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Feminism and Islam in Germany

On the question of the compatibility of feminism and the hijab

Akademische Arbeit 2018 17 Seiten

Geschlechterstudien / Gender Studies



Feminists in the Western world have fought for a longtime against the constraints of (the Christian) religion. With the growth of the Muslim population and the increasing presence of women wearing Islamic headscarves, much is being discussed about the compatibility of feminism and Islam. The reasons and individual and social meaning of the hijab and its origins in the Koran need to be analyzed, to contribute to this discussion.


Die Feministinnen der westlichen Welt haben lange gegen die Zwänge der (christlichen) Religion gekämpft. Heutzutage, mit dem Zuwachs der muslimischen Bevölkerung und der zunehmenden Präsens von kopftuchtragenden Frauen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland wird viel über die Vereinbarkeit vom Feminismus und dem Islam diskutiert. Hierbei geht es vor allem um die Gründe sich für ein Kopftuch zu entscheiden, dessen persönliche und gesellschaftliche Bedeutung und seine Ursprünge im Koran. Dies soll im folgenden Essay beleuchtet werden und versucht werden, einen Beitrag zur Diskussion zu leisten.

With the growth of the Muslim population in Germany, the debate on the question of the compatibility of feminism and Islam has received a significant boost. There are now a lot of Muslim women who publicly comment on this issue, presenting themselves as feminists and choosing to wear an Islamic headscarf, the so-called hijab. Especially this discussion, about the religious clothing of the Muslim woman is interesting. Especially the rights of women to self-determination and freedom of religion are here in the focus of the debate. For some, the headscarf is a symbol of male oppression, for others it is a symbol of their - not just religious - freedom. The purpose of this text is to try to answer the question of whether wearing a headscarf on a religious basis is compatible with feminism, as it is understood in Germany. The relevant arguments of the discussion should be reproduced.

Feminism as a term for a social movement has its origins in the basic principles of the French Revolution, which set in motion a process of aiming for human rights and democracy concepts.[1] Feminism is an ideology and social movement that seeks freedom, self-determination and equality of women in all areas of life, as well as a change in the social role of women.[2]

The women's movement has developed in so called "waves”.[3] After individual fights of strong women for their rights, bigger collective attempts were made from the m iddle of the 19th century on. First of all, the movement fought for the elementary rights of women in the community or the public sphere, which up to then only belonged to men, such as suffrage, the right of education and employment for women.

From about the middle of the 20th century, a second wave fought then in particular also for rights in the private sphere and the sexual and reproductive self-determination of women. This wave too, was by no means just a civilized conflict but - just like the first wave - a true combat with politics, the male-dominated media landscape and especially against the church and its ideas of gender roles.[4] The focus was on the demand for a liberalization of abortion (1995),[5] as well as on the ability to punish marital rape (1997); it was about the acceptance of the desire to put children into the world, when the woman thought it was right and therefore the acceptance of the birth control pill and juridically about the legal capacity of the married woman, which was reached only with an amendment 1969.

After these first two - sometimes very fierce battles[6] - the movement lost a bit of its radicality, as important goals - above all the equality of men and women at the state level, meaning the legally standardized equality and even its encouragement[7] in Germany (as well as in most other European countries) - were achieved.

In the third wave,[8] which began around the end of the 20th century and continues to this day, the focus has shifted to an attention to diversity and the question of the gender identity of the individual.[9] Today, western feminism calls for the abolition of attributions of gender identities and, above all, focuses on the difference between sex and gender, meaning the biological or socio-cultural concept of gender.[10] At this juncture it is above all the individual freedom to define one's own sexual orientation and a discussion about homophobia and gender justice, where it can be seen that the interests of the man meanwhile also play a role.

In the past, there was a fight against obvious oppression, inequality, racism and sexism. Today, there is more of an attempt to lead an independent and self- determined life, free of unconscious social constraints.[11]

In Germany feminism has turned more and more away from the Church as an institution over the last hundred years, and although probably almost every religion is represented among feminists, the individual religious affiliation is not an important public aspect anymore, but only a private choice.

Therefore, it is necessary - talking about the relation between feminism and Islam - to make a conceptual distinction between Muslim and Islamic feminists: In this context, by Muslim feminists are the women meant, who see their religion apart from the rights of women as a private choice and a matter. In their eyes the rights of women are or should be protected by national secular law. The Koran is not used as a basis by them. By contrast, Islamic feminists mean women, who do not see their claim to equality as rooted in the French Revolution, but rather in the Koran and wanted by God. The term "Islamic feminism" first appears in the 1990s.[12] For women's rights has of course also in Islamic societies been battled since a long time, and as early as the beginning of the 20th century, Muslim women's rights organizations were the first Muslim women's groups to do so.[13] Again, it was about the right to vote for women and their legal and social equality.[14]

But emancipation efforts of women are often regarded in the Islamic world as "westernization" and as a threat to their own cultural identity. Achievements of the women's movement (for example, sexual self-determination, freedom of movement, etc.) are in large parts of the Islamic world often at least critically viewed.[15] The main topic of Islamic feminists in Germany today is (still) the equality of women in all areas of life, but also the fight about the interpretation of the Koran[16] is a very important and independent topic. The historically consistently male-dominated interpretation of the Koran is, in the eyes of many feminists, wrong and a new gender- equitable interpretation of the Koran, Sunnah, and Hadiths is required.[17] The woman, who characterizes herself as an "Islamic feminist" in Germany essentially fights against the discrimination of Islam in our society or her own person as a Muslim woman.

Even after intensive research, there are no more than a few individual contributions from Islamic feminists on the feminist issues of gender, abortion, responsibility for contraception or queerness. Their focus of interest appears to be rather the desire to be accepted as a believing woman struggling for equality, and - to those who want to wear religious clothing, such as the hijab - to find a job.[18] The question of how the Muslim woman, who calls herself a feminist, thinks about the achievements and demands of the other feminists, can therefore, in individual cases without further question not be answered.

It is unquestioned that there is a clear gender hierarchy in the Koran, which places to the man superior to the woman.[19] The Koran in its present interpretation gives a very patriarchal image. But the revision of the scripture required by the Islamic feminists,[20] appears still a long way off, because worldwide the Islamic leaders are but men. And so, the clothing regulations anchored in the Koran have so far been only occasionally analyzed critically and also only partly relativized.[21]

In Germany, the wearing of the headscarf is repeatedly brought into the field of tension between the (negative) freedom of not wearing it and the (positive) freedom of wearing it. In public opinion, the Islamic headscarf is often seen as a sign of female oppression, isolation or even religious fundamentalism.[22]

The question is why the hijab is worn. The rule of covering of the woman is based on several passages in the Koran.[23] To which extent the female body has to be covered, the interpretation of the verses vary by the religious leaders and the individual interpretation and traditions of the wearer. This has led to diverse types and forms of concealment worldwide.[24]

This dress code has the primarily background to protect the woman from men’s eyes, and reciprocal to prevent the man from giving in to his (apparently uncontrollable) sexual desire at the sight of an (uncovered) woman.[25]


[1] Cf. Karsch, 2016, p. 21 ff., 311.

[2] Cf. Lenz, 2004, p. 666.

[3] Cf. Lenz, 2004, p. 666.

[4] In particular, the Catholic Church can certainly be described as a stubborn opponent of women's emancipation and so it is not surprising that the struggle for women's equal rights and their right to a self-determined life, has especially in the second half of the 20th century led to a massive dropout from the church, cf. Religionszugehörigkeiten in Deutschland, 2017.

[5] Cf. „Wir haben abgetrieben! ", title headline of the journal Stern on the 6th of June 1971.

[6] In particular, the suffragettes in England were not afraid of violence in the dispute over women's rights. Mailboxes were blown up, shop windows thrown in, and hunger strikes followed by force­feeding of imprisoned women. In Germany one knows especially the left-extremist and radical-feminist group red Zora, which among other things fought for international women's solidarity and against the § 218 StGB (the clause in the German criminal code related to abortion), the reproductive medicine, sex tourism and trafficking in women.

[7] In particular, by the insertion of Art 3. Abs. 2, S. 2 GG, 1994.

[8] The term third-wave feminism is attributed to Rebecca Walker. She is among others the founder of the Third Wave Action Foundation, which campaigns for gender, juridical and economic justice, cf. e.g. Walker, 1995.

[9] While the legal equality of men and women in Germany seems to be completed, the fight for equal opportunities in the workplace continues to this day and it will probably take decades and possibly only under the pressure of other flanking legal measures such as the "Frauenquote", until approximately as many women are in leadership positions as men and women receive the same salary as men.

[10] For this the works of Judith Butler were very changing: cf. e.g. Butler, 1991, as well as Butler, 1997.

[11] Cf. Karl, 2011, p. 251 et seq.

[12] Cf. Ahmed, 1992.

[13] E.g. Egyptian Feminist Union, 1923, ARAB Feminist Union, 1944.

[14] Notably seems Duda Scha'arawi, the first Egyptian to divulge the veil, as well as Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist, who received in 2003 the Nobel Peace Prize for her work, especially on women and children's rights.

[15] Cf. Herrmann, 2009, p. 2; Abu Zaid, 1998.

[16] All the leaders of Islam are male: imams, muezzins, heads of states of Muslim countries, even the presidents of the German Muslim society.

[17] Cf. e.g. Ahmed, 1992.

[18] Cf. in matters of this the contributions of the Muslim feminists Rabeat Müller, Kübra Gümüşay, Seyran Ateş, Lamya Kaddor, Sineb El Masrar, Khola Maryam Hübsch.

[19] Cf. i.a. Koran, surah 4:34; 7:189; 23:12-14, as well as 33:35., and e.g. the political and religious leader of the majority Shi'ite Iran and one of the important figures in Islamic politics, preached that “one of the duties and occupations of Hadhrat Fatemeh Zahra is her role as a ‘mother, wife and housewife’... being a housewife means to raise human beings and produce the most majestic product and commodity in the existing world.”, cf. Tehran Times, 2017.

[20] Towards a more women-friendly and feminist interpretation.

[21] It should, however, be possible to interpret the Koran more modernly - for the interpretations of other religions have change as well, for example the interpretation of the Bible had several reforms in the last 200 years.

[22] Bavaria's secretary of the Interior Joachim Herrmann (CSU) claimed in the TV show "Hart aber fair" that the hijab is for the majority of Muslim women in Germany a symbol of non-equality of women; Der Tagesspiegel, 2017.

[23] Cf. Koran surahs 7: 27; 24: 31; 33: 59.

[24] Here you can distinguish, among other things, between the mere covering of the hair(line) and the complete wrapping of the body and/ or face (in the form of a chador or the burqa).

[25] Cf. Deutscher Bundestag, 2017, p. 10; and: Hübsch, 2014, p. 23 et seq.: The wearing of a hijab should help women become less sexually attractive to men, which in turn means that there is less unfaithfulness and thus more stable marriages, making life easier for all those who wish to have lasting relationships. The headscarf - not as an isolated piece of clothing, but as an expression of unirritating/ unsexual clothing in general - has the benefit of facilitating women's public appearance,


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Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen
feminism islam germany



Titel: Feminism and Islam in Germany