Muslim Women and Integration – Oppressed in the Name of Islam?


The majority of Germans regard Islam as misogynist. No other issue in the public debate on integration has evoked such bitter controversy among Germans. Nonetheless, the image of the “oppressed woman” does not correspond to the real life situation of most Muslim women.

By Claudia Mende

Numerous opinion polls confirm that Islam suffers a bad image in Germany. According to a representative study conducted in 2012 by the Allensbach Institute for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, the majority of those questioned associate Islam with a propensity for violence, fanaticism and intolerance.

And it doesn’t stop there: more than two-thirds of respondents, 83 per cent in fact, view Islam as misogynist and feel that the religion of the Prophet is characterized by discrimination against women. This was the highest value attained in the poll. In a comparable Allensbach poll from 2006, the number was even higher.

Birgit Rommelspacher, a retired professor of psychology and a specialist in intercultural and gender studies at the Alice Salomon University in Berlin, explains that such poll results come about because people are blocking out the shortfalls and contradictions in German society and then projecting them onto Muslims.

The ambiguous heritage of modernity

This, in turn, leads to such dichotomies as the “emancipated Western woman” versus the “oppressed Muslim woman.” Rommelspacher sees two widespread yet opposing forms of argumentation in the debate.The argument is either that emancipation is something that is only fundamentally possible outside all religious affiliation or that the liberation of women can only be achieved within the Jewish-Christian West – characterized as it is by its enlightened attitudes – but not within Islam. In principle, neither point of view allows for the emancipation of Muslim women.

Rommelspacher sees both approaches as obscuring important facts that don’t fit into this world view. They overlook the fact that the legacy of modernity in Europe is thoroughly ambiguous; even the Enlightenment initially excluded women.

It was only in the era of industrialization that women were pushed out of the economic sphere and into the home. Today, they can only reconquer the economic sphere with great effort. This is reflected in the current debate about how to reconcile work and family life.

Rommelspacher also feels that the view that all religions are exclusively patriarchal and anti-modern is wide of the mark. This line of argument overlooks not only the spiritual equality that dominates all religions in the sense that men and women are equal in the eyes of the Creator, it also fails to take into consideration that Christian and Jewish women in Europe played an important role in the women’s rights movement and in its achievements. Similarly, Islamic women are fighting for their rights, although little notice is taken of their efforts

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