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Who Owns the Public Space?

Another question that has been recurrently addressed by Islamic feminists is related to the public sphere and “who owns it?” There is a traditional discourse, as discussed earlier, that restricts women’s access to public spaces, or only permits it under strict conditions. This is based on a premise of male ownership of this realm. Islamic feminists are unanimous at challenging male-purported ownership of this common space. Some Islamic feminists assert that it is a pillar in Islamic feminism to refuse the division of spaces into two, a “public” owned by men and a “private” owned by women.53 A female, first and foremost, as a human being enjoys the same value of equality, as advocated by the Qur’an: “[Islamic feminism] rejects 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.”54

Badran laments the situation of Muslim women in many contexts where their access to the public sphere is greatly constrained. This has even extended to the common religious public space, as limitations are sometimes put on women’s access to some mosques.55 Shutting women out of the public space has been responsible for a culture of gender inequality and gender segregation. Eventually women have become isolated and their access to educational, economic, political, and even religious participation has been greatly constrained.

Islamic feminists also refuse the notion advanced by some Muslim religious scholars as to the priority that women should give to the private sphere all the time. There are connections between the two domains and women’s impact should extend to both: “Breaking the dichotomy would give housewives more social esteem and would encourage working women to fulfil their psychological need to be good mothers and wives.”56

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