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American Muslim

May 2, 2006

Islam & Women

By Khalid Saeed

Mother’s day is on the 2nd Sundays of May, when we celebrate the woman who nurture and raise our families. A man’s wife is not the only woman in his life. The first women I knew and who cared for me for a longtime was my mom. I grew up with my sisters got married and now I have two wonderful loving daughters. It is important that all women in my life are treated well during all their lives, because with time all these women’s roles change and they are different relations to different men. This can only happen if there is a fair system for them to live in.

In the west one area that is in constant debate is the rights of women in Islam. The common picture of a Muslim woman is the stereotype of a woman hidden behind a veil, a voiceless, silent figure, bereft of rights. It is a picture familiar to all of us, in large part because this is invariably how the western media portrays women in Islam. We are not willing to see or accept some of the things, which are obviously only the cultural differences. Anything or any one different from us is not necessarily bad or evil.

A newspaper story reads, “Operation Cathedral” smashed child porn ring. In simultaneous raids, several arrests were made in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the USA.”

Looking at all the countries mentioned in the news, may one draw conclusion that in predominately white countries, the combination of democracy and Christianity steers people to perversion and child pornography?

But unfortunately when it comes to Islam and Muslims, this is the exact logic being used in the west.  A mistake by a Muslim even when he breaks the laws of his religion is immediately pinned as an Islamic teaching.

If we look at the globe there are about 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. Islam covers many lands with many diverse cultures. One cannot label all these cultures, political systems, national heritage, belief systems, geographical locations, historical backgrounds, and the peoples who embody them under one uniform category or think of them as one system.

Islam is practiced in each nation according to that nation’s culture and traditional customs. So having the same religion but due to diversity of cultures, most Afghans women wear Burka, Iranian’s wear Chowder, Arabs wear scarf and Pakistani’s wear Dupata. Due to cultural and geographical similarities even Hindu and Sikh women in India and Pakistan wear Dupata to cover their heads.

Another example: in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive by law. This rule, in a country which is supposed to derive its law from the Islamic jurisprudence, is completely an invention of the Saudi monarchy. Hence, much of the practices and laws in "Islamic" countries are totally unrelated to faith.

Islam promotes a society where women are seen as independent thinking partners in a household rather than servants who merely take orders from their husbands. In order to understand the role of women in Islam and to learn how the rules of Islam apply to them, we need to become familiar with Islam. It is an entirely different discussion as to how well or badly the so called 'Islamic countries' are living up to the teachings of Islam, or why?  But it is necessary to clear up misunderstanding about the teachings of Islam as embodied in the Quran.

As we can see in following verse the holy book addresses both sexes equally:

“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in God's praise - for them has God prepared forgiveness and great reward.” (Qur'an 33:35)

 Again Verse 40:40 states that whoever does right, whether male or female, (all) such will enter the paradise. The works of male and female are of equal value and each will receive the due reward for what they do.

Women are equal to men in the sight of God but they have in some respect different roles in life because of their different natures. Women differ psychologically, physiologically, and biologically from men. This makes them more suitable than men for certain responsibilities and less suitable than men for others.

In the holy Quran, God Almighty very clearly and explicitly gives all basic rights to women. The women have not only the right but duty to obtain education. They have right to have their own independent property. Not only they can work to earn money if they need it or want it but they have equality of reward for equal deeds and work. They have right to keep all their own money as man is responsible to pay for the household expenses. Even if women have money they have right to provisions from the husband for all their needs and more.

Women have full right to express their opinion and be heard. A woman has right to negotiate marriage terms of her choice and refuse any marriage that does not please her. She has right to obtain divorce from her husband, even on the grounds that she simply can't stand him. However God deeply frowns upon divorce as a solution unless there is hardly any other alternative; but it does not mean that the men have more right to divorce their wives than the women.  And in case of divorce she has a right to demand the custody of their children.

Regardless of race, color, religion or their culture, no single human or society is perfect. Hence Muslim countries have problems as well. But those problems are not because of Islam but because of the economic conditions and unique cultural practices in vogue in different Muslim societies.

In the conclusion, it may be pointed out that the rights of woman of modern times were not granted voluntarily or out of kindness to the female. Modern woman reached her present position by force, and not through natural processes or mutual consent or Divine teachings. She had to force her way, and various circumstances came to her aid. In Muslim countries too the women have to struggle to reclaim their rights already given to them by God in the holy Quran some 1500 years ago.

Khalid Saeed is national president of “American Muslim Voice”, an advocacy group to protect and preserve civil liberties and constitutional rights for all and to bridge the gap between all communities.