Women don't have to give up Islam for rights, argue Randa Abdel-Fattah and Susan Carland. 
Orientalists writing on Islam and Muslims have tended to represent Muslim women as infantilised and oppressed, victims in need of rescue by the enlightened West. This is a classic example of the tyranny of self-projection, where the ''rescuer'' assumes a position of superiority so the belief systems, values and norms of Muslim women are judged against the Western experience.

The work of Muslim human rights and social justice advocates is discredited and ignored. It is as if liberation and freedom are the monopoly of secular feminists. Muslim women are apparently too downtrodden to care to make a difference.

If they do insist on fighting for equality and justice within an Islamic perspective, their efforts are dismissed, assuming freedom and Islam are mutually exclusive, or, worse, that Muslim women are brainwashed, suffering from a form of religious Stockholm syndrome.

This patronising discourse arrogantly assumes the way to overcome patriarchy is to abandon Islam and adopt ''Western values''. How can a constructive effort to improve the situation of women begin when the conversation is so unsophisticated, demeaning and primitive?

Muslim women have engaged in the quest for dignity, democracy and human rights, for full participation in political and social affairs, since the time of Prophet Mohammed. As Amina Wadud, the American-Islamic feminist scholar, said: ''By going back to primary sources and interpreting them afresh, women scholars are endeavouring to remove the fetters imposed by centuries of patriarchal interpretation and practice.''

And although you may not hear much about them, Muslim women and men are doing much to improve the plight of women, from grassroots projects to legal activism and religious leadership training. They see Islam not as a stumbling block to progress, but as a platform for change.

In Jordan, there is a strong push, spearheaded by journalist Rana Husseini, to fight honour killings. Husseini's team has publicised each crime despite death threats. She has led the charge for law reform and mobilised protest rallies, which even princes from the Jordanian royal family have attended. Far from fighting Islam to achieve this, Husseini tells the murderers during interviews that their acts contradict the teachings of Islam and are punishable by God. Most of them concede this.

In Malaysia, groups such as Sisters in Islam offer free legal clinics to teach women their rights under Sharia and civil law, run campaigns to stop domestic violence and hold education programs for women with a goal of "justice and equality within the family".

In the United Arab Emirates, Ahmed al Haddad, the head of the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department, has started a program to train women to become muftis. Previously, women religious advisers were only allowed to speak on "women's issues".

The training will enable them to work as equals to men in issuing religious rulings in all areas. There is nothing new in this. Islamic history is "rich in examples of highly learned women acting as muftis and issuing decrees on all matters", al Haddad said.

The Shura Council of the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equity, an advisory council comprising of Muslim women scholars, activists and specialists from around the world, aims to "critically engage with dominant Islamic interpretations of social issues and practices and promote religiously grounded arguments that enable women to make dignified choices based on their own religious tradition".

There is a long way to go for women in many Muslim societies, just as there is for women everywhere. But if we are interested in change, it is time to let go of outdated Orientalist arguments and ill-informed generalisations that see Islam as ''The Problem''.

It is time to respect the fact that Muslim women are fighting for their rights and doing so without giving up their allegiance and commitment to Islam. Their quest does not stem from imported Western values but is integral to the Islamic tradition. Demonising their convictions is unhelpful - and a repudiation of the feminist ideal of the right for women to autonomy and freedom of choice.

Randa Abdel-Fattah is a lawyer and author, and Susan Carland is a lecturer in politics at Monash University.