Women in Islam

This research essay will explore the realm of women in Islam both culturally and religiously.  These aspects will be dissected into genderized role of women in Islam society.  The role of women in Islamic society will be strictly analyzed with strict attention to anthropologic terms and influences as well as an historical analysis which gives reason behind the social roles of women in Islam in modernity.  Current issues such as the clothing style and fashion of headscarves will be brought to fruition in the research as well as the position of Muslim women in western society and the implications of this that is seen in Middle Eastern societies.In the reinterpretation of the Qur’an  women have taken to believing in the Islamic worldview Tawhid.  This worldview suggests that God or Allah is the only deity. In this redefining concept lies the equality of humanity.  Thus, this worldview of Tawhid sees male and female as equals before God, “The goal of this worldview is to deconstruct human hierarchy and balance natural and social laws, that is taqwa” (Barazangi 2004; 22).It must also be stated that women are noticeably left out of the text of the Qur’an and thus their rereading it in view of feminist theory to some extent allows them to find their place in religion that has previously been overshadowed by a patriarchy that was caused from the narrow focused view of the Qur’an.  In the dichotomy of interpretations of the Qur’an women have been left out of the pedagogical and ethical meanings of this religious text (Barazangi 2004; 23).  In the true meaning and the intended interpretation of the Qur’an  women were thought the same as men but the translation of the text has been focused on the patriarchal readings and not with equality, “…the absence of women from earlier Qur’anic readings is at the root of the misreading of the mainng of Islamic identityt and trusteeship, interpreting the principle of khilafas states in the Qur’an—‘God said to the angles: I will create a trustee on earth, and God taught Adam the names of all things” –as if it were limited solely to the male’s political and theological leadership, and as it ‘Adam’ were limited to the male human” (Barazangi 2004; 23).  In this textual misinterpretation Muslims are attributing human leadership with ‘God’s Lordship’ (Barazangi 2004; 23) and not with the intention of women as finding themselves in the text.One of the first conditions of being a Muslim is the participation of any Muslim in the first reading in the name of God (Barazangi 2004; 23).  This fact however has been overlooked in recent interpretations of the Qur’an, and this perpetuates the degradation of women and the exclusion of them in their own religion as Barazangi states, “As this participation has been overlooked by Muslim societies, the lack of reading and interpreting of the text by women from within the text has resulted in three additional shortcomings: exclusion, prevention, deprivation” (Barazangi 2004; 32-33).  The definition of the word exclusion leads to the fact that women in this definition are exhibited in the perpetuation of the patriarchy in Muslim religion through women’s continual lack of inclusion in community events, processes, and dictations since, according to the Qur’an women do not ‘constitute a theological authority’ (Barazangi 2004; 33).Barazangi further emphasizes this point of women’s exclusion in practicing the Muslim belief,…the exclusion also prevented the woman whose affairs were being discussed from being a Muslim by choice, and from acting as an autonomous human trustee who is also enjoined to act in equilibrium (Barazangi 2004; 33).This exclusion also travels into God being incorporated into the communities as this deity being teacher and judge (Barazangi 2004; 33).  Within these exclusions the achievement of taqwa becomes unachievable in design.  The definition of women as the ‘Islamic self’ (Barazangi 2004; 33) remains with the Qur’anic law.Women are thought of as being oppressed by Muslims by ensuring that their self-identity has been deprived of them in the world of Islam.  This is true in the fact that woman’s “religio-moral rationality (Din) is the responsibility of her male household, Muslim communities not only denied women the Qur’anic meaning of Din but also violated the very first principle of Islam, the Oneness of the Deity, as the source of value and knowledge” In the reinterpretation of the Qur’an  women have taken to believing in the Islamic worldview Tawhid.  This worldview suggests that God or Allah is the only deity. In this redefining concept lies the equality of humanity.  Thus, this worldview of Tawhid sees male and female as equals before God, “The goal of this worldview is to deconstruct human hierarchy and balance natural and social laws, that is taqwa” (Barazangi 2004; 22).It must also be stated that women are noticeably left out of the text of the Qur’an and thus their rereading it in view of feminist theory to some extent allows them to find their place in religion that has previously been overshadowed by a patriarchy that was caused from the narrow focused view of the Qur’an.  In the dichotomy of interpretations of the Qur’an women have been left out of the pedagogical and ethical meanings of this religious text (Barazangi 2004; 23).  In the true meaning and the intended interpretation of the Qur’an  women were thought the same as men but the translation of the text has been focused on the patriarchal readings and not with equality, “…the absence of women from earlier Qur’anic readings is at the root of the misreading of the meaning of Islamic identity and trusteeship, interpreting the principle of khilafas states in the Qur’an—‘God said to the angles: I will create a trustee on earth, and God taught Adam the names of all things” –as if it were limited solely to the male’s political and theological leadership, and as it ‘Adam’ were limited to the male human” (Barazangi 2004; 23).  In this textual misinterpretation Muslims are attributing human leadership with ‘God’s Lordship’ (Barazangi 2004; 23) and not with the intention of women as finding themselves in the text.One of the first conditions of being a Muslim is the participation of any Muslim in the first reading in the name of God (Barazangi 2004; 23).  This fact however has been overlooked in recent interpretations of the Qur’an, and this perpetuates the degradation of women and the exclusion of them in their own religion as Barazangi states, “As this participation has been overlooked by Muslim societies, the lack of reading and interpreting of the text by women from within the text has resulted in three additional shortcomings: exclusion, prevention, deprivation” (Barazangi 2004; 32-33).  The definition of the word exclusion leads to the fact that women in this definition are exhibited in the perpetuation of the patriarchy in Muslim religion through women’s continual lack of inclusion in community events, processes, and dictations since, according to the Qur’an women do not ‘constitute a theological authority’ (Barazangi 2004; 33).Barazangi further emphasizes this point of women’s exclusion in practicing the Muslim belief,…the exclusion also prevented the woman whose affairs were being discussed from being a Muslim by choice, and from acting as an autonomous human trustee who is also enjoined to act in equilibrium (Barazangi 2004; 33).This exclusion also travels into God being incorporated into the communities as this deity being teacher and judge (Barazangi 2004; 33).  Within these exclusions the achievement of taqwa becomes unachievable in design.  The definition of women as the ‘Islamic self’ (Barazangi 2004; 33) remains with the Qur’anic law.Women are thought of as being oppressed by Muslims by ensuring that their self-identity has been deprived of them in the world of Islam.  This is true in the fact that woman’s “religio-moral rationality (Din) is the responsibility of her male household, Muslim communities not only denied women the Qur’anic meaning of Din but also violated the very first principle of Islam, the Oneness of the Deity, as the source of value and knowledge” (Barazangi 2004; 34).  It is based on these prefabricated paradigms that Muslims have constructed their life without the inclusion of the woman’s identity in any aspect of religion or culture in regards to pedagogy.  In the beginning of the structuring of Islamic culture these constructs have rewritten the Qur’an.  It is based on these prefabricated paradigms that Muslims have constructed their life without the inclusion of the woman’s identity in any aspect of religion or culture in regards to pedagogy.  In the beginning of the structuring of Islamic culture these constructs have rewritten the Qur’an.It is thus, that during the structuring of the Islamic culture when it was in its nubile state that when women’s voices were most needed they were kept silent.  So, when the Muslim community developed in the elements of social thought, religious practice, and culture, the opinion and the stance of women were not presented in the interpretation of each of these variables, “Unable to relate directly to the moral conscience of the Qur’an, their relating to the next generation was therefore void of the original message of the Qur’an as the moral guide.  Eventually, this inability led to women’s participation in their own oppression” (Barazangi 2004; 35).Barazangi states that women were further made obsolete in the practice of religion through their seclusion from Friday congregational prayer. (Barazangi 2004; 35).  Thus, over time women’s roles in the Muslim religion began to be replaced with new thought patterns that were rendered without the Islamic woman’s point of view in comparison.  Furthermore, with this pattern issuing forth of the seclusion of women in most capacities of Islamic life, subsequently women were losing their own self identity.  Their identity instead was being shaped by the masses thought process and the individual Muslim woman’s thoughts.Within the text of the Qur’an women were dubiously ill fated as being attributed to the first fall of man.  This affected the connotations of women as lesser beings and this reputation transcended their roles religiously, socially and morally (Barazangi 2004; 35).  This progression of loss of identity and the perpetuating ideals that women were to blame for the first fall gave rise to the continual thought process of women being lesser beings, “That is, as the woman lost her ability to pedagogically communicate the dynamics of Qur’anic morality, the next generations also started losing the Qur’anic message, and moved further away from the meaning of the Qur’anic message of Tawhid.  Since one cannot give what one does not possess, and by being considered as a burden, the woman’s conscientious choice became, instead, the inevitable fate of being born a dependent female” (Barazangi 2004; 35-36).    This statement by Barazangi gives rise to the perpetuating ideas of women as being dominated by men in the Islamic culture; with this brief history and this religious input it is possible to learn from the past and to progress into a more equal future.Islamic women are seemingly clandestine in their way of life.  The mores and values pressed upon them by culture and religion manifest in their appearance to society and this is translated as the mastery of patriarchy.  In Islamic society often times women are sequestered from society or veiled; this is done under the guise that women need protection in order to keep their honour.  The segregation of women however had serious debilitating effects on Islamic culture.  Since rural women were supposed to spend their time working in the fields to aid in providing for the family the notion of being sequestered or wearing a veil was at best tedious, “Poorer women were confined to small houses with limited social contacts.  They were effectively barred from community life” (Esposito 1998; 99).  Since the mosque was essentially a social gathering spot women were by association with sequestering barred from this religious rite as well.  Women then were not able to pray or enjoy the rights of their religion, but instead they were according to culture segregated from the mosque and from the Qur’an (Esposito 1998: 99).In Islamic law more rural and tribal costumes prevailed in Muslim practice as can be witnessed in the initiation of the ‘house of obedience’ which entailed women asking for their husband’s consent whenever they would leave their abode.  If an independent woman refused this generic law then the police were called and the broke her into submission by not allowing her to leave the house at all (Esposito 1998; 99).  These forceful costumes come obliquely from denying the verse of the Qur’an as the text states that women have rights and must be ‘treated justly and equitably’ (Esposito 1998; 99).There are also other capacities by which women have been the playthings of Islamic law instead of the followers of Muslim religion.  It seems that women have been forced into social arrangements such as marriage.  The Quranic and the legality of the marriage contract states that a woman has the right to her own dower, but instead according to social tradition women are often times married off by their fathers and the dowry serves as a price for which the family receives payment in their part in the marriage.  In this salable transaction women remain property pieces shuffled off from one family to the next, without rights and without a semblance of justice and this fact is succinctly emphasized with divorce laws.  In Islam men can claim divorce in a legal fashion for a myriad of reasons but women could not (Esposito 1998; 100).  Since September 11 after the world found that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, there has been a extreme focus on the “Lack of liberties in the kingdom (Saudi Arabia)—an absolute monarchy that imposes a strict from of Islam—was widely held to an underlying part of the extremist ideology the attackers shared” (Ambah 2006; A12).  This lead to open debated about the treatment of women in the daily routines of the country in both strict censorship and their roles as workers in not being permitted to work beside men.  In Ambah’s article it is stressed that these women do not want to relinquish their veil for a more Westernized country because it would signify a lack of faith.Ambah further states that although it may seem as though this argument is against women’s rights it is merely for women’s rights in Islam, “We were given rights by Islam 1,400 years ago that women in the West only got at the beginning of the 20th century,” said Humaydi, a middle-aged college professor. “Muslim women can work, and inherit, and be financially independent.” (Ambah 2006; A12).  Thus, according to the vocation of women in the Qur’an women may work beside men and remove their veil, but after decades worth of lack of control over their own personage it is difficult for these women to counteract habit.The legal quandaries that arose from such a position were put to the test with the Shah Bano Controversy (Hefner 2005; 80).  This controversy stated the case of whether or not a divorced and destitute woman could hold grievances against her former husband.  The contention was that the woman had no such right under the interpretations of the shari‘ah which stated that no such act could be legalized and held up in court of law.  In an amazing action the “Hindu-dominated Indian Supreme Court had presumed to offer a new interpretation of the Qur’an to arguer that the shar’ah’s position was not really in accord with the Qur’an itself” (Hefner 2005; 80).Scott Baldauf’s article Afghan Parliament Debates Chaperones for Women he states that women are still in need of male chaperones when they travel.  This idea or mahram-e sharaii is not a bill according to Parliament but has its ties in religion, thus “its’ clear that conservative interpretations of Islamic life have  strong political hold” (Baldauf 2006; 4).  It is clear then that the progression of Islam and its political association take part in governmental life.  As such the traditions of Islam are supported by the government even though laws do always exist that support the cases being brought into court.  Baldauf goes on to state that these interpretations of the Qur’an as reinvented into government do not have a place in modern Afghanistan, “”Islam is a social religion, it is good, and broad, and it covers everything in our lives,” says Sahera Sharif, a female Parliamentarian from Khost. “But unfortunately, when there are rules that affect men and women equally, the men in our society only address these rules toward women.” (Baldauf 2006; 4).Islam is the fastest growing religion of the United States.  This however means that the mores and traditions founded in Muslim culture must translate itself into a western perspective.  In this new definition of self the Muslim woman must transition between one rite of passage to another, “…the wearing of the hijab (headscarf) has become a legal and religious issue…in America despite the guarantees of freedom of religion, the courts have at times refused to regard the wearing of the hijab as symbolic of personal religious conviction, but instead regarded it as a threat…” (Esposito 1998; 219).It is not always the West that is influencing the traditional role of women in Islam but it is in the Qur’an and the correct interpretation of this holy scripture that the true nature and role of women is being designed in modern day.  This means that the roles of women had been altered from the Qur’an to reflect a more patriarchal society but in truth, the Qur’an is supportive of women in their religion, “Women are in the vanguard.  Though men across the Islamic world usually interpret Scripture and lead prayers, Syria, virtually alone in the Arab world, is seeing the resurrection of a centuries-old tradition of sheikhas, or women who are religious scholars.  The growth of girls’ madrasas has outpaced those for boys…” (Zoepf, 2006; A1).The role of women and Islam is one of changing landscape; not only through history as has been reported but also through culture in the East and the West as well as their traditional roles and their fight for the evolving of certain mores and practices.  Islamic women have transformed with the ages from the objects of piety to second class citizens and in recent decades they are once again transcending their roles and their place with religion (The Economist 2006; 31).  It is with the reinterpretation of the Qur’an that women may make the most difference to their self-identity.  For, it is with this identity that laws and governances may begin changing as was witnessed in the recent divorce law verdict or in the women’s fight for their religious right in American and the wearing of their hijab.  No matter the origins of some of these traditions, many Islamic women are fighting to maintain their status both as religiously converted as well as women.