This article was first published on October 7, 2016, Issue 34.
In a world dominated by preference in race, gender, color and creed, who falls to the bottom of the pecking order? We’ve all heard of “White Privilege” and we’re painfully aware that living in North America, if you’re sporting a tan that you didn’t get on vacation, you’re definitely not high up in the hierarchy. Of course, not all of you will agree. In fact, some might still be thinking that it’s not about what you look like, but who you are on the inside. I applaud your inner idealist, and would love to move in next door to you! However, for the rest of us who have our eyes wide open, the idea of “privilege” in our society cuts deep. It’s bad enough if you’re a brown Muslim, but even worse if you’re a brown Muslim woman. Before all you feminists jump up in uproar, let me finish making my point. We live in a culture dominated by men. Muslim or not, you’re already at a gender disadvantage because society has been set up this way. Add a hijab on top of this and you’re quite out of luck.
In the past few months I’ve come across this argument a number of times: that Islam is a religion made for men. In fact, in a recent “mommy group” on Facebook, a mother posted about her 12-year-old daughter who wanted answers to questions like, why aren’t there any female prophets? Why can’t women become imams? And why must we pray behind men?
The answer to Islam’s view on feminism lies clear. God hasn’t created us equal, but He has created us equally important. While some of us choose to dig deeper and question the fundamentals of faith, there are others who appreciate the privilege given to women in Islam. Some might even argue as much that Islam actually instated women’s rights when there were none. We are taught not to question the decree of Allah, because His wisdom extends beyond ours.
But what if this blind submission was meant for a time long gone? The Muslim feminists of yester-year are content in what they have understood of their faith, but the young girls of today seem to want more and need more. Do we shy away from the difficult conversations or are we ready to take on this new generation with a fresh perspective on their feminist views? If we believe Islam is truly timeless, then it must hold the key to contentment for all generations.
I don’t blame these young girls for their confusion. They’re trying so hard to find their feet in a male dominated, color coded society. If being a woman wasn’t hard enough, being a Muslim woman just made it worse. Our religious responsibility towards women has been tainted with culture, and remains unexplainable to this next generation who sees a clear and unnecessary divide. We’ve been sidelined by our fathers, spoken over by our brothers, taught differences instead of similarities, focussed on inequality rather than advantage. Our girls are forced to feel less than their male counterparts, turned away from professions, told to watch sports from the sidelines. We’ve been shown our place in our home and told over and over again that the obedience is the only way to heaven. And while all that holds incredibly true, it makes no sense when it’s left unbalanced.
The responsibility is not on our shoulders alone; however, it certainly seems this way in many homes. No wonder these young girls are questioning the place of women in Islam! They’ve grown up seeing inequality within their own families. We’ve forgotten the saying of the Prophet sws, that “the best among you are those who are best to your wives”. Daughters who saw their fathers isolate their mother’s role to cooking and cleaning. Fathers who forgot that they are role models in their home to their kids, their leadership lacking because their wives weren’t their companions, but mere accessories. How do we expect our daughters not to question our faith when they’ve only seen unfairness? Our culture made adjustments to our religion, to suit a male dominated society.
We’ve abandoned the true traditions that made Muslim women raise their heads with respect and dignity, because we lowered their status in the one place where they were meant to reign – in the hearts and homes of the men who were their care takers. The men who were supposed to support women to achieve their greatest dreams, were the ones responsible for reducing them to a status preordained by culture. Our opinions, our thoughts, our feelings, all gathered up into insignificance. Our culture made us invisible, and we started to believe our religion was behind the oppression.
To all those girls who question whether Islam is a man’s religion, I wish you had grown up living the real Islam that gave you endless opportunity to see that you are valuable for who you are. You don’t need to compete because no matter what they tell you, this isn’t just a man’s world – it’s yours too. Write your story and make your presence felt. Your identity isn’t defined by what you can’t do, but what you can. Go out and learn, lead, teach, and be the woman you always wanted to be. Islam is a religion that has created space for you to be surrounded by love and support, to soar to the greatest heights. When we question our role as Muslim women, we shouldn’t be questioning our faith but our culture that encouraged inequality. Don’t forget, we may not be equal, but we are still – equally important.
Do you have views on feminism in Islam? Comment and tell us what you think about the role of Muslim women!