Equality in the name of Islam: Portrait of the theologian Rabeya Müller

August 6, 2014

The women’s movement within Islam is gaining momentum worldwide. One of the most influential German Muslim women in this respect is the theologian Rabeya Müller. With her clear views and breaks with taboo, she is pushing for change within the Muslim community in Germany

“Historically, the women’s movement in Islam emerged around the mid-twentieth century,” says Amina Wadud, perhaps the most prominent representative of Islamic feminism in the world today. At that time, the women involved did not focus specifically on Islam; they were Muslim women who campaigned for the political participation of women in public life. Their efforts centred on general female suffrage, participation in education and the safeguarding of human rights.

Today, Islamic feminists are dealing directly with their own religion. “Islamic feminism is a gender-neutral approach oriented to religion. We take the impetus needed to implement this gender-neutral view from religion, from the Koran itself,” says Rabeya Müller, one of the Muslim women pioneering Islamic feminism in Germany.

Alice Schwarzer’s generalisations about Islam

Born in the German town of Mayen in 1957, the young Catholic began her particular search after finishing secondary school. In the late 1970s, following detailed forays into the study of Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, she converted to Islam. “I felt it was the start of a path that I should continue to follow,” she says. She then took courses in educational theory, Islamic studies and ethnology both in Germany and abroad before publishing her first writings on the status of women in Islam.

Even before she became a Muslim, Rabeya Müller was active in the women’s movement. Right from the word go, she was critical of the prominent and at times controversial German feminist Alice Schwarzer. “I simply have a problem with Alice Schwarzer’s generalisations with respect to Islam, and her highly undifferentiated view of it,” she says.

Rabeya Müller, who is 57, is quick to point out that she has no issue with the concept of “feminism” per se. “Feminism is something that you shouldn’t leave to people like Alice Schwarzer,” she says, adding that it is a subject for all women. But doesn’t Islamic feminism also profit from the achievements of the former icon of the women’s movement? Müller disagrees: “I would say that we Muslim feminist theologians gain more from women within the Christian feminist ideology.”

A gender-neutral reading of the Koran

“The Centre for Islamic Women’s Studies (ZIF) in Cologne established the Islamic women’s movement in Germany in the late 1990s,” says Müller, one of the centre’s co-founders, who goes on to say that it is thus far the only women’s centre in Germany that implements this form of theology. The focus of its endeavours, adds Müller, is the development of a gender-neutral perspective on the Koran. By establishing links with other Islamic-feminist theologians worldwide, the centre ascertained that similar efforts are being made in this regard in many places.

Müller goes on to say that the first steps towards a gender-neutral perspective within Islam would consist of verbalising injustice, in other words highlighting everyday injustices that occur regarding gender difference, referring to them as such and resisting them. “If I assume that God is just, then I must also be allowed to read the texts attributed to him in this light. And that means I’m allowed to ask questions,” she says.

Highlighting injustice and referring to it as such also means opposing patriarchy if necessary. Rabeya Müller is also known for doing this. But what grievances are Islamic women’s rights activists in Germany addressing? Müller explains that above all, there are very few women within academia and in senior positions. Another major irritation is the current regulation that is often used to prohibit Muslim women who are married to non-Muslim men from providing denominational Islamic religious education. What’s more, says Müller, the time has come to finally publicly address the question of the female Imamate.

Representatives of the associations that are organised within the Co-ordination Council of Muslims (KRM) repeatedly point out that a theological education open to both sexes at universities is possible. “But we shouldn’t forget one thing: imams are not educated at universities. This is where theologians receive their education, who then later become imams in the community – or in the Turkish community, hojas.” In this respect, she says, it would certainly be important to reach agreement with the associations on a common position on the issue of the female Imamate.

The thorny subject of polygamy

Within the Muslim community of the Rhineland, Rabeya Müller’s spiritual home, women and men take it in turns to lead prayers – a break with taboo in the eyes of many Muslims. “I see nothing in what is for me the relevant text, the Koran, that says this should not be done” says Müller. As long as the congregation that follows the prayers of the female preacher also supports her too, this is completely acceptable, she says. Nevertheless, she does understand that there are communities that do not want this and feels that they are perfectly entitled to hold this view.

The Cologne-based theologian is well-known within the Islamic community for breaches of taboo. For example, Rabeya Müller also oversees Islamic weddings. She serves as a witness of the marriage before God and conducts preliminary briefings with respect to the contract under civil law, where she also advises couples on regulations that apply in the event of a separation.

As far as Müller is concerned, there is nothing to say that Muslim women should not be allowed to marry non-Muslim men. Again, her view is not shared by many. But the feminist has her limits: “I do not want to be a witness at a wedding where a man wants to marry a second wife. I have personal difficulties with that,” she says. The practice may be essentially permitted by Islam, but there are also male theologians who interpret the relevant part of the Koran as saying that polygamy is unfeasible in practice, she continues.

A stronger voice within mosque communities

Müller is convinced of the need to act on the issue of emancipation and gender equality within mosque communities: women themselves must learn that they are not just assistants but co-authors of everyday Islamic life, she says. “If I participate in work, then I must also participate in the rights applicable to that work,” says Müller. Female Muslims should fight on their own initiative to secure greater involvement in decision-making and more respect. “And if it is decided that men and women should pray separately, then it is not ideal that the women’s room often looks like a box room.”

Rabeya Müller’s conceptual approaches and self-perception make her one of the very few German theologians campaigning for feminism within Islam. She is involved in the composition of textbooks, trains teachers of religion and is responsible for numerous publications.

She is currently active as deputy director of the Centre for Islamic Women’s Studies. Rabeya Müller pursues interreligious dialogue in many associations, and her commitment in this area has been outstanding. One of her latest projects is editorial work on a new interfaith women’s magazine that focuses on feminist-theological issues.

An analysis piece on Islamic Feminism in France by Adriane Choukour Wali titled ‘France and Islamic feminism: intersectionality in the Republic’

February 18, 2014


Preview: ‘The fact is that Islamic feminists in western countries, and especially in France, struggle with identity affiliations and fight against multiple forms of oppression that bind them to post-colonial and anti-racist movements.’

Source: http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/adriane-choukour-wali/france-and-islamic-feminism-intersectionality-in-republic

Muslim Feminism: A Seminar on Saturday May 4, 2013

At 2:30pm on Friday and 9:30am on Saturday May 3rd and 4th, the Life non-profit organization, the Department of Political and gender culture, the Association of plural femininism and CGIL Ravenna will support a seminar on “the Feminist Muslim” in the Muratori Classense library.

The seminar aims to analyze the main paradigms of thought focusing primarily on the Mediterranean. The seminar will host scholars and activists, to understand their common foundations, and current influences on the law reform, social processes and political acts in the Maghreb.

The program will last two days: Friday, May 3 at 2:30 will include greetings and a day-long workshop by Joan Piaia, Councilor for culture and gender; Marisa Iannucci, president of Life non-profit organization Serena Simoni, CEO of the Association of plural femininism.

The first session “Feminist Muslims” will be moderated by Maria Paola Patuelli, papers will include Marisa Iannucci on “The Gender Jihad: History, texts and interpretations of Islamic feminism,” Aysha Al Hajjami on “The Koran and Women: the exegesis of the feminine sacred text. From revelation to the law,” Abdennur Prado on “The patriarchal construction in the history of Islam and the role of men in Islamic feminism. The Spanish case” and finally, Latifa Bouhsini will discuss “The evolution of the theses of the feminist movement in the defense of reform of the Code of Personal Status in Morocco. ” Discussion will follow the sessions. .

Saturday, May 4 starting at 9:30, there will be a second session entitled “Feminisms in comparison.” The session will be moderated by Marisa Iannucci. Discussion and closing will follow.

Suburban Feminism



In the Northern Parisian suburb of St. Denis an association of Muslim women is dedicated to aiding suburban women in need. ‘Voix d’elles rebelles’ (Voices of female rebels) assembles feminists, social workers and researchers from all over France who deal with issues of female elopement, suicidal tendencies, child abduction, domestic violence and forced marriages.

The association runs on a tight budget of 50.000 Euros, which derives from public subsidies and increasingly private donations. Voix d’elles rebelles annually deals with around 300-500 women from the entire capital region. The women prefer to keep their distance from the normative debates on feminism in the suburbs, which does, according to them, not reflect the intersection of misogyny immigrant identities and cultures. The stigma created by the suburban feminism discourse pushes in their eyes many of the accused immigrant men towards religious fundamentalism. On the other hand, they support a suburban feminism which includes both an anti-racist and anti-misogyny mandate.

A new wave of Muslim feminists

Amongst the many contemporary reformist movements of Islam, one is concerned with the promotion of progressive and inclusive ideals such as gender equality and deals with questions on sexuality, homosexuality and transgender identities. What is called Islamic feminism is a tradition which emerged in Iran as an intellectual movement based on the critical exegesis of the Quran. The movement of Islamic feminists consists of religious women and religious feminists who refuse to be discriminated by their religion. They claim the right to reject bias and unjust interpretations of Islam and are open towards the inclusion and integration of LGBT Muslims.

The recent debate on same sex marriage in France and the institutionalisation of a “French Islam” renders greater importance towards progressive and inclusive interpretations of Islam. As such, reformist movements like that of Islamic feminism might help to eliminate gender bias and sexual discrimination amongst Muslims in France. As the imam of Bordeaux, Tareq Oubrou, recently declared, homosexuality is not condemned by the Quran or the sunna.

Some reformist movements in France have embraced Islamic feminism and the opening of the first inclusive mosque in France which conducts same sex marriages indicates that there are sections amongst the Muslim population that are receptive towards these progressive ideas.

Islamic Feminism – an Absurdity?

9 February 2011

The Society for Women and Qualification (VFQ) invites speakers every year to speak on International Women’s Day, and this year it will be the Islamic scholar Amira Hafner-Al Jabaji who will speak about the relationship between Islam and feminism.

Hafner-Al Jabaji has been active in the fields of Islam, female Muslims in Switzerland, and interreligious dialogue with a focus on gender issues. She is also a member of numerous political and interreligious groups and associations.

NPNS Protest in Paris wearing Surgical Bonnets

Approximately 60 members of the French feminist organization NPNS (Ni Putes Ni Soumisses or Neither Whores nor Submissives) gathered at the Place de la Republique in Paris to make public their position against the burqa in France. President Sihem Habchi told AFP that “for this generation, the rallying point is secularism, parity and to build a kind of feminism established on living together everywhere in the world, not only in France.”

Martin Amis visits Toronto to speak on feminism and al-Qaeda

Critics have accused him of Muslim-bashing, and some say he has turned into a cranky old curmudgeon like his famous father, Kingsley.

Martin Amis will appear in Toronto at two events, the Grano Speaker Series and the Donner Canadian Foundation Lecture to describe similarities between feminism and Islamic extremism.

Man Who Hit his Wife who Removed her Headscarf Sentenced to Six Months of Prison

A Marseille man who punched his wife in the face, fracturing her nose, because she removed her headscarf because of the heat was condemned to at least six months in prison. The couple, who live in Lille, France and were married in November 2007, were on holiday in Marseille. The 24 year-old French female victim stated, “I can’t handle the heat. I had my headscarf but I wasn’t covering my neck.” She claims to have explained to her husband that in Islam, a husband cannot tell his wife what to do.

According to Le Figaro, 2007 saw an increase of 31% over 2004 of reported domestic violence in the country.

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Islam Pluriel

Le Figaro

Pakistani girl who jumped from balcony in arranged marriage refusal, ‘wants Italian citizenship’

A 15-year old Pakitani girl jumped from a balcony in the northern Italian town of Alessandria. The act was reportedly connected to her refusal of an arranged marriage with her cousin, a 16-year old Pakistani boy. “My parents had already been in touch with his and told me I would be marrying him. I have nothing against him but I do not love him,” the girl said. The girl’s jump was an apparent act of desperation, to escape her parents’ decision. The girl also said that she no longer wants to be Pakistani, but wants to become an Italian citizen. An investigation is being opened into the girl’s desperate attempt.

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