The topic of the rights of women in Islam has been a subject of a lot of controversies for a long time. In this aspect, a lot of debates have been on the role of women, as well as their position within the Islam religion. In the West, there is a general perception that the Muslim woman is inferior in the eyes of their male counterparts and is seen as male property. For this reason, such perception and misconception portray the Muslim woman as a property. Even though some portrayals of women in Islam might be exaggerated, there are some regions within the Muslim community where women have no place in the society due to cultural and personal interests (Mahmood, 2004). In most of the Muslim communities, it has been argued that the rights of women are not significant. Due to such cases, most people have blamed the evils seen among Women in Islam to the religion. However, several studies have called for deep analysis into the view of women in the Islam religion. This paper thus, provides an overview of women in the eyes of true Islam in order to shed light on the controversy that has been there that the Islam religion does not value the rights of women.
Background of Feminism
The conceptualization of feminism and what it stands for has a close link to the historical overview of European secularization, as well as the general aspect of science (Ezzat, 2007). The ideas of Marxist regarding patriarchy, as well as his position on the question of the family have been instrumental in influencing the outlook of women’s rights and the subsequent liberation activities. According to Marx, the religion can be viewed as male-made and comprises of ideas and laws that are aimed at oppressing other individuals, especially the women. Such outlook of religion played a significant role in changing many people’s views of religion and became common among feminist debates and literature. A review of the role of feminism in the society has showed that there are several social cases that can be termed as challenges to the Third World women.
In spite of this, few studies have outlined an overview of the other side of the concept of feminism as a way of conceptualizing feminism, its paradigmatic limitations, as well as the sociology of knowledge (Halverson & Way, 2012). For this reason, there is the need for more attention in the re-examination of feminism’s declared universality in providing answers to problems facing women in the society, as well as the claim that most religions are supposedly against women rights. For example, a lot of concerns have been raised concerning the role that Islam plays in women oppression.
The topic of the rights of women and feminism is a subject that is controversial not only on Muslim women but all women in general. However, a lot of interests have been directed at Muslim women due to the belief that the Islam religion does not honor the rights of women, and that it contributes to the oppression of women. In addition, such interest can also be attributed to the growth in the number of media portrayals that tend to depict Islam as contributing to the oppression of women through its teachings. For this reason, it becomes important to ascertain what the take of the true Islam on women, as well as the rights of women. As pointed out by Ezzat (2007), the Qur’an, along with teachings of Prophet Muhammad grants rights to women.
A review of the state of women rights before the introduction of Islam shows women enjoyed several rights. In addition, Ezzat (2007) noted that rights of women as provided in the Qur’an were similar to the situation before Islam was introduced to Arabia. Mahmood (2004) noted that the laws were improved considerably to reflect the dignity of women. However, after the death of Prophet Muhammad, a lot of things changed including people’s return to their pre-Islamic norms. In addition, the women’s movement that had been established in the West had gained a lot of popularity. Most of the feminist during this period emulated the feminist of the West.
Feminism in Islam
The feminist thought started as a movement that was aimed at ensuring that women got power. According to Feliu (2012), it was a tool to acquire more rights in accordance with the perception and understanding of equality. The struggle of feminism was mainly in the political arena. In the western world, the feminist credo resulted in little attention being accorded to the family values. Due to the degradation of the family values, many feminists in the Western countries started to engage in movements that defended the values of the families. However, the emergence of lesbianism saw many women become intimidated and confused. The new lesbianism and gay movements meant that the classical structure of the family is to be redefined in order to accommodate the new discourse (Feliu, 2012). In the Muslim societies, this was viewed as secularism and against the Islam teachings.
As the changes and the confusion were taking place in the feminist credo in the western world, there was also change in the Arab and Muslim world. This was a qualitative change in which women moved from the fight for equality to the adoption of broad international agenda of feminists. According to Feliu (2012), this change was carried in the confines of the religion in the Arab world. The Feminists in the Islam did not criticize religion as the case of the western movement. The Muslim feminists were against the patriarchal interpretation of the religion. This implied that the issues of lesbianism were sidelined due to the cultural orientation and religious influence; hence the women had moral grounds to advance their campaigns.
In the Islam, feminists applied legal processes in order to approach the issues that affected women. Therefore, the issue of the values was not a great concern for the feminist movement in the Muslim world. This aspect is denoted by the current campaigns that have been led by professional women lawyers with the aim to change the personal status law concerned with the family. The legal campaigns by the women have been in countries such as Morocco, Lebanon, and Egypt. The main emphasis has been to attain greater equality of women in the family by changing the marriage contract to reflect the Shariah teachings (Ezzat, 2007).
Despite the efforts to apply legal processes to advocate for the equal rights, the political conditions have been the major restricting factor. Political processes have suppressed the application of the legal process. For example in the Arab world, the implementation of the full Shariah law has resulted to some governments marginalizing the campaigns. This has resulted in the feminists losing the support of masses of women as the marginalized folks have been politicized to regard the movements’ agenda as a direct attack on the Islamic principles (Halverson & Way, 2007). This implies that political approach plays a very critical role in addressing the dilemmas encountered feminist in the Islamic world. This is especially related to the issue of equality and the legal rights of the women at the family level.
According to Ezzat (2007), the majority of the educated Muslim women want to participate actively in economics, and political processes. Despite the demand for the rights, Ezzat (2012) pointed that the feminists in Islam world have remained to be guardians of culture; they cherish the family and social intuitions. Thus, their advocacy of the equality is within the cultural and religious confines.
How Islam Cares for Women
The following section details a wide range of rights that explain how Islam cares for women based its teachings. In order to gain an in-depth understanding of how Islam cares for women, common misconceptions will be highlighted and insights given to illuminate the roles and responsibilities women play in the Islamic society. Further, it is worth to note that some misconceptions are based on cultural influences and personal interests which are not a reflection of the Islamic teachings. The personal and cultural interests have been the basis applied in the modern world to disenfranchise women (Ezzat, 2012). According to Ezzat (2012), the cultural perspectives go against the Islamic guidelines on how women should be treated.
In the modern society, the Muslim women have been described as unequal, oppressed and inferior. These definitions rely on stereotypes that tend to confuse the cultural practices and the Islam teachings about women (Ezzat, 2012). A qualitative study carried out by Mahmood (2004) pointed that Islam religion has been at the forefront of empowering women since the 7th century. Ezzat (2012) noted that Islam religion confers progressive rights to women. It upholds that they are not inferior or unequal to their male counterparts. The actual teachings of Islam empower women and uphold their social status in the family. For instance, many traditional cultures held women as transferrable property and the female children were buried alive in Arabia. However, the Islamic religion upheld the dignity of the Muslim women and protected them with unprecedented rights (Ezzat, 2012). Islam has honored women by valuing their modesty, giving them the rights to education, divorce, marriage, work, seek legal protection, political engagement and right to own and sell property.
The rights are based on the Islamic teachings that proclaim that all human beings are born in a pure state. Therefore, the goal of Islamic is to preserve the purity of all human kinds by avoiding the evil processes. Islam confirms that both Men and women are equal. This denotes that women also enjoy the rights enjoyed by men in the Muslim world. However, it is worth noting that the equality factor does not mean that the women and men are identical. According to Ezzat (2012), men and women were created with unique attributes. The attributes include the psychological and physiological differences. However, these differences should not be applied to oppress the women. Lewis (2007) stressed that the differences help to form the part of a healthy family and should be embraced as a vital component that contribute to a complete community structure.
Modesty of Muslim Women
Due to the physiological and psychological differences, the Islamic teachings have rules that apply to both men and women. For example, women are supposed to cover certain parts of their body such as hair. Similarly, men are required to cover certain parts of the body though not like women. These Islamic teachings have been misinterpreted in the modern world as insensitive to the women. However, the command is based on the physical and psychological differences and God commanded them as a means to preserve the modest of both the men and women. In addition, the roles, rights and responsibilities of women are balanced with those of men. Just as the physiological differences, this does not imply that the roles are the same.
In the modern society, the media has redefined the standards of beauty. As a result, the current environment emphasizes the display of the physical form as the ultimate definition of beauty. The unattainable classification of beauty has led to the Muslim women being described as oppressed due to the modest dress that covers most of their body. However, Ezzat (2012) noted that the modest appearance of the veils points to the personality and character that Islam upholds among women.
In the modern society, education plays an integral role in the lives of every human being. Education helps in the transformation of individual thoughts and forms the basis of cultural liberation. In relation to the Muslim women, there has been a misconception that Islam does not recognize the right to education among women. However, this is not the case. Islamic gives both men and women the right to education. In the 7th century, Muhammad made it an obligation for every Muslim to pursue knowledge. The obligation was very clear and throughout the Islamic history it has been implemented by both men and women (Ezzat, 2011). Aisha, Muhammad’s wife, was one of the great scholars of Islam.
After the death of Muhammad, Muslim believers both women and men traveled to learn Islamic teachings from her because she was a great scholar. This depicts the recognition of the women education among the Muslims. The majority of Islamic history has upheld female scholarship and the engagement of women in the academic discourses. Al-Qarawiyin Mosque and University is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning that was funded by a Muslim woman. In the modern, society, many families that are affiliated with Islam teaching sent their girls to school. In the Arab world, the population of girls going to school has been on the increase.
Motherhood is a right and responsibility that the Muslim women have been accorded by God. According to Ezzat (2012) God gives mothers a very high status in the society. In respect to Islamic teachings about motherhood, God requires that mothers should be treated with love respect and care. However, the cultural orientations and personal interests have used this teaching to demean women by restricting them as servants in the homes. This social right does not imply that women should not engage in other activities. Educated Islam women have overcome the challenge and recognized the social liberation within the confines of religion. For instance, Halverson and Way (2012) noted that educated Muslim women have managed to raise families and engage in other economic and political roles across the globe.
Political, Social and Economic Freedoms
According to Islamic scholars, Islam does not bar women from participating in the politics and social services. Halverson and Way (2012) noted that throughout the history of early Muslims, women actively participated in the functioning of the society. Women were given the opportunity to express their opinions freely, and their advice could be incorporated in making decisions that touched on the society. This signifies the political role that women played in the society. In relation to economic participation, Muslim women traded openly in the marketplaces. In order to continue to uphold these traditions that are related to Islamic, women are encouraged to engage in practices that improve, serve and contribute to cohesive societies. For instance, in 2011, women were involved in the Arab springs that affected different parts of the Arab world (Faraq, 2012). The inclusion of the women in the social and political revolutions signifies that Islam gives the right to women to participate in politics and social services. The feminist movement in the Arab world is also a manifestation of the rights Muslim women enjoy in relation to right of expression.
Right to Choose
Islam grants women rights to choose. This right relates to marriage. Islamic teachings stipulate that marriage is based on love, peace, and compassion. Due to the teachings, a woman has the right to decide the person to marry. According to Ezzat (2012) a Muslim woman cannot be forced to marry against her will. She also has a right to seek divorce in case she is not satisfied with the marriage contract. Despite the rights to choose, there are many instances of forced marriages that are reported across regions that the majority of people are Muslims. According to Ezzat (2012), this can be attributed to personal and cultural interests, which are in direct opposition to Islam rights of women.
Dignity and Protection from Harm
Islam also cares for women by upholding their dignity and protecting them from harm. According to Ezzat (2012), emotional, psychological and physical abuse is categorized as improper treatment of women. According to Lewis (2007) one of leading female Muslim scholars, Dr. Zainab pointed that there is no teaching in Islam that allows domestic violence. This is because all the creations of God are dignified and protected and the teachings of Islam (Ezzat, 2012).
Women play a critical role in the Islamic society. In order to obtain social justice and equality, they have actively participated in community activities in different capacities. For example, the feminist movement in the Islamic world has continually challenged the oppressive cultures that are in direct opposition to the Islam teaching. The struggle to gain equality for the women in the Islamic religion has faced many challenges. The challenges relate to culture and political processes that have ended up marginalizing women and hence suppressing their endeavors. However, these challenges are not unique to the Muslim women only. Women in the western world also struggled against political and cultural hurdles to achieve the relative equality they enjoy today. Thus, it is worth noting that the oppressions that some women face in the Muslim dominated societies are not an outright depiction of Islam teaching. In fact, Islam has an elaborate tradition that protects the civil liberties of women based on its teachings about human dignity. Islam cherishes education, financial inclusion, freedom to choose, dignified motherhood, protection from harm, political and social participation.
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