Challenges and Opportunities Facing American Muslim Women
Part Three: Opportunities Facing American Muslim Women: Asifa Quraishi
Part Three: Opportunities Facing American Muslim Women: Asifa Quraishi
We feel that we, as Muslim Americans, have opportunities to openly address the challenges facing American Muslim women. As Americans we have access to a legal system that was formulated to protect the rights of those who suffer abuse. The laws of the United States guarantee us certain freedoms, such as the freedoms of religion and speech. We have legal avenues to fight discrimination and abuse. We also have the ability to engage in open and honest dialogues without fear of retribution from the government. Moreover, the womens movement in the United States has made great strides in bringing to light the abuses suffered by women and offering avenues of redress. Many of the issues of the American womens movement, in fact, are strongly shared by Muslims: domestic violence, child custody, pornography, equal access to education and employment, adequate maternity and paternity leave policies, and respect for the family-focused work of women. We can learn from the systems that are currently in place, we can work within these systems, and we can adapt these systems to meet our needs as Muslims. For instance, our Muslim leaders need to be trained in crisis management and counseling skills to effectively deal with victims of abuse who seek their assistance. We can learn the counseling skills from successful counseling centers in the United States, and then modify those skills to comport with our Islamic teachings.
Another critical step is to hold our Muslim leadership accountable. Muslim leaders cannot simply rebuff women who come to them seeking assistance. The job of Muslim leaders, both in the United States and abroad, is to serve the entire Muslim community and to uphold the teachings of Islam. The leadership cannot be more concerned with upholding an idealized image of Muslims than it is with the welfare of individual Muslims. And the Muslim community must overcome the taboo preventing women from holding any significant leadership positions. With the presence of upright, educated Muslim women in leadership roles, Muslim leaders as a whole will become more directly familiar with the perspectives and insights of those most familiar with the problems, thereby leading to a mutually productive, fair solution to this type of oppression--of women specifically. We also must hold ourselves as women accountable. We must educate ourselves about the original teachings of Islam. We must then demand that our rights under Islam be honored, and we must support our sisters in their various struggles. Whether that struggle is to become an elected board member or to leave an abusive husband, we must demand our rights and be willing to go out and get them.
As Americans, we have a unique opportunity to practice Islam in its true form -- without much of the cultural or traditional baggage that is oppressive to women. Moreover, whatever cultural bias does carry over with immigrants, their children are often able to overcome these shackles and simply deal with each other as American Muslims. The prevalence in America of intercultural marriage among Muslims in second and third generation children of immigrants attests to this fact.
Also, while the American system still leaves much to be desired in terms of its treatment of women, it has made a significant start, and we can use the best of what the United States has to offer to aid us in our struggle to end the suffering of women and thus to implement the Quranic order to stand up against oppression in whatever form, and through whatever means we have available.
Because we have these opportunities, we must use them to clearly state our position and to fight to end the oppression suffered by women. On the issue of violence, some steps are being taken. Some leaders are addressing and condemning domestic violence in their khutbas (speeches during prayer). The issue has been discussed in magazines, such as The Minaret and Islamic Horizons. And the issue was discussed by a wide range of women and men on the Sistersnet, which was mentioned earlier. Some communities are trying to organize battered womens shelters. These efforts are limited, but at least interest has been shown. Increasingly, Muslims are entering the fields of psychology and social work which then enables the Muslim community to use its own resources. Domestic violence cannot be tolerated. Islams focus on harmonious relationships in marriage, and even in divorce, shows that there is no place for violence in Islam. The example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who never hit his wives, and strongly discouraged the practice, should be followed.
As for the exclusion or segregation of women, there is no precedent for this during Prophet Muhammads life. Women used to fight in battles alongside men. Women and men attended classes together taught by the Prophet where women asked the Prophet questions and had the opportunity to interact with him and educate themselves. Women did not even pray behind a curtain or physical barrier of any sort--a practice that is unfortunately popular in many American mosques today, and around the world.
In regards to polygamy, it cannot be Islamically practiced in the United States because the prerequisite for polygamy in Islam is that each wife must be treated equally. In the United States, each wife cannot be treated equally because one wife is legally married under U.S. law and the others are not. For example, only one wife is entitled to benefit from a life insurance policy, and any other wives later are not provided for. The Quran states: And if you have reason to fear that you might no act equitably towards orphans, then marry from among [other] women such as are lawful to you--two, three or four: but if you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with fairness, then [marry only] one. (4:3).
Regarding all these issues, American Muslim women are just now beginning to take an active role in educating themselves and questioning practices that violate their rights as Muslims, even though they may be done in the name of Islam. One arena where this is taking place is the Internet--again, mentioned earlier--where women, interestingly, can have discussions and ask questions openly, without being silenced, interrupted, or harassed in ways that would prevent them from doing so when they speak out in person, which unfortunately too often happens.
In our jihad to end oppression, we must be mindful of the Islamic teachings of mutual cooperation and respect. The Quran states: And [as for] the believers, both men and women, they are protectors of one another: they [all] enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and are constant in prayer, and render the purifying dues, and pay heed unto God and the Apostle. It is they upon whom God will bestow grace: verily, God is almighty, wise. (9:71).