What’s in a Name? The Feminist paranoia against Islamic by-names

It is common for liberal feminists to rage against Abrahamic religions because they claim that the idea of deferring to a deferring to a God (who they perceive to be male) or a male Prophet for one’s values and way of life is a violation of a woman’s ‘autonomy’ and ‘agency’. As such, they raise arguments to try to demonstrate that religions such as Islam are patriarchal (i.e. male dominated to the detriment of women) and that such religions strive to keep women subordinate and restricted in life.

One of the more farcical claims feminists have recently made in support of this, is their criticism against the common tradition amongst Muslims of addressing mothers as ‘Mother of so and so’ by reference to their children’s names (such as ‘Umm Zaynab’ or, in English, ‘Mother of Zaynab’). According to such feminists, this is evidence that Islamic society is patriarchal, misogynistic, and denies women any capacity beyond that of service to their family. How dare a woman’s ‘identity’ be confined to her children, feminists cry.

But how exactly is it misogynistic or patriarchal to refer to a woman by reference to her children? Is it lowly or a sign of weakness to have children? Are feminists suggesting that a woman exercises more ‘autonomy’ by using the birth name given to her by her parents instead (one of whom is a man)? And how exactly is a woman defined by her name alone? A person’s personality, role, or virtue are far greater than simply the name they are addressed with.

What such feminists ignore (deliberately or otherwise) is that it is actually common tradition amongst Muslims to even address men by reference to their children (such as ‘Abu Zahra’, or in English, ‘Father of Zahra’). Such terms of address are known as kunyas (nicknames) and are honorific titles, or terms of respect, that are used for both men and women. Islam does not even require a woman to change her name upon marriage – rather, she retains her name. It’s funny, because if these kunyas were used only for men and not for women, feminists would instead be complaining that Islamic culture is patriarchal in that it reserves its terms of respect for men and not women. So it seems that no Abrahamic religion could ever escape being tarred as ‘patriarchal’ – no matter what they do!

What kunyas actually reveal about Islamic culture is that Muslims, both men and women, are centred around their families, rather than around themselves. When feminists point to the female kunya and claim it is a sign of patriarchy and misogyny, they reveal, yet again, their doctrine of individualism, and their ideological driven paranoia which warps their perception of human realities. Feminists define themselves first and foremost as female individuals rather than human beings who are part of a species, or social beings who are part of a community upon which women, as well as men, rely on to survive, or as, fundamentally, creations of a transcendent creator.

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