TO HONOUR our Filipino Muslim women in celebrating the Women’s Month this March 2016, I decided to write some points about how women are viewed in Islam. We have to admit that some Muslims and even non-Muslims have erroneous misconceptions about the status of women in Islam. These misconceptions were worsened by social media, media, and some traditionalist or ultra-literalist ulamas that confuse everyone in understanding the message of Islam.
The list below is taken from various research and well-founded basis in the Holy Quran and the Hadith of prophet Muhammad (SAW).
1. Female circumcision, also called female genital mutilation is required in Islam: There are no religious grounds in the Quran that requires female circumcision and all the rituals that go with it. Hence, it is NOT an Islamic practice by any means. This practice predates Muhammad and is also common among some Christian communities.
2. The legal age for girls to marry tends to be very young: Almost all Muslim countries with valid and clear Shariah laws do not allow young girls to get married. Their physical/biological well-being, not to mention their mental and psychological condition will show that girls cannot marry until they reach adult age. Therefore, this is not an Islamic law but local tribal or cultural tradition.
3. Muslim women must wear the veil or hijab: This is a controversial issue among the Muslim communities today. We need to understand the message in the Quran that mentioned Hijab which has social, physical, and psychological meaning. Thus, we cannot limit the idea that hijab based on its complex meaning is only for women. There is a huge challenge with the Muslim men to observe the “hijab of the eyes”, meaning it starts with men lowering their gaze.
4. Islam encourages wife beating: On the contrary, Quran uses the best psychological approach to discourage this widespread abuse that is widespread in both Islamic and non-Islamic societies.
5. Polygamy is strongly recommended: This is one of the most common misconceptions about Islam. Quran strongly discourages polygamy. Polygamy was a way of life until the Quran was revealed 1400 years ago. It was advocated and practiced by the followers of the previous scriptures. Quran came to put the first scriptural limit on polygamy and discourages it as much as possible. Polygamy was never meant to be abused for sexual pleasure or prove superiority. The emotional makeup of a man makes him acceptable to polygamy and the opposite is true for women who prefer a monogamous relationship.
6. Men status is higher than that of the women: Again this is not true. Many writers who wrote about women’s rights refer to the statement in 4:34 as a sign of the man is above the women in status but it is a misunderstood statement.
In 4:34, the expression “..al-rijalu qawwdmuna ‘ala al-nisa’i…. ” means “The men are made responsible for the women, and GOD has endowed them with certain qualities and made them the bread earners.” This expression simply means that God is appointing the husband as “captain of the ship.” Marriage is like a ship, and the captain runs it after due consultation with his officers. It does not assign inequality but rather assigns duties to avoid conflicts and disputes.
Quran provides every possible proof that women and men are equal in the sight of God and treats both genders in the same way and rewards them in the same way.
7. Women cannot share in the political life in their communities: This also is not true. Women in Islam have the right to vote, express their views on any public matter, run for an office and even be the head of a state. (See 60:12, 27:22-44.)
8. Muslim women do not have the right to divorce their husbands: This is not true. Divorce laws in the Quran apply to both men and women equally. Women have the right to divorce their husbands as long as they follow the laws set in the Quran. There are many other points of misconceptions about women in Islam. What we need to understand is that Allah (SWT) reminds us that everyone is equal before Him. All humankind must be treated equal in law, rich or poor a person of high status or an ordinary person.
The Holy Qur’an says: “O mankind! God has created you from one man and one woman, you are divided into nationalities and communities, only so that you may identify one another; in the sight of God the most pious among you is most respectable among you; verily God is oft-knowing, well acquainted.” (49:13)