Islamic religion began in Arabia as a revelation to humanity by the Prophet Muhammad. This was in stages over a period of twenty three years. Believers of Islam are known as Muslims. Muslims believe that there is only one God. The Arabic word for God is Allah. In Islam the Holy book Known as the Quran serves as a guide to the Islam beliefs, morals and behaviors. In Islam, there are several behaviors that are expected of the women. Women are expected to be modest and respectful. More so, Islam has always appreciated the femininity of the woman and regarded her as playing a role integral to that of the man, and similarly regarded the man as playing a role integral to that of the woman. Neither of them is an adversary or a competitor to the other. Rather, each is a help to the other in attaining the relative perfection of his or her person.
The most significant character in women is their dressing. Islam women are required to follow the Hijab. According to Roald (p.14), the Hijab is the principle of modesty and includes behavior as well as dress for both males and females. The most visible form of Hijab is the head covering that many Muslim women wear. Hijab however goes beyond the head scarf. In one popular school of Islamic thought, Hijab refers to the complete covering of everything except the hands, face and feet in long, loose and non see-through garments. A woman who wears Hijab is called Muhaajaba. Muslim women are required to observe the Hijab in front of any man they could theoretically marry.
In the earlier times, the status of women in Islam has always been a contentious one with women being considered as being lesser beings than their male counterparts. Indeed, this draws back to the early times when women were only represented by their husbands in public places. Moreover, Islam does not allow women to mix freely with men. A country that still practices this form of gender segregation is Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, women sit separately from men even in meetings and other social events. They learn in different learning and educational institutions. They also have their own recreational facilities such as the swimming pools among others. In fact, Nieuwkerk (p.32) reveals that the earlier Islamic teachings encouraged the oppression of women in the Islamic context. This has however changed with the western civilization as the Islamic women are given voice and their opinions respected even in public forums. The critics of women rights in the Islam context use the Quran as their point of argument that women should be oppressed though there is no such direct statement made in the Quran.
There are certain aspects that were traditional poised towards a certain direction but have however changed due to the incorporation of the western civilization. For instance, women in Islam were supposed to be extremely submissive to their husbands while at the same time ensuring that they have no voice in matter of marriage. They were traditionally married off to their suitors. This has changed in the modern world with the women being allowed to negotiate their way out. In fact, women in the modern world in the Islam context fall in love with the man of their choice before they are proposed to, making the entire process a real process.
Furthermore, the women’s dress code famously known as the Hijab has been a major bone of contention among modern Muslims. Traditionally, Muslim women were never allowed to walk out in public without the full attire comprising of the Hijab. This seems to be less strict with most Hijab’s taking a new avenue of fashion where they are not just black veils, big and bulky on the women. Today’s Hijab’s are designed to accentuate the woman’s figure and therefore celebrate women as an imperative being.
In addition, traditionally, women especially girls were given less priority when it came to education than their male counterparts in Islam. This was because, nobody really believed in educating girls since they would eventually be married off to capable and able men. However, in the modern times, this has changed drastically with many women opting to pursue career challenges and eventually becoming career women just like the rest of them. Critics have viewed this as a U-turn to the traditional perception. There continues to be growing misunderstanding in the way women should be treated in the modern context. Just recently, France was in the spotlight with its president refusing girls to wear headgears while attending class. This threatened to get out of hand until the law was relaxed. Islam on the other hand, is to blame for it has viewed women as incapable persons. In the employment circles, women were preferred for jobs that were not so demanding as such. This has prompted several protests until employers had to discard some of the Islam teachings that prohibited the employment of Islamic women. For instance, the famous international Muslim TV station, Al-Jazeera has employed a sizeable number of female presenters.
Consequently, women were never allowed in Islam to take a political lead in the society. More often than not, the women were merely left to be house wives with very little to call their own in terms of authority and possessions. The introduction of the western civilization has rescued women from the fathomless non political participation as more and more women take up political responsibility, perhaps devoid of what used to be of them before then.
Finally, women in Islam were traditionally not allowed to own or possess material assets such as land and the like. This therefore hampered the way in which the women could grow financially. Similarly, inheritance was strictly a preserve of the male dependants (Asgharali, p.17). This meant that women were never allowed to inherit a thing from their deceased relatives or parents. However, things have changed with the advent of the western civilization as more and more women have become heirs in very clearly acknowledged circumstances.
Asgharali, Engineer. The rights of women in Islam. Edinburgh: C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 1992.
Nieuwkerk, Karin van. Women embracing Islam: gender and conversion in the West. Berlin: University of Texas Press, 2006.
Roald, Anne Sofie. Women in Islam: the Western experience. New York: Routledge, 2001.
“Women in Islam.” Retrieved July 29, 2009 from http://www.islamfortoday.com/women.htm