Liberation or Subjugation of Women in Islam
By Zainab Khan

August 2007
Before I plunge deep into this topic, I would like to make a note about the expanse of the question ‘Are women in Islam are liberated or not?’ and admit that I may not be able to cover all the points but I will try to address as many as possible. The general speculations about the subjugation of women are extracted from the rules about hijab, the matter of inheritance, polygamy, the oppression of women and a whole lot of other things.

The way women in Islam dress and because the head of every household happens to be a man makes people think that Islam opposes the concept of the equality of genders. This is not the truth, though. Islam offers gender equity, but makes clear at the same time that men are physically stronger whereas women are emotionally more stable. That is the only area where both of them are not equal, and who can say that’s incorrect? This is why the duties of running a family have been dealt between the husband and the wife, the husband being responsible for the financial provision and the wife for the morals and upbringing of the family and children. She has to obey her husband and fulfill the domestic duties. She can acquire an occupation, as long it does not lead to the neglect of her moral duties. Obeying a husband does not make a wife inferior to him, because in all major and minor issues of life, the husband is supposed to consult his wife and through her affirmation carry out the plans that he has drawn out.

The thing that nags many who ponder over this question is why Muslim women dress up in all those clothes, covering themselves completely, wearing a sheet over their head, even going to the lengths of covering their face. It appears to many as the violation of the women’s right to choice. Women in Islam are supposed to cover themselves in that manner because like every religion, there are rules and regulations, which its followers have to abide by. Islam happens to be a religion of choice and intentions, and not of compulsion and force. It is not that they cannot wear what they want. They can actually as long as it fits the conditions laid by Islam. Just like any institution stipulates conditions for dress, so does Islam, and so long as your choice doesn’t violate the basic code, you’re fine. A Muslim woman views her modesty somewhat like you may view your money. If you had lots of money, would you pin it all over your clothes and walk down the street? No, because it is valuable to you. And it is not that you think that everyone is a criminal that makes you tuck your money away. But just in case someone is, your money is protected. Or it may also be in case the sight of the money tempts a person to take it, even if he is not a criminal. Similarly, a Muslim woman values her body and does not desire to flaunt it anymore than you desire to flaunt your wealth. Plus the Islamic code of dressing proves amiable and lucrative to most in the long run. This dressing code actually closes the doors to any possibility of fornication and adultery. Women do not, like many say, ‘overprotect’ themselves because they think the world is full of perverts. The idea is to cut off the path to evil completely. To cover this point I will say that I don’t search for a religion I agree with, or the one that fits my lifestyle because at so many times in our life we run across things we don’t agree with, but even as young as we are, we know that many of those turned out to be truth. So it’s not like the way we see things is flawless, because we’ve altered our way of thinking so many times to fit reality, that really it is about time we considered the rules laid by our own religion.

Taking lead from his, Islam also allows the man to marry more than 1 wife. In other words polygamy is allowed by Islam. You see, biologically speaking women have a stronger immune system than men so their body can ward off diseases more efficiently. Also, men who have, for centuries, participated in battles and wars, have decreased significantly in population, whereas women have not. Due to this, there are far more women than men in this world of ours. Women who had no support were doomed to be mistresses. They lived in poverty and misery, were maltreated and given no recognition anywhere. But with polygamy, the rights of the women are protected. Less corruption and violation of women occurs and the men, who have an equal responsibility towards all their wives, provide a feeling of well-being and protection. Statistics reveal from a recent poll in US that 100,000 people are converting to Islam per year. For every 1 male convert to Islam, 4 females convert to Islam. Why? Because Islam provides protection and an abundance of rights to all women.

Islam also recognizes woman’s right to inherit, to have money, and own property, whether single or married. Before its advent in Arabia, women were treated horribly. Islam actually gave rights to all those women and girls, some of whom were traded like merchandise, while others were buried at birth. Men could actually inherit their fathers’ wives. Islam liberated the minds of those who though it was normal to marry their stepmothers, to treat women with savageness and to think of them as shame to the family. There is no other religion, save Islam, that has boosted the position of a mother much beyond than that of a father. Speaking of the rights given to wives, I would like to make it clear that no Islamic matrimony burdens the bride or her family with the custom of dowry. Rather, it makes it obligatory upon the man to present his wife with a gift, financial or otherwise, termed as mehr, as a means of support and a token of trust. Even some non-Muslims accede that Islamic rights have generously elated the position of women in the society. But they linger on the rule that daughters can only inherit half of what her brother inherits, and that this denies their right. The reason for this is that women are exempted from financial obligations. They can keep their property acquired before marriage and bear no legal obligation to spend on her family out of her personal wealth. This way she has fewer duties as compared to men and that is why a larger proportion of the property goes to the son but the point that brothers still owe financial assistance to their sisters should not be denied. Women are not stranded in any way. They have more to fall back on than others. If for some reason, a woman cannot support herself, it is the duty of a close male relative to provide for her.

Muslims are also criticized for the oppression of women. ‘Don’t Muslim men oppress women?’ is the question. Before I answer that, let me ask you something:
Don’t men oppress women? You would say “Some do.”
Don’t Christian men oppress women? “Some,” you may answer.
Don’t Hindu men oppress women? “Some,” again.
Don’t Jewish men oppress women? “Some.”
Now to go back to the question, Don’t Muslim men oppress women? I will say, “Yes, some do.” Just like other men. But if your question is does Islam tell them to? Then the answer is no. It is, in fact, quit the contrary. It is lack of education and awareness, and the state of profound ignorance that has led them into believing things that were never a part of a religion.

Last but not the least, Islam takes serious action against people who put forward false accusations of acts such as adultery about women without adequate evidence. If proven wrong, he is whipped 80 times. The punishment for male and female thieves and those who indulge in adultery is equal too. And to prove that women in Islamic countries are not confined, it will be sufficient to state that Muslim countries have voted for elected female presidents throughout the centuries and have given them the right of ruling a full state.
I will go on to say that there are Muslim countries, where women are not treated fairly or kindly, but to think that it is Islam that teaches them to degrade women is wrong. Like in every other part of the world where women are mistreated and religion is made an excuse for the inhumane treatment, the real cause is ignorance and height of traditional enslavement. Men who feel superior over the other gender have forced women into the shadows of inferiority. But to answer my question, are women in Islam liberated or subjugated? I can answer with this: a religion that categorizes respect for women as a feature of its society does not only liberate women but elevates them to a much honored position.


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