Concern for Muslim Women
by Muslim Women's League
Renewed interest in and
enthusiasm for Islam as a means of change is emerging in many parts of
the world. By implementing Islamic principles, Muslims are hoping to
improve their condition on many fronts, be they social, political,
economic or others. The Muslim world is comprised of people of a variety
of nationalities and ethnicities which, combined with geographical
realities, determine priorities of action for improving the lives of
Most Muslims are taught that Islam liberated women by giving them rights
not previously enjoyed. Some examples include rights of ownership,
decision-making in marriage, divorce and so on. Indeed, when reviewing
primary Muslim sources of Qur'an and authentic Hadith (words and deeds
of Prophet Muhammed), one is impressed by an overall image of men and
women as equal partners as those who are expected by God to "enjoin
the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong"
(9:71) in all spheres of life, and to act as His vicegerents in ensuring
justice, freedom and equality for all.
The importance of developing a strong family as the major building block
of a strong society is clearly expressed in Islamic literature. The
family unit is solidified by mutual respect, understanding and
compassion that applies within the family and among all members of
society in general.
Unfortunately, over time, many of the original principles have been
abandoned or modified to suit political agendas, thus presenting Muslims
with laws and images that hardly resembled the original Islamic
community led by Muhammad. Many of these laws were generated between the
10th and 12th centuries, long after the death of Muhammad, and are
particularly reflected in legislation today related to marriage and
divorce which often place women at a distinct disadvantage.
Muslims who live as minorities in non-Islamic countries are also
affected by the sexist and authoritarian attitudes that pervade many
communities and impact behavior in terms of marriage, divorce, abuse,
exclusion of women from the mosques and decision-making bodies, double
standards applied to male and female children and so on.
Because of a belief in a liberated, equitable and dignified position of
women outlined in the Qur'an, many Muslims, men and women alike, are
calling for reevaluation of attitudes and practices that, although done
in the name of Islam, are actually contrary to the basic messages found
in the primary sources. To question and possibly oppose entrenched
positions that are based on archaic laws, weak Hadith, or cultural
trends, requires courage and conviction on the part of religious
leaders. But this is necessary and worth any risks in order to enable
women to achieve liberation through Islam as originally intended.
Major problem areas that need to be addressed include the following:
pertaining to marriage and divorce that reinforce the image of
relationships based on a hierarchy with the rights of the
husband superseding those of the wife and that prevent women
from being in control of their lives.
women which occurs in the home, community, and as a consequence
of warfare which is claimed by some to be allowed by Islam when
it is not.
Abuse of certain
Islamic practices that affect women negatively, such as polygamy
and temporary marriage, when applied out of context and without
abiding by Islamic restrictions.
from religious activities such as attendance in the mosque which
has clearly been established as the Muslim woman's right.
Failure to promote
the importance of a woman's contribution to society beyond
Failure to enable
women to take advantage of rights of property ownership and
inheritance outlined by Islam.
Focusing on the
behavior of women as a marker for morality in society and
subjecting them to harassment, intimidation or discrimination.
Lack of awareness
of the important role of men in contributing significantly in
sharing household responsibilities and child-rearing as
exemplified by Prophet Muhammed.
Until recently, because
of a pervasive sexist and oppressive presentation of women in Islam,
Muslim women often felt the only way to be liberated intellectually,
socially, politically and economically was by abandoning Islam. There
appears to be a growing movement of Islamist women who are demanding
that the rights guaranteed by Islam must be applied in their
communities. In addition, women are joining the ranks of Islamic
scholars, thus providing alternative points of view to what has
heretofore been addressed by men. Reviewing Islamic history from an
egalitarian perspective, recalling contributions of Muslim women over
the centuries, exploring current practices and laws and criticizing them
from an Islamic point of view, examining texts as they pertain to women
specifically are a few examples of some areas addressed by women
Muslims today are facing great challenges from within and without.
Oftentimes, calls for change are seen as tools of an outside power that
is seeking to undermine the efforts of Islam and Muslims. Certain
geopolitical realities lend credence to this view. However, the current
desire for change on the part of Muslim women is perhaps more borne out
of the fervent belief in the image of the Muslim woman as communicated
by God in the Qur'an of a liberated, vital human being who can work in
cooperation with men on many levels to contribute to the betterment of
society. They seek to expose this concept which has been buried by the
persistence of attitudes that focus on competition and subsequent
subjugation of one sex over the other in direct conflict with the spirit
of the Qur'anic verse:
"And thus does their
Lord answer their prayer: I shall not lose sight of the work of any of
you who works (in My way) be it man or woman: You are members, one of