By Umer Hussain
One of my Ph.D. colleagues, while arguing how religion is the cause of suppressing women’s rights in sport, underscored, “In the Western popular press, when the word ‘Muslim’ is used, one picture comes into my mind: oppressed women.” These remarks are pervasive to hear for any Muslim residing in Western society. However, as a practicing Muslim from my childhood, I have been told stories of how religion Islam liberated Arab women and gave them equal rights compared to Arab men. During my Ph.D. in sport management, I have also gone through a plethora of literature about Muslim culture. I found some fascinating studies focusing upon decolonizing the current scholarship; however, I have come across numerous studies trying to depict the two billion Muslim population as violent, retrograde, and bizarre. I found that in numerous studies, Western scholars make a wrong implied assumption that two billion Muslims are irrational; that is why they do not question various Islamic traditions. Indeed, Muslim men and women both have challenged various thoughts and transformed religious teachings per modern needs. However, the scholarship detailing Muslim world issues is highly tilted towards a Western ideology or, in other words, in imperialist and colonial views.
Likewise, the realm of sport management has primarily been established in North America. Thereby, scholars of Western origin have broadly researched the Muslim world and Muslim women. Hussain and Cunningham (2020) have underscored that Western sport management scholars investigate Muslim women living within and outside the Muslim world via a Western ocular. Scholars of Western origin homogenize Muslim women as weak and dominated subjects. Hussain and Cunningham (2020) also argued that the Western researchers’ primary thesis to understand Muslim women’s issues is grounded in White feminism. The White feminists advocate for global sisterhood; thus, they try to homogenize women as one singular entity. Hussain and Cunningham (2020) claimed that using White feminism as a theoretical approach delimits understanding of Muslim culture and further perpetuates systematic marginalization. For example, while researching Pakistani Muslim women, Hussain and Cunningham (2020) found that Pakistani Muslim women athletes had a strong anathema against the Western sporting paradigm and Western women participating in sport. Thus, the White feminism basic thesis is flawed and does not resonate with women’s heterogeneous experiences worldwide. Therefore, a new theoretical approach is warranted, especially to understand Muslim women’s issues in sport.
Some sociologists have advocated using Islamic feminism as a theoretical approach to understanding Muslim women’s issues (Badran, 2009, 2017; Bahlul, 2000). For example, Badran (2009, 2017) argued that Islamic feminism originated from feminist discourse within the Quran (Holy Book of Muslims) can offer a new means to explore Muslim culture. Islamic feminism calls for gender equality for women and men in the totality of their existence in the light of the Quran (Badran 2009, 2017). Islamic feminists defy both the patriarchal system inside the Muslim world and Western secularism (Bahlul, 2000). Islamic feminists reject the notion of being either religious or secular but argue for women empowerment per Quranic teachings (Badran, 2009, 2017)
In sport management scholarship, researchers have employed various theoretical frameworks to understand Muslim women’s issues. However, there remains a paucity of research using Islamic feminism as a theoretical perspective to empower Muslim women. Following the Islamic feminism approach, researchers can explore how gender segregation can enhance Muslim women’s sport participation and empower them. Islamic feminism can help scholars move beyond focusing on Muslim women’s clothing issues and explore other means through which Muslim women’s sport inclusion can be enhanced. For instance, the Islamic feminism approach can help researchers explore how Muslim women’s sport consumption and fandom could increase. Hence, Islamic feminism can be a new theoretical approach to enhance Muslim women’s sport inclusion.
Badran, M. (2009). Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences (Original ed.). Oneworld Publications.
Badran, M. (2017, August 8). Islam’s other half. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2008/nov/09/islam-women
Bahlul, R. (2009). On the Idea of Islamic Feminism. Journal for Islamic Studies, 20(1), 33–62. https://doi.org/10.4314/jis.v20i1.48391
Hussain, U. & Cunningham, G. B. (2020). “These are ‘Our’ sports”: Kabaddi and Kho-Kho women athletes from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. International Review for the Sociology of Sport (IRSS). Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/1012690220968111