Jewish and Muslim Feminists

There were plenty of takeaways from the Zoom panel on “Feminism in Islam and Judaism” from the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Washington DC on the final day of Ramadan in May.

In a discussion moderated by JIDS vice-president Fatima Argun, insights abounded from the presenters. Semiha Topal grew up in a conservative family in a secular country, Turkey, and evolved into a deeply religious feminist with a Ph.D. dissertation on “Building a Pious Self in Secular Settings: Muslim Women in Modern Turkey.” Alana Suskin grew up a liberal Reform Jew, was ordained a Conservative rabbi, then ordained a “rabba,” the nearest a woman can become to Orthodox rabbi.

A major hurdle was that “Feminism has strong Western connotations,” said Topal. “It’s the legacy of colonialism. We have to look like Western women to be civilized.” Her feminism, with and without hijab, was always “in the context of religion.” She said, “Feminism pushes Muslim women to learn their religion.”

For Suskin, the concept “Judeo-Christian tradition” is inaccurate. “Judaism is more like Islam, centered in divinity based on a legal system.” Women have to be “involved in understanding and interpreting religious law—this is true for Islam and Judaism, less so in Christianity. We have to take power to access legal authority, to find our way into the heart of the divine so we can be equal.” Her vision: “Women and men as spiritual equals with full equality in all arenas. It may not happen in a hundred years, but it will happen.”