Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur contributed to and edited “Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak.” (Getty Images Photo / Frank Mullen)
I’m inspired to speak on a very controversial issue….Women in Islam. I’m reading this book: “Living Islam Out Loud” by this wonderful sister Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur, and I’m so glad I took it off my wife’s book-shelf behind her back! Over the years during my sojourn as a Muslim convert/revert, the issue of Muslim women or Women in Islam is an oft repeated, discussed, and debated topic. Often by the naysayers against Islam who use all kinds of “examples” to make Islam look like a religion that is against everything woman. It’s not like there isn’t ample ammunition to fire at us Muslims, when you see what happens when Talibanistic (yeah new word) ideology and practice is oft repeated in some circles of the world. Then of course, there’s no shortage of some rotund fiery self-made “cleric” making an ass of himself calling women meat, or helping to propagate the subjugation of Muslim women as second-class. We all know what’s out there from the negative perspective, but how much do we know about the positive reality of muslim womens’ lives?
Has anyone of the critics actually talked to Muslim women? And no, I’m not talking about women like Ayaan Hyirsi Ali who certainly had a troubled life, is really void of reason, and is more a mouthpiece for everything anti-Islam than one who is “enlightened” to the plight of Muslim women by her recent embracing of Atheism. People like Ali are the reason I’m writing this today. They forget to add in their constant diatribe railing against the treatment of women in Islam, that while they are not false in recounting actual events, that those events don’t describe the lives of all Muslim women.
If you listen to them, every Muslim woman wears a Burka and walks behind her husband! What drives me crazy to no end is this idea that Islam is a person! Islam does nothing! Islam is a faith, religion, condition, ideal, void of any physical substance, yet people want to blame Islam for the actions of physical beings. Are there Muslims that abuse women, yes, are there Muslims that subjugate women, yes, are there Muslims that oppress women, absolutely! However, where the lack of reason appears is that the question that is never asked ,”Do all Muslims exhibit this behavior?” The answer would be a resounding NO! Then after that, one would have to ask why. Muslims are not the only people on the planet that commit these crimes, yet Muslims are the most scrutinized by those posing as Muslim women rights activists and have made entire careers and money off of slandering Islam and pandering to Neo Conservatives, Anti-Islamic think tanks, organizations and groups.
Domestic violence occurs every 4 minutes here in America, yet 74-76% of the population is considered “Christian”. Less than several percent are actually Muslim. Out of about 300 million Americans only 2-8 million are believed to be Muslim. So why aren’t people up in arms about Christianity and calling it a religion that oppresses women?
Because the Truth is clearer than Falsehoods. We all know that Christianity is not a person and we all know that the actions of adherents are often different than the teachings of Christianity, so we consciously separate the “Christians” and their actions from Christianity. What I like to ponder is… why isn’t the same standard applied to Islam and Muslims?
I’m thoroughly convinced that the reason(s) lies in the intention of the individual. Those who truly want to know about Muslim Women in Islam have a wealth of information they could utilize, some of which I will share, they could also talk to actual Muslim women and see what they think, they can ask Muslim men how they truly feel, etc.
However, many of us already know that isn’t happening and their is no desire to do such, because their is more money to be made slandering Islam and Muslims, than actually getting to know us.
I have yet to meet any Muslim woman and I have met many with diverse backgrounds and origins, who feel oppressed, subjugated or unequal to Muslim men. Yet, many non-Muslims somehow speak for them! Now some of you may say “Well that’s because you live in America!” and I would reply “EXACTLY!!!” there’s lots to ponder from that….
As a Muslim man in America I have met countless Muslim women who are educated, work, are successful, some wear and some don’t wear hijab, and they are happy and free, that should say something. Could a Muslim man in Afghanistan make a similar claim? Would he want to?
Why is this important? Because it really begins to defeat the naysayers. How can I as a Muslim in America who believes exactly in the same religion as my counterparts in the Middle East make such statements? How can I view my experiences with Muslim women as perfectly normal and acceptable, yet my counterparts may or may not? The truth of the matter is and I feel like a broken record, is that it’s not Islam that is the problem, but the interpretation and practice of those who call themselves Muslim. It is a known fact in religious study and various other disciplines especially psychology, that nature versus nurture dictates that people in general are a product of their environment. How much more is this true than when you’re dealing with culture, tribalism, and tradition?
Islam is a universal system in which 1.5 billion people believe in and subscribe to. It has core fundamental teachings that every Muslim agrees on no matter where they live, however like all systems that are subscribed to by many, the application tends to vary from person to person, and often that persons personal bias, background, culture, environment, etc. plays an important role in how person applies the system.
Case in point: Hijab
Hijab is often a controversial subject, especially to non-Muslims, and especially to those who use it as a “smoking gun” as proof of Muslim women’s “oppression”, this is because they don’t bother to actually study Hijab. Hijab is an Arabic term that means to cover, conceal, protect, veil (verb), etc. it isn’t a physical thing or garment but a concept. The actual word for veil is Khamar. The concept of Hijab is modesty. This is a foremost teaching of Islam. We are taught as Muslims to be modest in all things from actions, to speech, and yes dress. Hijab is a requirement for men and women Islam, we are told to guard our modesty. The Quran gives us guidelines on how we should do these things, but its the individual’s practice that manifest the actual how. Which is why there is great diversity in Muslim dress in general, but also Muslim women. Culture and tradition more than anything plays a part in Muslim dress. We know this to be true, because no one, not even the naysayers can say that they have seen 2 million Muslim women in America walking around in a Burka! Sometimes you don’t even know who’s Muslim and who’s not.
So what’s the truth? Yes, it is true that there are Muslim men and societies (mostly dominated by men) that interpret the Quran in such a way to use it as a means to oppress women. But this is nothing new in the history of religion. Some same people do the same to justify terrorism. The same thing was done to the Bible to justify slavery, slaughter, and oppression of women too. That is the manifestation of man. The sad but true part is that anyone with intention enough can make the Quran or Bible for that matter, say anything they want it to. But to ignore the truth that while that happens, the overwhelmingly majority still practices or believes a certain way is misleading. I can without a shadow of a doubt say that yes, there are those who call themselves Muslim that commit horrors and oppression against women and Muslims based off of their interpretation(s) of Islam and the Quran, but I can also without a shadow of a doubt say that yes there are those like myself who are Muslim and do none of those things based of my understanding, teaching, and interpretation of the very same Islam and the Quran. How many of the naysayers are ready to admit that? They are hypocrites of double standards talking out both sides of their mouth, because what I described is true of all religion, yet for some “odd” reason, no one believes it’s true of Muslims and Islam.
So who do we listen to? Who do we believe? I alluded to this an earlier posts. I believe in the law of numbers and majorities. There is ample evidence that the majority of Muslim women are not oppressed, abused, uneducated, etc. etc. nor feel that way. If so, why do so many women convert in the west to Islam? There is ample evidence that Muslim women are scholars, leaders of organizations, heads of state, etc. etc. without problems and are devout Muslims. There is equal substantial evidence that Muslim men like myself feel proud to see a Muslim woman as President of organizations like the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) or love the fact that my wife is finishing her Masters, has her own business, and still is a wife and mother and doesn’t wear “traditional” Muslim garb but is content in jeans a blouse and head covering. There are numerous Muslim women like this and numerous Muslim men like me that support them. So why not tabulate that? Why not look at the facts that the majority of Muslims don’t live in the Middle East, are Arab, or even speak Arabic? Why not account these things and learn that when you do you will see that the norm for Muslims is equality for women, justice, love, and support. Islam does more to liberate women than oppress, but the naysayers perceive it not. Maybe it’s not Islam but those who misuse, abuse, and spread falsehood about it both non-Muslim and Muslim alike. They are one in the same these two, because both are ignorant of Islam and both use Islam to forward their agenda’s often that agenda falls apart in the light of the truth.
For More info on Women in Islam be sure to check out these sites, many are for and by Muslim women and make sure you get and read the book “Living Islam Outloud” by sister Saleemah Adul-Ghafur: