Originally posted on ISMAweb.
On 6th April 2016, at the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM), I and another brother by the name of Muhammad Kashmiri were invited to participate in an event called “Mars vs. Venus”, which goal was to “highlight the status of women in Islam and give a clear understanding of women’s rights and duties…also to point out the responsibilities of both men and women in making a better world and participating in achieving a bright future.”
Prior to the program, the organizers requested to have a meeting to discuss how we would contribute. I went with my wife to meet the organizers at the university library, who were made up entirely of women. We sat for nearly two hours going over logistics and also what role I and Muhammad would be playing. Essentially, that night we all agreed that the program would begin at 8 pm, start with an opening speech by a woman, followed by academic lectures given by women, a spoken word performed by a woman, a play conducted by women (called “Her Confessions”), and then finally ending off at 9:45 pm with a debate between myself and Muhammad on the topic of “Do Muslim Women Need Feminism?” – followed by a short question and answer session with a shared panel between all the event participants. Despite Muhammad’s protest at being chosen to defend feminism, he accepted on the condition that he would be able to qualify himself during his opening speech. In other words, neither he nor I wanted to defend feminism – and the women organizers didn’t want us to either. Why? Because of the shared understanding between us that Islam was sufficient for granting women their rights.
Now, none of the organizers seemed too concerned about the fact that they had chosen two males to debate the subject; it was never even brought up as an issue. I didn’t really see a problem with it myself because I hold both graduate and post-graduate degrees in philosophy, which conveniently gives me a great deal of insight into liberal ideologies like feminism. And knowing that feminism is defined as an ideology promoting “gender equality”, I assumed that this allowed other genders (particularly my own) to participate in such a discussion. Add on the fact that I’m also a PhD candidate in Islamic Studies at the University of Malaya, am currently an assistant researcher for the UM Grand Challenge Research Grant on Sustainable Development and Gender Justice, have co-authored an academic article on gender equality from the Islamic perspective, and had been previously invited by Wanita ISMA as the only male speaker to give a talk at the International Muslimah Empowerment Conference (IMEC 2015) – debating about feminism for an Islamic perspective, and whether Muslim women need it, would appear to be within the bounds of my expertise.
Despite all of the above, feminists would soon come to inform me that I had no right to participate in the discussion. Why? Because I’m a man.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, there were consorted efforts being taken by a particular feminist and her sycophants to sabotage the event. By the time I had found out what was going on, it was too late. What followed was not only an attempt to disrupt a program on gender rights by so-called “gender rights activists”, but a social-media slur campaign which has continued to lead to my harassment and attempts to silence me to this day. What follows is my rendition of what occurred for the sake of showing how feminists actively attempt to undermine Islam and true gender justice. If you want evidence of the invasiveness of feminism in Malaysia and the Muslim world at large, then look no further.
Female Chauvinism: The Story of Maryam Lee
The debate, which can be viewed here in full, began on schedule with my opponent starting his opening speech and declaring that he too did not agree with feminism. He qualified that his position that night was about whether or not Muslims should work alongside feminists in the implementation of women’s rights. However, not knowing that he was going to qualify to that extent, I stuck on topic and gave my opening speech afterwards, declaring that Muslim women did not need feminism due to three reasons: (1) Islam already gives women rights, (2) feminism is an invasive Western construct, and (3) feminism leads to disharmony between the genders. Now, whether you agree with my points or not, nowhere did I argue against women’s rights or try to justify injustices committed against women. I clearly argue the exact opposite, suggesting that feminism only exacerbates these problems. You can also tell that the mostly-female audience were agreeing with many of my points given their cheers and applause; an agreement which would later be reiterated in the question and answer session.
As the debate went to a close, the question and answer session began with all the participants in the program – both men and women. The audience members were asked to que up at the microphone if they wanted to asks any questions. As per IIUM rules and Islamic etiquette, gender segregation was enforced, with men on one side and women on the other. However, a microphone was provided for each side. As such, the women were allowed to go first. The first question was from a sister and directed towards myself in the form of a challenge to some of the points I gave during the debate. She introduced herself as a student from the University of Malaya and that her name was Fariza. I remember quite clearly how agitated she was; as if I had somehow personally harmed her. I didn’t quite understand why she was so angry (although I would find out soon enough). She kept telling me I was wrong and that if it wasn’t for feminism the Muslim women in the audience would “never have the right to vote” and other such things. Never mind the fact that Islam had already given Muslim women this right and that it was only taken away after European powers colonized the Muslim world. Despite this, I calmly waited and then responded accordingly to her accusations. Then the real commotion began.
Cue Maryam Lee.
As it was now the men’s turn to ask a question, I focused my attention to the other side of the room, only to witness a shouting match between the brothers and one Muslim sister. Maryam Lee had decided to force herself to the front of men’s que and tried to take control of the microphone. As chaos ensued, one of the woman organizers approached me on stage and told me they were calling security to have Maryam removed. However, I told her not to and to let her speak. As a result, Maryam then moved to the middle of the hall and literally began screaming towards the stage at me saying, “Men cannot tell women how to think, or how to act, or what to do!”. Noticing her lack of concern for any real discussion, I decided to fire back, attempting to appeal to her supposed Muslim upbringing: “Except when it’s your father”. My point? There is nothing wrong with being a man – so if you have a problem with authority because that person is a man, then you’re a sexist bigot. As such, she should not insult her own father, whom Islamically she is supposed to obey (along with her mother). Let’s not also forget that the Prophet Muhammad (sallAllahu alayhi wasallam) was a man. So if you claim that simply being male discredits any authority someone has over someone else, then you also technically discredit everything the Prophet Muhammad (sallAllahu alayhi wasallam) preached, because he was also a man.
The irony was not lost on the women in the audience who erupted in applause. Then Maryam went quiet for a little while. After that, she attempted to shout again, only to be silenced by the crowd once more. Due to the amount of time wasted on the unexpected drama, only two more members of the audience were allowed to ask questions – one brother and one sister. Despite this, post-event was filled with lively discussion between the brothers and sisters. I even caught a glimpse of Maryam outside the hall talking to her accomplice Fariza. No one else bothered to speak with her and some of the discussion was focused on her lack of civility. Afterwards, everyone went home and I thought that was the end of it. Although, I was still confused as to what had happened earlier. I didn’t quite understand why two Muslim sisters would come all the way from UM just to try and shout me down.
Then I found what had happened. Once I opened my Facebook I was swarmed by social-media abuse predicated by a campaign by Maryam that had begun right from the start of the event itself at 8:00 pm. On her Facebook page she had publicly shared only one of the event photos – the debate – and proclaimed that it was “ridiculous” that women were being “excluded”. She went on to say that “Feminism is OUR space FIRST, not yours (men)” and complained that “Patriarchal privileges are set in place in every social system you can think of…”. Aside from the blatant fact that Maryam never even bothered to contact the women organizers to confirm whether or not women had been “excluded”, she clearly shows intense bias even against the idea of men discussing this issue. What is even more telling is that despite the fact that women make up 70% of all tertiary students in Malaysia, and the fact that Maryam herself attends one of the most prestigious universities in South East Asia (UM), she still believes she is being oppressed by supposedly over-privileged men. The fact that most men in this country will never even get a chance to attend university, while Maryam complains about them “taking her space”, is not only indicative of privilege, but one with a delusional sense of entitlement. Perhaps she would like to explain how “underprivileged” she is compared to the uneducated construction workers (men) who built the nice air-conditioned university she now has the luxury of attending – I’m sure they would love to hear how they’re responsible for her angst. But I digress.
At 10:11 pm, Maryam and Fariza finally decide to arrive at the program. Shortly thereafter, Maryam makes another post on her Facebook page:
Before going on, allow me to reiterate: not only had Maryam already passed judgment on an event she had no awareness of – and never even bothered to enquire about from the organizers – but she shows up 2 hours late and half way through the debate, already deciding within a minute of her arrival that she intends not to be civil.
But this is only the beginning. Maryam also insists on misquoting me. Contrary to her own post, what I actually said was, “If the patriarchy were to exist, men would have a lot more benefits than we currently do” (23 minutes in). This was after mentioning many of the injustices that are male-exclusive, such as lower lifespans, more dangerous jobs and deaths at the workforce, more active military duty, etc. This was not some arbitrary statement where I complained about “having less power”.
What’s more, is that Maryam decided that she did not want to follow IIUM regulations, purposefully sitting herself on the men’s side of the hall, just a seat away from a brother (pictured above). When she was asked by the women organizers to switch sides, she declined. She then later proudly announced her uncivil behavior – yet again – on Facebook:
Aside from the clear lie that she was “20 seats away” – Maryam feels the need to inform everyone that rules don’t apply to her because “I am a grown educated woman and I don’t need to be told where to sit”. According to the logic of #ISitWhereIWantToSit, she can invite herself to a wedding, decide to sit next to the groom without consent from his wife or family, and feel oppressed when people object to her lack of etiquette. In other words, for Maryam, the rules only apply when it’s her rules – when it comes to other people’s values and personal space, they have to change in order to accommodate her fragile sensibilities.
And in case any of the liberal spectators reading this article still don’t see the problem, allow yourself a moment of reflection. Had a group of students from IIUM decided to invite themselves to a lecture being held at UM because they didn’t like who was talking, walked into the hall 2 hours late with the intention of not being civil, disregarded university regulations, attempted to impose their values on the audience members by objecting to seating arrangements, and then forced their way to the microphone for the sake of shouting down the speakers – honestly, how would that be taken?
Within seconds every liberal in Malaysia would be Facebooking about how “Islamists” were trying to force Shari’ah Law on everyone. Hashtags of #ArabisationOfMalaysia would ignite twitter feeds. The MalayMail would start booking interviews with audience members before the event even finished. And the next morning, you would get headlines like this:
But don’t worry, Maryam feels completely justified in her behavior because “of the extreme situation” of men “hijacking her space”. Apparently no one informed the women organizers that their space was being “hijacked”:
After the event, Maryam decided that her next move would be to take revenge for her public display of delusional entitlement not being warmly welcomed by the audience (how surprising). She went about carefully weaving her narrative and then solicited it on social media and feminists’ blogger sites. The first of these to be published was an article by Hanis Meketab in the Asian Correspondent titled, “Why Can Only Muslim Men Debate Whether Muslim Women Need Feminism?” implying that the program was the victim of a male hostile takeover. The “reporter” not only didn’t care to contact the organizers or the speakers to ask them what happened at the event, but conveniently was only able to interview one audience member – Maryam Lee. In the article, Maryam was quoted claiming that “Women’s physique and biology were used to justify the systemic and structural oppression of women…” that “Saudia Arabia [was used] as a prime example of how well women are treated” and that “[Only] the men were given the space to have their say, but when I wanted to say something, I was told by the organizers that we were out of time…”. Aside from these blatant lies which are proven wrong by the debate video itself and Maryam’s own account of the event elsewhere, the Asian Correspondent decided it would only be fitting to link to one portion of the debate where I am responding to Muhammad – completely removing any context behind the statements being made in an attempt to have the article come off as objective.
As a result, this article was shared over 6000 times and led to further abuse, with none of the angry feminists even bothering to figure out what actually happened that night. That’s when I then released the full debate here.
In response, Maryam then followed up with her own article (read, “damage control”), which she titled “Reclaim: Feminists Spaces in Public Discourse”. Therein she claims that I was “trying to justify patriarchy”, despite the fact that I don’t even believe one exist. She may as well have said “atheists believe in god” for added nonsensicalness. More revealing, however, was her admission to her poor behavior that night, all the while trying to rationalize why she was somehow obligated to act that way:
So now, my retort to her obnoxious sexism was an “insult to her father” and me “comparing myself to her father and the Prophet Muhammad (sallAllahu alayhi wasallam)”. Let me just go on record again as stating that the comment – and subsequent ones – had nothing to do with some arbitrary insistence on my part to make these comparisons or to insinuate that all men should somehow be obeyed. Had that been the case, I assure you that every other woman in the audience would not have taken a liking to what I said and then cheered for my comments. The fact that Maryam has to go to such lengths in order to get revenge for embarrassing herself is not only typical of female chauvinism, but feminism’s insistence that men be responsible for what women do wrong.
Despite this negative experience, I learned quite a lot. Not only was I able to finally experience the ire of feminists directly, but I was also able to gather other feminists who revealed exactly the same behaviors. Maryam’s media campaign against me drew together a rather large sample size of self-proclaimed feminists whom all exhibited the same arguments and tactics. As a result, I decided to take advantage of my situation and perform a small survey; collecting together the most common responses from feminists as well as why I find them irrational.
Feminists Tactics that Undermine Islam and Gender Justice
Maryam Lee had exhibited several fallacious reasons for why men should not be able to speak about her idol: feminism. But she was not the only one. In fact, I found that there was actually a trend of common responses which feminists use to not only undermine genuine discourse on feminism, but to silence their critics and undermine genuine gender justice. Below are 5 of the main tactics that feminists use and why they are irrational:
As notable from the above, the number one tactic used by feminists to undermine gender equality is to claim that all criticisms of their views are misogynistic attempts to silence them. In other words, simply disagreeing with the idea that there is a ‘patriarchy’ makes you an oppressor of women. Never mind the fact that most men are not bad at all. Are there bad men in the world? Of course; just the same as there are bad women. Have there been many cultures at points in their history which have devalued women? Certainly. But to claim that this is the norm and that the majority of men are somehow programmed from birth to make women suffer? This is pure misandry. Neither gender has the monopoly on moral virtue or vice.
“But what about the Taliban?” Well, what about them? Once again, I recognize that in certain points of many cultural histories that women were less valued than men. But let’s be honest here, the Taliban are not devaluing women for the sake of devaluing women. In other words, it has more to do with social and economic factors that have nothing to do with gender.
“What? How dare you!” No seriously, forget about my gender for one moment. Listen to reason; it’s gender neutral. No one here is justifying what is currently happening to women in Afghanistan, but if you’re solution to the problem is “blame men”, then frankly you have no idea what’s going on in the world.
That’s not an insult – that’s a fact.
The Taliban didn’t just wake up one day and go, “I think it would be a great idea to oppress women! Let’s do it!”. The Taliban are a recent phenomenon created by constant instability and war in the region. With little to no economic opportunities, little to no educational institutions, inadequate infrastructure, and constant violence, to suggest this is just a problem for women completely misses the target. In conditions like these, naturally men are going to take advantage of every and all socio-economic structures of power – because they are typically the only ones obligated to take care of their families while simultaneously fulfilling mandatory military duty. Trying to “equalize women” under these conditions would be absurd without fixing the injustices happening to the men as well. You cannot ask for 50% employment and educational quotas to be met for women when the men barely fill 10%. You want equality? First ask the women of that society to pick up guns and do heavy manual labor; I guarantee you’ll have a hard time convincing them. Even in societies where women are free to choose these positions – such as the United States and Europe – most opt out. Why? Because women tend to prefer safer environments and less physically demanding jobs. In other words, they prefer men to do all the stuff they don’t want to do. In any case, it’s civilizational suicide to expect women to normatively fill more dangerous roles, because if the rates of death are higher among members of the population necessary to produce more of those members (i.e. children), then your society isn’t going to last very long. This is especially the case for species of animals where only one female produces offspring (e.g. ants, bees, etc.). Kill the queen and you kill the whole population. But don’t trust me, try experimenting with it yourself. After your society dies out, let me know how it went.
“But what about China’s one child boy policy?” Well, what about it? Once again, this is not an issue of gender insomuch as it is about economic structures needing reform. As Chinese mainlanders are well aware, men are culturally obligated to not only take care of their wives and children, but their parents as well. In other words, a male child is both a mother and father’s insurance policy. When he gets old enough, that not only marks the end of his parents supporting him, but also themselves. Girls on the other hand are not obligated to perform this role. Hence, Chinese parents – pressured to have only one child – chose to have boys, not because they arbitrarily hated girls, but because poor policies created the conditions where boys were seen as the best economic option. Now, having seen the unintended negative results of that policy – not enough women to marry and bear children – the Chinese government has since overturned it. Did they do this because they suddenly became feminists and voted for an all-female parliament? No. To suggests that China’s policies were solely about gender once again misinterprets the nature of the problem and undermines effective solutions towards holistic implementations for justice.
That said, most men love and want what is best for their own mothers, wives, and daughters. Most oppression towards women is often also because of oppression happening to men related to factors beyond gender. Thus, to suggest that it is “bigotry” when a man disagrees with the ‘patriarchy’, is nonsensical. Men should have a right to speak about things which pertain to them. If you’re going to claim that feminism is about gender equality, then a man saying “Hey, most of us are not monsters” should not be an offense to your sensibilities.
But this is “mansplaining” right? Facts are a patriarchal conspiracy! Except when a woman says everything I just explained above.
(2) “The Lived Experience”
Another way which feminists try to undermine gender justice is by claiming that women are the only ones allowed to talk about feminism with any real authority. This may otherwise be considered the “Queen Fallacy” – an analogy to chess representing an unjust sense of female entitlement. Feminists will often compare men speaking about feminism with a “a person who’s never rode a bike talking about how to bicycle”. Although a clever retort, it doesn’t make much sense in this situation – especially given the fact that feminism is supposedly about “gender equality” which includes the male gender. In other words, contrary to claims about the inclusivity of feminism, this accusation reeks of gender chauvinism (i.e. sexism). Now, as a man I cannot possibly tell you “how it is to be a woman” from personal experience (e.g. being pregnant, etc.). However, if I were a medical doctor, I could tell you some facts about these experiences from a more technical viewpoint, and I may even be able to tell you what other women have told me. I can also empathize with people who have had these experiences. So, to suggests that I have no right to speak about women under any capacity is frankly wrong. According to said logic, I cannot talk about the struggles of my mother who raised me as a single parent, or about my wife, or even my possible future daughter. According to this logic, I’m not even allowed to fight for women’s rights, writing articles in favor of women, or protect women from the injustices of misogynistic men – all because I am a man.
It is also awkward that feminists complain about men speaking about feminism, since feminists talk about men all the time without concern for whether or not a man is actually present at the discussion. This is essentially what all feminism conferences are about: women talking about how bad men are. What is the ‘patriarchy’, but about “men’s lived experience”? Academic and senior speaker of the Muslim Debate Initiative, Zara Faris, elucidates this contradiction quite beautifully in a Facebook post:
The third tactic feminists use to undermine gender equality is specifically reserved for women who disagree with feminism, such as academics like the aforementioned Zara Faris and Cristina Hoff Summers. Apparently, if a woman disagrees with feminism she must be “brainwashed by the patriarchy” and is suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome” (a most telling accusation, comparing men to an enemy military force).
This particular claim is amusing for its irony.
On the one hand, feminists supposedly call for equality among the genders through empowering women’s autonomous agency, while simultaneously claiming that women who disagree with them are not capable of thinking for themselves and must be saved from their own self-imposed oppression. It should be noted that this accusation has often been used as an effective means for justifying things like the Iraq War. Mainstream feminist’s organizations have continuously lobbied in support of military intervention in the Middle East to “free” women from the oppression of not being able to wear bikinis, not being educated in places with no schools, and not being employed in places with no jobs.
To save Muslim women, feminists asked the patriarchy to drop bombs on them. How liberating.
Does this mean all feminists are in support of unjust warfare? Of course not. However, if you’re going to accuse other women of lacking agency because they disagree with you, then you’re indirectly in support of the same reasoning that leads to such disastrous consequences. What’s worse is that these same feminists will still blame the ‘patriarchy’ for these wars while excusing the women who support them. In other words, according to feminists, women can never be held responsible for their own actions. Why? Because all men are Sith Lords who meet on weekends at the Patriarchy Death Star and actively plan the suppression of the Female Rebel Alliance.
(4) “Patriarchy Hurts Men Too!”
Perhaps one of the more patronizing attempts by feminists to undermine gender equality is this idea that ‘patriarchy’ is somehow also oppressing men. In other words, when men point out the obvious fact that they are not that privileged and endure equal amounts of injustice (sometimes even more), feminists counter by claiming that – once again – it’s all men’s fault. So according to feminists, men are too stupid or naive to realize that the system we put in place for our own privilege is actually bad for us. Apparently men are so stupid and naive that we need women to tell us how privileged we are, so we can understand just how unprivileged we are.
Wait? What? Does that make sense? Of course not, because it’s a ridiculous misandrist explanation.
Having lower life expectancies, choosing to give away the majority of our income to our families, being forced to work the most difficult and life threatening jobs on the planet (because frankly most women choose not to), making up the majority of military personnel and military deaths (once again, because most women choose not to), being expendable in every major disaster (because women prefer priority access to lifeboats), and being blamed for all women’s problems while being expected to fix them – apparently all of this is evidence of a ‘patriarchy’ where men get to lay around all day being fanned with palm branches and hand-fed grapes by female slaves.
Forget Caesar and Genghis Khan; they were jerks. Most men are obviously not like that.
Once again, me pointing out the absurdity of this claim doesn’t mean I don’t recognize abusive men or abused women – what it means is that the vast majority of us don’t deserve these pejorative labels and accusations when we do our best to give up privilege for the sake of women. Trust me, I’d be far more financially well off if I wasn’t married, but I’m not complaining because I love my wife more than money. I don’t go to work every day for the sake of my salary – I go to work every day so that I can pay the bills and make my family happy. It’s simply unfair to claim men have so much “privilege” when it is women who we often work, fight, and die for. To suggests men’s genuine sacrifices for female privilege are “oppressive” is not only appalling, but clear proof of misandry.
(5) “Patriarchy. It’s EVERYWHERE”
Prepare your tin-foil hats. The final claim typically made by feminists which undermines gender equality is the assumption that every injustice is the result of ‘patriarchy’. Even when this view is contradicted by factual data, feminists will still find ways to blame it on male dominance and privilege. Typically, counter evidence works as a means to modify or reject a belief all-together. This is rationality. However, when discussing ‘patriarchy’, none of the standard rules apply for feminists. This is why feminism is ultimately immune from critique and must resort to all the above tactics to preserve its own integrity. Anything remotely contradicting the foundational thesis that “men-are-responsible-for-everything-wrong” is absolutely not tolerated. So when women like Myanmar Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi are engaged in the genocide of Burmese Muslims, or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is one of the main actors behind the destruction of Libya (where ISIS now reigns supreme), this isn’t the fault of those women and their particular ideologies – it’s the fault of patriarchy.
Just ask the feminists: “Is there anything that could possibly disprove your ideas on patriarchy?”
The answer will most likely be the following: “No, you stupid misogynist!”
To be fair, there has been a recent trend towards something called ‘intersectional feminism’, which is just a fancy term for “feminism and everything else that oppresses women [racism, war, poverty, etc.]”. This form of feminism gives the impression that it is more diverse and understanding of the multiple facets of life. However, according to intersectional feminism, all of these “other reasons” are still less important and still fall under the problem of ‘patriarchy’. So nothing has really changed except that now there are more things for feminists to blame men for. Thank you feminists for making me feel even more guilty for being born male. Now I can add genocide, xenophobia, racism, economic exploitation, and the pain you experience after stepping on a Lego to my list of unearned crimes.
Why Muslim Women Do Not Need Feminism
If there is any evidence worthy of showing why feminism is not necessary for Muslim women, I think it would be everything I outlined above. But in a way many may be reading this article and wondering what alternatives there are for Muslim women to achieve their rights. The very obvious answer to this is that women already have their rights from Islam. All that men and women need to do is to reclaim them from the liberal ideologies and politics which continue to bring them down. Gender justice cannot be achieved overnight and the corruption committed by some men who take advantage of instability to abuse and harm women should never be used as an excuse to believe that all men are a problem or that Islam needs something more to be perfect. In order to empower and uplift Muslim women in Malaysia and the world over, every Muslim needs to respond to all injustices equally – fostering a holistic implementation of justice and morality for all. We as Muslims need to react and cater to the cries of the oppressed, regardless of gender, age, and social status. This is why Islam is wasatiyyah, and why feminism is not.