Women in Islam: Muslim Women

The issue of women in Islam is highly controversial. Any materials on this subject, whether in print or online, should be used with caution because of the lack of objectivity. While it is generally agreed that the rights granted to women in the Qur'an and by the prophet Muhammad were a vast improvement in comparison to the situation of women in Arabia prior to the advent of Islam, after the Prophet's death the condition of women in Islam began to decline and revert back to pre-Islamic norms. Yet just as the women's movement in the West began to pick up steam in the twentieth century, the same thing occured, although to a lesser extent, in the Muslim world at this time. Feminists in the Muslim world in the twentieth century (until the 1980's) were generally upper class women whose feminism was modeled after feminists in the West. But just as modern socio-political models in the Muslim world after the colonial period began, in the 20th century, to shift from Western models of society and government to "Islamic" models, feminism in the Muslim world began to take on Islamic forms rather than aping the Western feminist form. This has been true not merely for Muslim women but for women throughout the entire third world. Having thrown off the schackles of colonial imperialism, women of the third world are increasingly growing resistant to the cultural imperialism marketed by the West, even in the form of feminism. Hence, third world women, like women of color in the West, are realizing that while they have certain things in common with the struggle of Euro-American feminists, what is best for Euro-American women is not necessarily going to be best for them. Consequently Muslim women have been developing a distinctly "Islamic" feminism, just as women of color in the West have been developing "womanism" in contrast to feminism, which primarily was shaped by the concerns of upper-class Euro-American women. One example of the differences between Western feminism and Islamic feminism concerns the issue of "veiling." The hijab (often translated as "veil") is the form of scarf or hair covering commonly worn by Muslim women. It has always been seen by the Western feminist as oppressive and as a symbol of a Muslim woman's subservience to men. As a result, it often comes as a surprise to Western feminists that the veil has become increasingly common in the Muslim world and is often worn proudly by college girls as a symbol of an Islamic identity, freeing them symbolically from neo-colonial Western cultural imperialism and domination.

Excellent information on the subject of Islam and women can be obtained from the Muslim Women's League. (Fixed March 7, 1999; fixed 22 July 2001; fixed on November 16, 2003) It contains, among other things, their position papers and articles, some of which are as follows:

  • Issues of Concern for Muslim Women
  • Spiritual Role of Women
  • Women in Society: Political Participation
  • Gender Equality in Islam
  • An Islamic Perspective on Sexuality
  • Legal Rights of Women in Islam
  • Violence against women
  • An Islamic Perspective on Hijab (veiling), and
  • Qur'anic References to Women.

    Islamic Traditions and the Feminist Movement: Confrontation or Cooperation, by Dr. Lois Lamya' al-Faruqi, discusses Islamic perspectives on the status and role of women in Islamic societies as well as the direction of Islamic feminism. (Link fixed March 27, 1999)

    Ending Domestic Violence in Muslim Families by Sharifa Alkhateeb, founder of the North American Council for Muslim Women.

    The Veil and Sacred Space: One Woman's Symbolic Glimpse by Patricia J. Catto, Associate Professor of Liberal Arts at the Kansas City Art Institute. This article is the most upbeat and creative piece on veiling that I am aware of.

    Woman Half-the-Man: Crisis of Male Epistemology in Islamic Jurisprudence a scholarly article by Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Virginia.

    Born in the USA: A New American Islam Proves Devotion and Women's Liberation Do Mix by the journalist Miriam Udel Lambert in the online journal American Prospect (link fixed 17 August 2005).

    Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives is the title of Saudi scholar Mai Yamani's 1996 book comprising the essays of a substantial number of women scholars who are articulating an emerging Islamic feminism. This link is her particularly informative introduction, which provides the reader with a thorough overview of the essays and the issues. (Back on-line 4/28/98; and fixed 11/20/03)

    'A'ishah's Legacy: the struggle for women's rights in Islam by Dr. Amina Wadud, professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Professor Wadud is one of the foremost Muslim feminist scholars. This brief article, published in the New Internationalist (vol. 345, May, 2002), will introduce readers to Islamic feminism.

    Hadith and Women This is a selection of the hadith (sayings) of the Prophet Muhammad concerning women. Note that many of these hadith are not in the most highly regarded collections of hadith. (From M. Mazheruddin Siddiqi, Women in Islam (Fixed November 20, 2003.)

    For a comprehensive list of links relevant to the issue of women in Islam, see The Muslim Women's Homepage. (Link fixed March 27, 1999.)

    In addition, see the article Women in the Qur'an and Sunnah, which gives a traditional Islamic viewpoint, written by Prof. Abdur Rahman I. Doi, Director, Center for Islamic Legal Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaira, Nigeria

    My Body is My Own Business is the statement of Naheed Mustafa, a young Canadian Muslim woman who has chosen to wear a traditional Islamic headscarf, generally referred to as a "veil" (hijab). (Fixed, June 30, 1999; and again on November 20, 2003)

    Why British Women Are Turning to Islam, an article in the London Times. (Fixed, 28 October 1999, and again on 20 November 2003)

    A Western feminist's eye opening view into the Muslim women's reality is expressed in the article A World Where Womanhood Reigns Supreme. (Fixed, 13 Sept. 1999 and 20 November 2003.)

    Women in Islam by Dr. Nahid Angha, co-director of the International Association of Sufism and founder of the Sufi Women Organization.

    An on-line book written from an Islamic perspective, entitled Women in Islam vs. Women in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, is well-documented and useful to students of this subject (link fixed 15 March, 2006).

    The following two articles deal with the Islamic position on violence against women: An Islamic Perspective on Violence Against Women by the Muslim Women's League (Fixed, 13 Sept. 1999, November 20, 2003) and Wife Beating? by Dr. Jamal Badawi, a Muslim scholar highly regarded by Muslims in the West. (Fixed, 13 Sept. 1999; January 11, 2004; March 15, 2006)

    Also by Badawi are the following articles:

  • Gender Equity in Islam
    and
  • The Status of Woman in Islam.
  • Polygamy in Islamic Law by Dr. Jamal Badawi (Link fixed, January 11, 2004.)

    Make Way for the Women: Why Your Mosque Should be Woman Friendly by an American convert to Islam, Siraji Umm Zaid. Ms. Zaid here criticizes the widespread lack of effort put into welcoming women into mosques in the US.

    Marmaduke Pickthall, a British Muslim convert well-known for his English translation of the Qur'an, in 1925 wrote the following essay in which which he criticized the oppressive Muslim treatment of women in India: Social Degradation of Women - A Crime and a Libel on Islam.

    Women in Islam (link fixed, January 11, 2004) a web site consisting of a Canadian Muslim woman's articles and links, one of which is her article Are You Ready to Meet the Woman Who Can Get By Without Her Looks? (link fixed 17 August 2005).

    Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights (link fixed, 22 July 2001) is an activist organization with the following stated objectives:

    1. Increase the familiarity of the Muslim community with Islamic, American, and International laws on the issues of human rights;
    2. Advise and assist individuals, institutions, and organizations on matters of human rights as seen from the perspective of Islamic law;
    3. Advise and assist Muslims, particularly women, on matters adversely affecting the free exercise of their religion, freedom of expression, and other constitutional rights in the United States;
    4. Provide educational materials on legal and human rights issues to American Muslim women.

  • Muslim Women's Organizations from This contains descriptions of and links to 13 Muslim Women's organizations. This page is a sections of Maryams.net, which is a comprehensive and superbly designed website dealing with women and Islam.

  • International Muslim Women's Organizations, an extensive annotated list (link fixed 17 August 2005).

  • International Muslim Women's Organizations Contains the names and addresses of six organizations, almost all of which are North American. (Link fixed, October 15, 2001; broken & unarchived as of 15 March, 2006.)

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