MUSLIMS IN THE MIRROR:
A look at how we deal with the issue of Women in Islam
O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a better Protector to both (than you). So follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is Ever Well-Acquainted with what you do (Quran 4:135).
"I have seen the enemy and it is us," says Khadija Haffajee about Muslims' attitude towards the issue of women in Islam.
Haffajee should know. She's been a Muslim women's activist in North America for over 30 years and she's seen the state of Muslim sisters and brothers throughout this time.
As Muslims, we have rightly claimed that when it comes to women in Islam, the media has it all wrong.
Women are not oppressed, we argue passionately. Women were given property rights in 7th century Arabia, while prior to Islam, women were considered property.
Women have the right to education. Women have the right to earn money, which remains theirs. Women have the right to keep their last names after marriage. Islamic dress protects women, it doesn't hinder them. And on and on and on.
But in these discussions, Muslims compare Islamic ideals with Western reality. They do not look at the sad, sad reality of so many Muslim women today.
Wife battery. Sexual and physical abuse. Denial of education. Denial of wages. Humiliation. Favoring boys over girls in families. Women-unfriendly spaces in the Muslim community. These are all hard, cold realities be it where Muslims live as a majority or as a minority.
After all, these are human problems.
One would think, that given Prophet Muhammad's (peace and blessings be upon him) slow but steady change towards improving the situation of women, (which was mandated by Divine Guidance and by other men), Muslims would be at the forefront today of the fight for the honor, respect and dignity of women.
But for the most part, we're not. We're too busy being defensive, apologetic. We're too busy trying to apologize for things we should be fighting against. Or things for which we have not even been implicated in.
The Good news is...
We've got the truth...
"At the core of our being, we know Islam is right," says Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association United States and Canada (ISSA).
Most Muslims, women and men, know that Islam is the solution. And that's not an empty slogan.
After all, we've seen the results Islam produced in the past in changing the status of women for the better. "We know that it transformed the early Muslims from burying their baby girls alive to being champions of women's rights," notes Siddiqui. But she adds, "we don't see the staying power of that."
And Muslim women know it
Alhamdu lillah, a number of Muslim women, worldwide are waking up to the reality of Islam. They are seeking and searching for the Truth directly from the Quran and Sunnah.
This isn't just being done on a public level. It's being done in the privacy of homes, where young Muslim women are speaking up and claiming what has always been rightfully theirs in Islam. Whether it is the right to speak their mind freely as Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) did with her husband the Prophet, or the right to accept or refuse marriage proposals.
There is also a rage amongst Muslim women against the abuse of Islam by the Western media. The use and abuse of the problems present in the Muslim world as an excuse to vilify Islam angers Muslim women as much, if not more so, than Muslim men.
The bad news is
Culture versus Islam
Islam came to change the oppression of women, my halaqa (Islamic study circle) teacher, a brilliant Palestinian woman once explained to me. "But our (ethnic) culture is stronger than our religion," she added.
How true, and how sad.
It's this culture which seeks to justify female genital mutilation, honor killings, the denial of basic education to women. It's this culture which has stripped women of the dignity inherent in Islam, which has been given to all human beings, men and women, black and white.
It's this culture, for the most part, which so many call for when they deny Muslim women the right to go to the mosque. Or when they are stuck in small, cramped and dirty women's sections, while men are afforded expansive, clean space in comparison.
It's this culture in whose name Muslim women are often denied the Islamic right to Shura (consultation) and Nasihah (advice) in decision-making in mosque matters, let alone community affairs.
There is clearly a crisis between the beautiful and just theory of Islam, versus the practical reality.
Where do we go from here?
When Muslims talk about standing up for justice, it's usually in the context of horrific crimes like those happening in Chechnya, Kashmir and other places where Muslims are suffering from attack, hunger and disease.
But what about right here, in our communities? When we hear the cries of the sister whose husband, out of ignorance, beats his wife and children, what do we do?
Obviously, this is a brother who has a problem. Where is our desire to stand up for justice - not just for his wife and kids - but for him as well? Saving him and his family, in the long run, is an act of saving one unit of our already weak Muslim communities.
But we turn away, usually, whether we're individuals, Imams, community leaders, relatives. We don't stand up for justice, because it seems our stands are based on minimal effort and trouble. Sure I'll stand up for justice, just as long as I don't have to go beyond making posters and shouting slogans at a rally for Kosova or Chechnya.
"We are not here to answer to the West," notes Sr. Kathy Bullock, a convert to Islam. She's right. We have to stop the apologizing. We need to challenge the West to rethink the way it defines Islam and Muslim women. The West should not set the agenda for Muslims. Muslims should do so.
Afterall, it's not the West we will face on the Day of Judgment. We will face Allah. When will we start standing up for and implementing justice for our sisters so that we can face Allah, Insha Allah (if Allah wills) knowing we did the best that we can?
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