Muslim faith-based organizations(FBOs) can be of great help to Muslim feminists as they are assumed to have acomparative advantage over secular NGOs because of their supposed ‘culturalproximity’ within Muslim communities.
There is a dire need for more literaturein this field that critically analyses the advantages and disadvantages of bothsystems (FBOs and NGOs) and suggest how both systems can work together. Thereis a need for NGOs to propose innovative strategies that incorporate andintegrate religious views with women’s everyday lived experiences. There is aneed to analyze the scope of the impact of such efforts through a feedback loopwithin the FBO or NGO so that further efforts can be constantly re-designedwhile taking into account the changes made by their efforts. Kirmani’s paperhelps in filling the gap in the literature which is an essential first step inadvocating for women’s rights in an organized fashion. Kirmani goes on to write aboutwomen’s rights in relation with development. Development is a difficult term tounderstand and explain but Kirmani handles it in a concise and comprehensiveway.
How she defines development informs the rest of the paper. She starts with a smartdefinition and then goes into more detail about the different approaches aboutdevelopment and how fundamental disagreements with religious leaders haveinfluenced prevailing strategies and perceptions In all of the approaches to understanding ‘development’,the role of religion has largely been neglected both at the theoretical andpractical levels. But as the developmental practice hasimproved and evolved over the last ten years efforts have been made to increasethe role of religion in development.
Kirmani analyzes the possible casualfactors for this. There has been a growing awareness amongst development theoristsof the importance of considering non-economic factors when approachingdevelopment, especially considering the resurgence of religious practices andbeliefs. Developments practitioners are realizing that development is notsolely about statistics and quantifiable tangible goals that can be crossed offa displayable checklist. It is about the lived experiences of those effectedparticularly women and their individual relationship with their culture andreligion. Kirmani thenanalyzed the pros and cons of using Islam to promote women’s rights.
Methods of approaching women’s rights advocacy in Muslim communitiesgenerally fall into two overlapping categories: the involvement of religiousleaders as advocates and partners in the promotion of women’s rights; and thepromotion amongst women themselves of gender-sensitive analyses andinterpretations of Islamic texts and concepts. These methods have been used largelyin the areas of reproductive health and in relation to family laws, as theseare the areas in which Islam is most often invoked in order to curb women’srights. Religious leaders are trusted and followed so their support willincrease the credibility of such efforts. This important considering that women’sreproductive health has been a kind of taboo in such religious conservativesocieties even through the scripture talks openly about it.
This is where onemust clarify the distinction between socio-cultural norms that claim to berepresentative of the religion and the actual religion itself. Any religiousinjunction passed must be scrutinized and derived from authentic sources. In myopinion one of the main issues is that the primary sources of Islamic thoughtare solely in Arabic which most of the common masses in the sub-continent arenot familiar with. This leads to confusion as those who translate the text alsointerpret it in accordance with their own perception and give too muchweightage to the historical analysis of the text that was carried out in thepatriarchal society in which it was revealed. Some organizations mentioned inthe paper aim to educate and engage with religious readers in dynamic discussionsand hope that they will pass this knowledge to the masses. This operation seemsto be effective on paper since religious leaders are held in high regard butmight not work in practice as Islamic leaders tend to have their own hiddenagendas and motives.
Development agencies must give religious leaders anincentive to reach a compromise and assist them in their endeavors. Thoughthese efforts have been successful in places like Kenya and Philippines theremight be different results in the sub-continent due to socio-cultural factorsespecially considering lack of education and taboos revolving around theconcepts of reproductive health and family planning. It might be a better planto empower women by encouraging them to adopt a more pro-active approach andengage in gender-sensitive discourses. Especially in countries where sharia law forms the basis of alllegislation it is imperative for women to reclaim their religion and bringabout positive change from within the framework of Islam. This struggle playsitself out not only on a global or societal level but also on a very personaland individual level. There is a certain internal struggle that comes withtrying to reconcile one’s religious identity and one’s gender identity andsexuality. This is not only a politically correct move but for some it isfollowing the true religion.
It is also an effective way to communicate thefeminist message to men who may otherwise not be open to such discussions. Inmy opinion the successful involvement of men depends on the cultural, politicaland social nuances of Islam in that area. Many religious leaders who are men(along with their largely male followers) are driven by extrinsic motives thathave more do with political power as compared to actual religiousenlightenment. Kirmani is assuming that the reason women underappreciated in anIslamic context is mostly because of textual misinterpretations without givingmuch weightage to the fact that such misinterpretations may be intentional andmay serve a hidden purpose. So instead of further empowering such men bycommunicating through them they can be bypassed if development agencies wouldshift the power and give a voice to the believing women.
One can best representa cause if they have lived through such experiences first-hand that drives themto struggle for their rights. One issue with this is that it may be difficultto receive the amount of funding that already established FBOs such as IslamicRelief receives. Dealing directly with gender sensitive issues may becomedifficult depending on where the donations are coming from. The example thatKirmani gives of a zakat based donoragency would restrict the organization to engage in activities that are seen asdirectly benefiting the poor, such as providing humanitarian relief inemergency situations, rather than engaging in activities that do not yieldimmediate results and may not align with their beliefs such as advocacy. In conclusion,Kirmani has written a comprehensive analytical piece that gives equal weightageto all the different shades of this multi-dimensional issue.
She correctlystates that while there can be no singular strategy for the attainment ofgender equality, those advocating for women’s rights must include but not beconfined to a concern for religion and the intersectionality of identity thatinteracts with and clashes with one’s religious beliefs.