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.

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Irish Muslim activist takes on FGM


Ifrah Ahmed. Photo: DigitalJournal.com

In past posts, we’ve attempted to clarify issues around Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Female Circumcision (FC), and their perceived relation to religion and culture. Here are the facts: Islam, Christianity, nor any other world religion mandates any type of FC or FGM. Some forms of FC are considered FGM, depending upon the type of procedure. The practices are either forced upon women, expected of women, or in the rare case, embraced by women. FC and FGM are performed primarily on African girls and women or those from African backgrounds living in the West. A few countries in Asia have also been documented as practicing FC or FGM.

FGM has become a topic of focus for local activists in Africa and Asia, as well as the broader international community. Activists fighting against FGM have found a champion in an unlikely place—Ireland, where a significant number of women (over 3,000) have been subjected to it. Although substantial, the number pales in comparison to the 140 million women and girls worldwide who have undergone the procedure.

Ifrah Ahmed, a 23-year-old, Somali-born, Muslim activist has only been in Ireland for 6 years, but she’s already played a key role in shaping Irish policy regarding the practice. Ahmed underwent double mutilation as a child and still suffers from serious problems as a result of the procedures. She says that sometimes the pain is so bad that “I fall down and I feel like I’m going to die.” Continue reading

Muslim women in India seek equal rights under personal law

Zakia Soman, founding member of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan. Photo: CivilSocietyOnline.com

Muslim women in India are organizing against what they see as unfair laws regarding marriage, divorce, and property rights. Although the Indian Constitution offers all citizens equal rights irrespective of gender and religion, these rights do not extend to personal law. India does not have a uniform civil code; in family matters, legal decisions are based on religious law.

Muslims in India are governed by the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937, which defines the scope of Muslim personal law as including all affairs regarding succession, marriage, dissolution of marriage, guardianship, and property rights. Muslim personal law is largely uncodified, and legal decisions are made by courts on the basis of the Qur’an and hadith. Organizations like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (JUH) see themselves as spokespersons for the Muslim community, and lobby the government in cases where they believe Muslim law is being impinged upon.

Women’s groups have criticized the AIMPLB and JUH for their retrograde views regarding women’s rights. Continue reading

The Importance of the Mother in Islam

Yesterday, many parts of the world celebrated Mother’s Day, focusing on mothers and their contributions to their families. Since there is a negative stereotype of how Islam views women, many people may not know that mothers specifically and parents in general are held in very high esteem in the faith. There are verses in the Qur’an and hadith that emphasize the burdens that a mother carries and the respect that should be accorded to her. In this post, I will focus on the importance of mothers in Islam. Continue reading

Muslim-American Fencer Rises Above Tough Competition

Photo: Natalie Keyssar/WSJ

Maplewood, New Jersey, fencing star Ibtihaj Muhammad was recently named International Sportswoman of the Year by the Muslim Women’s Sports Foundation. In an interview, Muhammad, the third of five children in an athletic family, said that she initially began fencing because it easily allowed her to be fiercely competitive while maintaining her ability to wear hijab and present herself in modest dress. If her upcoming Olympic trial performance matches her world ranking, she’ll be one of two American women to fence in the London Olympic Games this summer. Although it cannot be confirmed, as the U.S. Olympic committee does not survey athletes’ religious backgrounds, Muhammad is probably also the first practicing Muslim woman to represent the U.S. in any Olympic event.

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All-Girl Prom Inspired by Islamic Modesty

Over 100 girls attended Hamtramck High School's first ever all-girl prom. Photo: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

The dream of one Bengali-American Muslim girl came true last week, when over 100 girls packed a local hall to dance, eat, and pray as part of Hamtramck High School’s first ever all-girl  prom. The story has made the New York Times, Boston Globe, and other international media giants, and has created some interesting discussion around gender in Islam and religion in the public sphere.

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The Best in Character

Crystals in Arabic (Source: www.qawareer.com)

One of the most persistent stereotypes about Islam is that it is oppressive towards women. While it is true that there are many instances of abuse and oppression of Muslim women and problematic interpretations of religious texts, there is no justification for that behavior in the faith. In fact, it is clear from the Qur’an and the hadith that the relationship between men and women should be based on respect, kindness, and love. In this post, I would like to focus on a few examples of hadith that underscore these core values and illustrate that the Prophet Muhammad himself displayed these characteristics in his interactions with the women in his life. Continue reading

Some women wear cloth on their heads. Why the obsession?

On Tuesday, guest writer Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi wrote about various perceptions of women wearing the headscarf, one of many times that we have looked at hijab and the various perceptions associated with it here on Inside Islam. Last spring, an Inside Islam radio show focused on the life experiences of three Muslim American female authors from the collection I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim. The show talked about a variety of issues, but almost every single caller to the show—(seemingly) both non-Muslim and Muslim—had comments or questions about the hijab. Reem wrote a post highlighting an NPR story on Muslim American women removing the veil, and she asked an important question: why are people so fascinated with women wearing the veil?

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Perceptions of the Head Scarf

Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi

As Reem pointed out yesterday, many see a connection between the beating death of Shaima Alawadi and the shooting of Trayvon Martin because both hate crimes are connected to the clothes the victims were wearing. In light of that connection, this is the first of two posts this week that will examine hijab and the various perceptions associated with it.

Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi is the author of The Color of Mehndi and a doctoral student of international psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Zaidi is studying the influence of the Muslim headscarf on perceptions of attractiveness, intelligence, and employability.

There is no argument among Muslim women that the headscarf is a necessary component of Islamic prayer; however, the incorporation of the hijab in public life continues to be an area of contention. Within the Muslim community, the hijab has often been used as a litmus test to determine the piety of Muslim women. Not surprisingly, women who wear the hijab are able to gain a higher level of social prestige within their Muslim communities, while the public display of their faith has made them more susceptible to discrimination in secular Western society. By publicly declaring their faith, those who adopt the hijab are often perceived as conveying a greater passion in their observation of Islamic practices than those who confine their religiosity to the private sphere. As a result, the decision to wear or not wear the hijab in public life has a profound influence on the identity and group affiliation of Muslim women.

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We are all Amina Filali

Protests against Article 475

On March 11th, Amina Filali, a 16-year-old Moroccan girl who had been raped, committed suicide by swallowing rat poison. Filali killed herself after she was forced to marry the rapist. This was in accordance with a controversial section of the Moroccan penal code called Article 475, which states that a “kidnapper” of a minor can marry the victim to escape persecution. The article has been extended to include rape victims. Many Moroccans are outraged by Filali’s suicide and have begun Facebook petitions to change the article. Twitter has also been used to get Filali’s story out. Continue reading