Infographic courtesy of International Museum of Women Muslima: Muslim Women’s Art & Voices
As a male, I’m almost never subject to discrimination based on my religion because I’m not visibly Muslim. Muslim women on the other hand are singled out and judged because they wear the headscarf, a symbol of Islam. They’re regularly stared at and seen as subservient to their husbands and forced to wear the head covering.
This is one of the most common misconceptions about Islam; that it oppresses women. It’s true that in some Muslim countries women are mistreated, but this is a result of cultural practices, not religious ones.
The media constantly shows images of women suffering abuses in places like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. They draw the conclusion that this is representative of Islam. This is false.
Islam liberated women. It gave women rights to divorce, property and inheritance 1,400 years ago, far before the Western world did. Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey and Bangladesh have all had female heads of state. The United States has not.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, women had virtually no rights. Female children were often left in the desert to die. One of the earliest Islamic teachings was to stop this evil practice. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that the best of men are those that treat their wives well.
According to Islam, men and women have the same spirit; there is no male superiority. Everyone is held accountable for their deeds regardless of gender. In the Qu’ran it says: “Whatever men earn, they have a share of that and whatever women earn, they have a share in that.” [Qu’ran 4:32]
The religion of Islam is also criticized for the concept of polygamy, the belief that a man can have more than one wife. What is left out of this criticism is that the Qu’ran is the only holy book that limits the number of wives a man can have. In the Bible and Torah it says a man can have an unlimited number of wives. The Qu’ran on the other hand, says a man can have up to four, but if he cannot treat them all with justice then he should have just one. It’s also worth noting that a majority of Muslims do not practice polygamy.
When a religion becomes part of a society, it intertwines with the culture. Sometimes patriarchal and sexist practices remain, even if they contradict the religion. It’s dangerous to conflate cultural practices with religious ones and generalize hundreds of millions of people, leading to more division. Muslim and western societies should work together to promote gender equality; baseless criticisms of doctrine do nothing to solve the problem.