The Need to Address Women’s Rights in the Muslim Community

One of the most common critiques against Islam is that is oppresses women, burdens them with a sundry of pedantic and outdated legislative shackles, restricting their self-determination to a point of destructiveness. The hijab is viewed as a patriarchal institute, sexualising women by defining them only according to their sex. The traditional nuclear family is seen as a vestige of a bygone-era of toxic patriarchy, which Islam dogmatically clings to.

Against this forceful narrative, Muslims fall under immense pressure, spluttering out responses that range from unrestricted acceptance of modern liberal sentiments, to a vociferous rejection of the same sentiments out of rebellion. We need to slow down, and think, outside of the gladiator arena that public discourse is. We need to construct a thoughtful narrative, that is true to Islam, and well-articulated.

This issue should be one of the foremost issues that we need to address. The first and most simple reason why, is that this is half of the Ummah; it is about their rights, their wellbeing, and their faith. By leaving this issue unaddressed, we risk maiming the Ummah by depriving it of the colourful brilliance of sisterhood.  It is so sad that some Muslim women regard themselves as being oppressed within their own community. It is a travesty. Very often, Muslim women who advocate women’s rights are shunned as feminists, with ‘feminist’ being used as a derogatory.

Casting them in such a light is unwarranted. This may come as a surprise to some, but Muslim women, just like Muslim men, also fear God, and also seek His pleasure; they would not claim affiliation with Feminism on such a scale just out of cultural influence. The fact that so many Muslim women relate to Feminism is indicative of how inadequately women’s rights have been addressed in the Muslim community. Instead of turning to the umbrella of Islam, which in the eyes of many is regarded as being hijacked by patriarchy, they turn to Feminism, because in the current state of the Muslim community, they see little way to consider women’s rights. So the zeitgeist of feminism, with its talk of liberating women, appeals to Muslim women.

This situation is truly shameful. Our Prophet was a man who was consoled by a woman when he first received revelation. He died in the arms of a woman; he was supported by women from the start of his prophethood to its end. Our Quran is one that women have helped to preserve – Hafsa, the daughter of Umar. Our collection of Hadith is one that women have scrupulously helped to verify and maintain – we know of at least 9,000 female hadith scholars. Discussions around women being allowed to pray in mosques predate Feminism by centuries. These discussions can be had within Islam without having to adopt the mantle of Feminism. And yet despite this, we have failed to articulate Islam as something that uplifts women. And because of this, we have Islam vs Feminism.

Thus it is imperative that a compelling narrative is created, one which shows the elegant way in which Islam organises the household, the community, and society. If we do not do this, we risk entrenching the critique of Islam oppressing women. We risk alienating so many Muslim women; exasperated by being viewed as oppressed sheep by wider society, many may rebel.

The Ummah is already fractured, with deep and ugly fissures caused by the blight of racism and sectarianism. The split between men and women is a third fissure, colossal and devastating. The experiences of Muslim men and women are quite different. Partly this is a result of wider society, and it’s obsession with hijab. Partly this is a result of Muslim discourse, and it’s obsession with hijab. No, that wasn’t copied and pasted. The hijab and also the niqab have long been a bone of contention for wider society. Within the Muslim community, it is often (wrongly!) regarded as basis for which all piety of a Muslim women stands. The influence of wider society, there is little we can do about this. But the internal barriers within the Muslim community are what we can, should and must attempt to deconstruct. Such an endeavour needn’t be labelled as pandering to Feminism or Liberalism, but should be labelled as unifiying Muslims, because it unifies one half with the other.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Ammar Awais says:

    Totally agree with you. Muslims have drifted away from the teachings of Quran and example of the Prophet. Our perceptions of Islam, especially regarding gender issues are largely shaped by cultural practices and biases.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Ammar.

      I agree; I’m currently writing on piece about the religion and culture dichotomy. Maybe there’s not actually a clear boundary between the two, at least not in practice.

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  2. Alina says:

    Your justification for the repetition. “No, that wasn’t copied and pasted” was just 😂.

    “Our Prophet was a man who was consoled by a woman when he first received revelation. He died in the arms of a woman; he was supported by women from the start of his prophethood to its end.” This is an aspect of the female role in Islamic history is often forgotten. Often the narrative is told from a male POV that the female is seen as an isolated entity in the story as supposed to someone playing an important role. If this was emphasized when we these stories are narrated maybe we only then are the role of women truly appreciated for a male and female mindset. An article of exactly how Islam is pro-feminism (which I disagree but would like to be persuaded otherwise) would be much liked.

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    1. Perspectives (or biases?) on stories is fascinating. I think it would be more fruitful for our scholarship to have a variety of viewpoints on stories (and on wider discourse) to create healthy discussion; one perspective that is most obviously missing today is from women. Today’s scholarship seems to be mostly made up by men. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a problem (I still thinking this through to be honest), I think more female scholars is good thing by any measure.

      Funny you should mention Islam and Feminism – I’ve actually written about that, and will be uploading soon. The first point to clarify is definitions of Feminism. But more on that in the article! 🙂

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      1. Alina says:

        I was reading Seerat ul Mustafa (have you come across it?) and there had a segment titled ‘Persecution Of Muslims’ where it delved into depth, the names and punishments inflicted on the slaves and lower social order from early Islam in Makkah (such as Hadhrat Bilal (ra)). There was a total of 16 people mentioned. Some of the companions where under headings while others where listed in bullet points. What caught my eye, however, was that Sumayyah bint Khayyat, the first martyr in Islam was given a passing mention in a larger paragraph on her son, Ammar bin Yasir. Despite being a major figure (often on Islamic quiz questions) she was bought to light in seemingly meaningless way. She wasn’t given a heading nor was she listed in a bullet point, instead she was mentioned in someone else’s story. What seems inherently unintentional by the male author who was writing is inevitably detrimental to way the Muslim woman today perceives herself. The way an eminent scholar mentioned her was almost devaluing her role not just in Islam but to women today, who use role models of the past to form their own character. And while there are books dedicated to female scholars of the period, one would be hard-pressed a history written with an equal balance of male and female involvement. No wonder it is easy to believe that with regards to women, Islam is ‘restricting their self-determination’, given how they are mentioning in a cursory manner in Seerah books.

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      2. Thanks for your comment Alina.

        When I read the Sealed Nectar, I didn’t notice this, although I haven’t read that book in a while! Which Seerah book are you referring to?

        Thanks

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