ISLAM AND SEXISM
by Hisham Zoubier
"As salaam wa allaykum. Peace be upon you. For those of you not familiar with that Islamic greeting, it is said between all Muslims and Arabic speaking peoples around the world; white, black, man or woman. I have invited you here today because it has become increasingly apparent to me that the image of women in Islam is one of sexism and degradation. One of inferiority, and one of disgrace. One of inequality, and one of male domination. In fact, nothing could be further from orthodox Islamic teachings. Many of you will look at me with disbelief, and with skepticism and I fully expect it. However, everything I tell you here today will have it's justification by historical fact and by Quranic quotation. The Quran is the basis of all Islam and history shows that the application of it has not always been one of contradiction. Now, in Islam there are very specific rules relating to the equality of men and women. They are both looked upon as being equal in soul and in mind, and in spiritual responsiblities. Of course, they are not looked upon as the same; but merely different. You cannot say that the role of the mother is the same as the role of the father, or vice verse; because they are different. But you cannot say that one is inferior to the other. The mother cares for the new-born baby a lot more than the father does and this sort of motherly love is held in the highest regard in Islam. The Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, was asked by a follower one day whom he should treat with more affection. The prophet answered ,"Your mother." The man asked who was next in line, and again the prophet replied, "Your mother." He asked again and the response the same; it was not until the fourth time that the prophet said, "Your father." The prophet also said," Paradise lies at the feet of mothers." In the West, female assault( ie, assault on women) is very common. Statistics show that 25% of all reported crime in the UK are violent assaults on women. The question of violence towards women in Islam is very clear. IT IS NOT ALLOWED. The honour of women is of extreme merit, and no man may dare to infringe upon it. Islam does not permit any sort of abuse to women; verbal or otherwise. Wife beaters were declared by the prophet not be Muslims and it has been reported that the prophet never hit any child nor any woman. In fact, rape or any assault on women is a very serious crime in Islam. Here, there has been much talk about "date rape". I've been told that rapists can get off with a year or less in jail here. And this is justice; this is the law, in the civilised world. A man can viloate a woman's honour and put her under all sorts of duress and harm, and scar her emotionally for life.... and a few months later, he can walk out of jail, free to continue his life with barely a thought to what he has done tothat woman. In some countries in the Middle East, rape can be punishable with life imprisonment or lengthy prison sentences; although, I am sure that many would prefer to simply remove the problem from down below and get it over with. That sort of safety in those countries, which is alien in the West, is why my sister can walk the streets at any hour of the night on her own and feel completely safe; secure in the knowledge that no man will trouble her or molest her, because he knows that as soon he crosses that line, he will be held accountable for his actions. How many of you would do walk the streets alone at night in the West's towns and cities? Spiritual equality in Islam:
In Islam, women are not regarded as the fountain of all evil; Eve is not blamed for Adam's mistake; both were at fault and both repented. In spiritual matters, a woman is as responsible as the man is; this is clear. Both have to fullfill the requirements of being a Muslim; in fact, the woman generally has the easier time! During Ramadan, which is the Muslim month of fasting and cleansing, a woman does not fast, if her menstruation cycle happens to be in place. This also applies to their praying; they can be excused from praying during this cycle. Men, on the other hand, always have to fast; unless they are ill and are incapable or their health is in jeaporady( same as women). Women, like men, have to pray, have to do Hajj( which is the Muslim pilgramage to Mecca), they have to give Zakat( which is charity to the needy); all men and women have to perform these duties; there is no difference between them, and they all will be held accountable by God. "Whoever does deeds of righteousness, be they male or female, and have faith, they will enter paradise and not the least injustice will be done to them" [Nisaa 4:124] The Quran also says," They(women) are garments for (men) while (men) are garments for (women). Education and social status of women in Islam:
The woman in orthodox Islam, is not held back. She is expected to care for her children; but that attitude is universal. All mothers care for their children. And the mother has a bond with her child that no man, including myself, can ever really understand. But the idea, that she is not allowed to leave the house without her husband or his permission or participate in the running of the society, or be ignorant is not in Islam. The husband does not rule the woman's life. Some may think they do, but they do not. As a matter of fact, and this is interesting, under certain conditions, the wife runs the husband's life!! If the man is not tending to his familial duties, or is squandering his wealth, as opposed to providing for his family, the wife is permitted to seize control to help the family. In providing for her family, the woman has a special privelege. The husband is supposed to provide for his family; in fact, sacrifice his worldly goods and himself to do so. The wife, on the other hand, does not have this compulsory duty. Although in many Muslim families the woman gives much of her own wealth to provide for the family; in fact, I have a Sudani cousin whose parents split up and he lives with his mother, and she provides, through working, for him. But the obligation of the wife sacrificing her assets, or her wealth, is not in Islam. She is permitted, under Islamic law, to spend her money as she chooses. In education, the woman also has the paramount duty to learn. The man is not allowed, under Islamic law, to prohibit or restrict her quest to do so. The woman is ordered by God, as much as the man is, to learn, to read, to seek truth, to educate themselves. "The search for knowledge is a duty for every Muslim, male or female." And since her primary duty of caring for the children diminshes as time goes by, she has a lot of time with which to do that. In fact, a matter of history, Islam was far and away the first social system that gave women equality. Hundreds of years ago, more than a millenium before the rest of the world caught up, Islam gave women the right to own property. And as far as running businesses are concerned; the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, was employed by his own wife Khadiga, may Allah be pleased with her. Women were eminently active in their societies in the time of the Prophet. In fact, it is on record that a woman debated with the prophet; something barely any man would dare to do! And it is also recorded that there was a debate between a man and a woman and the woman was declared correct and accurate, by the prophet.
In matters of finding a mate, Islam also has very clear rules about the practise of arranged marriages. It doesn't do them. The woman and the man are both free to marry whoever they choose and free to divorce one another at any given time, although divorce is looked upon as the final resort. There is a story related about a woman who came to the prophet and complained that she had been married to a man without her consent; her parents had forced her into it. The prophet told her that she was free to annul the marriage if she wanted to, since she had not freely agreed to marry him in the first place. As a matter of fact, she was happy with the marriage; but she complained so as to make the point to Muslim women that they were not under the command of any human being. Only God. It is also said in the Quran that:
Whoever does deeds of righteousness, be they male or female, and have faith, they will enter paradise and not the least injustice will be done to them [Nisaa 4:124] In the Quran we are told that the believing men and believing women should, and I quote, " lower their gaze and guard their modesty." The hijab is not what many of you think it is; the basic hijab, in fact, the complete hijab, is a scarf that a woman puts on her head, and drapes onto her shoulders. It is NOT a mask, or a veil. Many Muslim women do wear the mask, and the veil, but this is out of culural demands on a people; not Islamic. There is a sound hadith that supports that notion; the prophet said that all the body must be covered except for the hands and face. The second point of the hijab, is that it is not a sign of inferiority. Many people view it as such, but anyone who meets a woman who has converted to Islam out of her own free will, which is, by the way, a fundamental rule of the religion; freedom to choose, the woman will tell you that the hijab is a sign of respect. It identifies her as being a noble Muslim lady, A woman who does not want to be harrassed. Women have told me that when they wear the hijab, a miraculous transformation takes place on the streets. They are not pushed when they board buses, and the men around them are careful not to bump into them. And another Muslim woman will see her and treat her as a sister, because in Islam all Muslims have a singular bond to one another, which I have never seen outside of Islam. But more on that, at another time. The hijab, as hard as it may be to believe, is not a degrading symbol. It is merely a symbolic gesture to the world, when the woman is on the streets, she does not want to be harrassed. And that the woman is an honourable lady. Just as the man's clothing regulations attribute the same to him; on fact, many Muslim men also cover their hair. Of course, they do not wear a scarf; their hair isn't long enough. And lastly, and this should make my point clear, when the woman is not in public or amongst strangers, she does NOT have to conform to any real clothings regulation. She is permitted to wear as she pleases; amongst her family, amonsgt her sisters, amongst her extended family (in Islam the family is massive). In fact, the only time that is she is requested to wear the hijab, is when she knows she will be among male strangers that are over the age of puberty and when she is over the age of puberty and before she reaches an older age where she no longer anticipates marriage or when she is praying. Although, many older women do wear it as an example to the younger generation. And no one is to be forced to uphold even these slight regulations. The command from the Quran states very clearly, "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands clear from error." I knew plenty of Muslim women who were devout, including my own mother, who has done more charitable endeavours than any person I know, that do not wear the hijab, unless they are praying. I'm not encouraging it either way; I am not a woman, so I cannot really speak for it. I do know that it is said in the Quran for a woman to guard her chasitity, as do the men, and the hijab is a means of that, amongst other things. But the wearing of the hijab alone does not make the woman pious; many women who wear the hijab are not at all pious. But they wear it to give that illusion. The prophet said that actions were by intent alone; the intent for a moral existence must be there. The history regarding women in Islam is also astounding, considering what Muslim women are thought of today. If you look at the historical account of women is Islam, then you will find there as well that women were not devalued. Before Islam came, the people of the world disgraced women. They treated them as cattle, as dishonourable things. In fact, many families would kill a newly born baby simply because it was a girl. Can you imagine that? It is dire indeed; the prophet thought so, because one the many things that he put a stop to was that. But before Islam came, women were not allowed to marry who they chose, or own property, or businesses; in essence, their role was to be pretty, stay in the home for all their lives and be breeding stock. And then, in the Islamic world, over 1400 hundred years ago, that all changed. Women were given the right to own; in fact as I said before, if their husbands were incapable of handling their businesses or assets properly, wives were permitted to take over from them! The wife of the prophet, may God be pleased with her, was not only his wife. She was also his employer; he worked for her! Oh, and by the way, he did not ask her to marry him; she asked him to marry her. And because of her righteousness, because of her decency, she is regarded to be one of the most reliable sources of information regarding the prophet's life. If she were inferior, why would the prophet have accepted her proposal? If she were inferior, why would he have worked for her? If she were inferior, why would male Muslim scholars today still acccept her observations regarding the prophet? History shows that in the beginning, Islam was the true emancipator of women. I quote now from Fatima Mernissi's book, the Veil and the Male Elite; a Muslim lecturer in Morocco who is a devout Muslim and a devout feminist. "Women fled by the thousands to enter Medina, the Prophet's city in the seventh century,, because Islam promised equality and dignity for all, for men and women, masters and servants. Every woman who came to Medina when the Prophet was the policitcal leader of Muslims could gain access to full citizenship, the status of sahabi, Companion of the Prophet. Muslims can take pride that in their language they have the feminine of that word, sahabiyat, women who enjoyed the right to enter into the councils of the Muslim umma, to speak freely to its Prophet-leader, to dispute with the men, to fight for their happiness, and to be involved in the management of military and political affairs. The evidence is there is the works of religious history, in the biographical details of sahbiyat, by the thousands who built Muslim society side by side with their male counterparts."
And all this, more than 1400 years ago.
The sign that the majority of people who convert to Islam each year, are women further shows that Islam is not sexist. The first adherent to Islam was a woman; If Islam was sexist, then why would they do such a thing? What Western woman of common sense would convert to a religion that would degrade her? They are not forced into it; if you do not believe that Islam is fundamnetally against forceful conversion, then believe the laws of the Western governements, where they live! Islam is not a sexist relgion. I know that you have heard various things, seen various things; but believe me, you have been misinformed. The application of religion, no matter what school of thought, is not always representative of the actual teachings; be it Christianity, Judaism or Islam. Before I leave, I have one last thing to say.
" 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, for men and women who engage in Allah's praise,
for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and a great reward."
That is the 35th verse of the 33rd chapter of the Holy Quran..
Salaam wa allykum.