For women, Islam means empowerment, not oppression
Published 3:33 pm, Friday, November 3, 2017
I see myself as a strong, empowered young Muslim-American woman who has overcome bigotry, ignorance, and racism that attempted to make me feel ashamed of my Islamic beliefs and values.
It’s common for people to see my hijab (headscarf) and assume that I live a life of oppression, where only extrication from my religion can ‘liberate’ me. I’m consistently baffled by this.
In accordance with the Islamic principle “there is no compulsion in religion,” I choose to wear my hijab as an act of worship for God alone, not for my father, brother, or a civil law. Islam has taught me how to value myself as a Muslim woman, and demand respect through my character and intellect, not through society’s distorted standard of beauty.
Islam came with a revolutionary message that uplifts women’s status to claim equality in stature and worship.
Islamic principles are derived from the Qur’an (the words of God), as well as the teachings, actions and advice of Prophet Muhammad. The distorted narrative that injustice and oppression are the foundation of Islam originates from many places, e.g. the misrepresentation and misbehavior of some Muslims, cultural traditions of patriarchal leadership, political ambitions, and economic and political instability.
Prophet Muhammad would be appalled and disheartened to find that some Muslim-majority countries largely circumvent Islamic principles, causing injustice in numerous areas along with denying women their God-given rights. Muslim women worldwide are now invoking the authentic rulings of Islamic Shariah (law) to reestablish these liberties.
During what was known as “the time of ignorance” prior to the revelation of the Qur’an, women had very little control over their lives, including their marriages. Women had no say in choosing their spouse or in taking possession of their dowry (the gift from the husband to the wife at the wedding).
Islamic Shariah decreed that my approval and consent is a prerequisite for the validity of a marriage. I am empowered to keep my last name to further establish that I retain my identity and I am not my husband’s property. Islam even gave me the right to call for a divorce, which would require child support.
Financial empowerment is key to maintaining independence and equality. Islamically, one of mens’ main responsibilities is to financially provide for their family. However, this does not limit my ability to acquire and manage my own assets. I have the right to excel in a socially beneficial career, work in a safe environment and earn a salary with fair pay. Any property, wealth, or inheritance that I attain remains under my control without any obligation to contribute to the household. This provides flexibility for women in terms of family planning and management.
Islam considers pursuing education as a momentous act of worship, and an obligation for every male and female. Growing up, my brothers and I were all raised with the same expectations: to get good grades, acquire higher education, build a career, and support and raise our families. None of these ambitions are gender-related. Prophet Muhammad challenged misogyny by being very attentive to his family and doing household chores.
Not only did Islam empower me to play an active role in my own well-being, I also have the right to political participation and to vote. Historically, Muslim women were provided several political and societal responsibilities, and even held legislative debates with the Prophet himself. One of many examples of this is a woman named Shifa bint Abdullah who held the position as the market’s financial controller in a male-dominated career.
These rights came at a time when no one was protesting or rallying about the mistreatment of women. It was only after fierce fighting from determined women in the Suffrage movement that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified to grant American women the right to vote, only a century ago. In fact, many of the rights that Islam honored women with over 1400 years ago were not granted to women in the West until the late 18th and 19th centuries.
The Qur’an put an end to inequality by granting women spiritual, intellectual, economic, and social rights equal to, if not more than men. Prophet Muhammad both explicitly taught equality of the genders and took numerous concrete measures to profoundly improve the status and role of women.
I am not anyone’s maid, slave, or property. I am a tenacious, strong-willed individual who has control over my life due to Islam’s revolution of the way society should view women, and the way I view myself.
Mariam Khan is an Islamic Studies teacher and youth mentor at Baitul Mukarram Masjid of Greater Danbury, and is employed at The Mount Sinai Hospital.