Theorizing the Politics of 'Islamic Feminism'

This article examines developments in 'Islamic feminism', and offers a critique of feminist theories, which construct it as an authentic and indigenous emancipatory alternative to secular feminisms. Focusing on Iranian theocracy, I argue that the Islamization of gender relations has created an oppressive patriarchy that cannot be replaced through legal reforms. While many women in Iran resist this religious and patriarchal regime, and an increasing number of Iranian intellectuals and activists, including Islamists, call for the separation of state and religion, feminists of a cultural relativist and postmodernist persuasion do not acknowledge the failure of the Islamic project. I argue that western feminist theory, in spite of its advances, is in a state of crisis since (a) it is challenged by the continuation of patriarchal domination in the West in the wake of legal equality between genders, (b) suspicious of the universality of patriarchy, it overlooks oppressive gender relations in non-western societies and (c) rejecting Eurocentrism and racism, it endorses the fragmentation of women of the world into religious, national, ethnic, racial and cultural entities with particularist agendas.