As an 18 year old, non-Muslim American, the first time I met a raised-Muslim woman, I came face to face with misconceptions I held about women in Islam and Muslims … literally.
I looked into the gorgeous eyes of an Indian Muslim woman who could only be described as the inspiration for Jasmine from Aladdin.
I watched her kind manners, listened to her intelligent conversation and boisterous fervor for life, and decided that this woman couldn’t be like all the rest or “them”. She couldn’t be like all those sad submissive and oppressed women from “that” part of the world.
How could she?
As I got to know this mysterious woman, who I thought had defied all the traditions of her religion and culture, I came to realize this idea of her was a part of my own misconceptions, and all the myths I had held to be true about Islam’s view and treatment of women began to fall away one by one.
She was so self-possessed and gracious. She even had impeccable style all while wearing “that thing on her head”.
Myth: In Islam Women Are Less Than Men
Reality: When Islam was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), woman was not defined in relation to man, as she had been in so many societies and religions before.
She was not a mutilated version of man, as the Greeks had claimed. And she did not carry the responsibility for the downfall of man, as men in other religions decided. She was not killed or abandoned simply because of her gender.
In Islam, woman was her own individual- believing woman. God tells us that women are on equal footing as men:
I will not allow the deeds of any one of you to be lost, whether you are male or female, each is like the other. (Quran3:195)
No spiritual superiority exists in the male role or the female role. Men and Women are complementary to one another and should not be defined in relation to one another, except by our piety and deeds.
Myth: In Islam a Woman Is Completely Dependent on Man
Reality: In Islam men and women are dependent on each other:
Men and women are protectors of each other. (Quran 9:71)
Muslim women in the 7th century in the desert of Arabia gained the right to be their own legal entities.
Women voted, gave advice on all matters from political to religious, owned property, signed contracts, and inherited- all rights promised to them through the religion of Islam.
Women were not property handed from father to husband, something the Western world would not realize until the 19th. and 20th. centuries.
Myth: A Muslim Woman Can’t Even Say Who She Marries
Reality: In no uncertain terms, every bride must consent to her marriage.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
The widow and the divorced woman shall not be married until their order is obtained, and the virgin shall not be married until her consent is obtained. (Al-Bukhari)
The Prophet also said:
When a man gives his daughter in marriage and she dislikes it, the marriage shall be annulled.
Once a woman came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said that her father had married her to a man against her wish. The Prophet gave her the right to repudiate the marriage.
Myth: Muslim Women Aren’t Allowed to Get an Education
Reality: Muslim women not only have the right to obtain an education, they have the obligation.
The Prophet Muhammad said:
Seeking knowledge is incumbent upon ever Muslim man and women. (Ibn Majah)
Every Muslim must instill in mind a desire to seek knowledge. Allah instructed His Prophet — and thus all Muslims — to ask Allah to increase him in knowledge.
And say: My Lord increase me in knowledge. (Quran 20:114)
Myth: Islam Considers Women to Be Second Class Citizens
Reality: During his lifetime, Prophet Muhammad took counsel with and encouraged over 600 women who were scholars, warriors, nurses, businesswomen, teachers and students.
Muslim women and all women have the right to good treatment. The Prophet Muhammad even proclaimed that:
The best of you are those who are best to women. (At-Tirmidhi)
God tells us in the Quran that He has created man and women to share love, mercy, and live together in peace not so that they could treat each other as “less than”:
And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts. Undoubtedly in these are signs for those who reflect. (Quran 30:21)
Myth: Muslim Men Make Women Cover Their Hair
Reality: The first and most important reason Muslim women wear hijab is to please God out of her own free will and sincerity.
She does not wear hijab to please man. In fact if she does so, this is the considered the biggest sin in Islam- idolatry (shirk). No man or women is allowed to make any act of devotion toward anything but God alone.
Both men and women are asked by God to guard their modesty. But since our bodies are different, women and men dress differently.
It is important to note that God has asked women to cover their hair to be recognized as believing women. We recognize nuns, Mary the mother of Jesusby their mode of dress, as women of faith. It is the same for Muslim women who wear hijab.
Women have been victims of ruthless power struggles for centuries in all societies and cultures around the world. But Islam came to free societies and culture from this oppression and way of thinking about women.
So, whenever any Muslim person or government lowers the status of or removes God given respect and rights from women, it is only in a direct violation of core Islamic values.
As I look back on what I thought about Muslim women, what I came to learn, and what I came to believe, it saddens me to think that much of the Western world still holds all these same old misconceptions that I did. It horrifies me to see what some of the Muslim world does to women in direct contradiction to Islam.
It’s time we remove the narrative that Islam oppresses women.
It’s long past time to reclaim women’s rights.