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An Informative Essay on Women in Islam

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Topics: Islam
In today 's American society, the media has an extremely strong influence on the people 's attitudes. Information about events both in this nation and around the world are covered and interpreted by the media before used to inform the American people. Such a method of transmitting information is bound to be biased, since the reporters and researchers are only human themselves, and therefore prone to using personal beliefs and backgrounds to color the news reports passed on to the audience. While expected, not all of the audience is aware of this phenomenon, and it is here that a problem is born. Perhaps if every citizen knew of the personal interpretations that every piece of data goes through before reaching their homes, evening news casts and morning newspapers could be taken in with a grain of salt, recognizing the differences in interpretation. Many listeners of media simply assume that the information they are absorbing is completely impartial and simply the information gathered from events and transmitted across various media sources. However, it is simply not so: whether consciously or otherwise, everyone 's familiar evening newscasts reflect the day 's events that they want the audience to hear, from the side that they want it heard, accompanied by the emotional images and personal anecdotes that they feel would best get their point across. While this is an accepted concept of current media, in terms of current events regarding other religions and cultures, this can pose a very large problem. Since the vast majority of the United States identifies themselves as Christians, and there is a rampant problem that Islam is frighteningly absent from the curriculum of schools across America and Europe. Some Islamic experts has contributed this to the notion that the Western world conquered the Muslim world and broke it up into many much smaller states, each much less powerful and dependent. Also, it is a common idea that the victor writes the history books according to his own version of events.
With many people coming from a background lacking unbiased information regarding the religion and culture of Islam and its nations, it is no wonder that when the media uses keywords such as "oppression," "terrorists," "Taliban," and "militant," it is no wonder that the American people have developed a negative prejudice against the Islamic religion and everything associated with it. Even the entertainment industry has played a part in shaping American attitudes. Films such as Not Without My Daughter, which portrays an American woman whose husband goes "beserk" after returning to his native Iran, do nothing but enforce common stereotypes of the Muslim people and their culture for uneducated Americans whose only source of instruction regarding the culture is the media and entertainment. The violence and domestic abuse, along with prominent images of Islamic clergy and mosques gave the impression that this was how the religion really was. Other films such as True Lies, Under Siege, and Delta Force only portray Muslims as wife-beating, bomb-throwing swarthy immigrants whose loyalty cannot be trusted. It is an especially unfortunate conception that Islam holds men much higher above women, and women are simply baby-making housekeepers who have no rights and are forced completely veil themselves in an effort to oppress them so that men may rule the nations. Images of burqah-donned women, stories of honor killings and rights (or lack thereof) of women in Islam strike the heartstrings of the American people who, with no alternate sources of information, believe only how the media portrays the Islamic world. Contrary to popular belief, the Qur 'an explicitly lays out the case for woman 's equality:
"O people! Reverence your Lord Who created you from a single soul and created of like nature its mate from those two He scattered countless men and women. Reverence Allah through Whom you demand your mutual [rights] and [reverence] the wombs [of mothers that bore you] for Allah ever watches over you." (Qur 'an 4:1)
Islam and the Family The Qur 'an describes women and men as equal but not identical. In The Family Structure in Islam, Ibn Qudamah cites the complementary roles; however, he adds that the husband 's rights are greater than the wife 's because Allah says that men have a degree over woman. The verse he references is "…And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree of advantage over them." (Qur 'an 2:228) However, it also says: "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more [strength] then the other, and because they support them from their means" (Qur 'an 4:34). Some scholars have even gone so far as to say that women should be glad that Allah gave additional responsibility to men, so now they do not have to shoulder such a heavy burden. "Women should consider themselves lucky, for now they have greater freedom to make choices that will ensure they do not need to sacrifice their family like for sake of supporting themselves. Looked at from a certain angle, God has eternally doomed men to work for women!" (Cooey 43). In fact, a woman can work if she so chooses, and she is not required to share her money or property with her family. Even if her husband is poorer than she, he is still responsible for providing for her every need and she never has to touch her own wealth. In addition, a Muslim wife is not even required to do any housework. Any work she does is considered a charity on her part. One concept the author does not agree with the idea that the Qur 'an states that a wife should not refuse her husband 's sexual advances, as not to alienate him. In The Family Structure of Islam, a wife may not deny herself to her husband, for the Qur 'an speaks of them as a comfort to each other. While the logic is understandable, the author is not a personal believer in conjugal privilege, and seeing as even in marriage the person remains a whole being and not a half of a couple, certain rights to one 's own body must be respected. However, seeing as the author does not have the personal experience of marriage, she can only offer so much discussion on the topic of the relationship between husband and wife. Personal values make the author disagree with this topic, but as the Qur 'an explains, the reasoning is not because men have a greater amount of worth in the eyes of God or because they are better than women, but in an effort to keep up the relationship between husband and wife and use the institution of marriage as a way of creating a better society.
The Beginning of Women 's Rights Myths
A common myth about Muslim life is that of the harem. Beginning in the Middle Ages when Europeans were engaged in warfare with Muslims in Palestine, common misconceptions have traveled back in the forms of stories brought back to the homeland by soldiers returning from their travels. With the Ottoman empire holding such great influence over Europe from the fifteenth century until the early 1900 's, many Westerners became fascinated with exotic tales of rooms of beautiful women that the men of the house having the ability to choose at any moment. Many French, Italian and British painters took this notion to the public by portraying beautiful gardens filled with nubile, exotic women (Nasr 194). In fact, a harem in no way implies anything regarding a pleasure room. In fact, it literally means "forbidden space" and referred to private rooms in a Muslim house that male visitors were not allowed to enter. A harem is simply a place where a Muslim woman could remove her headscarf and relax knowing that her honor was not at stake since no strange men could witness her in her privacy. The myths actually came from the non-Islamic cultural practices of primarily Ottoman sultans. This belief of men lording over women started an endless flow of negative prejudices against the Islamic religion.
Arranged Marriages While in the Western world arranged marriages are looked down upon yet another form of oppression, the concept is not new at all, and certainly not limited to Islam. It is a cultural phenomenon reaching from Zimbabwe to China. It is actually the Western practice of dating that the rest of the world is having a hard time agreeing with. In fact, arranged marriages are not at all a method of oppression; rather, they are used as a manner of protecting a naïve woman from making a terrible mistake. The Qur 'an talks about how women who have never been married do not have the wisdom of women who do, and in choosing a spouse may focus on characteristics such as wealth and physical attractiveness that will not aid her in the long run. Instead, it is her family or other elders who can look from an unbiased viewpoint to judge a potential spouse on truly important attributes, such as faithfulness to Allah, perseverance, kindness, responsibility, good work ethic and fine morals. Matchmaking and arranged marriages simply save the woman the work and heartbreak of searching for an appropriate spouse and leaving the hard work up to someone older, wiser, and more experienced. Although arranged marriages are prominent in Muslim culture, they are not required. A woman can choose her own spouse, and can choose to have a long engagement (Nasr 283). During the engagement, should either fiancé choose to break it off, they are permitted. In fact, recent studies have shown that arranged marriages actually last longer that those that result from dating or living together first. Although researchers have not decided whether this is from better compatibility or the cultural attitudes toward divorce where arranged marriages are prevalent and society 's stigma towards divorcees, the numbers still report that nuclear families are more likely to occur from arranged marriages, and thus fewer difficulties from non-traditional family make-ups occur.
Women 's Testimony The charge that women 's testimony is only worth half of that of a man 's arises from the Qur 'anic verse 2:282, which is a huge verse with extremely specific instructions regarding testimony (Stowasser 126). Simply, a woman is asked to bring along a friend when negotiating an implied business contract. Later on, should the other party to the contract attempt to cheat her by changing the contract, the friend can remind the woman the details in a court situation. In this manner, it is simply another way to protect women, not oppress them. In seventh-century Arabia, men frequently cheated women in business deals, and this Islamic rule was an effort to curb this. Even today, even in the Western world, witnesses are used as a secondary source for many events, from marriages to court documents. A witness 's job is to see that fairness and truth is upheld. In this and other testimony, a woman 's word in reality is valued the same as a man 's. The witness is simply to protect the woman.
Women 's Right to Half an Inheritance The Qur 'an is very specific about how inheritance should be handled according to Qur 'an 4:11-12. One of the dictates is that a female will inherit a share that is half of the man 's. While this may seem unfair, remember that it is the man 's sole responsibility to provide for his entire family (Nasr 192). In fact, in the incidence of the death of his father, a man is required to then support his mother and any unmarried sisters he may have. Also, remember that a woman is not required to use any of her wealth. Any property she enters into a marriage with remains hers and her husband has no right to. Every penny is hers, for her to spend as she likes, so she does not need as much of an inheritance as male heirs, since they are required to spend it on family.
Domestic Abuse There is only one verse in the Qur 'an where domestic abuse is addressed, and it is from this verse that Islam is assumed to allow wife-beating. However, when Mohammad 's and other scholars ' interpretations are taken into consideration, the tone of the verse takes on a whole new meaning:
"As to those women from whom who fear defiant sinfulness, first admonish them, then refuse to share your bed with the, and then, if necessary, slap them. Then if they obey you, take no further actions against them and do not make excuses to punish them." (Qur 'an 4:34)
The Qur 'an never again gives any man the right to strike his wife except for this verse. Even so, it mentions "defiant sinfulness," which necessitates the wife be engaging in very immoral behavior, such as adultery, consumption of alcohol or abuse of her children. Even so, the first two steps are verbal chastising and refusing permission to share the marriage bed. Islamic scholars have agreed that these two steps can be carried out indefinitely, and the third step does not actually have to be taken. However, in the case that it is necessary, one must turn to the story of how Mohammad explained it to a follower. While Mohammad was brushing his teeth, a man asked him, "What should we slap them with?" Mohammad held up his toothbrush and replied, "With this." (Stowasser 86). Mohammad interpreted the verse in a manner that made corporal punishment a laughable manner. Some Islamic scholars have concluded that a handkerchief can be substituted. Taking into consideration that Mohammad 's interpretation is necessary when using the Qur 'an, one can conclude that there is no reason for a Muslim man to ever his wife in a way that would actually physically harm her. Embarrass her into better behavior, yes, but not actual violence.
Polygamy
Polygamy is a common controversy, since the Western world sternly looks down upon such an institution. Especially since the Qur 'an does not provide for women to have multiple husbands, it is assumed that it is yet another method of oppression. It is necessary for one to consult the Qur 'an for the actual verses. While the Qur 'an allows up to four wives for each man, it also demands that if one cannot treat each wife fairly, then one may marry only one (Qur 'an 4:4). It then goes on to say that it is impossible for men to treat different wives fairly, almost as an afterthought. So why allow polygamy in the first place? Islam prides itself on being able to provide a solution for every problem. Even polygamy solves many social problems (Cooey 60). For instance, in instances of war, when there is a shortage of men, only a few women would be able to marry. Multiple marriages would be better than having unattached women having affairs with married men. Also, it is a common notion that men have a difficult time being monogamous. Simply look at the commonality of extramarital affairs in Western cultures. Islam believes that it is better to have a multiple marriages, so that sexual relations are within the constitution of marriage. The dilemma of a barren woman can be solved by a second wife, with the first wife 's permission, of course. This way, the first wife is not cast aside for a fertile one who can bear children, a large part of the Muslim life. While polygamy is not for everyone, it does have its place in some societies.
Islamic Dress Code The modest dress of Muslims plays a huge part in the public 's opinion of oppression in Islam. The idea of a dress code for women is that women are so alluring to men that men may judge them by appearance alone, or try to attack them sexually. In an effort to protect women from this kind of abuse, Islam asks them to cover their hair with a scarf and wear loose-fitting clothes so to hide their physical beauty (Nasr 190). This way, men are forced to judge women based on their intelligence and personality, ignoring physical beauty which is not a lasting attribute anyway. "…the chador could be a toll for reasserting a woman 's human dignity by forcing people to respond to her talents and personality rather than her body alone." (Mindi 228). In the same vein, excessive cosmetics and perfume is also looked down upon. Men in fact have a dress code as well. No tight clothes are allowed, if they are able, they are required to grow a beard, a turban (or kufi) is proper attire, and the area from the navel to the knees must be covered in public at all times. Of course, the Qur 'an tells both men and women to lower their gaze from each other and not to ogle each other in public. If only the public were armed with the weapon of information, the world would be able to avoid such unfortunate discrimination against a misunderstood religion that instead of oppressed women, simply looks out for them and provides details in its Holy Book to protect them for the oppression that the world believes is so widespread. Once again, proper information is the best weapon against problems.

Works Cited
Ali, Abdullah Yusuf, Cooey, Paula M. After Patriarchy: Feminist Transformations of the World Religions. Orbis Books: New York, 1991.
Esposito, John L. Islam: The Straight Path. 3rd Ed. Oxford University Press: New York, 2005.
Hammudan, Abd Al Afi. The Family Structure in Islam. International Islamic Publishing House: Riyadh, 1977.
Nasr, Seyyed H. The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity. HarperCollins: New York, 2004.
Qur 'an. Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Tahrike Tarsile Qur 'an, Inc.: Elmhurst, NY, 2002.
Stowasser, Barbara Freyer. Women in the Qur 'an, Traditions, and Interpretation. Oxford University Press: New York, 1994.

Cited: Ali, Abdullah Yusuf, Cooey, Paula M. After Patriarchy: Feminist Transformations of the World Religions. Orbis Books: New York, 1991. Esposito, John L. Islam: The Straight Path. 3rd Ed. Oxford University Press: New York, 2005. Hammudan, Abd Al Afi. The Family Structure in Islam. International Islamic Publishing House: Riyadh, 1977. Nasr, Seyyed H. The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity. HarperCollins: New York, 2004. Qur 'an. Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Tahrike Tarsile Qur 'an, Inc.: Elmhurst, NY, 2002. Stowasser, Barbara Freyer. Women in the Qur 'an, Traditions, and Interpretation. Oxford University Press: New York, 1994.

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