One major, but not talked about, issue facing the Muslim community (Ummah) today is that Muslims, when confronted by non Muslims about the status of Muslim women, talk about the ideal. We wash our hands of the issues by saying, "That's culture, not Islam," and then proceed to lecture people about the (ideal) status of women in Islamic law. Educating non Muslims (and Muslims) about women's rights and responsibilities in Islam is an admirable thing. However, it does nothing to alleviate the real suffering of real women and girls in the Muslim world. It is time for us to stop turning a blind eye to their reality, and start doing something about it. After all, Allah commands us in His Qur'an to "stand out for justice, even if it is against yourselves." Below is a list of some of the issues facing Muslim women today.
The sanctity of her life is not respected. In some places in the Muslim world, the lives of women and girls are simply not considered as valuable as those of men and boys. For example, in some countries, women or teenage girls may be murdered by male relatives because of real or perceived sexual indiscretions on their part. While it is true that such so-called "honor killings" occur among people of all religions, and that they are not isolated to the Muslim world, the fact is that there are people who use Islam to justify these killings.
Her right to an education is not respected. Although the example of Afghanistan is famous, the fact of the matter is that in many places, especially in rural sub-cultures, the education of girls and women is seen as unnecessary, or even an evil thing (if she learns to write, she will write love notes to boys, so the "reasoning" goes). Our Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, commanded us, men and women alike, to seek knowledge. It is an obligatory action incumbent upon men and women alike. Fathers and husbands (along with mothers and wives) are obligated to ensure that girls and women are receiving adequate education.
Her sexuality is not protected. The sexual abuse of Muslim women and girls is our dirty little secret. Often times, the guilty party will murder the woman or girl to cover up his rape or molestation, rather than risk her talking. Women and girls who are sexually abused have little to no recourse, and no opportunities for counseling and healing. In other places, people may use Islam to justify the complete mutilation of her genitalia (as they use Christianity and animism to justify it in these same regions), thereby sentencing her to a life of repeated infections, impaired ability to walk and run, and excruciating pain when urinating, menstruating, having intercourse, and bearing children. Our religion teaches us that it is perfectly halal (permissible, acceptable) for a woman to experience sexual pleasure within the boundaries of marriage, just as it is for a man. To deny women their rights is to deny what Allah and His Messenger have made permissible.
She is not afforded equal protection under the law -- Islamic or otherwise. In two infamous cases in Nigeria, women involved in adultery cases were held to a lower burden of proof than the men who impregnated them. However, Islamic law does not distinguish between men and women when it comes to proving adultery or fornication. In Pakistan, it is not unusual for women to be jailed for fornication or adultery when they attempt to report and be treated for rape in hospitals. But there is nothing in Islamic law that says the victim of sexual violence should be treated as a criminal and jailed. Allah holds accountable those who transgress His boundaries, and having one standard for men and another for women in these matters is a transgression.
Her right to a life of dignity is violated. While the image of the wild-eyed Muslim husband who regularly beats his cowering wife is not accurate nor representative of the majority, the fact is that there are Muslim women suffering domestic violence. Sometimes, entire communities may be complicit in her suffering. (The Imam tells her to grin and bear it, so to speak). Many men misinterpret a passage in the Qur'an and believe this gives them license to humiliate and brutalize their wives. It is time for believing men and women to stand up and protect our sisters, while educating these brothers about the true Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, which was to be gentle with women, and never raise a hand to them in anger.
Her right to wear hijab, or Islamic dress, is not respected. While the Western media focuses on edicts and laws requiring Islamic dress in Iran and the Taliban's Afghanistan, they tend to ignore edicts and laws forbidding women to wear it in Turkey, parts of Tunisia, and other places. Women who wear the hijab in Turkey are forbidden to seek higher education, work as teachers in schools or other government agencies, or enter some public buildings. Women who have called upon their government to change this law have been imprisoned and charged with treason
A life lived with dignity. This means she is free from physical, sexual, emotional, and intellectual violence. This means that Muslims do not engage in selective abortion or female infanticide.
Her faith. This means that she is free to practice Islam without interference from her government or society.
An education. This means she is free to pursue an education from girlhood to death, without her society or government intervening and preventing her from it.
Protection under the law. This means that her rights are respected as the rights of men are respected, and that she is not penalized for sexual crimes committed against her.
Choose her own marriage partner. This means that, in accordance with Islamic law, she is free to accept or reject any suitor that approaches her and her family with an offer of marriage, without fear of physical or other retribution from that suitor or her family.
Her mahr, or dowry . This means that she receives what is agreed upon in the marriage contract, and that it is given solely to her, and not to her father or any other relative, male or female.
A divorce , as outlined under Islamic law.
Her hijab. This means she is free to pursue education, employment, testify in court, and travel without undue harassment from government or society to remove her hijab (Islamic dress). At the same time, we do not support the physical enforcement of hijab (beatings, etc).
Her inheritance. This means that she receives her full inheritance, as outlined under Islamic law, without fear of intimidation or theft from male family members.
Societal participation. This means she can testify in a court of law, file grievances with the authorities, work when she wants to, attend the masjid (mosque), shop in the marketplaces when she wants to, participate in local and national governments, protest those governments, and so on, her Islamic rights, as understood by the examples of our Pious Predecessors.
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