Islam and feminism are two of themain issues that are often raised and debated in intellectual discourses whenit comes to Islam.
According to the Free Dictionary (n.d.), feminism is definedas the belief in or advocacy of women’s social, political and economic rights,especially those that surround the equality of the sexes. The 21stcentury feminism is considered as radical feminism as it views patriarchy asthe cause of oppression on women. Moreover, it also opposes the existing socialand political organization as the system is based on the patriarchal systemwhich treats men as a privilege group.
For example, they critic institutionsthat downgrade the status as women such as religion and government, opposemarriage as they believe that marriage is patriarchal and causes women to besubjected to men and they fight for the right of women to choose their ownsexuality and sexual preferences, or in other words, they support lesbianismand bisexuality (Lewis, 2017).In some Muslim spheres, the wordfeminism does not only raise eyebrows, but also heighten tensions as women inIslam are stereotyped to be subjected to oppression, hate and inequalitycompared to the men in Islam. These images of Muslim women might be truethousand years ago, before Al-Quran and the Prophet emerged to perfectmankind’s akhlak and belief in Allah. However, in contrast to the westernperspectives, there is no doubt that Islam promotes Islamic feminism where itprotects and promotes the rights of women in Islam. Nevertheless, withoutunderstanding the divine messages of the holy Quran, one would not be able tounderstand the core and correct meaning of Islamic feminism.
The holy Quran,which is the speech of Allah, seeks right and justice in the paradigm of genderequality for both men and women (Fawcett, 2013). To counter the misconceptionsregarding Muslim women, many Islamic feminist texts have been written by Muslimwomen and one of them is Janmohamed’s Love in a Headscarf. Thus, this essaywill discuss the Islamic perspectives of the novel which include the misrepresentationversus the reality of Muslim women, the role of hijab as a symbol of liberationand the importance of marriage in Islam. To summarise the novel, Love in aHeadscarf is a memoir by Shelina Janmohamed which portrays Shelina’s journey asa European Muslim woman who is often portrayed as the oppressed, ignorant anddisempowered group. Shelina is raised and born in London and she begins wearinghijab at an early age and continues to wear it while pursuing her ideal career.Following the 9/11 incident, she still chooses to wear hijab despite thesceptical look thrown at Muslim women in general, including her (Hasan, 2016).This memoir also highlights several issues that are faced by Muslim women inreal life and how Shelina, as a contemporary and modern Muslim woman deals withthe issues in Islamic perspectives.
It discloses the gap between the representationand the reality of Muslim women which many do not know, including Muslimsthemselves. For example, when Shelina’s aunties advise her not to be “toointellectual” after considering to continue her PhD, she counters them bystating that Islam never limits women’s education as it is a part of thereligion. She also highlights some of the successful Muslim women who succeededboth as intellectual and as women. For example, Aishah R.A is promised Jannahfor the deeds that she has contributed as the wife to Prophet Muhammad s.a.w aswell as a hadith compiler.
Besides, this memoir also coversShelina’s journey in finding her very own version of Prince Charming who wouldnot limit her abilities and capabilities as a Muslim woman. Being a lady whohas reached the age of marriage, Shelina struggles to find her Mr. Right. Throughoutthe journey, she encounters men of different attitudes, several mismatches andbad dating experiences. These experiences may have hindered her from finding ahusband but as a blessing in disguise, Shelina discovers a deeper understandingof her own self and her faith. Over the journey, Shelina finds that finding aman is easy, but finding a man who accepts her appearance and personality as ahijab wearing Muslim woman is quite hard as some men would choose to hide theirreligion due to the rising Islamophobia following the 9/11 incident.
The novel,however, ends with a happy ending when she finally gets married to the man ofher choice. First and foremost, Shelina’s memoircounters the misrepresentation of Muslim women by giving the readers an ideaabout the status of Muslim women in Islam. In Love in a Headscarf, shechallenges the notions and negative assumptions of Muslim women by separatingreligion from culture. In example, Shelina’s buxom aunties regard her libertyto follow Islam by challenging South Asian patriarchal norms as a rebellionthat is influenced by modernity and secularism. Even more, her resilience toremove hijab is interpreted as backward and unsophisticated. Shelina, however,counters the assumptions by separating herself from her culture to submit toIslam and she righteously continues to live as a woman who sticks to herIslamic identity.
Shelina also challenges the patriarchal modes by notsubmitting to its norms where women are usually denied education and subjectedto stay at home to serve men (Hasan, 2015). Proving the assumptions wrong,Shelina receives her education since young and she does not hesitate to pursuePhD despite the warning given by her aunties. An intellectual she is, shebelieves that Islam never limits women’s education and she believes that hereducation level will not hinder her from finding a husband. In addition,Shelina also climbs Mountain Kilimanjaro, which not many women would take thechallenge especially Muslim women. When she is criticised by her aunties, sherefers to the event during the Prophet’s life, when Khadijah used to climbMountain Hira’ back and forth to accommodate Prophet Muhammad’s seclusion.The rights of Muslim women are alsoquestioned by Anne, a French girl whom Shelina and her friends meet whiletravelling in Egypt. She accuses Islam as a barbaric religion that limitswomen’s rights mainly in the aspect of social right and right to education. Thefact that Shelina and her friends are travelling in the Arabic countrieswithout men’s company proves Anne wrong and demonstrates that Islam neverlimits women from doing things that they like as long as it is in line with theShariah.
Moreover, Shelina and her friends come from a highly prestigious educationbackground. Unlike Anne’s accusation who claims that Muslim women are backwardand unsophisticated, they are graduates of the University of Oxford which onlyselected students are offered to attend the university. They defeat the West’s commonassumptions that women are only subjected to stay at home to serve theirhusbands and are not allowed to seek knowledge as what men do (Hasan, 2015). The misrepresentations andstereotypes given by the non-Muslims are totally contrary to the real teachingof Islam as it highly promotes gender equality. Prophet Muhammad s.
a.w. isproven to be very adamant in empowering and elevating the status of women afterthey were discriminated and exploited by men years before the revelation of theHoly Quran. As female infanticide, prostitution and other exploitation of womenwere common in the seventh century before hijrah, during Prophet Muhammad’slifetime, he argued that the birth of a girl is a blessing, and they are notproperty or subjected to anyone as they are equally human as the men. ProphetMuhammad then outlined several rights for the women such as the right ininheritance, the right in marriage and the right of a woman in the society. Furthermore,in his last sermon, he noted few important statements regarding the status ofwomen which are: “You have certain rights over women but they have certain rights over you.
” Women, he said, are your “partners and helpers.” “The best men are those who are best to their wives.”Hence,it is certain that there is no way Islam promotes women’s exploitation asProphet Muhammad himself is proven as a feminist who fought for the rights ofwomen during his lifetime and brought positive changes to the status of womenespecially in the social aspect (Garrison, 2016).The second issue that ishighlighted in Love in a Headscarf is Shelina’s resilience to wear hijabdespite being susceptible to negative accusations and stereotypes againstMuslims especially Muslims women as hijab is often viewed as a tool ofoppression and discrimination.
According to the Free Dictionary (n.d.), hijabis defined as a headscarf or a veil that is worn by Muslim women to cover theirface and hair. Since hijab is very visible and is considered odd, hijab-wearingMuslim women are easily recognized and targeted by the West. One of theassumptions that is related to hijab is that it symbolises coercion,enforcement and discrimination against the Muslim women. Moreover, due to the9/11 attack, Muslim women are very pressured since they are seen as Muslimterrorists even though the act of terror was done by men.
Some of the men thatShelina meet set a condition where she needs to take off her hijab before they accepther. Shelina, a devout believer, does not waver and she chooses to continuewearing hijab despite the exasperating situation that surrounds her. Shelinaalso stresses that hijab is not a tool of oppression, but it is a symbol ofliberation which brings her inner peace and lets her taste the sweetness offaith (Hasan, 2016). By emphasizing hijab as a tool ofliberation instead of oppression, Shelina manages to show the readers thereality of how true Muslim women should behave; outspoken, courageous, andrighteous. This is in line with the teaching of Islam where Islam positively encouragesand promotes women’s equality in all aspects including when it comes to family,work and education.
Through her writing, Shelina proves that wearing hijab isher choice to show her love and obedience to Allah. She is not afraid to showherself as a Muslim woman by wearing hijab despite the uncomfortable looksgiven by the community. She is also persistent to wear hijab even when heraunties suggest her to abandon hijab for at least a year to ease her journey infinding a life partner. According to her, as she is not forced to wear it, sheis not ready to be forced to abandon it either. She indirectly counters thathijab is not a tool of oppression as assumed by the non-Muslims as it reflectsher own choice and it shows that she is the only who can make decisions on herlife (Aossey, 2016). This essay would not be completewithout a further discussion on Islam and marriage, as highlighted by Shelinain her memoir.
Islam views marriage as a sacred bond between a man and a woman whichrequires commitment to achieve mutual fulfilment, compassion and tranquillityamong each other. Marriage is a righteous act and it serves as a symbol ofdevotion to Allah (Al-Ati, 2015). Thecommandments and importance of marriage are mentioned several times in theQuran as it says:Andamong His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves,that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercybetween your hearts. Undoubtedly in these are signs for those who reflect30:21Asstated above, Allah has created men and women to complete one another so theycan establish lineage and live in serenity according to the injunctions of theQuran and the guidelines of His Messenger. Furthermore, marriage is alsoimportant as it is a part of the sunnah of the Prophet. Prophet Muhammad s.
a.wmentions:”Whena man marries, he has fulfilled half of his religion, so let him fear Allahregarding the remaining half” (Narrated by Anas bin Malik).Therefore,there is no doubt that marriage is absolutely encouraged in Islam as itreceives a huge emphasis both in the Quran and the Sunnah (Rahman, n.d.). In Shelina’s case, before Shelinastarted searching for a husband, she had a fantasy where she will marry herideal man, John Travolta. However, as she grows older, she starts finding for a’real’ man to marry and that is when she is nineteen and still studying at theUniversity of Oxford.
Her fantasy is crushed when an Imam at a mosque stressesthat most find it hard to find a spouse especially for the Muslim women. Thegirls in her community face difficulty in finding partners as most men chooseto marry girls ‘back home’ primarily for the sake of residency purposes. Thereare also men who are not interested to marry and only meet the girls matched bythe suitor as per their mothers’ orders and requests (Beatty, 2011).
Shelina,however, does not give up meeting men to fulfil her religious duty even thoughit takes her a decade to finally get married to her husband that she met at aconference. In conclusion, Love in a headscarfis known as one of the renowned and important Islamic feminist texts thathighlights the connections between Islam and feminism. This essay discussesseveral important issues that Shelina personally experienced as a Muslim womanwho lives in Europe. Firstly, she refuses to obey the patriarchal culturalnorms which seem to downgrade the status of women and make them look lesspowerful and educated than men. She eventually proves that the negativemisrepresentations of Muslim women are wrong by being different whilemaintaining her Islamic identity.
Besides, Shelina also counters the argumentthat hijab wearing women are oppressed by their fathers, brothers and husbands.To her, hijab symbolises liberation and she is persevered to wear hijab despitethe warning given by her buxom aunties and the quizzical looks given to herfollowing the 9/11 attack. Lastly, this essay also covers the views of marriagein Islam and its importance to the mankind. This issue cannot be left out whendiscussing Love in a Headscarf as other important issues come to exist duringher journey in searching for a life companion who is ready to be her partner inseeking the pleasure of Allah.
The Islamic perspectives in this memoir are relatableto Muslim women especially to those who live in the European countries as theyare highly exposed to the West’s Islamophobic behaviours. Thus, as an IslamicFeminist text, this memoir successfully discusses the struggles faced by Muslimwomen and how to deal with the issues in an intellectual and Islamic way.