THE WISDOM FUND: Issues & Answers

Women in Islam

HRH, The Prince of Wales, Islam And The West
Islamic countries like Turkey, Egypt, and Syria gave women the vote as early as Europe did its women -- and much earlier than in Switzerland! In those countries women have long enjoyed equal pay, and the opportunity to play a full working role in their societies. The rights of Muslim women to property and inheritance, to some protection if divorced, and to the conducting of business, were rights prescribed by the Quran twelve hundred years ago, even if they were not everywhere translated into practice. In Britain at least, some of these rights were novel even to my grandmother's generation!
Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography Of The Prophet
Western critics often blame the Quran for its treatment of women, which they see as iniquitous, but in fact the emancipation of women was dear to the Prophet's heart. There are complaints that the Quran teaches a double standard: the laws of inheritance, for example, decree that a woman can inherit only half of what her brothers (who have to provide the mahl to start a new family) will receive. Again, women are allowed to be witnesses in law, but their witness is only half as valuable as that of a man. In the context of the twentieth century - when, we should remember, we are still campaigning for equal rights for women - this Quranic legislation does seem prohibitive. But in seventh-century Arabia it was revolutionary. We must remember what life had been like for women in the pre-Islamic period when female infanticide was the norm and when women had no rights at all. Like slaves, women were treated as an inferior species, who had no legal existence. In such a primitive world, the very idea that a woman could be a witness or could inherit anything in her own right was astonishing. We must recall that in Christian Europe, women had to wait until the nineteenth century before they had anything similar: even then, the law remained heavily weighted towards men. -- p. 191
Sir Abdullah Suhrawardy, The Sayings of Muhammad
Muhammad was content with his lot as a shepherd, but his uncle, Abu Talib, desired something better for him, and obtained him employment with a rich widow, Khadija, the daughter of Khuweilid, son of Asad, and thus Muhammad found himself at the age of 25 in charge of a caravan conveying merchandise to Syria. On Muhammad's return, Khadija was so pleased with his successful management of her business, and was so attracted by his nobility of character, reports about which she heard from her old servant who had accompanied him, that she sent her sister to offer the young man her hand. Muhammad had felt drawn to Khadija, and so matters were soon arranged and, though Khadija was by fifteen years his senior, their twenty-six years of married life were singularly happy.
Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Discovery of India
Among the unfortunate developments that took place in Inda was the growth of purdah or the seclusion of women. . . In India there had been previously some segregation of the sexes among the aristocracy, as in many other countries and notably in ancient Greece. Some such segregation existed in ancient Iran also and to some extent all over western Asia. . . Byzantine influence travelled to Russia where there was a fairly strict seclusion of women right up to Peter the Great's time. This had nothing to do with the Tartars who, it is well established, did not segregate their women-folk. The mixed Arab-Persian civilization was affected in many ways by Byzantine customs . . . there was no strict seclusion of women in Arabia or other parts of western or central Asia. The Afghans, who crowded into northern India after the capture of Delhi, had no strict purdah. Turkish and Afghan princesses and ladies of the court often went riding, hunting, and paying visits. It is an old Islamic custom, still to be observed, that women must keep their faces unveiled during the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. -- p. 242 - 243
Noor Inayat Khan: The Princess Who Became a Spy
This is the story of a young Indian Muslim woman who joined a secret organisation dedicated to acts of sabotage, subversion and terrorism across Europe. A fierce critic of British imperialism, she worked with passion and audacity to damage and disrupt the forces of law and order. Captured, she proved impenitent and uncontrollable. She died a horrific death in custody. And now, perhaps, is the right time to revisit the life of Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan, George Cross, Croix de Guerre with gold star, MBE: the British secret agent who was kicked into a "bloody mess" on the stone floors of Dachau concentration camp through the night of 13 September 1944, and then shot with the word "Liberte" on her lips. Hers, after all, is a remarkable chapter in the history of Muslims in Britain and the West. . . .

Indian heroine of Churchill's elite SOE spy network is to be recognised with a statue in London.

Lauren Booth, I'm Now a Muslim. Why All the Shock and Horror?
[Lauren Booth is the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.]

Finally, I felt what Muslims feel when they are in true prayer: a bolt of sweet harmony, a shudder of joy in which I was grateful for everything I have (my children) and secure in the certainty that I need nothing more (along with prayer) to be utterly content. I prayed in the Mesumeh shrine in Iran after ritually cleansing my forearms, face, head and feet with water. And nothing could be the same again. It was as simple as that.

Mary Walker, A World Where Womanhood Reigns Supreme
[Mary Walker was Production Coordinator on the BBC2 series "Living Islam". Article courtesy of Impact Magazine]

When I joined the team of "Living Islam" two years ago, my perception of Islam was dominated by prejudice and ignorance, and I found its treatment of women abhorrent. To me the veil symbolised the oppression of women, making them invisible, anonymous and voiceless, and the cause of this oppression lay in the will to perpetuate the family and maintain a patriarchal framework - the very basis of an Islamic Society. I thought women were entirely submerged by divine justification of their role as wife and mother. . .

"Living Islam" was filmed over two years in 19 different countries and on location I was a lone female in an otherwise male team. . .

The first Muslim woman I met in Mali was far removed from my preconception about the Muslim female. She was the wife of a Shaikh dedicated to converting pagan villagers to Islam. A sophisticated, well-educated woman, previously married to a diplomat, she had renounced a Western lifestyle for a life in purdah. . .

The emancipated woman in the West faces the conflict between confirmation of her femininity and the privileges that she associates with it, and repudiation of the confines of her female role and all the limitations that men want her to assume. From where I stood, this woman had transformed those limitations into priviliges. . .

On my next trip to northern Nigeria I met two more women who would alter my views even further. . . And once again they had rejected the Western lifestyle which I considered so superior to Islam in its treatment of women. . .

The women talked and in their answers I saw the seeds of my own re-evalutions. They argued that the veil signified their rejection of an unacceptable system of values which debased women while Islam elevated women to a position of honour and respect. "It is not liberation where you say women should go naked. It is just oppression, because men want to see them naked." Just as to us the veil represents Muslim oppression, to them miniskirts and plunging necklines represent oppression. They said that men are cheating women in the West. They let us believe we're liberated but enslave us to the male gaze. However much I insist on the right to choose what I wear, I cannot deny that the choice is often dictated by what will make my body more attractive to men. Women cannot separate their identity from their appearance and so we remain trapped in the traditional feminine world, where the rules are written by men.

By choosing to wear the veil, these women were making a conscious decision to define their role in society and their relationship with men. . .

So were my notions of oppression in the form of the veil disqualified? If my definition of equality was free will then I could no longer define that oppression as a symptom of Islam. The women had all excercised their right to choose. To some extent, they were freer than me - I had less control over my destiny. I could no longer point at them and say they were oppressed and I was not. My life was influenced by male approval as theirs - but the element of choice had been taken out of mine. Their situations and their arguments had, after all, served to highlight shortcomings in my view of my own liberty.

Make Me a Muslim
Yasmin Mogahed, A Woman's Reflection on Leading Prayer
What we so often forget is that God has honored the woman by giving her value in relation to God - not in relation to men. But as western feminism erases God from the scene, there is no standard left - but men. As a result the western feminist is forced to find her value in relation to a man. And in so doing she has accepted a faulty assumption. She has accepted that man is the standard, and thus a woman can never be a full human being until she becomes just like a man - the standard.
Steven R. Weisman, Saudi Women Have Message for U.S. Envoy
Many in this region say they resent the American assumption that, given the chance, everyone would live like Americans.
Yvonne Ridley, Articles of Faith
Yvonne Ridley was a hard-drinking, hard-nosed news reporter until her capture by the Taliban and subsequent conversion to Islam.
Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, 'I Am Both Muslim and Christian'
Redding, who until recently was director of faith formation at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, has been a priest for more than 20 years.
Mohja Kahf, Spare Me the Sermon On Muslim Women
Being a Muslim woman is a joyful thing. . . . Muslim women have been heads of state five times in Muslim-majority countries, elected democratically by popular vote (in Bangladesh twice and also in Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan). . . . how many times has a woman been president of the United States?
Joshua Holland, Is Islam Really Stuck in the 12th Century on Women's Rights?
. . . the United States has very little standing to criticize anyone else about the status of women. We rank 71st in the world in terms of the proportion of women serving in our legislature, with just 16 percent.
Adrianne Allison, The Forbidden Other
Written by a half-blood Jew raised Christian who converts to Islam in Israel, it chronicles visits to Jerusalem over fifteen years.
Naomi Wolfe, Behind the Veil Lives a Thriving Muslim Sexuality
It is not that Islam suppresses sexuality, but that it embodies a strongly developed sense of its appropriate channelling - toward marriage, the bonds that sustain family life, and the attachment that secures a home.
Sherif Abdel Azeem, Women In Islam Versus Women In The Judaeo-Christian Tradition
Why are there four female converts for every male convert to Islam in the US? This paper provides clues by examining the teachings of the three monotheistic faiths.
Souad Hakim, Ibn 'Arabi's Twofold Perception of Woman: Woman as Human Being and Cosmic Principle
It is astonishing that a colossal Islamic scholar, Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi (AH 560-638), who lived more than eight centuries ago, should have declared that woman and man are absolutely equal in terms of human potentiality.
The Bible: King James Version
Excerpts on "woman" and "women".



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