On March 8 of every year, people all around the world participate in celebrations of appreciation and respect towards women. International Women’s Day provides observance of female contributions to social, economic and political achievements. However, this day also serves as a reminder of the inert and almost quiescent nature of the women's movement. After all, the gender pay gap widened in 2012, according to the Labor Department. There is no denying that progress has been made; however, steps toward progression of gender equality have been indolent.
Every March 8, my veneration of Islam is increased as I'm reminded of the rights provided to me by my religion — many of which were not granted to women in the West until the late 18th and 19th centuries. At the same time, I recognize the nescient attitude many individuals exhibit towards a religion they believe is oppressive to women and for this reason it has become necessary to outline the status of women in Islam and provide several examples of women's rights:
Islam grants every woman the right to choose a husband. Every woman has the right to say “yes” or “no.” Forcing a women to marry an individual she has not accepted is prohibited in Islam. A marriage is not validated unless a woman's consent to the marriage is provided.
According to Islamic law, if a women owned any type of property or real-estate they remain in her possession and control after she is married. This has been a woman's right since the creation of Islam unlike countries in the west in which a wife's property was always surrendered to the husband following marriage up until the enacting of property rights for married women. Furthermore, if a women owns any type of financial earnings like investments and/or savings these financial earnings remain in her possession as well. In fact, according to Islamic law, a women does not have to spend a single penny of her own income, even if she is rich. The husbands earnings become her earnings and she may choose to save her money and spend her husband's money instead. In other words, what's his is hers but what's hers is ONLY hers.
The Quran demands that husbands treat their wives with kindness: “Dwell with your wives in kindness for even if you hate them, you might be hating someone in whom God has places so much good” (4:19). Muslims also believe that the Prophet was clear in his command that women be treated with kindness and respect.
Mothers are provided a very high status in Islam. It is common to hear Muslims quoting Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) when he said, “Paradise is at the feet of mothers.” Once a man approached Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and asked, “O, Messenger, who among mankind is worthy of my kindness and love?” The Prophet answered, “Your mother.” Then the man asked, “Who next?” And again the Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man asked once more “Who next?” And the Prophet replied “your mother.” Only after the third time, Prophet Muhammad said, “your father.”
Mothers are automatically entitled to child support according to Islamic law if they are to divorce their husband.
Career and Education
Islam has made education a duty on every Muslim. Gaining knowledge and seeking education is an obligation for every Muslim female and male and is considered a momentous act of worship. Precluding a Muslim women's right of acquiring an education is against Islamic law. Muslims believe that women have played a significant role in the intellectual progress and procession of Islam throughout history. Historically, Muslim women have held distinguished ranks and provided major contributions in educational and career advancements. Several Muslim women are credited for helping develop, preserve, and advance Islamic knowledge. The Prophet was very vocal in emphasizing education for every Muslim both female and male.
Nowhere in Islamic law does it say that women are forbidden from seeking employment. Islam does not confine women to household duties. Historically, Muslim women have participated in various occupations and had a major impact on societal progress.
It's Not Just Eve's Fault
Unlike the Judeo-Christian conception, Islam does not blame Eve, and subsequently all women, for the mistake of eating from the forbidden tree. According to the Quran, both Adam and Eve were jointly at fault and both were blamed for their disobedience to God. They both repented for their sin and they were both forgiven (the Quran describes this in chapter 7 verses 19-24).
Disenfranchisement of women in the United States lasted until 1920. However, the right to vote for Muslim women is as old as the religion of Islam itself. Islamic historical records indicate women's active right to vote and participate in the political decision-making process have been around for more than 1,400 years.
Not only does Islam protect a women's right to political participation but it also provides the right to be nominated to a political position. Historically, Muslim women have played a significant role in political discussions and even argued with the Prophet himself. Women were provided several political and societal responsibilities. They were even allowed to participate in managing important state affairs, like Shifa bint' abd Allah — who was appointed the position of controller of the market during the Prophet's time.
The above examples provide only a small glimpse of the status of women in Islam. Considering the mistreatment and oppression of women in several so-called “Islamic” countries it becomes difficult to accept Islam as being a religion of equal rights. Examples of oppressive practices permit the West to exhibit imperiousness in regards to women's rights in comparison to these so-called “Islamic” countries.
Western media and academic discourse have been successful at providing examples of Islamic countries as evidence to bolster their argument that Islam is an oppressive religion. However, any investigation into the history of Islam would indicate that Islam has extended rights to women that the West did not provide until the late 18th and19th centuries. While countries like Saudi Arabia have tainted the image of Islam — a religion of peace and equality — it is up to every individual to educate herself/himself on Islamic history so that she/he can be disabused of false perceptions about the Islamic religion. One thing is clear and that is that countries who “represent” Islam are very disparate from the religion itself.