CC ISSUE: MAR 2010 Last updated: Mar 4, 2010
Gallup: 81 percent Americans still think Islam oppresses women
A recent Gallup survey showed that 81 percent of Americans believed Islam does not give men and women equal rights. Talk to someone who has studied Islam and they say this claim could not be more false. Islam gave women rights 14 centuries ago, something no other country or faith offered.
In honor of Women’s History Month, there is no better time to clear up some common misconceptions and questions many people—both Muslim and non-Muslim—have about gender equality in Islam.
1. Are women considered the property of men in Islam?
No. Every human being, whether male or female, is considered to be created by God and given equal spiritual importance; neither gender is superior to the other. While some governments, cultures and faiths considered women to be the property of their fathers or husbands, Islam forbade this practice among its followers.
2. What kind of rights did Islam give women?
Muslim women have had basic civil, economic and social rights for 14 centuries. For example, women had the right to accept or reject any marriage prospect; the right to divorce; to an education; to vote; to property ownership and to inherit. Most, if not all, of these rights were relatively unheard of for women in many parts of the world at the time, particularly the West, where women’s rights and legal status would remain practically nonexistent for at least another millennium.
3. Why do women have to wear hijab and men do not?
Islam teaches us that women are to be respected and protected. To do this, Muslims adopt a code of modesty. For women, it means to cover their bodies and head. However, Muslim men do have their own Islamic duty of hijab too, requiring them to also lower their gaze and to dress and behave modestly as well.
4. If they have so many rights and are considered “equals,” then why are Muslim women being treated so badly in other countries?
Women are treated badly in both Muslim AND non-Muslim countries. Islam is not the source of the problem. The treatment of women globally is dependent on many factors, including: culture; country; education rates; social and economic development and individual and family circumstances.
While there are some Muslim men or regions that do not treat their women as they ought to, their misogynistic attitudes and practices do not exist because of Islamic ruling but in spite of it. However, it is without doubt that those men and regions are deserting the commands of the Quran and the examples in the Hadith.
5. So are men and women equal in Islam?
Yes. A man and a woman are equally accountable to God. Muslim men and women were given the same rights and the same level of importance to God. Their roles however can be different. The man is primarily responsible for providing for his family while the woman’s first priority is caring for the household. However, if necessary, the roles can be modified within the guidelines of Islam.
Chicago Scholar on “Famous Women in Islam”
If you would like to learn more about notable women in Islamic history, the Nawawi Foundation has a great Audio CD set that is sure to inspire you. Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah focuses on famous women from the era of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him to more recent times. In 14 CD’s, Dr. Umar teaches about women from a variety of areas ranging from scholarship, mysticism, and poetry to social patronage, war, and politics.
He notes that perhaps one of the greatest disparities when comparing the time of the Prophet and the modern Muslim world is how the Prophetic society was more open and less patriarchal. Fourteen hundred years ago, Muslim women enjoyed greater freedom and a more conspicuous role within the matrix of social and civic life.
The CD set comes in a travel case with class notes and can make interesting listening for men and non-Muslims too. The set is available at www.islamicbookstore.com for $53.90.