Islam is a topic that triggers a variety of reactions and questions from people in the West, especially in regard to the role of women who practice the religion. Today, The National, a publication that “tells the story of the Middle East as seen through the region’s eyes," featured an opinion piece by Sahar Khan, where she discusses the Western misconception that Islam oppresses women. She points out that, first of all, the ideas and practices of Islam aren't the same as those of the region in which it is practiced, and never have been. Prophet Muhammad, she adds, banished practices by men in his society that were harmful to women, such as marrying, selling, and discarding them at will.
Just as those practices were not the practices of Islam, today’s societal practices that oppress women are not associated with Islam either, Khan says. She also argues that although the religion has separate roles for men and women, these roles are still equal. Unfortunately, the misconception of this idea (especially by the West, and sometimes reinforced by the East), she points out, has caused a great rift between the eastern elite, who she says are westernized, and the rest of the population.
The notion that Islam is empowering to women is further discussed in the upcoming documentary The Light in Her Eyes,which BUST recently blogged about. This special shows how a school for girls to study the Qu’ran in Syria encourages them to pursue education, careers, and travel, if they so desire. To the western eye, however, the girls wearing head scarves may not come across as being treated fairly.
A few years back, I read a book entitled Why I am a Muslim by Asma Gull Hasan, a woman born in the United States with Pakistani parents who is now an attorney and a journalist. In one of the chapters, the author discusses the way that her faith in Islam supports her self-identification as a feminist. In an interview with beliefnet she states, “Muhammad was a feminist. He stood for equal rights for women.”
BUSTies, do you have any insights into women’s roles in Islam, and misconceptions that westerners may have about it?
Photo courtesy of thelightinhereyesmovie.com