the community of this and reminding us that there are other causes PLUS Islamic causes out there. There are MANY things out there already we sould make ourselves as Muslims known in the community InshaAllah not just at our own events.

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