Discover Islam

Your source of authentic information about Islam and Muslims

Back You are here: Home Understanding Islam Islam and Women Islam The choice of Thinking Women

Islam The choice of Thinking Women

Islam The choice of Thinking Women

Ismail Adam Patel

Islam forbids the one thing that modern men and women have excelled in: a laissez-faire society. In contrast, Islam commends chastity, marriage, reproduction and upbringing of children, all of which the "modern, liberated women" has been encouraged to abandon, at her peril.

Sex, in Islam, is permitted only within wedlock, a measure which protects women from being used and abused. This also puts sex into its proper place in relation to other human needs such as social comfort, security and companionship. In Islam, sex is not the be all and end-all of life, but it is an important ingredient for a harmonious, caring and mutually supportive relationship between a married couple. It is a means of deepening love, affection and consideration towards one another.

The prominent feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir considered the roles of wife and mother to be a hindrance to women's freedom, and believed that women could only escape the trap of femininity by assuming the role of a professional career women. But it turns out that even the career woman cannot escape the cage of femininity, indeed she has it much worse because she faces pressure to appear and act feminine as well as to succeed in her chosen career.

Many feminists seek to steer women away from marriage and childbearing, as if women were unable to find happiness in these. It is a sign of arrogance on the part of feminists to make such assumptions. Even worse, they contend that those women who have found happiness and security in marriage are only fooling themselves.

Although in the early part of the twentieth century, feminist efforts focused on the campaign for women's suffrage and its consequences, a much greater impact on women's lives came from changes that had less to do directly with the women's movement, and everything to do with a loosening of morals and manners. After the First World War, there was an increase in literature on female sexuality and premarital sex, which had an effect on society. Whereas it had previously been the males who were immoral, women now- instead of demanding moral behaviour from the males - began to follow the male lead in immorality, to the delight of many men. The feminist movement, which supposedly liberated women, gave men the greatest pleasure. Not only has feminism allowed men to satisfy themselves sexually, but they are now in a position to demand that women look the way they want them to, based on the fantasy pictures spewed out by the media. The effect of sexual liberation has far from liberated women. Rather it has become a snare into which women are led for the greater benefit of men's sexual gratification and irresponsibility.

Islam, in contrast, commands humans to marry, which is first and foremost an act of piety. Marriage further brings benefits of emotional and sexual gratification, cohesion between families, and social stability. And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect. (al-Rum 30:21).

It is He Who created you from a single person, and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her (in love)...(al-A'raf 7189)

And Allah has made for you mates (and companions) of your own nature, and made for you, out of them, sons and daughters and grandchildren, and provided for you sustenance of the best: will they then believe in vain things, and be ungrateful for Allah's favours? (al-Nahl 16: 72) (See also al'Baqarah 2:187; al-Shura 42:11; al-Nisa '4:1)

There are feminists who advocate and eagerly anticipate technological advances that will replace the woman's role in childbearing. No doubt their wait will be in vain, because even if such technology were to be developed, it would surely be in the hands of men. Instead of becoming liberated, women would be rendered useless and be placed at the mercy of males.

The feminists see the main causes of women's oppression as lying in the political and legal system, especially English common law which has its roots in Christianity (religion in general); marriage, childbearing and the family. Islam's response to these concerns may be summed up as follows:

1. The rise of feminism in the West was due to the high level of social, legal, political and economic suppression of women. The first suffragette movement in Britain was established to address the political and economic inequality suffered by women, especially those who were married. Throughout the twentieth century, women have fought in the home, the workplace and the street for equal legal and political status. Women in Islam, unlike their Western counterparts, did not need to embark upon any such campaign. Every individual in Islam, male or female, is considered to be an independent person who is responsible and accountable for his or her own actions and is answerable only to Allah. A Muslim woman has equal status in business; if she commits a crime, her punishment is no more or less than that of a man. If compensation is due to her, she is dealt with on equal terms with a man in a similar case. Marriage does not affect her legal status, her property or earnings, or even her name. Thus the demands of the Western women, which have been only partially won after much bitter struggle, were handed on a plate, as it were, to the Muslim women, fourteen hundred years ago.

2. Feminist fears surrounding marriage, childbearing and family as a means of oppression have been discussed in the previous chapter. The following points may be noted by way of summary:

a) Marriage in Islam is a means of obtaining contentment, but if a union is not successful, then the marriage can and should be dissolved. The Quran commends marriage in several places (see al-Nisa '4:1; al-Nur 32-33; al-Rum 30:21). For a Muslim who has freely accepted Islam and is a sincere believer, marriage entails rights and responsibilities, but is not seen as restrictive. Individuals who enter wedlock must comply with Quran ic injunctions; any failure to do so brings the threat of divine punishment in the Hereafter. Professor Lois Lamya' al-Faroqi listed the purpose and benefits of marriage as follows:!

For an individual who has freely submitted to Islam, marriage is an act of piety.
Marriage is a mechanism for the moral and mutual benefit of controlling sexual behaviour and procreation.
Marriage provides a stable atmosphere for the rearing of children.
Marriage ensures crucial economic benefits for women during their childrearing years.
Marriage provides emotional gratification for both men and women.
Marriage acts as a protection from sin and as an interdependent institution.
b) In Islam, children are seen as a bounty from Allah, and their birth is a joyous occasion. According to the sunnah, the newborn infant should be given a good name on the seventh day; his or her head should be shaved and the weight of the hair in gold or silver should be given in charity as a sign of gratitude to Allah. It is also recommended to sacrifice a lamb and distribute its meat among the poor. The Quran explicitly states that children should not be seen as reducing wealth or curtailing one's freedom, and any acts such as abortion or infanticide are strongly condemned. (See al-an 'am 6:140, 150; al-Isra' 17:31).

Children are considered to be the apple of our eyes. However, the Quran also warns against becoming unduly proud and investing vanity and false hopes of security in one's children (see Al 'Imran 3:14; al-Anfal 8:28; al-Tawbah 9:69; al-Kahf 18:46; al-Mu'minun 23:55; Saba' 34:35; al-Hadid 57:20; al Taghabun 64:15; al-Qalam 68:14)

c) According to the Islamic view, the family extends beyond the "nuclear" circle of father, mother and children to include grandparents, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, and all their offspring. Rather than being a burden and crushing a woman's independence, the extended family should act as a support and means of building confidence. The Quran repeatedly enjoins kind treatment of kinsfolk and orphans (see al-Baqarah 2:177; al-Anfal 8:41; al-Nahl 16:90; al-Isra' 17:26).
In the light of Islamic teaching, some of the advantages of the extended family may be outlined as follows:)
Family members provide diverse company and intellectual stimulation, which fosters a broadly based environment in which children and adults may grow and develop.

Family members are there to provide support, sympathy and advice at times of trouble.
Quarrels may be quickly resolved as family members act as mediators and provide counsel.
Parenting problems are reduced as different family members assist in childrearing.
The extended family can assist in matchmaking, thus eliminating any perceived need for "singles clubs" or marriage agencies.
Working parents need not feel guilty about leaving their children, as they will be cared for by family members; this provides ideal support for working women.
Tragedies such as divorce will not be quite so devastating because the peer group within the extended family will cushion the blow somewhat.
Detrimental behaviour towards oneself or one's marriage will be less likely because the peer group within the extended family will oppose it. Far from being a burden to women, as the feminists fear, the family is in fact a great asset for the modern woman.

3. Western women who see religion as the cause of their oppression are diametrically opposed to Muslim women who have seen the teachings of Islam and the way of the Prophet as the greatest means of emancipation and attainment of equal status with men. Islam has given the Muslim woman a status which is far above that to which Western women aspire. So Islam has become a haven for today's educated, thinking women. Muslim women consider their religion to be their greatest friend, not the enemy as their counterparts in other societies see it.

At this point, the practical situation of some women in Muslim societies today needs to be addressed. It is an unfortunate and shameful fact that many rights, which have been afforded to Muslim women by Allah, have been denied to them by men. This is largely due to the fact that many Muslim men have embraced Western culture, extracted what suits them, and used this to oppress women. Many girls are denied the opportunity of an education and career, their marriage rights are ignored, their inheritance dues are consumed and their fate in the event of a divorce is deplorable. If we are to restore social order - and for the Muslim that means Allah's order - then Muslim men, with the aid of competent, sincere Muslim scholars, need to implement the whole shari'ah and apply it equally to both males and females. Modesty and the dress code, along with a thorough education about all the issues involved, need to be implemented and applied to both men and women.

However, even with the shortcomings that exist today, what Islam has to offer women is far better than any other options open to them. The comments made by Western women who embrace Islam are very interesting. A British researcher, Harfiyah Ball, interviewed a number of new Muslims and reported the following comments:

" [Before I accepted Islam] I had no feeling of purpose, no sense of direction, proportion, perspective. My life was unsettled, no guidance, no certainty, no proper aim, pointless and empty".

"Islam has given me all the answers to my questions. I am at home with the universe. I am at peace and content. I have my guiding light to follow Allah. I seek no more than to continue to be guided by Allah and to surrender wholly to His will. This has the effect of ushering one above pomp, idols and intermediaries. You only do what pleases Allah and that frees you from worldly demands". (Italics mine).

"No one seemed to care about the family, friends or strangers. Friendship with people was not close. Emotions were superficial, e.g. relationships with women formed only between boyfriends. I felt pressure from society to leave home and live independently". "I was lonely". "My girlfriends were always looking for boyfriends; all I wanted was friends".

Although there have been many improvements in the situation of Western women and the model of Western liberated women has been promoted worldwide, many Western women have expressed dissatisfaction about attitudes towards women in their own societies. Women feel that they are expected to fend for themselves, to compete for their survival with men. Their society expects them to be self sufficient as well as glamorous and domesticated. Many other pressures in Western society have seen the feminist bandwagon grind to a halt as women come to realise its impracticality and the restrictions it places on women's freedom and happiness. Young intellectual women have found that feminism has failed them, and they are now looking towards more prudent, sustainable teachings, such as Islam. In "The new Victorians: a young woman's challenge to the old feminist order", the author Denfeld states: "Feminism is bogged down in an extremist moral and spiritual crusade that has little to do with women's lives and it has climbed out on an academic limb that is all but inaccessible". Her sentiments are not surprising since surveys in the USA have shown that whereas in 1986, 56% of American women considered themselves to be feminists, by 1992, only 29% described themselves as such.

As the feigned concerns of the feminist are becoming apparent. The thinking women are waking up and searching for a more prudent ethos to conduct their way of life. It is greatly regrettably that after one hundred years of feminist dictates, women are as worst off in real terms as a century ago. Poverty is increasingly a women's problem. Women are made to fend for themselves and their families. In certain areas of Britain a woman heads one in three families’ on her own (compared with one in two hundred headed by men alone). Although English women represent 50% of undergraduates only a negligible few ever reach the top of their career. Western women suffering from mental illness and depression is higher than their male counterparts. The woman in the west has been demeaned so much that her body is considered a public object available for man's gratification by casually 'watching girl's go by' to sale in pornography, or as a sensual object for advertisers to use in promoting merchandise and prostitution. The consequences of all these is that the woman in the west is portrayed as an object of entertainment, valued for her beauty and a work horse stippling the male with sensual gratification and the capitalist system with surplus profit. The Western woman has been short changed of her integrity, intellect and personality.

If the feminists are genuinely interested in the emancipation of women, they need to challenge the present Western system by uniting women and men of all races under the umbrella of a logical and sustainable ideology that can be applied equally across the East/West and North/South divides and address the universal human concerns of child-care, equal opportunities, pregnancy rights, protection and education. One need look no further than the principles and teachings of Islam, which offer security, legal and financial freedom, emancipation from sexual and physical harassment, and equality of status. Islam has been portrayed as a misogynist villain in the West, because it threatens the existing social order of bourgeoisie, monetary ideology, sexual deviancy and oppression. Islam faces the opposition from parties with vested interests who have a stake in denying women express their true identity. The greatest tragedy of Western women especially those in the feminist movement, is their lack of aspiration: they have aspired only to be like men, instead of re evaluating and reclaiming what women are best at. Western men and capitalist society have devalued the heritage of women. It is up to women to look to the principles and way of life that credits them for their being. This can only be found in Islam.

Recent Tags