As a Christian I have heard Islam referred to as a religion of Satan and other similar names. I have been fascinated with Islam ever since I was a teenager in high school. In today’s world, Islam has to be both the most misunderstood and mysterious religion in the world. Probably the most common misunderstanding about Islam is its stance on the rights and roles of women.
The Western media often presents us with a negative connotation of how Muslim women are treated. There, of course, is also the centuries-old myth of women being kept locked in harems as sex slaves for a rich sheik or a sultan. We often cite the treatment of women under the Taliban in Afghanistan and with the mutawwa in Saudi Arabia. There is no denying that in Islamic countries women are denied their rights due to them by the Quran in favor of pre Islamic tribal customs. What are those rights that women are guaranteed in Islam?
First a woman has a right to inherit and to own property. While she may only inherit half of what a male would she usually will fare better. A man must use any money to support his family first and foremost. It is only logical that he would inherit more because he has more obligations, where a woman can do with the money as she pleases. She is not obligated to spend it to support her family unless she chooses to do so. Hence she will have more than a man to spend on her own personal use. I see nowhere in the Bible in both the New and Old Testaments where a Christian woman was given the right to own property. Until a century ago in the USA and Britain when a woman married her property was given to her husband to do with as he wished and there was nothing she could do about it. This is not the case in Islam. When a Muslim woman marries she retains the right to her property, her husband cannot take it from her. She can also run and own a business. One only has to look at Khadija the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad as an example. She was a wealthy business woman and was not forced to give over her wealth and business to her husband.
Second, is the mahr. Before an Islamic marriage can be validated the husband has to give the woman a mahr or dowry. This can be in the form of money , jewelry, property or whatever else the woman may stipulate. There is no set amount and this should not be confused with bride price where the woman’s father is compensated for the loss of his daughter. The mahr is a wedding gift from a husband to the wife and she can do with it as she sees fit. The only time she may be required to pay it back is if she commits adultery or initiates a divorce. In other parts of the world such as India it is the bride’s family who must pay the groom’s family a dowry and often a handsome one at that. Too common are stories of Hindu brides being killed because their family refuses or cannot afford to pay a higher dowry. If such practices happen in an Islamic society, it is tribalism not Islam that condones this.
Third is the requirement of Muslim to wear the hijab and more questions are asked about this than any aspect of women’s rights in Islam. The hijab should not be seen as a symbol of oppression, but an act that commands respect on the highest level. In the West where women are often viewed as sex objects and not human beings, the hijab for Muslim women can be seen as liberating. It sends the message that they are obeying God and that they want to be judged by their character rather than by their looks. It is intelligence and accomplishments that define their identity not their looks. The few Muslim woman that I have had the opportunity to talk too are very confidant, educated and some of the most intelligent women I have ever came across. Education is also guarenteed to Muslim woman. A hadith on this subject says that it is the duty of every Muslim to seek knowledge. This applies to men and women alike. Once again where in the Bible are Jewish and Christian women assured of the right to an education?
Another misunderstood aspect is plural marriage. A Muslim man is allowed to marry up to four wives, but unlike other religions there are limits and strict conditions. He must be able to support each one in an equal manner and give each equal time. For many Muslim men this is expensive, so monogamy is the norm and polygamy the exception. From a pragmatic standpoint this is a very logical approach to marriage. Women outnumber men and live longer as a general rule. In times of war and famine polygamy can be seen as a human gesture, especially for widows and orphans. This way they would receive support and protection instead of being forced to starve or engage in degrading acts such as prostitution in order to feed themselves or their children. Muhammed himself is an example on the subject of polygamy, all of his wives except for Aisha were either divorcees or widows with children. I personally as a Christian in time of famine or war would rather have to share my husband with a widow with children than to leave them to starve and die. Polygamy is not forbidden in the Bible except for church elders, deacons, bishops and other members of the clergy.
The treatment of women today in some Islamic nations is sad, but it has more to do with preIslamic tribal customs rather than the religion of Islam. Many people have reverted back to their old tribal customs and mixed in Islamic theology with it to create their own version of this great religion. Many go to schools and learn only the Quran by rote, yet are they memorizing the Quran or some zealouts version of it. The key to improving the lot of Muslim women is education and literacy. Muslims should not only learn to memorize the Quran, but also learn to read it so they will know if they are being taught the true way of Islam or tribal Islam. If every Muslim is literate they will implement Islamic law as it was intended and this would include giving women their full rights due to them by God.