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Today, society’s most prominent ills are frequently attributed to Islam. Islam’s own view is then dismissed. Given the daily misfortunes we witness, the urge to have a catch-all blame name is understandable. However, that does not mitigate the absurdity of this practice.
Indonesian Muslim women attend a special prayer for the victims of AirAsia Flight 8501 at Al Akbar Mosque in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. More ships arrived Friday with sensitive equipment to hunt for the fuselage of the flight and the more than 145 people still missing since it crashed into the sea five days ago. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara).
Gender discrimination is one of the most overwhelming and ill-founded allegations used to discredit Islam. Yet gender discrimination does not actually exist in Islam — I know, bold claim. To prove this, below are five popular myths (gathered from Facebook, my informal pollster) which perpetuate this gross stereotype. Each will be addressed in turn, with reference to evidence-based analysis.
The purpose of this article is not to enforce any ideology. Rather, it is to correct entrenched misconceptions by use of objective fact.
Myth 1: “Islam practices FGM (Female Genital Mutilation).”
There is no evidence to corroborate this from within Islam or otherwise.
According to UNICEF, Ethiopia and Nigeria total 43.7 million out of 125 million FGM cases in the 29 countries studied. That is two of the oldest Christian states already counting for 35% of victims.
FGM is evidently rooted in central African culture. It is a regional practice, not a religious one.
Myth 2: “Muslim women are not allowed to receive an education. Muslims are taught against Science.”
Islam specifically encourages education and the pursuit of knowledge — be it in research or study.
“[20:114] … And say: My Lord increase me in knowledge.”
Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 74: “Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim.”
The word “Muslim” is inclusive of both men and women.
In fact, this notion of education is so strong in Islam that Muslims are required to question the Quran itself:
“[38:29] … (They) may ponder over its Verses, and that those of understanding would be reminded.”
This is not lost in practice. Fatima al-Fihri, a Muslim woman in the 9th century, was responsible for establishing the world’s very first University (in existence to this day as the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fes, Morocco).
Myth 3: “A wife at home has no right to any property, financial security, or to work; if she asks for a divorce, she must return her dowry and has no rights.”
The earliest notion of women owning property in Europe were laws passed in the 1860s onward known as the “Married Women Property Acts.” French women had to wait until 1938 to be able to enter a contract.
1,300 years before that, Islam clarified a woman’s right to own property, work, and further material entitlements for the sake of independence.
Islam respects a woman’s right to financial security. Women are entitled to a limitless personal dowry upon marriage (“gift”), irrevocable in divorce or disagreement. This is in contrast to many Asian cultures where men receive the dowry.
A woman also has the right to keep her last name, property she owned prior to marriage, and any income earned during marriage. Her property is recognised as hers alone rather than “for the household” or “for the man.”
If a divorcee has children, she is entitled to child support. Islam is aware of the bitterness which can accompany divorce and preempts it:
“[2:231] When you divorce women, and they reach their prescribed term, then retain them in kindness and retain them not for injury so that you transgress (the limits) …”
Therefore, instead of a religion which oppresses women in material matters, Islam seeks to safeguard and empower them.
Myth 4: “Women are overlooked — they have no say nor importance in Islam. If they dare to interject, they will be criminalised.”
No other major religion ordains a female as an authority used to cite religious virtues. Much less, a figurehead who exerted influence on men and women, while residing over them in politics, society, and inspiration.
The Prophet’s first wife Khadijah (twice widowed before) was a businesswoman, one of the wealthiest in Arabia. Khadijah (RA) was the first woman to accept Islam.
To disregard a woman in Islam, is to disregard the consideration given to them through Islam. Even 1,400 years ago, there were women outstanding above their male peers. To say women should not “dare to interject”, when 1.5 billion Muslims across the world look to a woman’s work in guidance of their faith, is neither logical nor sane.
Myth 5: “Showing disrespect to a woman is fine — a man’s status is higher than her.”
The Quran explicitly refutes this countless times.
“[3:195] Their Lord responded to them: “I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female — you are equal to one another.”
“[4:124] As for those who lead a righteous life, male or female, while believing, they enter Paradise; without the slightest injustice.”
“[49:13] O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another.”
At a time when equal rights between tribes was unthinkable, let alone between men and women, the Quran would constantly reinforce this notion of equality
The global attitude towards women at this time was disastrous. The West held councils to decide whether women had “souls” and regarded them as objects to be bought and sold. Practically the same situation encompassed Arabia.
Considering this, for a religion to envisage that a mother has “Paradise beneath her feet” was radical in its justice. Let alone that “Daughters are a blessing: they are kind, helpful, good companions, blessed, and like cleanliness,” or to teach that men must “Dwell with their wives in kindness for even if you hate them, you might be hating someone in whom God has placed so much good,” is progressive to say the least, and revolutionary in all fairness.
Far from a man’s status being higher than that of a woman, Islam goes as far as entitling women to natural protection should they require it.
Islam recognises the differing physiology of both sexes and puts a duty on men to spend their wealth in favour of the woman (from the Quran’s reference to “a degree above them“). Women are also given breaks from prayer, fasting, and other religious obligations depending on their necessity.
Islam not only perpetuates an unequivocal equality, but also acknowledges those inherent scientific differences and addresses them with justice, kindness, and responsibility. Yes, a religion which actually takes science into account when dealing with people.
This is a religion which unleashed tolerance and equality at a time where girls were being buried alive simply for their gender. Islam questioned this “… When the infant girl, buried alive, is asked for what crime she was slain?”
A time when slavery was an accepted reality, Islam evoked the freeing of a slave among the best actions a human could take.
It is worth contrasting this religion which enacted a woman’s right to participate in government, own property, an education, child support, welfare, financial earnings, professional development, capacity for individuality, and human rights 1,400 years ago, with those that label it a beacon of gender discrimination.
Critics label Islam a religion “of the Middle Ages” — yet the aforementioned simple extracts from this “medieval” faith show an ideology timeless in its righteousness, be it the Middle Ages or the Renaissance.
For instance, progress towards women’s rights in Britain had to wait until the Suffragettes; even to this day there is a disparity in those rights. Wage inequality for example, is still an issue in Europe and the US. Islam on the other hand institutionalised gender equality upon its inception — in far worse circumstances.
Whether that has been correctly implemented by self-proclaimed “Shari’a states” is a different debate entirely, however, reference to primary sources ascertains the real value regarded to women in Islam.
Islam eradicated any “acceptable” inequality more than a thousand years ago. While world religions squabbled over vilifying women for “the Original Sin,” Islam stepped in and said both man and woman were responsible, they were both forgiven, and they are both equal.
Author: Rabah JTL