What is the first word that strikes your mind when you hear “Muslim women”? Oppression? Veil? Or perhaps the color black and thirst for liberation? The issue of gender equality and women’s rights in Islam is not a fresh topic to discuss, but is one that is widely misunderstood. We are continually told stories about how Islam bars women from pursuing education, or how Muslim females are treated as slaves in their households. But have we ever been presented by evidence from the Quran (Muslim’s holy book) or Hadith (Prophet’s sayings) that state so?
We live in the land of the blindfolded, where in the dominant presence of news propaganda and stereotypes we cannot tell reality from illusions. Our perceptions of female Muslims have been engulfed by false images advocated to taint Islam’s image and support political agendas of certain war hawks. Usually, these false perspectives are carved from cultural practices indigenous to contemporary parts of the world, or from vile actions of those who do not strictly adhere to pure Islamic principles, rather than directly using the Islamic religion itself as the base to such false claims.
In this article, as a Muslim woman, I aim to share a brief exposition of the true status of women in Islam by incorporating evidence from both the Quran and Hadith.
Islam puts a lot of emphasis on education, for the first word reveled in the Quran was “read”. Allah says in the Quran: “Read in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clinging form. Read! Your Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by means of the pen; taught man what he did not know.” (96:1-5). This shows that seeking knowledge and practicing it is obligatory in Islam’s view and is identified as part of worship. Likewise, these verses address all humankind and are not restricted to one sex over the other. In fact, every Muslim, whether man or woman, young or old, rich or poor should at least acquire enough knowledge to understand the teachings of Islam. As Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him said: “Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim.” To hear claims of Islam not allowing females to seek knowledge is without doubt false. How can that be, and knowledge is a vital part of a Muslim’s identity?
In terms of religion, both men and women are expected to perform the same spiritual duties, with women having some privileges over men. Both are obligated to pray daily, fast, give money to the poor and perform pilgrimage and both are judged equally on the Day of Judgment (the final assessment of humanity by Allah in Islam). Allah says in the Quran: “Whoever works righteous, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him will We give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to their actions.” (16:97). However, some of the advantages women have over men are exemptions from daily prayers and fasting during menstrual periods and for forty days after giving birth. Islam also relieves women from fasting when pregnant, though whatever obligatory fasting day is missed should be made up for whenever they can. Furthermore, it is optional for females to perform their prayers in the Masjid (Place of Muslim worship), while men are obligated to go to Masjid. These examples all provide proof of how considerate Islam is of women and their needs. Islam understands the additional duties women carry on their shoulders such as childcare, and the physiological changes that emerge during natural female cycles.
Moreover, Islam perceives marriage as the sacred relationship between men and women and bases it on mutual love and mercy. This is why Islam preserves moral integrity and prohibits romantic affairs before marriage. Nevertheless, women in Islam do have the right to choose their husbands before marriage. Women also retain their family names after marriage, unlike western cultures, and have to be supported by their husbands regardless of wealth. In fact, men are obligated to provide monthly maintenance to their wives, let aside the money the wives receive for living expenses. Muslim women also have the right to inherit properties after death of parents and husbands, and could lead prayer, but only within female groups.
There is no doubt that motherhood is one of the most difficult challenges women face all over the globe, which is why Islam uplifts mothers and values them for their dignified roles. A man came to prophet Muhammad peace and blessing asking: “O messenger of God, who among the people is the most worthy of my good company?” The Prophet said: “Your mother.” The man asked: “Then who else?” The Prophet said: “Your mother.” The man asked “Then who else?” The prophet said : “Your mother.” The man asked: “Then Who else?” Only then did the Prophet say: “Your father.” This shows that mothers have more rights than fathers in Islam, since mothers go through the endless hardships of pregnancy, child delivery, nursing, childcare, upbringing and educating of children. Two other famous sayings of Prophet Muhammad are: “Paradise is at the feet of mothers” and “ It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.” Nonetheless, Islam commands kindness and obedience to both parents in general, and has also made their respect part of worshiping God (Allah).
Whatever we might see today from various forms of female oppression in some Islamic countries should not be attributed to Islam, but to the culture of that specific place. It is this mix up between religion and culture that has shaped the current understanding of female status in Islam and made us live in the land of the blindfolded.