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Women In Islam:beyond Stereotypes

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What comes
to your mind when you think of a Muslim woman? A mysterious, veiled victim of
male oppression, awaiting Western liberation? A slogan-shouting terrorist? An
uneducated foreigner with whom you have little or nothing in common? Unless
your social circle includes Muslim friends and acquaintances, the chances are
that your impressions of Muslim women have largely been formed by negative
media stereotypes - images that usually have little to do with real life, and
may have been designed to attract more viewers, sell more products, or gain
support for someone's political agenda.
 

How much
do you really know about Muslim women's lives or views, and why does it matter?
Well, for one thing, Muslims account for 20-25% of the people on this planet,
and Islam has become the second main religion in Europe. But did you know that
the majority of European and American converts to Islam are women - not men?
Would it surprise you to learn that many women in the Muslim world feel sorry
for Western women and view them as being victimised? Have you ever stopped to
consider why Muslim women who immigrate to the West usually maintain their
identity and strive to pass it on to their children? A thinking person may well
ask, if Islam is as oppressive to women as some journalists would have us
believe, why aren't Muslim women running away in droves? What it is about Islam
that attracts any followers outside its heartlands?


 

In this
brochure we aim to look beyond sensationalistic or alarmist stories to take a
glimpse at what Islam has to offer educated women in today's world, and
understand why so many (men and) women of every race, colour, and social class
have made Islam their choice. The truth, like real life, is beyond propaganda
and stereotypes.


 

The 
Islamic view of women



First of all, women are portrayed positively in the Qur'an and the Hadith
(sayings of the Prophet Muhammad). The Qur'an is the only book of world
Scripture in which women are frequently referred to alongside men, and both are
described as being friends and partners in faith. The following verses are just
a few notable examples:


 

The
believers, men and women, are protecting friends one of another; they promote
the right and forbid the wrong, establish prayer, pay the poor-due, and they
obey God and His messenger. As for these, God will have mercy on them. Surely
God is Mighty, Wise. God has promised to believers, men and women, gardens
under which rivers flow, to dwell therein, and beautiful mansions in gardens of
everlasting bliss. But the greatest bliss is the good pleasure of God: that is
the supreme felicity. (Qur'an 9:71-72)

 

Surely for
men who surrender to God, and women who surrender

and men who believe and women who believe;

and men who obey and women who obey;

and men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth;

and men who persevere (in righteousness)

and women who persevere;

and men who are humble and women who are humble;

and men who give alms and women who give alms;

and men who fast and women who fast;

and men who guard their modesty and women who guard

(their modesty);and men who remember Allah much and women who remember - Allah
has prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward. (Qur'an 33:35)


 

There is
no question in Islam of men and women being at odds with one another, engaged
in some kind of historical struggle for power. Rather, the roles of both are
complementary and essential. The Qur'an states:


 

O mankind!
Be mindful of your duty to your Lord, Who created you from a single being, and
from it created its mate, and from the two of them has scattered countless men
and women (throughout the earth). Fear God, in Whose (Name) you demand your
rights of one another, and (be mindful of your duty) towards the wombs that
bore you. God is ever Watching over you. (Qur'an 4:1)

 

Do not
long for the favours by which God has made some of you excel others. Men shall
have a share of what they have earned, and women shall have a share of what
they have earned. (Do not envy each other) but ask God to give you of His
bounty. God has knowledge of all things. (Qur'an 4:31-32)

 

The
Prophet Muhammad augmented the revelations he received with further teachings
and his wonderful personal example, which made him beloved by family and
followers alike. He forbade violence against women, and preached against all
forms of abuse of power. He warned that both men and women would be held
accountable by God for those in their care or under their authority, and said:
 

Let no
Muslim man entertain any bad feeling against a Muslim woman. If he should
dislike one quality in her, he will find another that is pleasing.
 

The best
of believers are those who are best to their wives and families.

 

The 
position of women in other religions



While these teachings may not seem very remarkable today, they were
revolutionary at the time they were revealed, for Arabs and non-Arabs alike.
While Muslim sons were being taught that Paradise lay at their mothers' feet,
women in Confucian China were told to obey their fathers, then their husbands,
and finally their sons after their husbands' death. Hindu women were declared
to be unfit for independence, inherently weak, easily misled, sinful and
unintelligent. In Buddhism, women were said to be the personification of evil.
At the time, Jews and Christians believed women to be responsible for the downfall
of the human race, and considered menstruation and childbirth to be the
consequences of a Divine curse. One thousand years after Muhammad, in 1586,
French Catholics were still debating whether or not women possessed souls!
English Christians burned millions of women alive on the mere suspicion that
they were witches. Married women in Europe did not gain the right to own
property, obtain a divorce or enter into their own contracts until the 19th
century. Not surprisingly, women who found such teachings unreasonable rebelled
against them and fought for better treatment. Whereas other women have often
had to pit themselves against the authority of a male priesthood, in Islam the
dynamics of social change have been quite different.

 

Muhammad 
was greatly concerned with women's rights




The Prophet Muhammad was an extremely successful social reformer as well as
spiritual and political leader, who championed the rights of the weak and
oppressed. The Qur'anic verses referring to women had the effect of vastly
improving the status and rights of women at the time they were revealed. Muslim
women were granted the right to own, inherit and dispose of their own property
as they saw fit; reject forced marriages; keep their own names and identities
after marriage; initiate divorce; and obtain an education - back in the 7th
century. In contrast to the dismal situation affecting many women in developing
countries today, early Muslim women were noted for their learning and
accomplishments. The Prophet declared, 'To seek knowledge is an obligation on
every Muslim, male and female,' and his own wife Aisha was responsible for
transmitting thousands of his sayings to later generations. Aisha was also
renowned for her knowledge of poetry, medicine, and Islamic law, as well as her
personal qualities of character and intelligence. When she led a battle after
the Prophet's death, no one objected on the grounds that she was a woman. Many
Muslim women in the medieval period enjoyed positions of respect as scholars
and religious authorities. Therefore, Muslims seeking to improve the position
of women in society have usually focused their efforts on getting men (and
women) to practice Islam, rather than trying to 'reform' it, as happened with
other religions. The main obstacles to Muslim women achieving the rights
guaranteed to them, then and now, have been persistent un-Islamic cultural
traditions (usually dating to the period before people accepted Islam in a
given locality), inadequate religious education, and the bad side of human
nature.


 

Women's 
roles, rights and obligations


 

Spiritual
status

As shown in the Qur'anic verses above, women are considered to be the spiritual
equals of men, and they have the same religious duties. This is all the more
important when we consider that the main goal of a Muslim is to serve God, and
that this world is regarded as no more than a testing-grounds to prepare
oneself for eternal life after death. Therefore, worldly accomplishments, fame,
wealth and power simply do not have the same attraction for a Muslim, whose
main focus is on the Next World. The Qur'an repeatedly draws our attention to
the fact that the time we spend in this world is short and unpredictable, and
what really counts is our character, how we treat others, and what we do with
the blessings God has given us. In this context, home and family are of
paramount importance, since stable families are essential to the rearing of
well-adjusted children who will transmit their faith and values to the next
generation. According to a well-known Arab proverb, 'The mother is a school.'

 

Social 
roles



Islam supports the traditional division of labour whereby women assume the main
responsibility for home while men are responsible for their financial support,
but with an important difference: motherhood and homemaking, like a Muslim's
inner life, are not considered to be less important or rewarding than a
professional career. Indeed, motherhood is one of the most important
professions, and competent mothers who can successfully run a warm and
welcoming home, and raise a family of happy, confident and well-disciplined
children are becoming increasingly harder to find. Muslim wives and mothers are
granted the respect due to all women for the struggles and sacrifices they make
for the sake of their families. Furthermore, Muslims consider it unfair to
burden women with both the physical and emotional demands of motherhood and the
professional demands of the workplace, which end up exhausting so many women
and destroying family life for the sake of economic gain. Muslims often express
sympathy for women in the West, who often suffer from sexual exploitation and
abuse at home and in the workplace, while being unappreciated in their
traditional roles. Western women who seek to be respected must often dress and
behave like men, and are expected in practise to neglect their children's needs
for the sake of their careers. In Islam, femininity is appreciated, and Muslim
women may seek a higher education, work outside the home or volunteer their
services to benefit the community as long as their primary responsibilities are
taken care of. Any money that a Muslim woman earns is her own, to spend as she
likes; men remain solely responsible for maintaining the family.


 

Islamic 
marriage



Although Muslim parents traditionally play an important role in arranging
introductions and helping to choose marriage partners for their children, both
husband and wife must freely agree to the marriage. The Prophet granted girls
who had been forced into marriages against their will the right to have their
marriages annulled.


 

The
relationship between husband and wife in Islam is an interdependent one, based
on love and tranquillity. The Qur'an says,

 

And of His
signs is this: He created spouses for you from among yourselves that you might
find comfort in them, and He put between you love and mercy. Surely there are
signs in that for people who reflect. (Qur'an 30:21)


 

Both
parents should strive to establish a stable, loving home and partnership. Major
family decision-making should be through consultation and discussion. As the
provider, the husband is expected to take the lead, as he is accountable to God
for his care of the family. If no agreement can be reached, the wife should be
supportive as long as her husband does not ask her to do anything that contravenes
religious law. This works well as long as each spouse behaves maturely and
treats the other with respect, kindness and consideration.


 

Codes 
of behaviour for women and men



In order to safeguard the moral integrity of family and society, Muslim men and
women are expected to observe certain guidelines of behaviour that Westerners
may find restrictive. Both sexes are expected to dress modestly in loose,
non-transparent clothing and avoid situations that would put them alone with
members of the opposite sex, or lead to temptation or misunderstandings. Muslim
women additionally cover their hair, since women are ordinarily considered to
be the more attractive of the sexes. These restrictions are not observed at
home among close family members, but serve to protect women's honour in public
and draw attention to their personal qualities rather than their looks. In
Islam, the sexual urge is considered to be natural and desirable as long as it
is confined to expression within marriage. However, Muslims are saddened by the
rise in the vulgar exploitation of women and the human body for marketing
purposes and pornography, which inevitably result in a cheapening of sexuality
and the undermining of family and spiritual life.

 

Islam's  appeal to today's woman


For women who enjoy being women and appreciate the differences (as well as the
common ground) between the sexes, who would prefer to be respected for their
intelligence and character rather than being chased after for their looks, and
who would like to pursue personal and spiritual fulfilment at a human pace
without having to neglect their families, Islam is a very appealing
alternative.
 


few words about polygamy…



Many people are aware that Muslim men are permitted to marry more than one
wife. What is not generally known is that strict conditions of equal treatment
in terms of time and money are imposed on men who do, or that women may
stipulate in their marriage contracts that they have the right to divorce if
their husbands take another wife.
 

wamy

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