Women in Islam: An Inside Islam recap


Farah Pandith, a former radio guest on Inside Islam. Photo: www.state.gov

One of the most popular topics here on Inside Islam has been gender, primarily focusing on women. That’s no coincidence, given that Islam’s attitude towards women is generally portrayed in Western media as retrograde and repressive.

And there’s certainly plenty to criticize. Over our four years, we have highlighted cases like that of Amina Filali, a Moroccan girl who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, and Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned for adultery. We have also addressed issues such as domestic abuse and how key texts have been interpreted to discriminate against women, to ban women drivers, and to justify practices like child marriage.

But while our goal has never been to whitewash problematic issues, at the same time the standard mainstream rhetoric regarding Muslim women oversimplifies things and only further disempowers them. There has been a general inability to look beyond the veil when discussing Muslim women. Non-Muslim women or men who preach to Muslim women because they choose to cover their heads or accept certain circumstances tend to fall into the trap of portraying all Muslim women as a single entity without agency. They miss the movement within Islam itself to empower women.

Over the years we have focused on many empowered and important Muslim women. From historically important figures like Khadijah, Ayesha, and Sumayyah bint Khayyat to contemporaries like Farah Pandith, we have tried to get beyond the stereotype of the faceless, powerless Muslim woman. We have given Muslim women a platform to speak for themselves and express themselves through writing. We have chronicled their stories, learned from what they have to say about sex and relationships, and highlighted their efforts to stand up to existing political and religious power structures.

While covering gender and Islam, we have stressed movements within Islam to change the status quo, focusing on women fighting for equal access to spaces like mosques, speaking up against human rights abuses, leading the crusade against FGM, and organizing for equal property rights. We have also covered women breaking out of their societal roles, playing soccer in Iran, standing up to militants in Yemen, and taking on traditionally male roles such as that of an imam.

And finally, to overcome stereotypes of Islam as inherently discriminatory, we have argued that the Qur’an espouses gender equality, and Muhammad himself was an exemplar of how to treat women.

And to clear any further misgivings about whether Islam and feminism are compatible, I turn to our readers (many of whom are Muslim). In a poll we conducted on the compatibility of Islam and feminism, only 18% of our 114 respondents said they were not. 72%, on the other hand, said they were.

Clearly there’s a lot more to Muslim women than the media gives them credit for.

How do you think Muslim women are generally portrayed in the media? Is there enough emphasis on strong Muslim women? Do you think Islam and feminism are compatible? Please leave your questions or comments below.

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