A few weeks ago, I unintentionally created a hashtag whilst on a revision break. I was attempting to explain on Twitter the difficulties I'd faced as someone who identifies as both Muslim and Feminist. Up until about three years ago, I was under the impression that feminism was redundant until I stumbled upon a feminist critique of Beyonce's song for Run the World (Girls) on YouTube. From there I began to read lots of feminist literature and came to the conclusion that I was indeed a feminist- and always had been. I starting connecting with other feminists through Twitter yet coming across a fellow Muslim feminist was a rarity. Lots of Muslims, both men and women would tweet me telling me that I didn't need feminism as Islam had given me all the rights I had ever needed. Whilst I agreed that Islam has granted women extensive rights, I told them that I could not ignore the fact that women were still being discriminated against in a number of ways in the 21st century and that there is a great deal of patriarchy and misogyny within both the Muslim community and society as a whole. As Muslims, we cannot live in a vacuum and ignore the wider issues at hand. It is actually our obligation to fight against any form of injustice that occurs. In addition to this, Muslims have developed an unhealthy stigma towards the 'F-word' and think that it is a western concept. I personally believe that Islam is an inherently feminist religion which was established at a time when female infanticide was rife. The Islamic world was familiar with feminism long before the Western world caught up.
Then I came across another hurdle as I dipped my toe into the murky waters of mainstream feminism. I found it to be generally quite hostile and unwelcoming. Some of the feminists were staunch atheists who could not comprehend why I was labelling myself as a Muslim feminist, as surely I was an oppressed woman who had been forced to wear the hijab. So overall, I had Muslims telling me I did not need feminism and mainstream feminists wanting to 'liberate me', but both groups thinking that the phrase 'Muslim feminist' was an oxymoron. So in essence, the hashtag was born out of the frustration I had from not being able to place myself comfortably within feminism.
Due to the nature in which it began, I had not anticipated for the hashtag to take off at all. It began with me just ranting on Twitter through my smart phone, but within minutes, Muslim feminists from around the world were using the hashtag and airing their views. I had accidentally created a somewhat safe space for Muslim feminists- mostly women I have to say- to share their opinions, struggles and experiences. Because of the difficulties I had faced in labelling myself as a Muslim feminist, I was unaware that so many shared the same sentiments as me. The hashtag had raised lots of issues, some internal and exclusive to Muslim feminists, and others that all feminists face.
I'd like for people to understand, feminist or not, that the hijab can be a feminist choice. For me, feminism is about giving women the right to choose, so that should extend to supporting those who choose to cover their hair and those who do not. Muslim women choose to don the hijab for various reasons and it is ultimately a personal choice that should be respected. I'd also like to challenge the notion in the Muslim community that the hijab is a sign of piety or superiority, because this then creates unhealthy discrimination against the Muslim women who do not wear the hijab. Despite this, most Muslim women, myself included, are becoming tired of the media's narrative of a Muslim woman- the 'oppressed woman' stereotype. The constant debates on the hijab and the niqab are getting tiresome. We are women with a variety of interests- from football to pop music to politics to science, so please stop reducing us to the way that we choose to dress.
In the week after the hashtag was created, I received a lot of positive and supportive feedback from non-Muslim feminists who have found it to be quite insightful and eye-opening. If you have time, I'd encourage you to scroll through the hashtag yourself and look beyond the Buzzfeed piece to see the variety of tweets that were posted. Although feminism may mean different things to different people, the concept is universal, and what the movement desperately needs is more unity, which can only be achieved through a more intersectional and inclusive feminism. The hashtag has also taught me that there are lots of internal issues that Muslims need to collectively address, which can be achieved through more discourse and activism.