By Sabiha Hamid
Female delegates at the Pan-African Ahmadiyya Muslim Association conference held at the Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, Surrey denounced widespread misunderstanding about Islam and discussed gender equality as being present in their Muslim faith.
Women in Islam
Muslim women: veiled, oppressed, trapped, victim of domestic violence, honour killing, lack of human rights—–Is this really the status given to women in Islam?
The simple answer to the question posed in the subheading is NO. This is evident from the Qur’anic verse “…and they (women) have rights similar to those (of men)…” (Chapter 2, Verse 229).
The portrayal of Muslim women in the media is immensely distorted and misunderstood. Such representations are a false stereotype and completely contrary to the true teachings of Islam.
Today’s western society claims to have granted women an array of rights allowing them freedom that is considered equal to men. Such rights include the right to education, equal rights at the work place, the right to vote, the right to own property etc.
However, these rights were only acquired by western women in the 19th and 20th centuries after years of extensive struggle. For example, a wife’s property was automatically transferred to her husband upon marriage in England and Wales until the Married Women’s Act 1880 as amended in 1882 & 1887. Yet, a Muslim woman was granted the right to retain her property upon marriage by the Quran over 1400 years ago.
Furthermore, the conditions for marriage in the West was for centuries extremely unfavourable towards women. Indeed, it is only relatively recently that a woman’s consent to marriage was considered legally necessary to hold a valid marriage. In comparison, Islam granted women the right to choose their spouses centuries ago. From day one a fundamental part of marriage in Islam is that both partners should enter the union freely and entirely of their own volition.
To give another example, the right of divorce was only available to men in English law until the mid-19th century. However from the very beginning Islam granted a woman the right to divorce. Moreover, the Prophet Muhammadsa said: “…the best of you are those who are best to their wives”.
It is often portrayed that women can only hold the role of a housewife under Islamic teachings and are restricted from going out. This again is a misrepresentation as there is nothing in the Quran to support this.
We see Muslim women excelling in all professions, from Medicine, Engineering, IT, Accounting, Law, Education, Media, Politics, Science, Business and many other fields. In fact, the Quran requires women to receive equal pay to men for the same work.
I myself am a law graduate and from childhood I was supported by family in my efforts to attain an education – because this was considered a necessary part of Islamic teaching.
We see Muslim women the world over who have excelled and even led their nations. Look at the examples of Tansu Ciller a practicing Muslim woman and former Prime Minister of Turkey, likewise the late Benazir Bhutto former Pakistani Prime Minister, Mame Madior former Senegal Prime Minister and Megawati Sukarnoputri former Indonesian Prime Minister.
Now let’s move to what is perhaps considered the most controversial issue of all – the veil. Many people, particularly in the West, interpret the headscarf as a tool of oppression. However, this is completely different to how I, and other Muslim women, view Hijab. We consider it to be a tool of dignity, honour and freedom.
Personally speaking, growing up as a practicing Muslim, in this western society, I too was often questioned whether I felt trapped or an outsider due to my headscarf. At first I was unable to understand the reason for such peculiar questions, as covering my head was a personal choice and made me feel protected and unique. But as I grew older I found myself feeling truly offended by this line of thought. Surely in a free society I should be able to wear a headscarf without others questioning my choice!
Even today I fail to understand why a Muslim girl is considered oppressed when she covers her head but if a nun or someone from another religion covers their head they are considered devout and respected. I can honestly say that I never felt restricted due to my veil and have always been able to pursue higher education and employment opportunities without any pressure from my religion.
In conclusion, I would once again like to draw your attention to the status given to women by Islam which is reflected in the famous saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa that “paradise lies under the feet of your mother”.