Are Muslim Women Oppressed?

Written by Kushboo Jamal

Are women oppressed? Sure. All around the world, regardless of race, socioeconomic status and religion, women are oppressed in some way, shape or form. What the mainstream account is that Muslim women are oppressed when in reality Islam proved to be progressive for women's rights. How did the life of women in Arabia immediately change when the message of Islam came to the Prophet ﷺ? Sadly, most of us don’t know. With the revelation of the Holy Quran from our Lord, women were given so many unprecedented rights such as the right to inheritance, marital rights such as dowry, choice in marriage, the right to divorce and so on. Islam elevated the status of the woman in her role as a daughter, wife and mother. The Prophet ﷺ himself used to do chores around the house although outside he was busy spreading the word of Allah and persevering through persecution.

“But why do men and women have different rights and obligations in Islam?” asked my friend. The reality is men and women are inherently different so to expect the same from both would not be justice. God is our Creator and so He truly understands our nature and our capacity to fulfill certain obligations. 

Why are women ordained not to pray salah during menstruation and postpartum bleeding? The technical response would be that our ablution is invalid but if you look at the bigger picture, I believe because our bodies are not physically optimal as we deal with painful symptoms, to be required to fulfill the five daily prayers would be troublesome in that state. It is out of the love and wisdom of Allah swt, Al-Hakam, the Giver of Justice, that we are exempt from salah during that time.

Why do women have to hijab and men do not? Do Muslim women need liberation? This is a big misconception. In Surah Noor, when our Lord touches upon the topic of modesty, He first addresses men to guard their gaze and to protect and veil their private parts, staying away from fornication before He addresses women on modesty. Just as women are ordained to veil their ‘adornments’, men are to dress modestly as well – and there is so much more to hijab than just clothing. While we compare, men are even prohibited from wearing pure silk and gold whereas women are not.

Can we recall that women’s right of suffrage was only ratified in America in 1920 whereas Muslim women were active members in every aspect of society since the beginning? It is so important to learn the history of the life of the Prophet ﷺ and his Companions – especially the female Companions whose stories we barely know. By truly understanding their roles and the importance they were given, we can use that context to then distinguish where patriarchy rules in today’s society and homes as opposed to true Islamic principles.

  • Khadijah RadiAllahu anha, the Prophet’s ﷺ wife was a very successful businesswoman at that time, sending trade caravans to different countries. Agriculture, business, trade and commerce, medicine, writing, weaving, manufacturing – you name it, the women were a part of every aspect of society.
  • When the pagan Quraysh attacked during the Battle of Uhud, only a few devoted Companions remained to defend with the Prophet ﷺ. Among them was the courageous Sahabiya, Umm ‘Ammarah, May Allah be pleased with her, who shielded the Prophet ﷺ, bearing many wounds including a deep injury to her neck; she even sent her wounded son back into the battle. In later battles, she would even lose an arm. She was just one of the many female warriors.
  • There were many Sahabiyat including the Mothers of the Believers, A’ishah, Umm Sulaim, and Umm Salit, May Allah Be Pleased With Them, who were skilled at nursing the wounded.
  • An incredibly important aspect of missionary work was to preserve the religion in its original form which the Sahabiyat did, most prominently A’ishah RadhiAllahu anha with her remarkable memory as she narrated over 2000 authentic hadith, or teachings of the Prophet ﷺ.
  • Since many of the female companions knew the Qur’an by heart and therefore were well versed in the Quranic exegesis and Islamic legislation, their political insight was an asset.
  • The first believer in Prophet Muhammad, ﷺ was his wife, Khadijah, May Allah be pleased with her. The first martyr was a woman, Summaya RadiAllahu anha. Just one page is not enough to explain the exemplary character and nobility of these women who were promised Paradise. 

So, as you can see, we don’t need liberating, we’ve been liberated. Allah swt says,

“Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so - for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.” Qur’an [33:35] 

So, this goes to show that only by faith and actions can one surpass another in the sight of Allah, regardless of gender. The oppression that you see in today’s world is not because of Islam but rather the regressive patriarchal cultures that people incorrectly mix with the beautiful faith.

This blog post was written by Khushboo Jamal.

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