“A society has no chance of success, if it does not educate its women”
– Khaled Hosseini (A Thousand Splendid Suns)
I’m not a student of politics who can give word perfect reiterations of human rights and state legislations. Nor am I a preacher, who can address every word of God sent down to man without blinking twice. I am merely a spectator in a mass of confusion, a writer aiming to put forward her feeble thoughts, a teenager who knows her rights.
H I J A B, a word that has caused immense misunderstandings over the recent decades, why are Muslim women obliged to wear it? How can any female be oppressed in such a way in the 21st century? When will they let go of such archaic laws and let women be free?
As global media is growing, we are becoming increasingly aware of issues in parts of the world that just half a century ago, we may not have even known existed. The general contradictions have grown to, what some people now believe as hard underlying facts; amongst the others, a strong contender is that Muslim women are oppressed.
The misunderstandings surrounding the topic of the oppression of women is one that, as suggested by a leading sociologist, is that the subordination of women has only been present since about four thousand years. Armstrong argues that in ancient polytheistic religions, women were highly respected due to them being worshiped as goddesses such as the Greek goddess, Hera. It is only since the introduction of monotheism that the focus shifted to a single male God, and woman were began to be seen as inferior.
The point put forward by Armstrong is valid to a certain degree, but it is also important to point out that before the introduction of a major world religion, Islam, women in polytheistic Arabia were not even considered as second class citizens, they were bought, sold and were merely seen as men’s property.
It is blatant that in many societies, till this day, women are not regarded as equal to men. This is seen as particularly true to nations in the East. The problem arises when we mix the inequalities taking place as being pushed by religion, when in actuality it is culture. A key notion in this view of females in Islam being oppressed is because they generally choose to wear a hijab. What we often fail to realise is that the covering of hair and skin is prevalent in traditional Judaeo-Christianity and not just Islam. What the spectators see as a form of patriarchal control, for the Muslim woman symbolises resistance to oppression, and encourages men to see them for the person they are rather then the outfit they are clad in. To think someone is oppressed is one thing, yet to pass laws permitting religious headwear is another.
The rise in extremist groups has shown Islam as a sexist and violent faith. These groups that claim females should not be educated or anything of the sort are a minority and Muslims worldwide condemn the horrific acts committed by these groups, but the bad press and generalisation that all Muslims have this ‘anti female’ view of life has taken precedence. What we forget is that Islam was the first ever religion to recognise women as equal to men, allowed them to run their own businesses and pursue an education and granted them with rights that women in the West didn’t see light of till about 1300 years later. One of these being, the right of a woman to initiate a divorce.
At times like this, it can be hard to distinguish between reality and what we see in the news. It is evident to historians and those that study religion, that Islam was the first to grant women with freedom and allowed them to gain a sense of identity, the rulings passed around 630 CE gave light to the injustice towards women and gave women the rights to keep their dowry and earnings.
The crucial factor in disagreements between faiths and people of different lifestyles is a lack of communication. The next time you see a lady in a veil, remember they are free thinking members of society and choose to wear what they wear. If you’re unaware of a custom or practice and would like to learn more, just ask a fellow Muslim or a person of any other faith that you would like to learn more of.
Thank you for reading, please do leave feedback or suggestions as I would be happy to see them.