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Feminism and Islam

Published: 20/08/2011 10:44:00 PM GMT
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Men of the Muslim faith will always argue that women are treated especially well in Islam. This is certainly true if one goes by a strict interpretation of the Qur'an. In the Qur'an women have all the rights that apply to men plus quite a few more rights specific to women.

This is part of the traditional Muslim view of justice in which the disadvantaged must be given more to achieve balance. The Qur'an takes the view that women have received the short end of the stick throughout history, and that they need to be compensated for this. In practice though, the culture in Middle Eastern countries has been tainted by chauvinistic traditions that have undermined the intentions of Islamic teachings in regards to women. The whole point of allowing women to rise from their historical disadvantage has been lost due to an extremist, chauvinistic and very wrong reading of the Qur'an.

Muslim society seems to be more protective of the chastity of women instead of actually trying to do something about the human rights of Muslim women. There are many areas in which the rights of women are not protected in Muslim culture and the teachings of the Qur'an that try to give women an advantage due to their historically oppressed status have been used against the same women they should be protecting.  A thorough understanding of feminism in the Qur'an renders this idea quite ridiculous and completely against any reasonable reading of the passages concerning women.

Some of the most severe violations of the rights of women include female infanticide (abolished by Islam) and “honor killings” in which a woman is murdered by her husband – this is in fact one of the most common crimes in many Islamic countries, like Pakistan and Afghanistan. Women are discriminated against from the very moment that they are born, since it is traditionally preferable to have a son over a daughter. The birth of a son is celebrated while the birth of a daughter is often cause for solemnity. Underage marriage, sometimes to the point of marrying eight or nine year old has also been practiced in Muslim countries. Even though the Qur'an protects the rights of women at every turn, women are still not equal to their husbands in the eyes of the law. An aberrant idea even exists in which the husband is considered a sort of guide for the woman, a decider in her destiny in the afterlife. In the context of Islam, in which such a fundamental part of the religion is based about there being absolutely no intermediaries between each individual and God, this idea is ridiculous and impossibly tragic at the same time.

Divorce is also almost impossible for women in Muslim societies. Even though the Qur'an clearly makes no adverse judgment on divorce and states clear rules about child custody and alimony, children of divorced couples are routinely stripped of their mothers. Polygamy is also a problem. While the original intent of polygamy as a way to protect widows and orphan is clearly stated in the Qur'an, it has been used in Muslim society as a way to coerce women and further submit them. The Qur'an is quite clear about the right of women to receive inheritance or gifts, but Muslim societies are blatantly opposed to women receiving wealth of any kind. According to An-Nisa', women have the right to work and engage in the activity of their choice. Restrictions on womanly conduct and dress were originally meant to help women be safe from harassment while they did that. Today Muslim societies have used this legislation to lock women up behind veils and doors, supposedly wanting to protect their chastity. However, according to the Qur'an confining women was not meant as the normal life for women but as a punishment.

While the Qur'an seeks to put women and men on equal footing, and continually says that before the Lord they are on the same level, Muslim societies have a very poor track record of giving women and men equal treatment. It is important however to distinguish between what is explicitly said in the Qur'an and the aberrant interpretations of a backwards society. Almost all of the violations of the rights of women and their mistreatment both legally and in society comes not from the Qur'an but from traditions gone wrong and a misguided patriarchal culture. Feminism is quickly taking hold in the Middle East, however. In this age of information, social media has made it possible for women in Muslim countries, once confined from the World, to learn that there are alternatives to what has been practiced due to an extremist interpretation of Islam. Many Muslim women today, living in in Muslim communities far from the totalitarian rule of extremists have thrived and existed according to the tenets of the Qur'an while at the same time preserving their identity and their religion.

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