When you read this title, what comes to mind? Is it something nebulous? One part confusion, one part oppression? Is the image in your head defined by headscarves or angry husbands or a lack of opportunity? How much do you truly know about the status and the voice of a woman in Islam? Allow me to explain why these mainstream perceptions are false. The way Muslimah (Muslim women) have been painted in red and misconception is erroneous and far too common. If your first reaction to a girl donning the hijab is ‘oh, were you forced to wear that?’ then you are part of the problem that persists.
Misinformation exists like a cancerous growth, pervasive in the way it travels from post to post, mouth to mouth, screen to screen. Sifting through reality and fabrication is often difficult, but crucial.
How can you coexist with a group of people, and claim to advocate for their rights when you have no understanding of what they stand for? When the only stories you have heard are those of subjugation and marginalization? Commitment to intersectionality is a building block towards true feminism and individual liberation – we must study it, internalize it, and implement it in every conversation.
To develop an understanding of the place of Muslimah in this religion, let’s take it back – like wayyy back. The first person to embrace the message of Islam was, in fact, a woman – Khadijah Bint Khuwaylid (RA) – who was a successful buisness woman, and the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). She asked for his hand in marriage (after he proved himself under her employ), so let’s leave the idea of “muslim women have no social liberty” at the door, please.
Aisha bint Abi Bakr (RA) is considered the greatest scholar in the history of Islam – she was well versed in Quranic studies, poetry, Arabian history, medicine, geneology, among a plethora of other fields; people would travel for months just to learn from her. Upwards of a quarter of Islamic jurisprudence is built upon her accounts. This should clearly illustrate how the pursuit of knowledge and education is not only a woman’s right, but encouraged and loved in Islam.
Some of the most revered warriors in the history of Islam were also women – Nusaybah bint Ka’ab, who protected the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with her life, and Khawlah bint al-Azwar, a legendary and fearsome military leader, considered the Mulan of the Islamic world. Their stories capture the ferocity and passion that they led with, trumping unwarranted ideas of “quiet femininity” imposed upon too many women today. So once again, let’s leave behind our sterotypes and prescriptions about the supposed “ladylike conduct and submissive lifestyle” of the “ideal” Muslim woman.
This brief history lesson merely sets the stage. Islam is, despite its unsatisfactory portrayal in the media, far from an iron fist that strikes down justice and equality at every turn. It is, rather, a balanced guide that lays out the equal rights and responsibilities of men and women – often giving women higher precedence in certain circumstances – and preventing men from ruling over them in whatever twisted ways they deem fit.
Women in Islam have the right to define their own lives. The education they choose is up to them. The man they want – or lack thereof – is up to them. They have the right to property and business, and financial freedom; in a marriage, the woman’s money is her money and her man’s money is her money too – any cash she hands her boo is actually considered charity on her part. Despite popular belief, Muslimah have every prerogative to defy their significant others, parents or friends regarding anything unjust, disrespectful, or unwanted.
As daughters, their parents are responsible for treating them as equals to their brothers. As members of a community, they are entitled to freedom of expression; sitting behind closed doors with their mouths shut is cultural decree – never a valid commandment. As leaders, they are owed the same respect and importance as their male counterparts.
Every country or case where a man forces his wife or daughters or any woman in his life to dress or behave in a certain manner is not following the rules of Islam – arguments to the contrary stem from the prevalence of toxic masculine cultures, evident in many South Asian and Middle Eastern countries. These ideals seep into western representations of women in Islam, depicting them as weak and lacking any semblance of autonomy.
In contrast, women have traditionally been seen as central educators in the diverseIslamic communities of Sub-Saharan Africa. The disconnect between distinct cultures appears when facts are traded for fiction that furthers the agenda of misogynist and patriarchal systems. It is our duty, as empowerers and leaders, to be aware of these discrepancies and their negative impacts on women, their image across the globe, and by extension, the remainder of society.
As advocates for women in every context, being aware of their true rights and capabilities in different walks of life is instrumental to their empowerment. Women in Islam are independent identities. Their worth or decisions do not bank on the wishes of the men around them. Their spirituality is their own. Their morality is their own. Their path is undeniably and entirely their own.