Author: Naima Khandaker
- Statistics from the National Domestic Violence Hotline:
- On the average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day.
- 1 out of 3 women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime.
- 1 in 3 teens report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, slapped, choked or physically hurt by his/her partner.
- As many as 324,000 women each year experience intimate partner violence during their pregnancy.
- The oppression or mistreatment of women is very common all around the world regardless of where you live, you race, level of education, socioeconomic status. And Muslims are certainly not immune to that. We see on the news there have been terrible acts of violence against women in Muslim countries recently that have gained media attention. And then the people spin it in a way that says, “Looks, this is how Muslims treat women.” So this is a problem on a few levels.
- In fact, oftentimes when someone is trying to bash Islam, they will bring up women’s issues: Honor killings, wife beating, old men marrying pre-pubescent girls, women who not allowed to drive or get an education, female circumcision, women being forced to marry their rapists. So there’s a lot of misunderstanding around the Islamic perspective on women’s rights.
- When Islam emerged, it brought with it an unprecedented wave of feminism. So since then, what happened? Not just in the Muslim world, but everywhere.
Islam and Women
- When it comes to attitudes and treatment of women in pre-Islamic Arabia, like anywhere else, it varied. In some of the more well-to-do families you might have really educated, successful women, but for the most part, women’s rights were basically non-existent. One website said women were treated sort of like sub-human creatures; a level between a human (i.e., man) and an animal. They were basically treated like property. For example, they typically weren’t treated as a party in a marriage contract, and generally couldn’t own property or inherit. In times of war, they were treated as part of the bounty or prize. And the practice of female infanticide (killing baby girls) was a common practice as well. Apparently another common practice was to offer food, etc. to guests, and also offer up one’s own wife or other women of the house.
- Islam redefined what it means to be a person, with value.
- Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward. (33:35)
- Ingrid Mattson brought this verse up in an interview she did a while back. She said the structure of the Arabic language is such that sometimes it will refer to “man,” but it’s understood that it applies to both men and women (like in English when we say, “mankind”). But, this was written in such a way to emphasize in unequivocal terms, “Men and women are equal in the eyes of Allah SWT, period, end of story.”
- The Prophet PBUH provided the best example of what gender equality and women’s rights should look like.
- “Heaven lies at the feet of mothers.”
- “Assuredly, women are the twin halves of men.”
- He told fathers that if their daughters spoke well of them on the Day of Judgment, they would enter jannah.
- He even went so far as to say women are entitled to sexual satisfaction.
- We can also learn lessons from the way he interacted with the women in his life. He would help with housework, and repair his own clothes and shoes (things often seen as “women’s work”). He had a very deep and intellectual relationship with Aisha RA, and would often recommend that, if religious questions arose, people should take them to her. After his death, Aisha became a main source of information about him.
- Islam provided a foundation that women are the intellectual and spiritual equals of men, and based on that it gave women a number of rights related to inheritance, property, social and marital rights. It abolished the practice of female infanticide. It made the education of females (and males) a social priority.
- As a point of comparison, it’s helpful to think about all of these changes that took place over a very short period of time (23 years), and the timeline and major events related to women’s rights in the U.S.
- 1848: The first women’s rights convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York. After 2 days of discussion and debate, 68 women and 32 men sign a Declaration of Sentiments, which outlines grievances and sets the agenda for the women’s rights movement, and calls for voting rights for women.
- 1920: The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote, is signed into law. (72 years)
- To have this type of radical transformation, when people are left to their own devices, it can take years to even make a little bit of progress. To go from women having really no rights to being respected, productive members of society, this could only have occurred as a result of divine intervention.
- Earlier I brought some statistics regarding violence against women and how widespread that is, but it’s important to note that oppression of women can take many, many forms. It’s not always about violence.
- Article: “Children and the culture of pornography: ‘Boys will ask you every day until you say yes.”
- One girl said, sending pictures of your body parts is “the new flirting”.
- Oppression can be violence, it can be objectification, it can be taking away rights from women that men enjoy, etc.
- There are dozens, if not hundreds of factors that are at the root of this. They have to do with culture, psychological factors, biological factors, etc.
- Most societies have functioned as patriarchal (i.e., male-centric) societies. There are a number of reasons why this may be the case.
- One reason is that they are generally physically stronger than women.
- Another theory has to do when men typically being more aggressive.
- There have been experiments with multiple species where they removed the source of testosterone from the body, and aggression levels would plummet. And then they would reinstate normal testosterone levels, and the aggression would return.
- Another reason is that women have the ability to bear children, so this would have prevented some of them from being as involved in the community, having jobs, etc.
- People generally take what we know, and apply that to other things and that’s what shapes our understanding. So if your society is one where people feel like men are superior, they will apply that to other things. They will apply it to the divine word and say, “Islam says women can’t do this.”
- Another possible precondition for oppression of women: People are very social animals, and for most people if someone is given the choice of going along with the crowd or doing something sets them apart, they will choose the former, even if it’s a subconscious decision.
- Stanford prison experiment: Psychologist Phillip Zimbardo created a fake prison and got some volunteers (college students) to participate. He gave them each a role, so each person was either a prisoner or a prison guard. And he wanted to basically see what impact having those roles and being in that simulated environment would have on them. The experiment was supposed to last for 14 days, but they ended up having to stop it after only 6 days because of the behavior that the participants started to display. At first, they were joking and having fun, but very quickly they started to take on the roles they had been assigned. It got to the point where the prison guards became abusive and prisoners became emotionally destroyed. Years later, they showed signs of emotional distress (both prisoners and guards). This and similar studies have been used by psychologists and sociologists to make some sense of what happened with Nazi Germany and in similar instances of mass violence.
- That is what makes it hard when you see some kind of injustice going on, to stand up and say, “This is not right.” And then you have examples like the young girl in Afghanistan who did try to stand up and say, “Girls deserve an education.” And she was brutally attacked. So now people will be even more afraid to do that. So the cycle self-perpetuates.
- Despite all that, there are lots of things we can do.
- It’s important to stand up in whatever way you can. Whether that means you can your state representatives and express your support for women’s issues.
- If you see small injustices, try and say something.
- Seek knowledge.
If you see women who are in need of help, try to help.