What it Means to be a Muslim Woman
Updated: Jul 12
Combatting stereotypes by examining the rights of women in Islam
Author: Raneem Qassem
Oftentimes, when people think of women in Islam, they think of oppression, females being subject to their father/husbands’ will, and women deprived of the basic rights granted to men. This could not be farther from the truth. Islam was one of the first religions that emphasized the importance of women and granted them a high status.
When examining the role of women in Islam, it is important to separate culture from religion. Although Saudi Arabia is considered to be the birthplace of Islam, being home to the Ka’bah and many other sacred sites, some of the laws implemented by the country are not supported by Islam. For example, women were not able to drive until very recently in the country, and this resulted in the false belief that it was a religious limitation when it is actually due to cultural norms that have no basis in the religion.
The rights that Islam gave women were far greater than the rights that any woman had at the time, and that continues even today. Islam gave women divorce rights, as well as property rights regardless of gender, even when it came to claiming ownership of property during a divorce. Even in the United States, women did not gain these divorce rights until the 1800s, especially given the stigmatized nature of divorce, so the fact that Islam established it over a thousand years ago stresses the importance of the rights of women in Islam. Women in Islam are also not required to change their last name during marriage, which greatly deviates from Western norms. Although the Western world prides itself in its feminist ideals, this concept emphasizing that a woman does not belong to her husband is not found in the Western world.
A picture of the Ka’bah in Saudi Arabia, where
thousands of Muslims visit every day
In Islam, a man is required to spend his money on his wife and family, but a woman can keep every cent she earns to herself if she wants. Both men and women have a share when it comes to inheritance, and the man’s is only greater because he has to spend money on others. Men are also required to pay a mahr to their wife when they get married. This is to ensure that the male has financial stability and is ready to support a family. Islam discourages the dowry system, which is a payment to the bride’s family by the groom’s family, because it resembles the buying of women.
A strong emphasis is placed on the education of all genders in Islam, and women are encouraged to pursue an education. UNESCO considers the University of Qarawiyyin to be the oldest continuously open, degree-granting institution of higher education in the world, and it was founded by a Muslim woman, Fatima Al-Fihri. In the Western world, women were not seen as equals in terms of pursuing an education until very recently, emphasizing the rights that Islam gave women early on.
The University of Qarawiyyin was founded by Fatima Al-Fihri.
Possibly the most notable aspect that comes to mind when talking about Muslim women is the concept of hijab. Although it is prescribed upon women by God, the decision to wear hijab ultimately comes down to each woman and no one should force her to wear it if she doesn’t want to. Hijab not only includes the headscarf, but also wearing loose, unrevealing clothing. Empowerment is present in different forms, and for some women, expressing modesty serves as a form of empowerment. Just like women wear a headscarf as hijab, men have to wear their own form of hijab, which requires them to not wear revealing or tight clothing, lower their gaze and treat women with respect. Personally, as a Muslim woman in America, I believe that hijab allows people to respect me and get to know me for who I am, rather than for something superficial that I have no control over, like my outward appearance. In a world where women are so often objectified, it serves as a shield for me. Because wearing a hijab makes women recognizable as Muslim, it is a huge responsibility that was given to women to represent Islam, and they are rewarded for every second they wear it.
Although some people may associate Islam with oppression of women, that is not what the religion calls for at all. In fact, Islam gave women their rights earlier than any other major group. Islam strives to empower women and is adamantly against the objectification of women, granting them a high status and respecting them. As a Muslim woman, recognizing my value and rights that Islam has given me is essential so I can help educate and empower others around me.
Raneem Qassem is an incoming senior at Auburn High School in Rockford, Illinois. She is interested in public policy/political science and is involved in her school’s Model UN club. In her free time, she likes to read, run, and eat.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of Converge Interfaith.