The Role of Women In Contemporary Islam
When a person thinks of a Muslim woman immediately the image that forms in your mind is one of veils, tent like garb and the word ‘oppression’ and ‘suppression’ comes to mind. This image of being suppressed and oppressed, being without any rights or social standing is a Western stereotypical view of Muslim women. To understand and appreciate the true essence of Islam it is important to carefully investigate the roles of both Muslim women and men in Islam and the religious authority for these. It is most important to consider what a Muslim woman’s rights and obligations are, and how they are lived out in daily life.
Alongside this it is relevant to find out how a Muslim woman may be influenced by her family’s culture and the traditions and cultures of other peoples in this society. In a multicultural society such as Britain there are many people of different religious backgrounds. Britain today can be seen as a multicultural society or even a secular society, which is not governed by religious laws and certainly not by Shari’ah. Muslims living in Britain today come into day-to-day contact with many ideas, beliefs and practices which are not part of Islam.
Analysing how Muslim women can stay true to their Islamic faith in such a society is an integral part of this essay. In Islam family life from many famous scholars is referred to as being the ‘corner-stone of society’ as it brings new generations into the world, therefore the parents have very important duties to play. They also have vital duties and obligations towards one-another. The duties of a husband and the wife towards each other are clearly stated in Islam (Qur’an 4:34). This makes the fulfillment of the purpose of marriage easy and removes confusion.
The husband’s duties include providing food; clothing; accommodation as well as general welfare needs for his wife; she does not have to provide any of these herself from her own property or her earnings, unless she wishes and is able to help her husband. The husband also provides household help for his wife, or helps her himself, as well as giving help to her in training the children. He also must try to satisfy the sexual needs of his wife and treats her with kindness and honour as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said :
“The best of you is the one who is best to his family, and I am best to my family” Hadith : Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah) The wife, for her part is required to obey her husband as leader of the family so long as he does not try to make her disobey Allah. She must look after the home and children, bringing them up as good and righteous people – Allah will ask her about this duty (Hadith Al-Bukhari and Muslim). In her husband’s absence she must ensure that no one not approved by her husband is allowed into the home, and also try to satisfy her husband’s sexual needs. You can see that the duties of the husband are the rights of the wife, whilst the duties of the wife are the rights of the husband.
Allah says: “… the rights of the wives (with regards to their husbands) are equal to the rights of the husband with regard to them”. (Qur’an 2:228) The Qur’an states: “They (women) are your garments. And you (men) are their garments”. The words from the Holy Qur’an state precisely how men and women relate to one another – like a body and its garments. Without garments the body is meaningless and vice versa, this symbolizes the complimentary roles a husband and wife play and that they must got together, apart they would have little reason to exist.
People in multi-cultural society may have noticed how a large number of Muslim women dress differently from one another, some from head to toe, others in more westernized but unrevealing clothing. This is mainly due to cultural impacts, for e. g. covering a woman’s body does not necessarily require her to wear a ‘jilbab’ (long dark coat-like dress), Islamically she is required to dress modestly in public. Places like Afghanistan’s cultural impacts mean women are forced in the way they are dressed, as they have no choice. “Say to believing men… nd believing women, that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty.. “(24:30-31) Living in a multicultural society poses many difficulties for Muslim parents or Muslim’s in general.
This is because within the sphere of their homes the environment is Islamic and very sheltered. However outside the home Muslim’s come into contact with different ideas which can act as obstacles for them. This is because Britain allows what most Islamic societies would not allow for women for example involvement in pornography, modesty of dress, Muslim women do not walk around scantily dressed for example in a bikini.
Abortion is not allowed except in exceptional circumstances in Islam whereas it is a common place in Britain. Also divorce is considered one of the worst acts in Islam but like abortion it is a commonplace as well as free mixing between the sexes. This shows that such things are taking place in Britain and that they oppose Islamic teachings. For a Muslim living in a multicultural society some of the issues that arise are usually the differences between secular law versus religious law (shari’ah). The fact that Muslim values are different to secular values and a Muslim lifestyle following such values makes more demands.
These issues can cause problems for Muslims, especially the 2nd or third generation who seem to be becoming more and more secular. These youth can be seen to have adopted secular values in their pursuit of status, placing great value in cars, money and other material possessions more than religious values or practice. These remind parents of their native countries, so they arrange marriages for their children to people inn the native countries. What the parents don’t realise is these ‘native countries’ have become more secular too and that people there have become more westernized.
The benefits for Muslims in a multicultural society like Britain is the access to education, there is a greater chance of Muslims obtaining education in this country compared to their ‘slim to none’ chances back in their native countries. There is an opportunity to be involved in public life occupation wise. As the government in Britain is not ruled by a specific religion, people are allowed to practice their religion openly, whereas in Turkey a woman is not permitted to wear a headscarf to college, school, or university. Also in communist countries people did not have the right to proclaim what they believed in.
Many Muslims in Great Britain are often asked whether they are British or Muslim first. There is a difference of opinion to this answer between the older and younger generations. The younger people tend to say they are British and Muslim whereas the older generation hesitate and reply they are Muslim first. What we should ask ourselves is how come it is only the Muslims this question is posed to? Why not the Christians or the Jews? These kinds of questions are asked for example during the Gulf War or since the incident on September 11th.
The Muslims are expected to be on the defensive, as if there is going to be a conflict with being a Muslim and British at the same time. This is the way of thinking for the majority of Non-Muslim British people; it shows their lack of understanding of Islam and their deeply rooted misconceptions concerning the religion. This is also a result of lack of integration between people. The Muslim women that wear veils, head scarves and long flowing clothing are often seen as ‘oppressed’ or ‘suppressed’ by the majority of Non-Muslims in British society.
They see these women as being ‘dominated’ by men. In reality the majority of these women wearing veils or such articles of clothing do so voluntarily, the main aim is protection and not oppression. “Prophet, enjoin in your wives, your daughters and the wives of true believers to draw their veils close around them. That is more proper, so that they may be recognized (as virtuous women) and not molested. Allah is Forgiving and Merciful”. (33:59) It is mistaken to believe that Islam encourages the oppression of women. On the contrary, Islam elevates women in an all-round manner.
Islam regards women and men as equals; they both have the same religious duties and get equal rewards. Allah says: “I will not allow the good deeds of any of you, male or female, to be lost. You (male and female) come from one-another… ” (Qur’an 3:195; 4:124) Islam stopped the female infanticide (81:8; 6:151) and promises the reward of paradise to parents who look after their daughters. Muslim women like men are encouraged to acquire education from the cradle to the grave. A Muslim woman retains her legal identity after marriage and can keep her family name.
She may seek and obtain divorce if she needs it. She is free to move around in society (with her husbands consent), provided she is modestly dressed and straightforward to avoid molestation by evil men. (Qur’an 33:22-59) As a mother, the greatest respect is paid to her on account of her sacrifices on behalf of her children. (Qur’an 31:13; 46:15) “Paradise lies at the feet of the mothers”. In Great Britain Islam is a minority religion; it is not the way of life for the majority in this multicultural society. Britain is arguably not religious; therefore it can be seen as a secular society.
Its laws do not reflect any particular religions beliefs, however in the past Christianity played a major role in the appointed laws. The society is still influenced by religious values, there are laws protecting what most religions consider sacred or valuable, an example of this is the value religions hold for life. There are laws introduced for the sole purpose of preventing death or injury like how a driver and passengers in a car must wear seat belts. The laws in Britain also evolve around individual religions, for example the law in Britain for people riding a motorcycle is that it is compulsory to wear a crash helmet.
In the 1980’s the Sikh community complained that it was impossible to do so if they were wearing turbans, the government then made a clause in the law for Sikhs who wore turbans, that when riding a motorbike it wasn’t compulsory for them to wear a crash helmet. There are also many problems for Muslims who live in small individual communities that do not integrate with one another. This division often causes misunderstandings between them which results in conflict mostly between the youth of the communities. An incident of this occurred not very long ago in Oldham, between the Pakistani community and the white community.
Oldham is one of the most segregated cities in Britain. The white and Pakistani communities have many riots, this is mainly due to lack of integration. To correct this situation faith leaders of the communities should hold regular meetings to discuss and promote interfaith relationships. This encourages less hostile attitudes between the people like in Leister. The majority of Asians came from Africa where they were used to British people, when they came to Britain they could relate to the people more easily than the Asians from Oldham. Another major barrier between people is language and dress.
If people cannot communicate with one another it is impossible for interfaith relationships. It is also quite common for people from different racial backgrounds to stereotype Muslims by the way the women dress. As they find it foreign they cannot form a relationship with them, this results in people perceiving Muslims with hostility. In conclusion to this essay I believe there should be more interfaith relationships and language barriers should be broken down, this way people from different cultural and racial backgrounds can relate to one-another and not stereotype or generalize.
There should be more integration especially in schools, also there shouldn’t be segregated communities, people from different nationalities should live together. There already is an increase in women choosing there marriage partners, and women having children later on in life so they can actively partake in more career based roles. Due to the education in this country it is estimated that after a couple of generations language barriers would be broken down, that more Westernized dress would be adapted to in a way that seems Islamic and women would take up more prominent roles in the Islamic and in wider communities.
This could be an advantage as well as a disadvantage, there could be spokeswomen who is highly educated in the fields of politics and other high profile careers, this way they could be interviewed by the media and as a result the general Non-Muslim public would be more aware of Islamic teachings and see it in a more acceptable and not so negative light. This is the possible future for Muslim women in this multicultural society.
However, my personal opinion as a Muslim living in British society would be that it is important to remember that though these women may become more prominent in secular society as Islam’s “leading women”, they would be placed under a negative light from fellow Muslims. These women in partaking such active roles would be leaving their idealistic obligatory role as according to Islam, also to get to this ‘possible future’ would mean many rules would have to be broken, twisted or forgotten completely. According to Islam a woman’s true worth would be greatly acknowledged if her duty at home first is complete.