This past weekend, my wife and I participated in a conference on Islamic feminism - a theoretical and political interest of ours, reinvigorated during our year in Lucknow (see here for part of why). Midway through the first discussion, she leaned over and whispered: this (she meant incredibly stupid statements about the essence of man- and womanhood, about the "weaker sex" etc) is precisely what Sigmund Freud wrote, too (she truly is a psychotherapist in the making). Not much later, somebody complained that Muslim societies consider the family the most important social unit - and I had to think of conservative parties across Europe and the German principle of subsidiarity.

Our associations hint at a widespread problem in the discourse on women and Islam: what makes a deplorable patriarchic practice an Islamic one? The fact alone that it is justified with recourse to Quran, Sunna and Hadith? Or the mere fact that it occurs (more frequently, perhaps) in societies with many Muslim citizens? Would this not leave the definition of Islam to patriarchs, precisely something which we (and other Islamic feminists) should challenge? After all, patriarchs will take whatever source to justify themselves, if need be the local fast food menu card ("Chow mein causes rape")...

This is not to deny that Islamic tradition and religious sources do justify patriarchy (perhaps less than patriarchs want, and perhaps - read contextually - less than was common at the time of their formulation). But I think that a more substantial and careful definition of terms would help. We could start, for instance, with an inversion of Margot Badran's definition of Islamic feminism (see here). Islamic patriarchy, then, would be

a discourse and practice that derives its understanding and mandate from the Qur'an, seeking differential rights and differential justice within the framework of gender hierarchy for women and men in the totality of their existence. Islamic patriarchy rejects the idea of gender equality by following the Qur'anic notion of quasi-natural differences between some insan (human beings) and others and calls for the implementation of gender separation in the state, civil institutions, and everyday life. It upholds the notion of a public/private dichotomy (by the way, absent in early Islamic jurisprudence or fiqh ) conceptualising a holistic umma in which Qur'anic ideals are operative in all space.

What do you think: would this be a useful starting point? Or should we continue to assume that Sigmund Freud was an Islamist - he was a bearded fellow, after all...