Islam is one of the world’s known religious communities in the world. Muslims are monotheistic, and they worship only one God, who they refer to as Allah. In Islam, women hold different positions depending on the beliefs and laws given by the religion. The experiences of Islamic women differ depending on the societies and personal opinions. However, most women adhere to the Islamic rules and regulations depending on how they affect their personal lives. As a result, Islamic religion gives women a common identity, connecting to social, cultural, and economic differences. One of the things that affect the role of women in society is their religious book, commonly referred to as the Quran. The Quran has set rules and roles that women are supposed to follow, and this gives a guideline on how they should behave in relation to different issues that affect society. Other influences that affect the role of women include secular laws, pre-Islamic cultural traditions, and governmental laws. Traditions, sexism, slavery, and authoritarianism are some of the factors that define the role of Islamic women in society. This essay will explore how these roles affect Islamic women and the Human Rights activists’ actions to change these beliefs.
The Role of Women and Tradition
Different traditions are used to define and explain the role of women in society. According to Abdelhadi (2017), women are generally supposed to be obedient wives and mothers. Besides, women are also expected to stay in a home environment while caring for their families. As a result, Islamic women are regarded as the caretakers and protectors of their families. However, these traditions are changing daily, and many women scholars agree that Islamic women should not be confined to function in the home environment. Different social scientists argue that traditionally, Islamic women are not supposed to engage in public, including employment (Abdelhadi 2017). Instead, women are supposed to be home keepers, with their main focus being ensuring their families are okay and well taken care of. This has seen many women fail to go to school and advance their education beyond their basic level. They only focus on getting the education to help them run their homes well and effectively care for their families.
Traditionally, women have different gender roles. While women are supposed to be obedient wives and good mothers, men are supposed to be the family’s caretakers (Global connections, 2021). Besides, men and women in the Islamic community were treated unequally since men had many chances, unlike women. It was easy for a man to get educated and secure a good job, while women were not supposed to be educated and go to work since their work revolves around the house. Therefore, traditionally, Islamic women were seen as inferiors, and they were supposed to serve their men since men owned their women. Even the Islamic religious book argues that ‘Men are the protectors and maintainers of women’ (Global connections, 2021). Following this, it was easy for the men to deny their women chances to better their lives since they believed they could take care of them. Women continued to be obedient and follow the given rules by taking good care of their families. However, gender roles have continued to change due to activism. Most Islamic women have changed their ways of thinking concerning gender roles and the role of women as home keepers only (Hassan, n.d. Consequently, Islamic women started going to schools and pursuing their careers. Most of them currently believe that they can do as much as men can; hence, they should never be limited to taking care of their families.
Another tradition that defines how women behave in society is their dressing code. Traditionally, women are supposed to cover their bodies since it is a sin to expose parts of their bodies for others to see. Islamic women cover their bodies with the hijab, especially the chest (Sechzer, 2004). Besides, the Islamic women also use head coverings, with others covering all parts of their bodies apart from the eyes with a chador. Islam clothing is supposed to be loose enough not to show the body’s shape. As a result, some women wear a light cloak over their regular dressing to hide the shape and skin of their bodies. The robes and clothes worn by the Muslims should be thick enough to prevent people from seeing through them (Sechzer, 2004). Generally, Islamic women are supposed to wear modestly and avoid exposing their body parts to the public. Different groups have continued to argue against the dressing of Islamic women, stating that it is controlling and demeaning (Sechzer, 2004). Following this, various European countries have tried to try and outlaw some of the laws related to some of the aspects of Islamic women’s dressing, primarily covering the face in public.
Islamic women have faced a lot of violations of their human rights in the world. Hassan (n.d) explains that Muslim women are discriminated against even at birth since a girl is always regarded as a trial while a boy is considered a gift. This makes the birth of a boy to be celebrated while that of a girl calls for lamentation and commiseration (Sechzer, 2004). Although the Quran aimed at protecting human rights by stating that all people should be treated equally, Islamic women are treated as inferior while the men are superiors (Hassan, n.d). Due to changes in different aspects of the world, some of these practices that discriminate against Islamic women face many objections. Traditionally, most leaders in the Islamic world consisted of conservative religious leaders who also ascended to political power. However, such leaders had not agreed to accept democracy and treat men and women equally.
Authoritarianism and Islamic Women
Islamic Women have started embracing authoritarianism by joining different political platforms worldwide. One thing that has affected women’s political activities is the modernist and nationalist movements (Hassan, n.d). On the other hand, other segments of the society started fighting for equal treatment between men and women, including allowing women to join different leadership platforms, like being political leaders. As a result, women found a better chance to articulate their ideas, needs, and wants. Since women are discriminated against so many things, the only way to ensure that their lives are better is by joining the world’s political leaders and decision-makers. More so, they wanted to be part of the leadership that makes rules governing society. Many Islamic women have joined the political platforms, and they help in leading and decision-making processes.
Islamic women are joining the political world so that it becomes easy for them to make rules and regulations that are fair to them. Many Islamic countries have weird laws and regulations limiting women’s love, affecting their freedom. For example, the Nigerian State of Zamfara has introduced a Sharif law that prevents women and men from traveling together in public means (Sechzer, 2004). AS a result, it becomes hard for women to move from one place to another, especially while using public transport. In Kuwait, women are not supposed to hold a political party or even vote (Sechzer, 2004). One of the best ways to ensure those leaders are concerned about the welfare of both men and women is by allowing women to vote for the people they want. Therefore, denying them the voting chance means denying one of the fundamental human rights. As a result, Islamic women have formed groups that protest against these mistreatments and have equal rights with men. Women joining the political arena allow them to develop different laws and regulations that make it hard for men to mistreat women (Sechzer, 2004). These laws enable women to pursue their dreams and live a comfortable life without following some mediocre traditional rules.
The Role of Islamic Women and Sexism
Sexism is a critical area that affects Islamic women. Some different laws and regulations guide how Islamic women should behave. As discussed above, Islamic women are believed to be home builders; hence their responsibilities include caring for the family. Shariah law is more confined to marriage, inheritance, and family. Under Islamic law, Muslim women are allowed to have only one husband. On the other hand, men can marry up to four wives (Baden, 1992). This shows inequality because women are not treated equally to men. Besides, Islamic law also states that the husband is the head of the house; hence he should provide and maintain his wife and children during the marriage. On the other hand, Baden (1992) states that women are supposed to reciprocate the care by being obedient and offering sexual fidelity to their men. Therefore, this also shows inequality since women are supposed to be sexually faithful to one husband while the men are allowed to have more wives and satisfy them sexually (Baden, 1992). This shows an unequal exchange, and the woman receives fewer benefits. According to Islamic law, it is essential to note that it is okay for the husband to beat up a woman if she does not obey him. However, the wife does not have any means to enforce her husband to fulfill his obligations and support her. Following this, if the husband fails to provide for the family and satisfy the woman sexually, there is nothing that the woman can do.
Marriage in Islamic is seen as a form of contract. Both men and women can stipulate the terms of the agreement. The man pays the bride price, also referred to as the mehr to the bride’s family (Baden, 1992). Although this does not happen, the husband should give the wife the remaining bride price in a divorce. Divorce is allowed in Islamic law, and the husband is the one that has the unilateral right to divorce his wife (Baden, 1992). Most importantly, the husband can choose to divorce the wife for specific reasons or no reason at all. On the other hand, the wife can only divorce her husband if she follows the proper procedures through the court of law. This shows that women are not given equal chances to leave their marriages. Generally, women have a minor status either during the marriage or before marriage. During the marriage, they are at the mercy of their husbands, and they are expected to obey their husbands and be faithful to them. Before marriage, women are expected to be under their fathers and brothers (Baden, 1992). This shows that women are not supposed to live independently. Therefore, Islamic sexism does it treat women as the same as men. They are supposed to respect their male counterparts, husbands, fathers, and brothers.
Many Islamic women have tried to resist these regulations that limit women and their roles in society. It is wrong for women to be confined at home at the mercies of the husband. Besides, the husband can do everything they want, and the women should; not question their decisions. Due to these demeaning behaviors against women and their sexuality, many women activists and human rights have tried to fight these practices so that Islamic women can be independent. However, many challenges emerge since the Shariah law also gives half weight to the evidence that women provide at the court. For example, in Pakistan, women’s evidence is not permissible if the cases are about adultery, rape, or women being punished for the crime of adultery (Baden, 1992). As a result, it becomes hard for women to get justice after going through the above ordeals. Consequently, this allows the Muslim men to continue beating up their women, raping them, and committing adultery since they know nothing will be done. Such practices and beliefs should be abolished, and new laws and rules that respect women’s sexuality and independence should be set up.
Islamic women and Slavery
Islamic law gives some special attention to Slavery and how it affects women. One of the types of Slavery that affect Islamic women is sexual Slavery. According to Brandeis University (2004), Islamic law regulates slave marriages and concubinage. This is usually done to determine the paternity of children born to female slaves. Brandeis University (2004) explains that the male owner has the right to renounce the slave to another man; hence he will not access her sexually. In addition, the owner can keep the female slave as his concubine, and this way he will, have sexual access to her all through. If the female slave is married off, then children born to that marriage are also slaves and belong to the mother’s owner. On the other hand, if the master decides to keep the woman slave as his concubine, then the children born out of that marriage are free and should not be treated as slaves. They have the same rights as those of the children born in a legal marriage to a woman who is not a slave. Therefore, Enslaved women were treated as sexual objects by their masters; hence sexual Slavery affected them more.
Slavery was a social norm in the Muslim world for around 1400 years. Most of the enslaved women were mainly employed in domestic services and commerce. The Islamic women exposed to Slavery had more difficulties since they were forced to engage in sexual activities with their employers. Most of the Islamic women who experienced Slavery knew that it is normal to be sold off for sex, and it is also customary to be used as a sexual told to satisfy their masters (Hassan, n.d). This has affected how Islamic women view their sexuality, making it hard for human rights activists to convince them that their sexuality should be respected. Although most Muslim societies have outlawed Slavery, some people are still into Slavery. For example, some vestigial effects of domestic Slavery still exist in the Gulf nations (Hassan, n.d). Domestic workers are treated as sexual objects by their Muslim employers, yet they have nowhere to report and no one to help them. This happens mainly because the police and other lawmakers do not protect the immigrants who work as household helpers and face potential abuse from their employers.
How Islamic Women are Embracing Human Rights
Although the role of Islamic women in society is seen as inferior compared to men, most Muslim women have become human rights advocates and activists (Hassan, n.d). Some of the practices that enslave and confine Islamic women to staying at home and taking care of their families should be abolished. According to (Sechzer (2004), it is evident that Muslim societies discriminate against women. When such women realize that they have rights and should be treated equally as men, they become entirely alienated from the Muslim culture. Most gender stereotypes originate from the evolution of the Muslim culture, which viewed women as inferior to men (Sechzer, 2004). Although the Quran has parts that state that all people should be treated equally, the Muslim society has made women believe that they are treated well. Some of the new restrictions that have been proposed to prevent women from being mistreated are yet to be actualized. This has made it hard for some Islamic communities to respect their women and live free lives. However, the fact that Islamic women are forming women’s groups and movements to fight for their rights means that the ill-treatment against Islamic women will end in the future.
In conclusion, it is evident that traditions, sexism, slavery, and authoritarianism are some factors that define Islamic women’s role in society. Islamic women have embraced different practices as a tradition. The wearing of the hijab and covering their entire body is an indication that women should not expose their bodies to the public. Islamic women have also embraced the traditional beliefs that their roles belong to the kitchen; hence, they should care for their families. Islamic women have also grown to believe that they should not question their men, whether fathers, brothers, or husbands. It becomes hard for them to live an independent life since they are always under the care of their husbands or fathers. Islamic women have a significant role in authoritarians since most of them now embrace the public platforms to become leaders. These are the leaders forming movements that advocate for equal treatment for women. As a result, most Islamic women now embrace these changes by pursuing their dreams and careers instead of being homemakers only. The role of women in Slavery shows that women have been slaves to men for a long time. However, sexual Slavery is the one that affects these women more since men and masters treat women as sexual objects. As a result, sexism has continued to affect Islamic women even in marriages. While their husbands are allowed to have more than one wife, women are only supposed to be faithful to one man. These practices should end, and Islamic women should be given equal chances to live independently and fight for their dreams and goals.
Abdelhadi, E. (2017). Religiosity and Muslim Women’s Employment in the United States. Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, 3, 1-17. doi.org/10.1177/2378023117729969
Baden, S. (1992). The position of women in Islamic countries: possibilities, constraints, and strategies for change. Bridge Development Gender, 4, 1-42.
Brandeis University. (2004). Islam and Slavery. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://www.brandeis.edu/projects/fse/muslim/slavery.html
Global connections. (2021). What Factors Determine the Changing Role of Women in the Middle East and Islamic Societies. PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/globalconnections/mideast/questions/women/
Hassan, R. (n.d.). Rights of Women Within Islamic Countries. CANADIAN WOMAN STUDIES/LES CAHIERS DE LA FEMME, 15(2), 40-44.
Sechzer, J. A. (2004). “Islam and woman: Where Tradition Meets Modernity”: History and Interpretations of Islamic Women’s Status. Sex Roles, 51(5/6), 263-272. https://doi.org/10.1023/b:sers.0000046610.16101.e0