In December 2021, Kuwait's Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs invited the public to attend a lecture on December 23 by Dr. Muhammad Dawi Al-'Osimi, an imam, preacher and a faculty member of the Shari'a Department at Kuwait University, on the topic of "the feminist ideology and the danger it poses to Islamic society." After the title of the lecture aroused public and media criticism, the ministry cancelled the event, and Al-'Osimi therefore delivered the lecture online, on his private YouTube channel, on December 23.
In the lecture Al-'Osimi stated that feminism poses a grave danger to the institution of the family, and that the innate differences between men and women must not be denied. He added that the Islamic Shari'a grants women all their rights, whereas the feminist movement promotes ideas that are alien to Muslim society, such as homosexuality and other forbidden relations, and causes people to abandon their faith – all in the guise of liberating women.
The lecture and its cancelation by the ministry sparked a heated public debate in the country on feminism and women's rights. Some politicians, media figures and clerics attacked the ministry for cancelling the lecture and criticized feminism as an un-Islamic ideology that destroys families and promotes Western ideas detrimental to Kuwaiti society. Conversely, liberal Kuwaiti thinkers decried the extremist clerics' attack on feminism and their intimidating and discriminating attitude towards women. They accused Al-'Osimi and clerics like him of inciting against feminism and spreading false and conspiratorial claims about it.
Muhammad Dawi Al-'Osimi (Source: Twitter.com/dr_alosimi)
This report reviews the affair and the debate it sparked.
Public, Media Pressure Causes Kuwaiti Ministry Of Religious Endowments To Cancel Lecture Against Feminism
As stated, in December 2021 the Kuwaiti Ministry of Religious Endowments advertised a talk by Kuwait University lecturer Dr. Muhammad Dawi Al-'Osimi titled "The Feminist Ideology and the Danger It Poses to Islamic Society." According to media reports, the announcement evoked public criticism, which initially only prompted the ministry to change the title of the lecture, to "The Necessary Conditions for the Stability of the Family."
Top: The Endowment Ministry's original announcement of the lecture; bottom: the revised announcement with a different title (Source: Al-Nahar, Kuwait, December 24, 2021)
Among the critics of the lecture was the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida, which posted on its social media pages a video titled "The Ministry of Religious Endowments Denigrates Women," claiming that the mere intention to hold such a lecture was offensive to women, and noting that the ministry had also launched a campaign encouraging women to marry instead of pursuing higher studies. The video ended with the question: "Does the [Endowments] Ministry wish to take Kuwait back to the pre-Islamic period, when girls were buried alive?"
Screengrab from the video posted by Al-Jarida: "The Ministry of Religious Endowments hurts Kuwaiti women and sees them as a danger to Islamic society."
On December 22, one day before the intended day of the lecture, the ministry canceled it. The lecturer, Dr. Al-'Osimi, tweeted sarcastically: "I thank my brothers at the Ministry of Religious Endowments for the honor of being invited [to hold the lecture]… I will refrain from mocking them for canceling the symposium…" In this tweet he also announced he would hold the lecture at another place and time.
Dr. Al-'Osimi's tweet
On December 24 the Kuwaiti daily Al-Nahar reported that the lecture had been canceled due to the public outcry and also because Al-'Osimi had refused to hold it under the revised title. Al-'Osimi, however, denied this and stated that he had been willing to give the lecture under any title.
Dr. Al-'Osimi In His YouTube Lecture: Feminism Destroys Families, Promotes Homosexuality
In his lecture on YouTube, Al-'Osimi first of all mentioned its cancelation by the ministry, and said that the lecture was not meant to offend anyone. He went on to say that the Islamic shari'a does not exclude women but cares for them and gives them all their rights, and came out against "those who wish to corrupt and weaken [the institution of] the family," and who speak about equality and freedom because they essentially regard women as weak and as bereft of free will. The relationship between men and women in the Islamic shari'a is not one of rivalry, he said, but rather of harmony, but at the same time, there are biological and physiological differences between the sexes that must not be denied. He spoke against emulating Western societies, which he said are characterized by broken families, and added that the feminist movement promotes homosexuality and same-sex families, sanctions abortion and forbidden relations, and serves the capitalist ideology. Feminist women, he elaborated, challenge the shari'a and cause the desertion of the faith. He also noted that women should not work in what he called lowly occupations like driving a garbage truck. He ended by stressing the need to inculcate the importance of family and marriage.
After the lecture Al-'Osimi tweeted that he was glad it had been held on YouTube and had achieved its purpose of "warning families about the grave danger lying in wait for them."
Kuwaiti Politicians, Clerics, Media Outlets Support Al-'Osimi's Position: Feminism Contradicts The Shari'a
Following the cancelation of the lecture, Kuwaiti politicians, clerics and media outlets criticized the ministry for succumbing to the pressure and expressed support for Al-'Osimi's views against feminism. Walid 'Abdallah Al-Ghanim, a former columnist for the Al-Qabas daily and a lecturer at Kuwait University, tweeted: "This is a defeatist position taken by the Ministry of Endowments, which should have insisted on holding the symposium and allowed the lecturer to expose the facts regarding the 'feminist doctrine' that is based on destroying the family, fighting the principles of religion and sanctioning forbidden relations. Sadly, the ministry is remiss in discharging its religious duty." Kuwaiti MP Fayez Al-Jumhour likewise slammed the Endowments Ministry and the minister who heads it for succumbing to pressure from "influential people who advocate an ideology that fights virtue, morality and piety."
On January 7, 2022, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Anba published a long article titled "Shari'a Scholars: The Feminist Movement Contradicts the Shari'a and Religion," which presented the views of Kuwaiti and other clerics against the feminist movement. Kuwaiti cleric Dr. 'Othman Al-Khamis, for example, said that feminism opposes marriage but advocates homosexuality, and is at odds with the Islamic shari'a. He elaborated: "The feminism exported by Europe and the U.S. contradicts the religion… The feminist ideology preaches against the shari'a and in favor of atheism and heresy." Attorney Dr. Sa'd Al-'Anzi, a lecturer on the principles of Islamic jurisprudence and a former religious advisor to human rights committees in the Kuwaiti government, said that the feminist demand for equality between men and women contradicts the shari'a and the nature of creation. "Not every idea, way or norm that emerge in the West is compatible with the Muslim ways and the Muslim countries, where the only decisive [source of authority] is Allah's shari'a," he added."
SUPPORT OUR WORK
The article in the Al-Anba daily
Kuwaiti Liberals: Extremist Clerics Misrepresent Feminism, Perpetuate Discrimination Against Women Using Intimidation And Lies
Conversely, liberal and feminist elements in Kuwait came out against Al-'Osimi and his claims in the lecture. The "Kuwaiti Feminists" Twitter page posted on December 25: "Had the clerics criticized feminism without distortions, public attacks, hostility and slander against the feminists, and would have allowed [the feminists] to respond and debate with them about women's issues [in the context of] religion, society and politics, we would have believed that their intention is [really] to protect women and the unity of society. [But] what [actually] scares and worries them is losing their social and cultural control over people."
Liberal Kuwaiti Journalist: Women Play A Vital Role In Society And Are Smarter Than The Extremist Clerics
Liberal Kuwaiti columnists called Al-'Osimi's claims about feminism conspiratorial and baseless, and castigated extremist Kuwaiti clerics for perpetuating the discrimination against women despite the fact that gender equality is enshrined in the country's constitution. Ahmad Al-Sarraf, a columnist for the Al-Qabas daily, contended that clerics like Al-'Osimi wish to silence women and subordinate them to their perverted desires. He wrote: "[When] the Ministry of Religious Endowments announced it was happy to hold a lecture titled 'The Feminist Ideology and the Danger It Poses to Islamic Society,' a wave of protests and pressures forced it to change the title to something less offensive and provocative. But the pressures [nevertheless] intensified, causing it to cancel the tasteless lecture [altogether]...
"The role of women in our lives has become vital and known after centuries of discrimination and exclusion, and it is impossible to go back to [the situation] favored by the reactionary forces – [forces] that have been silenced in the neighboring countries and have [therefore] come here [to Kuwait] to spread their poison. Women are not sex-machines that produce children and cook. They are intelligent human beings and much more sophisticated in their thinking than those who wish to return them to the caves of the Taliban!
"The decision to cancel the lecture angered the lecturer, who attacked it and hinted in a tweet that the problems afflicting society, such as the increase in divorce, domestic violence and disintegration of families, [all] stem from feminist ideology and from the freedom women have begun to enjoy. At the same time he refrained from placing even the slightest responsibility for these social problems on men, especially on [Muslim clerics] like himself. He fails to understand that the problems of society are more extensive and complex than that, and that they will not end but rather increase as long as men are allowed to treat women as they please and subordinate them to their most perverted desires by controlling them and their thinking. The women he is speaking of are our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and aunts, ours and everyone else's. We do not find any fault with them that requires fixing according to his obsolete suggestions, but rather the opposite…
"Honorable [Kuwaiti] Crown Prince, we are tired of all this baseless religious extremism, which forbids everything and destroys our joy…
"[Former German chancellor Angela] Merkel, who happens to be a woman, stepped down after leading Germany… for 16 illustrious years… Had her fate been dependent on our brother the lecturer [Al-'Osimi], he would have demanded that she stay in her home and leave it only for three purposes: to get married, to see the doctor and to be buried!..."
Kuwaiti Media Figure: Although The Constitution Guarantees Gender Equality, Kuwaiti Women Still Suffer Institutionalized Discrimination
Kuwaiti media figure Sahar Bin 'Ali, who writes a column for the daily Al-Rai, devoted two recent columns to the topic of feminism and the opposition it encounters. Noting that, although the Kuwaiti constitution guarantees gender equality, in practice Kuwaiti women suffer discrimination, she came out in defense of feminists and their struggle for women's rights, and condemned the clerics who encourage gender discrimination.
In her first column, from December 26, 2021, she wrote: "Although Kuwait is a civil state, there is a government institution like the Ministry of Religious Endowments, which is concerned with Islamic affairs. Several days ago, [when] this ministry announced a symposium titled 'The Feminist Idea and the Danger It Poses to Islamic Society,' I started alerting people on social media to this symposium, for several reasons. [First,] this symposium constitutes discrimination against a sector of women in society who volunteer to fight violence against women and to demand gender equality, which is guaranteed by the Kuwaiti constitution. [Second,] the conference contravenes Article 29 of the Kuwaiti constitution, which states that 'all persons are equal before the law in human dignity and in public rights and duties, without distinction based on race, origin, language or religion.' Furthermore, the state is supposed to maintain a neutral stance regarding opinions and beliefs, based on the constitution, which guarantees freedom and does not endorse the specific inclinations or beliefs of any group against any other group…"
In her second column, from January 10, 2022, Bin 'Ali wrote: "Although the term 'feminism' has gained currency in the Gulf states, there are still disagreements about what it means and why it arose. The media tries to present those who support this movement as [espousing] an ideology imported from the West that causes [us] to slide into the abyss and is hostile to Islamic societies…
"Today, especially in Kuwait – because the other Gulf countries are more advanced than us – the disagreement is no longer between men and women, but between feminist men and women and the clerics. The latter claim that feminism is imported from the West and that the feminist movement undermines the family [institution] and brings women to the brink of an abyss. They disseminate their sermons, which stress, even if implicitly, that in Islam men and women are not equal… They also stress that men are the ones who wield power in society and that they must not lose this power, which allows them to deliver sermons such as these. Feminism, on the other hand, calls for abolishing social traditions and institutions that encourage discrimination against women.
"Does fighting discrimination mean depriving the other gender of its rights? Does it mean hostility towards religion and the destruction of families? On the contrary: depriving a group of people of rights just based on their gender is unacceptable in civil states, nor does religion allow it.
"Is there discrimination in Kuwaiti society? Yes it does. Even though the Kuwaiti constitution states that men and women are equal, there are laws that discriminate against women, and they suffer discrimination even in their own homes… That is why feminism arose – not in order to destroy families but in order to abolish gender discrimination and ensure everyone's rights."
Kuwaiti Liberal: The Discourse Of The Clerics Is Primitive And Unsuitable To The Modern Age
In an article published on her website and on the website of Al-Hurra TV, Ibtihal Al-Khatib, a liberal Kuwaiti journalist and a lecturer at Kuwait University, wrote that Sheikh Al-'Osimi must be held accountable for his fierce, backward and baseless attack on the feminist movement: "In an [online] symposium held several days ago, a Doctor of Islamic Law from Kuwait University spoke about the threat posed to society by the feminist ideology, and presented several theories that are at odds with the spirit of our times not only in terms of their content but in terms of the language he used. While the discourse of most religions has developed to suit the [present] era, its rationale and the public's ability to accept what is said, it seems that no change has occurred in the thinking of the conservative Islamic clerics, nor in their manner of presentation. They still use the same loathsome intimidation about the loss of conservative identity, and tired old threats about the destruction of society, especially when [discussing] the topic of women…
"Everything the doctor said was primitive in its content and presentation… Most of the interview involved the same old primitive accusations against Western society… and phrases reminiscent of 1980s television shows…
"Trying to elevate the honor of women, the doctor fell into several very strange traps in terms of human rights and [gender] discrimination. He stated, for example, that women cannot perform 'lowly jobs' like driving a garbage truck, because of the physical differences between men and women… The question is, what's the problem with driving a garbage truck?... What's wrong with the people who perform this job? Why does the doctor think women cannot not drive such a truck if they now drive cars and trains and fly planes?...
"His claims about the feminist movement itself were strange to an unprecedented degree. Deliberately or not, he ignored… its cultural pluralism and its different social methodologies, saying that feminism aims to eliminate the traditional family and replace it with a family of [two] men or [two] women, so 'there is a necessary link between feminism and homosexuality.' The doctor accuses feminism of opening the doors of hedonism and promoting polyamory and hatred towards men, and claims that, as a consequence, it encourages [women] to satisfy their urges through lesbian relationships. He also draws some sort of link between feminism and capitalism, and [accuses feminism] of inciting against family and being hostile towards pregnancy and childbirth, and [even] of marketing [the idea of] surrogacy…
"Beyond the fact that the doctor's speech was odd, conspiratorial and unfounded, it also betrayed a deep ignorance as to the gradual and episodic development of feminist thought and ignored the cultural diversity within it and its unceasing efforts to improve its discourse, like all movements concerned with human rights… Feminism is ultimately a human movement. It has its [strengths], but there is also valid criticism against it. Like all human ideas it must constantly reform itself… But this careless attack using every weapon and every unfounded claim and insult, which came to the point of slandering women who espouse this idea, is something else, which requires holding the doctor to account for the values he is trying to defend and the manner in which he has chosen [to do so]… Doctor [Al-'Osimi], no matter how lofty your goal, you cannot justify this manner…"
* C. Meital is a research fellow at MEMRI; H. Varulkar is Director of Research at MEMRI.
 Al-Nahar (Kuwait), December 24, 2021.
 Facebook.com/aljarida, December 21, 2021.
 Twitter.com/dr_alosimi, December 22, 2021.
 Al-Nahar (Kuwait), December 24, 2021.
 Twitter.com/dr_alosimi, December 24, 2021.
 Youtube.com/watch?v=ktYTytFr0uo, December 23, 2021.
 Twitter.com/dr_alosimi, December 23, 2021.
 Twitter.com/waleedalghanim, Dewcember 23, 2021.
 Twitter.com/fayezaljumhour, December 23, 2021.
 Al-Anba (Kuwait), January 7, 2021.
 Twitter.com/q8Feminists, December 25, 2021.
 Al-Qabas (Kuwait), December 25, 2021.
 Al-Rai (Kuwait), December 26, 2021.
 Al-Rai (Kuwait), January 10, 2022.
 Ebtehalalkhateeb.com, December 28, 2021.