Are Muslim Women under Oppression or Not?
Among the many topics of interest to non-Muslims, the status of Muslim women and the theme of their rights, or rather, the perceived lack of them seems to be foremost. The differences in how the Islamic countries interpret and follow the Islamic laws, seems to contribute to this perception. An acceptable number of Muslims and non-Muslims do agree that women should have more equal rights, whilst others believe that traditional gender differences under Muslim law are proper and positive in the Muslim society. The meaning of the words “Muslim” and “oppression” might help us to understand the argument over whether Muslim women are oppressed by the Islamic laws. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, under the definition of Muslim, the etymology of the word Muslim is given as the “active participle of aslama to submit oneself to the will of God, of which the noun of action is islām.” The OED goes on to say that one is referred to as a Muslim if one is “a follower of the religion of Islam,” and that Muslim as an adjective means “of or relating to Islam, its followers, or their culture” (defs. A1 and B). The same dictionary defines oppression as the “prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or exercise of authority, control, or power; tyranny; exploitation” or “the action of forcibly putting down or crushing; the repression or suppression of a person or thing” (defs. 2a and 4). It is now clear then that the argument is whether or not the Muslim women are being suppressed or treated unjustly under the Islamic laws. My own view is that Muslim women are not oppressed under the Islamic law. Women who follow Islam voluntarily may not be equal to men in the manner defined by Western feminists, but their cultural core differences from men are acknowledged by the Islamic laws, and they have rights of their own that do not apply to men.
Before presenting my own claim, I will present two opposing views on the oppression of Muslim women: that of Robert Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch, a program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and the author of eight books on Islam and jihad, who worked in conjunction with Phyllis Chesler, a writer, psychotherapist, and professor of psychology and women's studies at the College of Staten Island, and Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, a British Muslim author who served as the head of religious studies at William Gee High School in Hull, England. Many westerners believe that Islam is a religion that restricts and subordinates women in both private and public life. In the article “Islam Oppresses Women,” Spencer and Chesler claim that through practices such as female circumcision, veiling, rape, and beatings, Islamic women are being physically and mentally oppressed (par. 1). They state that while these acts are not condoned by Islamic law or the Koran, Islamic society has created an environment where these acts are the accepted norm (par. 1). Theirs is a claim of fact supported with examples of different cases of how women have been extremely mistreated due to the Islamic laws and beliefs. They state, for example, that the prophet Muhammad gave the Muslim men permission to beat their wives, and that he was unhappy with the women who complained, not with their husbands who committed acts of violence (par. 11). Furthermore, Spencer and Chesler state that the oppression of women sanctioned by the teachings of Islam, and often by its holy book, manifests itself in innumerable ways (par. 4). Below are some of the notorious examples that they refer to. In February 2007, Zilla Huma Usman, the Pakistani government's minister for social welfare in Punjab province, was shot dead by a Muslim because her head was uncovered and the murderer declared that he had no regrets because he had just obeyed Allah's commandment and would kill all those women who did not follow the right path once he was freed again (par.16) In Algebra, as in Iran, unveiled, educated, independent...
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