Women Under Islam

 

When starting my research on the treatment of women under Islam, I was surprised by the fact that various search engines were giving me significantly more hits for articles justifying Islam's treatment of women than criticizing it.  No, "justifying" isn't the right word.  These articles are saying that Islam's treatment of women is just great.  So in the interest of fairness, we will begin by presenting some of what Muslims themselves say about their treatment of women.

 

What Islamic websites have to say about Islam's treatment of women:

First note that when I use the term "Islamic," it is not meant as a pejorative; it simply means written by or on behalf of Muslims.  I will provide some links below, but the following quotes will give you a flavor of what these Islamic websites have to say on the subject. 

 

  • "Oppressed, inferior, and unequal – for many people, these are the first words that come to mind when thinking about women in Islam. These stereotypes confuse Islam with cultural practices and fail to recognize that Islam has empowered women with the most progressive rights since the 7th century. In Islam, women are not inferior or unequal to men."

  • "Islam raised the level of women, they were no longer chattels being passed from father to husband.  They became equal to men, with rights and responsibilities that take into account the nature of humankind."

  • "A woman is to be treated as God has endowed her, with rights, such as to be treated as an individual, with the right to own and dispose of her own property and earnings, enter into contracts, even after marriage. She has the right to be educated and to work outside the home if she so chooses. She has the right to inherit from her father, mother, and husband. A very interesting point to note is that in Islam, unlike any other religion, a woman can be an imam, a leader of communal prayer, for a group of women."

 

If you are scratching your head, wondering how some of these claims can be made, you are not alone.  When reading an Islamic website, some of what is stated - possibly even much - is factual.  But you simply cannot accept everything that is said at face value.  Please consider the following when visiting Islamic websites.

 

The first is that the sin of omission is typical.  For example, women have the right to inherit - true.  But a daughter may only inherit half of what a son inherits.  Does this sound "equal?"

 

Next is what I will call misdirection.  The first quote blames some of the bad press Islam gets on "cultural practices" rather than Islam itself.  Why, after many, many centuries, has Islam been unable to change these cultural practices?  There were many barbaric cultural practices in societies that converted to Christianity and those practices were discarded.  Why has Islam been unable to do the same, unless Islam tacitly supports or condones such practices?  And then there is "with rights and responsibilities that take into account the nature of humankind."  What this actually means is the men and women do NOT have the same rights; their rights are different based on the "nature of humankind."

 

Finally, there is taqiyya.  One of the Islamic sites prefaces its comments on Islam's treatment of women by saying "please be aware that we as Muslims, must never lie about anything, especially our religion."  Please be aware that this is not true.  Muslims are permitted to practice taqiyya.  "There are several forms of lying to non-believers that are permitted under certain circumstances, the best known being taqiyya. These circumstances are typically those that advance the cause of Islam - in some cases by gaining the trust of non-believers in order to draw out their vulnerability and defeat them." (from What Makes Islam so Different).  Lying about Islam's treatment of women to non-believers certainly advances the cause of Islam.

Islamic Websites - Women Under Islam

 

So with these considerations in mind, here are some Islamic websites which cover the topic of Women Under Islam.  Note that most of these websites cover much more information about Islam than just that concerning women.  I am linking to the women related pages rather than the home pages.

 

  • islamtomorrow.com - Note that there are many additional pages concerning women.  Links to those pages are at the bottom of the entry page.

  • whyislam.org - The linked article is full of what I called "misdirection" above.

  • Islam's Women: Jewels of Islam - This is a beautifully done website that is devoted solely to the subject of women and Islam.  Beauty and professionalism aside, the cautions mentioned above all still apply.

  • Does Islam Oppress Women?  An article from islamreligion.com. Many good things for women are claimed on behalf of Islam, yet I feel like I am reading about all the "rights" proclaimed in the Soviet "Constitution."

Muslim women are to dress "modestly," with just how modestly being subject to interpretion and varying significantly from country to country.  Click on image for expanded view.

hajib2.jpg  from: http://www.withloveleena.com/my-hijab-story-and-advice/

Most non-Muslims to not have a problem with the hijab, either as a headscarf only or an entire outfit.  The hajib must cover the hair and the ears.

The niqab would be totally out of bounds in the West, although some Muslim women do wear it in Europe.

The burka is the most extreme outfit.  Note that from a legal perspective, both the burka and the niqab should qualify as "masks."  Many states and localities in the USA have ordinances against masks which conceal one's identity.  But there is much debate over the pros and cons of such ordinances - public safety vs. freedom of expression.

The Reality: Women Under Islam

Equality of Men and Women Under Islam

 

On Islamic websites I keep reading that under Islam, women and men are equal.  I'll only list a few examples, but variations on these themes are repeated over and over.

 

  • "Spiritual equality, responsibility and accountability for both men and women is a well-developed theme in the Quran. Spiritual equality between men and women in the sight of God is not limited to purely spiritual, religious issues, but is the basis for equality in all temporal aspects of human endeavor." (from Muslim Women's League)

  • "In the Quran God makes it very clear that men and women are equal." (from Welcome to Submission (Islam))

  • "Dear brothers, women in Islam are equal to men in so many aspects:" (from Islam is Human Happiness in this Era)

 

 

Quibbling over the definition of "equality" is very popular as well.  I am perfectly happy to concede that according to some Muslim definition of "equal," men and women are equal.  The problem is that the Muslim definition in no way resembles the Western definition.

  • "Equality obviously may mean different things for Muslim women versus Western women, and even within the Muslim community Muslim women may differ in their respective personal views about what it means to be equal to men." (from Everything Islam)

  • "Yes women and men are both EQUAL! But, they are NOT the SAME!"  This website goes on to note what "not the same" means, my favorite being "Scientific and specialized studies have shown that men’s minds are more perfect than those of women, and reality and experience bear witness to that."  (from Quora)

  • "According to Islam women are not considered inferior to men. Men and women have similar rights and in some areas women actually enjoy certain privileges that the men do not. In terms of property, marriage and divorce women have been given rights and in fact at each turn they have been considered and provided for as appropriate. It is true to say that Islam gave women rights which are unparalleled in the history of women." (from Islamic FAQ)

 

Now for some facts (and there are many more).  Note that the level of enforcement of these rules and laws can vary a lot:

  • A daughter may only inherit half of what a son inherits.

  • A woman's testimony in court has half the worth of a man's.  In some interpretations of Sharia, a woman's testimony in a criminal case is worthless.

  • A woman may have only one husband, a man may have up to four wives.

  • A man is permitted to beat his wife for a variety of offenses, including "insubordination."

  • A woman cannot answer the door at home if a husband is not there.

  • Women should stay in their houses and not travel without permission of husband/fathers.

  • The testimony of four male witnesses is required to prove a charge of rape, while a woman who has been raped cannot testify in court against the accused.

  • A man may divorce at any time for any reason; a woman must have the consent of her husband to divorce.

  • "Honor killings target women whose actions – actual or suspected – violate the honor of their family, an honor which is thought to depend on the sexual purity of its female members."  (from Islam Watch).  I wish to make clear here that neither the Quran nor the Hadith specifically condone honor killings, and some argue that they are cultural rather than religious.  However, well over 90% of honor killings worldwide involve Muslims, and while typically illegal, the authorities often turn a blind eye to them.

  • Saudi Arabia has some of the strictest restrictions on women.  Some of these apply in some other Muslim countries, but they are far from universal.  Regarding women in Saudi Arabia, "they can't vote, they can't hold jobs where they might be over men, they can't drive, they can't travel without male escorts, they are low-status persons for purposes of inheritance, suits in court; their clothing is restricted to shapeless garments and they remain their whole lives under the control of some male relative, be it father, brother, husband or son." (from answers.com)

  • In most Muslim majority countries, modesty rules for women are mandatory.  However, the degree of modesty required varies.

Treatment of Women Under Islam

 

When it comes to Women Under Islam, it isn't just a matter of laws, regulations and rules.  It is a matter of how women are treated by their fellow Muslims.

This picture represents a rather good overall summary of how women are treated in the Muslim world.  While not universal, it is far too common. 

Do you remember this magazine cover?  Read the accompanying story at Doctor Bulldog & Ronin: The abused women of Islam; a shocking story heard every day

 

Physical abuse of women under Islam is far more common than admitted by authorities.  See notes on "honor killings" in the Left-hand column.

 

Please note that while I am avoiding displaying some of the more extreme images of Muslim abuse of women, some sites I link to may not.  Caution is advised for the sensitive.

There are many websites and articles documenting the abuse of women under Islam.  For starters, read The Treatment of Women in Islam from the excellent website Sharia Unveiled

(new) Then there is FGM - Female Genital Mutilation.  This is neither unique to Islam nor universal within Islam.  But it is significantly correlated with Islam.  It is estimated that as many as 200,000,000 have undergone this procedure.  Suffice it to say that the US media has tended to downplay the connection to Islam.

For details: U.S. Media 'Spinning Lies' About Female Genital Mutilation.  

How about some first-hand testimony from women who have lived under Islam.  Nothing presented here so far can really give you a sense of just how bad it is.

More articles of interest:

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