Female empowerment in the Islamic states is a complex process. In her book “Women Claim Islam,” Miriam Cooke writes about the various issues that women face in an Islamic society, as well as the unique aspects of their empowerment. Chapter five of the book presents an idea of “multiple critiques” to explain the multi-directional struggle that Islamic feminism experiences. This presentation will focus on this chapter, providing a summary of its three main points.
The first point of the chapter concerns the concept of “multiple critiques.” Cooke explains that the term comes from the combination of two sociological concepts: “double critique” proposed by Abdelkebir Khatibi, and Deborah K. King’s concept of “multiple consciousnesses.” By combining the two concepts, she presents a new concept of “multiple critiques.” It is described as a multilayered opposition to individuals, institutions, and systems that oppress Islamic women while maintaining Islamic bona fides (Cooke 109).
The second point that Cooke makes concerns the importance of networking. The book was written in 2001, but it managed to foresee the benefits that Internet can bring to Arab Muslim women. She describes how since the early 1980s women practicing Islam started uniting in different leagues and organizations to promote learning and the spread of Islam. Most of these organizations were created with the goals of doing everything they can to improve life for the women practicing Islam in their communities. Then Cooke writes about the importance of the internet for these groups. She describes how different groups networked with each other to achieve greater results, as well as the conflicts that came from this interaction.
The third point of this chapter is the difficulty that Islamic feminists experience when communicating with western feminists. Islamic feminism is rooted in religious beliefs that are often seen as oppressive by western feminists. This, coupled with a negative history of colonization, creates tension between the groups. This tension prevents active cooperation, even if a compromise could result in a more beneficial outcome. Cooke also touches upon how stereotypes form people’s ideas about these issues and ultimately increase the tension between the groups.
How would you feel if you had to defend yourself from the outside world, as well as from the inside? Miriam Cooke describes a state of opposition that applies to this situation. In the fifth chapter of “Women Claim Islam,” she presents a sociological concept of “multiple critiques” based on the concepts proposed by Abdelkebir Khatibi, and Deborah K. King. Cooke describes it as a state of opposition where a multilayered Islamic feminist discourse is used to criticize and engage people and organizations that oppress Islamic women, while also maintaining Islamic bona fides. Arabic women who practice Islam have to be ready to defend themselves from oppressors in their community, and people on a global scale. This should be done by utilizing both Islamic teachings and feminist ideas (Cooke 109; Duderija 45).
In the same chapter, Cooke writes about the importance of networking for Islamic women. She describes many different organizations that Islamic women created to promote the learning and sharing of Islam. She wrote about the start of this movement in the early 1980s when various groups of women appeared on an international level. They were concerned about their local communities, and because of segregation, they knew that networking is essential to improve their life (Moro 1). Then, she writes about how the internet was able to unite many of these groups together, as well as create some additional tension. Unification and interaction between different groups of feminists led to a more effective activist action and a much faster spread of information. With women being the main users of the Internet in Islamic countries, it became an essential networking tool for these communities (Cooke 115).
The last major point Cooke makes in this chapter concerns intercultural communication between Islamic feminists and western feminists. Islamic feminism is focused on empowering women through religious teachings, and as it was mentioned earlier, insists on maintaining Islamic bona fides. These factors do not work well with western beliefs of feminism. Often, western feminists see Islamic religious practices as inherently oppressive to women, and cannot sympathize with the Islamic feminist groups (Seedat 26). This causes tension that prevents further interaction and cooperation between them (Cooke 117). A lot of Islamic feminist communities in the Middle East have a negative history of colonization, which further increases this tension. Stereotypes of both sides create biases and uninformed ideas about both groups, preventing unity and all the possible benefits it could bring (Cooke 120).
In this chapter, Miriam Cook touches upon some of the most important aspects of Islamic feminism. She shows the many layers of this topic and touches upon some uncomfortable truths. 16 years have passed since the book was published and the issues are still very similar. The Internet has become an invaluable tool in political activism. Women’s rights in Islamic states are still a heated topic, and western feminists still have difficulty working with Islamic feminists. However, there is progress, and with time it could lead to a better life for Islamic women.
Cooke, Miriam. Women Claim Islam: Creating Islamic Feminism Through Literature. Routledge, 2004.
Duderija, Adis. “Toward a Scriptural Hermeneutics of Islamic Feminism.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, vol. 31 no. 2, 2015, pp. 45-64.
Moro, Sabrina. “Islamic Feminism in Egypt: Toward a Reconceptualization of Social Movement Theories.” Inquiries Journal, vol. 7, no. 11, 2015, pp. 1-2.
Seedat, Fatima. “Islam, Feminism, and Islamic Feminism: Between Inadequacy and Inevitability.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, vol. 29 no. 2, 2013, pp. 25-45.