The status of the Moslem woman has been a controversial and serious subject of our time, not only among fundamentalist Muslims, but also among those who represent them in the circles of Women’s right in the Islam world. From the outlook, it may seem that Muslim women are oppressed and denied in their rights. In fact, the media as well as western women portray the stereotypical Muslim woman as being fully dominated and covered by the man, with the belittled status of a slave. However, it should not come as a surprise that for over 14 decades, the Muslim woman has been enjoying rights that western women as well as women from other religions only dream of.
Contrary to popular belief that many Muslim women are being mistreated by their men, Allah, through the Holy Qur’an makes it clear that men and women are equal because he created them equally. It is written that “he has created you from a single being, then of the same kind made its mate” (Farooqi 12). This succinct verse from the Qur’an removes the taint of inferiority that has been leveled upon Muslim women throughout the world. As a matter of fact, even the Holy Prophet practiced and carried out this command by treating women with dignity, great honor and kindness. This equality in individuality is practiced in the present-day Islam community where women are allowed to keep their names and those of their families upon marriage. Ahmed (100) argues that contrary to the western women, the family name of a Muslim woman does not fade or blend into the identity of the husband.
A Muslim woman has the right to choose her husband before marriage. The Islamic law is very clear and strict about the necessity of having a woman’s consent before marriage. The man has to give a dowry to the woman for her own use. As a wife, the Muslim woman has the right of being supported by her husband regardless of her financial status or background. Moreover, she has the right to ask for a divorce and have custody of her children. Muslim women can inherit from their mothers, fathers and husbands. A very noteworthy point about the Muslim woman is that unlike most religions, Muslim women can serve as Imams (communal prayer leaders for women groups).
With regards to education, the Muslim woman has the same obligations and rights as those of men. Even the Holy Prophet made this clear when he said that it is mandatory for every believer to seek knowledge. As a matter of fact, many historic education institutions were founded by women. For example, the University of Al Karaouine was founded by Fatima al-Fihri in 859CE. Additionally, about 126 madrasahs and Mosques were established during the Ayyubid dynasty of the 12th and 13th century, 26 of which were founded by women through the charitable trust. Also, several prominent scholars in the Muslim world are women (Ahmed 133). They include Fatima Mernissi, Azizah al-Hibri, Riffat Hassan, Amina Wadud and Merryl Wyn Davies. These women have helped improve the status of their fellow Muslim women through their frequent questioning of the gender-bases interpretation of the Holy Qur’an.
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Awde (104) posits that Muslin women have also been treated very nicely in the political arena. This can be attributed to the fact that many Muslim nations such as Turkey, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have had women presidents. On the same note, several women have been appointed as qadis or Sharia judges, although, this role was specifically meant for the men. The Palestinian authority, Malaysia, and West Bank have each appointed to women as qadis. This discourse has revealed that Muslim women are not only treated well, but they are also respected. This is contrary to popular belief that they are oppressed and disrespected.
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