If the media and its ensuing stereotypes are to be believed then Islam does not have very much to offer women, except for a life of misery, oppression and slavery. However, if one bothers to look closely at Islam then it has an abundance to offer men and women alike.
There is little doubt that many Muslim women are subject to abuse and subjugation without making sweeping generalizations, many women in some so called Muslim lands are denied the rights given to them by Islam rights to which they are entitled as human beings and as women. However we must separate Muslims from Islam; we must separate theory from practice. In Islam this separation is possible Islamic legislation has given women unprecedented status, even if Muslims did not always live up to these amazing standards.
Let us take a quick look at some of the rights of women in Islam, comparing them with some of the legislation relating to women in Britain:
Considered by many these days as a basic human right, in Islam both men and women are duty bound to seek education for the Prophet Muhammad said: "The search for knowledge is a duty on every Muslim" [Bukhari]. So, while there were no places at British Universities until the late 1870s (Ox. Ill. His. Brit. p493), there have been records of Islamic Universities with women students throughout the history of Islam: Nafisah was an early 8th century hadith scholar and the great jurist Imam al-Shaf'i participated in her circle at Al-Fustaat. Shaika Shuhuda another 8th century scholar was a lecturer at Baghdad University the Oxford and Cambridge of its time. Nazhun was a 12th century scholar and of course we cannot forget Aisha (ra), the wife of the Prophet who in the 7th century was one of the greatest relaters of hadith.
So, whilst Muslim women were attending universities and were lecturers and scholars in the 8th century, 80% of London Women and 100% of East Anglican women were illiterate in 1640 figures taken from A. Fraser page 129 and D. Cressy page 178.
Women in the UK managed to gain the right to vote in 1918, but that was only for women over thirty. They did not manage to gain full voting rights equal with men until 1928. These gains were not achieved easily though to gain the vote the Suffragettes marched, rallied, chained themselves to railings, went on hunger strike and eventually one of them jumped in front of the Royal Horse on Derby Day. Muslims women however each had the right to give or not to give their allegiance from the beginning and this right was given them without them having to march, rally, not eat or jump in front of a horse.
Up until 1801 British women did not have the right to own anything not even themselves. For up until this time a husband had the right to sell his wife. In Sweden in 1984 a man was entitled to half his wife's earnings. Islam though has allowed women to own their own property from the outset. Everything a woman earns belongs to her. She is not a chattel to be bought and sold, but rather an individual human being, responsible to no one for her income except for God. A married woman may remind her husband: "What's his is theirs, what's hers is her own!"
It would be easy to go on with a list of the rights of women in Islam but how does Islam really benefit women?
Islam has given women the right to be themselves! They are equal before God on the Day of Judgment they will be answerable as individuals and cannot say "my husband told me to do it", "my, father, brother, uncle led me astray". Nor will they be treated unfairly because they are women women have souls in Islam and there has never been any debate about that in Islamic history unlike in Christianity!
Islam offers to women, as it does to men, a belief in God, and this upholds everything. Belief in the Creator gives life a wholeness, and a balance, for it means that we do not look at everything in the short term the intrinsic whole is this world and the Hereafter. This belief in God, this taqwa God consciousness thus shapes everything in Islam.
Men and women in Islam are protecting friends of one another; they are garments of each other hiding each other's faults. The Qur'an says:
"Verily, for all men and women who have surrendered themselves unto God, and all believing men and believing women, and all men and women who are true to their word, and all men and women who are patient in adversity, and all men and women who humble themselves before God, and all men and women who give in charity, and all self denying men and self denying women, and all men and women who are mindful of their chastity, and all men and women who remember God unceasingly: for all of them has God readied forgiveness of sins and a mighty reward". [Surah 33: verse 35]
This verse offers women so much; it offers them paradise on the basis of their own actions. It demands of them good character, tells both men and women to be active; and instills in them the sense of individual responsibility.
So, Islam offers to women, as it offers to men paradise as a reward, it offers a complete picture which considers both this world and the hereafter built solidly upon the foundation of a believe in The Creator. A relationship with one's Creator brings untold peace for men and for women.
Islam allows women to know themselves as they are. Thus in Islam women are equal to men, but they are not the same. Men and women are equal before God they are the protecting friends of one another, they are garments of one another, hiding one another's faults; but they are not the same. In Islam imitation is not liberation.
Women are not men an obvious statement, but one which is often overlooked. Islam offers a balance which can be seen if one looks to nature black and white, up and down, day and night etc. etc. Two halves to form a whole. Balance is absolutely vital. But, after the industrial revolution women and men are becoming more and more alike. Men have become cogs in the system. Women have also been pulled into the consumerism of an industrialized society and have been forced into the work place, but still receive no help at home a recent study showed that 9 out of 10 men were not 'New Men' and did not help out at home (The Times, Nov. 1995).
Western society has ignored the balance and told women that for them to have status they must achieve what men achieve. Western society has created a new image for women based on the male and this is very objectionable. Rather than highlighting her individual strengths, she is told to compete according to male criteria in order to have value. But she is not given any help to cope with her additional responsibilities. "Work, have a career to achieve status but we will not provide crucial facilities, or time off during school holidays." We are now facing a situation where, as the President of Bosnia, Alija Ali Izebegovic, said:
"Modern civilization has disgraced motherhood... It has preferred the calling of a salesgirl, model, teacher of other people's children, secretary, cleaning woman and so on to that of mother. It has proclaimed motherhood to be slavery and promised to free women from it." [Islam Between East and West p.144145]
So, we have put down the feminine and are saying: 'masculine criteria is the best, indeed only thing to judge by, feminine criteria is second class useless'.
But in Islam both are equal, but they are different. So in Islam we do not have the situation where: the logical is perceived as better than the lateral; the firm is perceived as better than the tender; the analytical is perceived as better than the intuitive. In Islam women do not say: "I'm only a housewife" Where did this ONLY come from? It came from taking the masculine criteria as best. Why is being in the rat-race superior to being a mother? Because we see the masculine as superior to the feminine. Where is the spirit of the Malcolm X (Malik-al-Shabazz) quote:
"If you educate a man you educate one person; if you educate a woman you educate and liberate a nation".
Women in Islam of course have a role beyond that of motherhood one does not spend 25 years preparing for and another 25 years recovering from motherhood but the point is do not demean motherhood; and do not demean and belittle the feminine. Islam offers to women pride in the feminine. The equal but different roles of men and women in Islam have to be understood, and in understanding individuals can be themselves, and thus find a balance and true happiness.
And this peace and security allows and gives room for the development of a woman's potential based on her own strengths.
Young Muslims is a Canadian based Islamic organization working towards educating the public on the balanced and correct message of Islam
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