Promoting an understanding of Islam that recognises the principles of
justice, equality, freedom, and dignity within a democratic nation state

Baraza! 5 - Why Musawah
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When SIS began to speak publicly of finding equality and justice in Islam 20 years ago, a common response was “why bother?” Muslim feminists told us it was a waste of time because religion is inherently patriarchal: for every alternative interpretation SIS could offer to justify equality, mullahs could counter with 100 others. The secularists said it was dangerous as SIS was giving legitimacy to the position of religion in the public sphere. And human rights activists thought it was a losing battle.

A feminist working within the religious structure, they argued, would never be recognized as having any authority to speak on Islam. For them, justice and equality could only be fought through a human rights framework. This decision of so many activists to ignore religion has had undesirable consequences.

It has left the field wide open for the most conservative forces within Islam to define, dominate and set parameters of what Islam is and what it is not. They decide what a good Muslim is, they dictate how to be a good Muslim woman, wife, and daughter, and then prescribe laws and policies that keep us shackled as second-class Muslims, indeed, second-class citizens. When we protest, they shut us up saying we have no authority to speak about Islam.

Yet, Islam, in their own words, is a way of life. Islam has all the answers. But how can Islam be all this when those who question the orthodoxy are far too often intimidated into silence? How can it be a tenable solution when some quarters are persecuted in the name of religion? We’ve had enough.

This was boldly declared by some 250 activists and scholars from 47 countries gathered in Kuala Lumpur at the 2009 launch of Musawah (‘equality’ in Arabic), the global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. The groundbreaking global meeting brought together feminists working with religion, those working within a human rights framework, scholars of Islam and the Muslim world, lawyers, journalists and grassroots activists.

All came sharing a common mission to collectively and publicly break the monopoly that authoritarian governments and religious leaders have over how Islam is understood and used to govern their lives. At the international level, conference participants served notice to the United Nations and to Muslim governments saying that there would now be an alternative global force led by Muslim activists and scholars.

The movement would make it its business to challenge the use of religion and culture to undo advances in human rights and women’s rights language. For Sisters in Islam, Musawah was in some ways a vindication of a long and difficult struggle to find liberation within our faith and to translate into collective action our belief in a just God. This is the last frontier in the feminist movement – to break the theological stranglehold of the patriarchs that prevent Muslim women from enjoying equal rights. The message is simple and clear: for justice to be realised in the 21st century, there must be equality.

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