Are Muslim women oppressed?

Hijab File O94 File Photo

Mon, 27 Jan 2020 Source: Abdul-Karim Mohammed Awaf

Islam is often seen as a religion that limits the freedom of women or practically oppresses women. Muslim women are often cast as powerless, oppressed, voiceless and bereft of even basic rights.

Are Muslim women really voiceless souls hiding behind their veils who only live within the pleasures or the whims and caprices of their husbands?

Contrary to this general belief, women are held highly in Islam- they entitled to inheritance, they are not entitled to take their husband’s name after marriage, and in fact, it’s not obligatory for a wife to cook, clean and wash for her husband. Yes, it’s not a legislated role for women even though those roles have become expected and natural duties for women to compensate or balance the responsibility of the man who is mandated to meet the financial, emotional and spiritual needs of his woman.

For instance, there is always this assertion that Muslim parents do not regard educating their girl child. However, the burden to seek and acquire knowledge is not a requirement for the Muslim male child only. In fact, the Muslim mother is considered the first school for her children. It’s not surprising therefore that the first degree-awarding, and continually operating university in history, was founded by a Muslim woman, Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya Al-Qurashiya in 859 CE.

Another accusation that is always bandied over is that Muslim women are not allowed to have their voices heard or they are not allowed to participate in decision making. While this assertion may not be an Islam-specific issue, it is also worthy of note that women have featured prominently throughout Islamic history. Presently, the largest Muslim country in the world is Indonesia, and interestingly, the country has had two women Prime Ministers since history, something some Western countries, despite the sweltering wave of democracy and feminism, are still struggling to achieve.

In addition, given the fact that Muslims believe in Mohammed (phub) the final prophet and messenger of God, his life should provide a blueprint for Muslims. After all, Muslims believe that the interpretation of the Quran should start with the way it was practiced by Mohammed (phub) and his companions.

According to Islamic tradition, Mohammed (phub) started his life as a merchant and as a result was revered for his trustworthiness and honesty which earned him titles such as Al-Amin, the trustworthy one, Al Sadiq, the truthful one.

It’s held that when he was 25 years old, he worked for a wealthy widow merchant called Khadija who was arguably one of the wealthiest people in Mecca at the time. So Mohammed (phub) assisted her in her trading enterprise.

After working with him for a while, Khadija, who is regarded as the first Muslim of the Muslim world, got impressed by his honesty and trustworthiness, and as a result, convinced him to marry her despite Mohammed(phub) being 15 years younger than her.

For Mohammed to accept and marry someone so powerful and far older than him is exemplary of a man willing and accepting to let go of his ego and male chauvinism.

Some prophetic traditions assert that Mohammed(phub) in lifetime helped his wives in house chores including mending sandals, patching garments, sewing, cooking, cleaning and taking the trash out. He is reported to have said: “The best of you is the one who is best to his wife, and I am the best of you to my wives.”

Indeed when Khadija passed away, according to Islamic tradition, Mohammed(phub) was so saddened that he said: "God Almighty never granted me anyone better in this life than her. She believed accepted me when people rejected me; she believed in me when people doubted me; she shared her wealth with me when people deprived me; God granted me children only through her."

This powerful remark shows how Mohammed(phub) held Khadija in reverence and respected her as a wife.

These few glimpses of the prophetic examples Mohammed(phub) gives a context of how women should be regarded and treated in Islam.

It may be true that the conditions of women in some Muslim-dominated countries or even in Zongo communities in Ghana are not the best, but that should be looked at from the broader context of tribal culture and traditions that are incompatible with Islam.

Quick Note: I’m neither a scholar nor an expert in Islam; I’m only a young practicing Muslim passionate about my faith.

Writer: Abdul-Karim Mohammed Awaf

Social commentator


Columnist: Abdul-Karim Mohammed Awaf