The misrepresented feminist faith: Islam, women and the Sharia law

What is it with veiled Muslim women, which makes us so convinced that they are oppressed or male dominated? Nuns, for one, cover themselves but we think of them as the freest of all mankind. When it comes to Muslim women wearing their hijabs, pause

Photo credit: Cartoon Stock
Photo credit: Cartoon Stock

– We think they need liberation. This is the negative stereotype which the media has continuously fed to us. Despite all this, most of the converts in Islam religion are female and Muslim women who migrate to the land of the free, America, still choose to maintain their hijabs. Where really is the oppression?

Traditionally, Islam as a religion has always valued the position of women in society. Prophet Muhammad was a present-day staunch feminist who preached and lived the values of present day feminism. His interpretation of the Qur’an emphasized the importance of women in society to the extent that when a man approached him inquiring who is of greatest companionship unto him, Prophet Muhammad is said to have answered ‘mother’ three times before mentioning ‘father.’ This signified the place of women in a person’s life and society in general. He is even considered to have decreed sexual satisfaction as a women’s right and condemned the abuse of women. Yet with so much freedom and conjugal rights, we are quick to declare:

Photo credit - Unknown, Tumblr
Photo credit – Unknown, Tumblr

Hold on there, what is wrong with the hijab? To the critics, the hijab serves as a sign and a constant reminder of this supposed oppression but to the educated Muslim women, the “… concept of hijab is about more than modesty —  it’s about comfort, boundaries and deciding for [themselves] what [they] will and won’t let other people see.” In a world where women are constantly objectified and judged on their bodies, the hijab empowers Muslim women by allowing them to cover themselves and let their worth be judged on any other quality than their bodies. Yes! That sounded more like a fashion choice, only that it is more informed and consistent than our usual fashion trends – which we pick and drop at the snap of our fingers. In a recent Telegraph article, H&M one of the world’s biggest retailer is said to have released a new media fashion campaign featuring women wearing hijabs. This same article also cites a case won by a Muslim women denied employment at Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store in Oklahoma because of her hijab. This is a clear indication that the perception people have about the hijab is the cause of oppression and not the actually reality of its symbolism.

The Qur’an is praised as being the only sacred book which mentions women alongside men:

“Surely for men who surrender to God, and women who surrender
and men who believe and women who believe;
and men who obey and women who obey;
and men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth…” (Qur’an 33:35)

These are just but some of the few scriptures which place equal emphasis on both sexes to the extent of explicitly mentioning and distinguishing them. In other sacred books, a patriarchal bias usually exists, in which ‘man’ is an all-encompassing term referring to both men and women but generally thought of as overshadowing women.

However all is not merry in the Islam religion as some countries governed by the Sharia law tend to have unfair laws on women. In Saudi Arabia, for example, women are not allowed to drive, among other things, unlike men.

Photo credit - Burhanco
Photo credit – Burhanco

These are just but some of the rarities that exist within the Islam religion as a result of different interpretations of the Qur’an and different group practices. Sadly, this has tainted the Islam religion and is constantly used by Islam critics to argue on the oppressive nature of the Islam faith. These examples are however used to oversimplify and generalize on the entire Muslim faith and movement. This represents a clear distinction between culture and faith, and how in these countries where the Sharia law is used to oppress women, the local culture has contributed to that oppressive interpretation of the Qur’an and the Hadith.

Islam as a religion is fair and just. The place of women hasn’t not been more emphasized than in the Islam movement. The interpretation of some of the laws by other religious leaders has led society to consider the Sharia law oppressive to women but we all stand to be corrected that the interpretation of law is influenced by the prevailing culture. As such, it would be ignorant of anyone to oversimplify and generalize the entire religion as oppressive to women.

Voila: Sabelo Dube and Anne Gitau

Sources

News article: Khan, S. (2015, October 8). It’s not the hijab which holds women back, but prejudice. The Telegraph UK. Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/great-british-bake-off/11919553/Its-not-the-hijab-which-holds-women-back-but-intolerance-and-prejudice.html

Faruqi, S. (2015, June 24). Why I Wear the Hijab. Haaretz. Retrieved October 15, 2015, from http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.662729

Beyer, L. (2001, November 25). The Women of Islam. Time. Retrieved October 17, 2015, from http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,185647,00.html

Photo 1 link: http://thecandideye.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/oppressed-muslim-women.jpg

Photo 2 link: http://30.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lb2zvjUftE1qeo8kqo1_500.jpg

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3 thoughts on “The misrepresented feminist faith: Islam, women and the Sharia law”

  1. We’re grateful for allowing us to see the other side of the Muslim woman. Insights that need to be seen by all. Its about time we stopped placing everything we hear in one box and take our time to find out about all the things we so easily open our mouths to talk about.
    And about the Sharia Law, I was honestly scared about the mention of it. Because it is seen to be, to the average non-Muslim, punishment. But I’ve come to know that its simply the ‘rule of law’, and its the interpretation that makes all the difference.
    Thanks again 🙂

    1. Putting up the blog, and particularly researching on what to write has been eye opening.
      Please follow the source links as well. There is so much we don’t know about Islam as a religion and especially the value it places on women.

  2. This is an eye opener not only to the non-Muslims but also the Muslims, that the interpretation of Quran and Hadith are influenced by the cultural context.

    Good insights.

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