With few clicks that may take you to the social media accounts of the Muslim women you could understand the situation of average Muslim woman in contemporary Muslim world. There are cries from every angles that Muslim woman is battling to remove herself from tensions within and without. Internally, Muslim woman is crippled by the hard grips of pseudo religious demagogues, the people that Fatima Mernissi, a Moroccan Muslim thinker and feminist, called “misogynist mullahs”. Their struggle, especially on Twitter where they prefer to be anonymous, is in what the modern critics from within the religion call “gender jihad”. Externally, there are calls asking Muslim woman to remove the identity that clothed her image to join the movements of the so-called gender reformists like Irshad Manji and ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali who stubbornly misinterpret texts based on their own whims. This is at an international level.
Talking about women in Islam the first thing that should come to our mind is the number of views and perspectives that Muslims have on the roles and status of the women in the religion. As we all know, we don’t have one single sect, or school of thought in Islam and this leads to the vast amount of interpretations we have within and without the religion. As we already know, Kor’an is a word of God and a message to human beings through Prophet Muhammad (saw) to guide them on how to worship God and live to create an ideal state. However, interpretations play central role on the understanding of its message. Even among the states that claim to apply Islamic law we can vividly see different interpretations of Islam. A country like Saudi Arabia where clerics use religious texts to justify caging women in houses and covering them in niqabs and burqas is totally different from countries like Tunisia or Turkey where Muslim women have touch of liberalism and are free to move here and there without male guardian. This shows that we don’t have one single Islam. We don’t have Islamic States but Muslims State. The Islamic texts are interpreted by Muslims.
In the course of interpretation we find different understandings. Kor’an does not contain any general statement about differences between men and women. It only shows different subordinations at different places. Mother, for example, is above her son and husband above his wife. There is no general statement that men are superior to women or vice versa. However, some parts of the Koran can be interpreted to show that woman with her characteristics of shyness, beauty, emotionality, cunningness and sensitivity should have different role to play in society. For example, in the time of the Prophet generally men were soldiers and women were cooks. This doesn’t mean that at all time and in all environments women should be cooks and men soldiers, changes in traits may change their roles as the characteristics of women may change by changes of time and environment.
Furthermore, there is one thing that we all agree. There is a decline in the role of women in most Muslim societies. This is not to go with the popular western brouhaha that ignorantly castigate Islam as a misogynistic religion. Voluminous books of Islamic History by reputable Islamic scholars and historians such as Attabari, Ibn Hisham and Ibn Sa’ad show that women in the time of Prophet (PBUH) played big role in the making of Islamic state. Going back to the books of Hadith, we find Muslim women at the time of the Prophet and his companions enjoyed rights far better than what our sisters and mothers enjoy today. They participated in politics and war (Read the history of Aisha). They used to be appointed as representatives or leaders at some places (Umar bn Khattab appointed woman as a market leader and head of hisbah). They used to participate in public prayers (Prophet warned that no woman should be denied access to a mosque). Ample historical evidences from the primary sources I mentioned above portray women in the Prophet’s time in Medina raising their heads from violence, slavery, coercion and injustice to claim their right to join, as members of Muslim society and equal participants, in the making of great and ideal society.
In Nigeria, especially the northern part of it where there is large concentration of Muslims, there are few women that participate in the development of their society. Average Northern girl gets married in secondary school ages and most of the time family issues don’t take them far with their education. This and other issues hinder them from giving their own quota to the development of the North. The lack of fully participation of women in the economic activity, by not copying the likes of Mother of believers Khadija bnt Khuwaileed, helps in deteriorating the economy of the region. By accommodating them and giving them the basic necessities to help them voice out their concerns we can liberate a Muslim woman to be a great mother, sister and obedient wife.
Almost all the books, journals, articles and papers written on women in Islam by Muslim apologists emphasise the general egalitarian message of Kor’an and Sunnah by stating that men and women are equal servants of God. Although there are misinterpretations here and there by some pseudo-clerics who hijack local radio stations and use social media to disseminate some discriminatory messages against women by quoting weak and fabricated ahadiths, but no any Muslim no matter how misogynist he is ever said that women are not equal servants of God. However, the conflict is between the conservatives or traditionalists who use classical literature to give restrictions to where a woman can go and where not to go; and the modernists who believe that as time changes the understandings of religion and therefore the role of women in society should equally change.
The problems in the discourses are not about how Islam liberated women from the dusts of jahiliyya more than any other civilisation, semitic or non-semitic religions in the thousands of years; but on how the adherents of the religion can help in pushing the flow of the Prophetic legacies of liberating women in a contemporary world. To traditionalists, Prophet (saw) opened and closed the gate. To modernists, Prophet was not the first to open the gate and he did not close it. The arguments of the conservatives are that Prophet (saw) perfected Islam for us from religious point of view. To liberals Prophet was sent to go with ethics and set moral codes to the entire human beings up to the day of resurrection.
One thing you could witness if you are to conduct a research on gender issues in Islam is the Muslim women themselves are not satisfied with two approaches of both traditionalists and the modernists but are yet to come out to speak for themselves. Only few of them, who most of the time prefers anonymity to avoid unnecessary allegations or excommunications (takfir), use social media to post what is on their minds and the roles they want to play in the society. The solution is in allowing the women to speak for themselves not someone to speak on behalf of them without fully understanding them. This will be the only way to allow the flow of understanding between clerics and the women themselves. A cleric should not always go back to the 11th century to take what he would apply in 21st century when there are women he can ask around him.
We all have a role to play in making Muslim woman successfully face contemporary challenges and achieve her future aspirations by educating her and empowering her economically so that she can fully participate and contribute to the development of Muslim society.
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