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MUSLIM SISTERS
15-tips for brothers talking about "Women in Islam".

By Abdul Malik Mujahid

Whether it's Muslim scholars, Imams, brothers at the Muslim Students' Association (MSA), or the average Jameel on the street, Muslim men also have to deal with the stereotypes and misperceptions about women in Islam.  Muslims are asked about women in Islam almost as much as terrorism.

Sadly, a number of brothers make the problem worse without realizing it. This is rarely, if ever, done intentionally. Here are some suggested tips for brothers when talking about the issue of women in Islam.

1. Let the sisters speak
No matter how well-spoken, eloquent or intelligent a brother is, the bottom line is this: he is not a woman.

When a Muslim woman speaks she demolishes stereotype after stereotype for our community. I remember when some sisters attended the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008; people were simply lost to see how articulate they were. They could not believe that Muslim women were lawyers and managers with MBAs.  Similarly among the feedback we’ve received from listeners to RadioIslam were many who were pleasantly surprised to hear Muslim women hosting the shows so well.

No matter how much you, as a Muslim man, tell a non-Muslim woman how wonderful hijab is, it will be harder for her to accept this--because you have never worn Hijab and you are not a woman.

Make an effort to have sisters be the spokesperson to speak and to answer questions pertaining to Islam in general-- not just about women in Islam.

2. Be careful of mixing up the ideal with the reality
One non-Muslim writer once remarked how when talking to Muslims about Islam compared to the West, Muslims take the ideal of Islam and compare it to the reality of the West.

The fact of the matter is there are very ugly realities when it comes to the treatment of women in many parts of the world, including the Muslim world. For example women are not allowed to drive in Saudi cities. Muslims must also recognize the reality of domestic violence in the community, even though Islamic ideals would never condone such ugly behavior.

3. Don't sacrifice speaking out against injustice in the name of protecting Islam's "image"
"Tackle the issue and the image will take care of itself," advises Sr. Kathy Bullock. Don't fall into the tendency to ignore pressing issues for the sake of protecting Islam's reputation.

In other words, if someone brings up the issue of honor killings in Jordan, acknowledge the reality but make it clear that this is a sin and a crime in Islam and as a Muslim you condemn it. This in itself is enough. Trying to justify or make excuses for it or covering it up is not going to score image points for Islam. 

4. Don't respond to unspoken accusations
A number of times, Muslims automatically start an apologetic tirade defending the status of women in Islam before a person has even said a word. Let the other person initiate questions, then answer calmly and confidently. You may be responding to an accusation that was never even in the person's mind in the first place.

5. Ask WHY
Do this before launching an apologetic tirade against any accusation. For instance, a man in Spain once approached a scholar, saying he felt Islam was a man's religion. Before rebutting him, the scholar asked him why he thought this way. The man replied that whenever he looked at mosques, he saw only men.

By knowing why, you can develop your answer accordingly, and tackle the issue head-on in an honest and direct way.

6. Agree with people as much as possible
Start off agreeing with a person. It will completely turn the tables on the discussion, as many people begin discussions on women in Islam assuming Muslims are completely against the notion of women's rights.

7. If you don't know something SAY SO
If a person tells you they're from a country you've never heard of where Muslim women are treated in a horrible fashion, what can you say about it?

‘I have never heard of that, and I don't know,’ are simple enough answers. Don't start apologizing, or denying that it happens. Tell the truth.

8. Don't be condescending
In Islam, looking down on a fellow human being is a sin, whether the person is a male or a female. Don't think you know all there is to know about women in Islam, and don't speak in this manner either. Allah does not love arrogance, and only Allah has full knowledge of all things.

9. Don't interrupt
This is a problem in a number of cultures, men interrupting women and men when they speak. Not only is this rude behavior, it takes away from your message. People are less likely to listen to you if you come across as a rude and boorish individual. Don't do this to others, especially sisters.

10. Don't assume all Muslim sisters are the same
Just because your mom has never had a problem with hijab does not mean that other Muslim sisters have the same experience.

Muslim sisters are as different as brothers, as are their experiences with issues like hijab.

11. Become more attuned to the "new Muslim woman"
Muslim sisters today are not the same as those of yesterday. Many Muslims sisters know more, and they prefer more interactive lectures as opposed to the passive style normally used. If you're giving a talk, be ready to have interjections from Muslim sisters. Welcome these, don't shun them.

12. Choose your words very carefully
If you're doing a presentation on women's issues in Islam or responding to a basic question, make sure to choose your words extremely carefully. Know the exact dictionary meaning, as well as the meaning in everyday usage. Words are extremely powerful, and they leave an imprint on the hearts and minds of people. You want that imprint to be positive, so be careful.

13. Actions speak louder than words
You can speak beautifully about women in Islam on behalf of the Muslim Students' Association (MSA).  But if throughout the year, sisters have been denied access to the prayer room, or the right to participate in decision-making in the MSA, then think of how silly your talk is. Make sure your personal and organizational behavior falls in line with your words.

14. Don't stereotype all Western women
"Table dancers" or "cheerleaders" is how one Muslim sister described the way Muslims tend to stereotype all Western women. Let's not forget: we hate it when Muslim women are stereotyped as oppressed, so we should not be doing the same to others.

And lest we forget, a growing number of Western women are becoming our Muslim sisters, and very practicing ones at that.

15. Seek women's perspective on issues
You know mom, who loves you so much and makes your dinner? She's a woman. Your sister in school? She's a woman. If you're blessed to be surrounded by practicing Muslim sisters in your home, take advantage of this by seeking their views on issues: Islamophobia, domestic violence, community participation, and media stereotypes. There's nothing like hearing the truth presented from those who truly live it.

 

GENDER EQUITY IN ISALM & SISTERS IN THE USA:
Gender Equity in Islam: By Dr. Jamal Badawi
19 things Muslim women can do for Islam in America
18 things sisters can do for the local Islamic Center
A brothers' guide about "Women in Islam"
A look at how we deal with the issue of Women in Islam
Debate: Women In Islam: Aminah Assilmi vs. Scroggins
Buy the Book: Gender Equity in Islam
Discuss: Women in Islam



Your Comments

Rashida, Minneapolis - wrote on 7/16/2010 4:17:17 PM
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Comment: Another thing to be aware of: I've heard Muslim men (from other cultures mainly) talking about women's value primarily in terms of the home and motherhood. It's important to take care in how you talk about women. These roles deserve honor, but when a man only mentions these things, to an American woman, they are likely to sound like things that are valued because they are things that women do that benefit MEN. ("We like women because we can get them to do things for us.") It's important to avoid implying that women's entire value comes from serving men and reinforce the stereotype that this is how Muslim men think of women(it's also important not to BELIEVE this!) If you reduce the conversation to these aspects, you devalue women and set up a barrier to women who do not fall into those roles. A single woman or a woman with no children still has value as a human being. She still deserves to be part of the conversation. A woman's value comes from her service to Allah, whether in the family or outside. In traditional Muslim societies, women may not be outside the family sphere that much, but even then, they are multi-faceted individuals with much to value on a personal level. It's not just that they are an extra set of hands or can fill a certain role, but because they light up the home from the heart.


Donelle~Nur, Evanston - wrote on 6/18/2010 8:38:26 PM
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Comment: Masha'Allah great article, thank you for posting here!


Mirza, Mumbai - wrote on 4/6/2010 1:13:53 AM
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Comment: Great article. Alhamdulillah


Masha, TO - wrote on 9/28/2009 1:23:35 PM
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Comment: Thank you for sharing this! As a woman who is interested in Islam and have been facing some questions, I found this article very reassuring.


Amina, Switzerland - wrote on 4/7/2005 9:14:06 AM
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Comment: At last! I think this article is great and I shall give it to my daughter and husband, to spread it further, just as I intend to do. Most of the muslim people I know. men and women alike, do feel insecure when someone asks something about our faith, especially the controversial issues; the number one controversy is, of course, the "gender issue".Over the years spent living here, I have also grown tired of answering the same question, ever and ever again, and in the end I started losing hope that we can fight and win against all the bad things written about us every day. What we need is what you've mentioned in your article: aware, educated, well informed, respectfull muslims and muslimas, who calmly explain and do not immediately fall in the classical trap of excusing us and our religion for every accusation, real or just imagined. You've given me new hope and strenght, and you motivated me not to give up, as it is our duty to make those things visible, that made us love this religion in the first place. Keep up the good work and may He bless your efforts. Salam from Amina in Switzerland


Arasi, Nigeria - wrote on 3/19/2005 3:16:49 AM
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Comment: The article is a great one.I wish more of our brothers will pay attention to issues raised therein.


Danzelle Nassar, Memphis, TN - wrote on 3/9/2005 9:22:33 AM
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Comment: In the name of Allah(swt), the most beneficent - the most gracious...I enjoyed the topics discussed and I just wanted to point out a correction that should be made and remembered; when we are speaking of ourselves or others that were not raised in a Muslim Society, Allah(swt) says that everything that He has Created is a Muslim; therefore you are not converted but reverted. It's truly a blessing to be guided and returned to the Truth. I was reverted in 1996 and there was a time when I felt that the Hijab was the most important part of my identity as a Muslim Woman but now I have chosen not to wear it, doesn't mean that I intentionally want to disobey Allah(swt), but he possess All Understanding and sees our heart and desires. It's sad that other brother and sisters from here and there, seem to treat you different if you don't look or talk like them from head to toe. You have to grow with Allah(swt) for yourself and not others, just to blend into the Circle. It's sad that even if you give them Salams, they will say How are you doing?< instead of giving he honorable greeting in return. I come from a society that allows woman to have a voice in most and all matters. I just recently had this discussio with my husband, regarding sisters being able to interact during a Halaka or even translating for the Imam, because everyone is not a Leader, but a Follower and a Sitter in the Masjid. Even as a faithful and practicing Christian in my life before, I have a burning desire to see the Whole scope of who Allah(swt) is to me and our Community, and how He has no limits on Education and Spiritual Growth. Peace and Blessings to All.


Esha, Toronto - wrote on 8/9/2004 6:54:40 PM
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Comment: This is a wonderful article that I believe should be read by all. Many of the brothers that I met despite sporting a decent education and an approach to Islam that they considered as being balanced, were full of assumptions and were the most stereotypical. When it comes to issues concerning muslim women it is the muslim woman that knows best! I believe it is issues from within that need to confronted and dealth with the most.


Khalid Khan, San Jose - wrote on 4/5/2004 7:12:51 PM
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Comment: I think like wise it goes for sisters and all those who think they have any kind of knowledge. If brother or sister is saying something do not dismiss them as if you know better. Just because brother doesn't have a beard or sister doesn't wear Hijjab it doesn't mean they don't know enough. You will be surprise as they just might know more than your local Imam at the Masjid.


Sumiayah, pa - wrote on 3/20/2004 5:18:38 AM
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Comment: If a brother is talking about women in islam - in what way? Famous women in islam such as brilliant Aisha? Or social/family issues? A brother could bring up the wonderful ways a mother or wife can play a part in islam. Or women who have interesting stories or have done awesome thngs. Thou it happens everywhere, domestic violence is depressing! And so is honor killngs. Bring up more then just that. That by the way, is also a man's topic since he is the one who usually starts this type of behavoir. I also don't like that sentence about women of yesterday. Like I said - take Aisha for example! Women were smart then and certainly now! Women are human beings and equal like men just in different ways. Anyway, women in islam is a broad topic and there are wonderful topics to talk about besides honor killings and domestic violence. It should be addressed in some talk but there is a lot more to say then just that. Women do wonderful and outstanding things as men do, and address that! Just look at islamic history and look at the prophets wives for a start.


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