When Omaima Abu-Bakr was a teenager in Egypt, she wore miniskirts and high heels — in line with the fashion of the time. But she says the freedom in fashion didn’t translate to equity in education or work or family life.
Now a professor at Cairo University and co-founder of The Women and Memory Forum, a women's rights NGO, she dresses much more modestly, including wearing a headscarf. But she says women in Egypt actually have more rights now than they did when she was young. And she believes that with a bit of re-interpretation of classic texts, Islam and feminism can work hand-in-hand.
“We’re correcting [and] we’re reforming past, patriarchal interpretations of the religion,” she says.
Most of the conflicts between Islam and modern women's rights she attributes to culture, rather than the actual religion. She sees Islam as a dynamic religion, adaptable to the times.
In her research, she digs into the Quran and other sources of Sharia law, analyzing from what she calls a perspective of “equality and justice.”
“I still am, day in and day out, trying to deal with these conflicting orders or diversions to discourses. Trying to deal with them on a personal level because I have a personal stake,” she says. “This is part of my self-perception. I’m a practicing Muslim person and a feminist too,” she says.
Abu-Bakr represents one of several perspectives on how observant Muslim women can merge their religious beliefs with their feminist values.
Amna Nosseir is also exploring this path. She teaches Islamic philosophy and comparative religion in the women’s section at Al-Azhar University. She also served as the dean of the section for a decade before she "quasi-retired” to focus on teaching and advocating for a stronger role for women at the government-affiliated religious institution and in society in general.