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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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

Important Events: The Death of the Prophet

Prophet Muhammad's Tomb in Medina

In the history of Islam, there have been many events that have defined the faith, exemplified the character of the Prophet Muhammad, and determined the future of the Muslim community. I have written in previous posts about a few: the Night of Power, the hijra, the Battle of Badr, the conquest of Mecca, and the Farewell Sermon. However, the most trying event for the the nascent Muslim community was the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 C.E. Over 23 year, the Prophet established Islam in Arabia and founded a community of believers whose ties transcended tribal bonds and were based on a shared faith. He was the center of the Muslim community, the ummah, and served as the religious, political, and military leader. When he died, the Muslims were utterly shocked by the loss of this central figure and had to figure out a way to move forward so that this new faith would continue to grow. Continue reading

Important Figures: Asma bint Abi Bakr

A Street in Mecca named after Asma

A woman who is revered by Muslims is Asma, the daughter of Abu Bakr, the close friend of the Prophet Muhammad. Asma, who was also Ayesha‘s half sister, is remembered in Islamic history for her courage, integrity, generosity, and intelligence. Many choose her name for their daughters hoping that they will display some of the characteristics of this great woman, who is the focus of this post, the eighth in a series on important men and woman of Islam.

Asma was born around 593 C.E. and was the daughter of Abu Bakr and his first wife Qutaylah. Eventually her parents divorced because Abu Bakr became a Muslim. Asma later followed in her father’s footsteps and was the 18th person to accept Islam. Continue reading

Important Figures: Fatima Al-Zahra

Fatima Al-Zahra in Arabic

Many Muslims choose to name their daughters Fatima after the youngest daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Fatima is revered by all Muslims because she was very close to the Prophet. Moreover, she is the only one of his children to give him descendants. Fatima is most often referred to as Fatima Al-Zahra (the Resplendent One) and is the focus of this post, the seventh in a series on important men and women in Islam’s history.

Fatima was the fourth daughter of Khadijah and the Prophet Muhammad. Most sources agree that she was born around 605 C.E. Fatima grew up at a difficult time in the Prophet’s life. He had just started to receive revelations and the Meccans were very hostile to the new faith. Fatima was known to be a very sensitive child and was deeply affected by the persecution that her father had to endure. There are several stories in which Fatima, even though a young child, would come to the defense of her father. One example occurred when the Prophet went to the Kaba to pray. While he was praying, some of the Meccans threw entrails of a slaughtered animal on him. Fatima ran to her father, wiped him off, and yelled at the Meccans. Continue reading

Important Figures: Abu Bakr

Abu Bakr in Arabic

One of the most well-known figures of Islam is Abu Bakr. Many Muslims up to the current day will name their children after this man, who was a very close companion of the Prophet Muhammad and after his death became the first caliph, according to Sunnis. Abu Bakr was also the father of Ayesha, one of the Prophet’s wives. My focus in this post, the first in a series on important figures in Islam, will be the life of this man who has influenced Islamic tradition immensely. Continue reading

On Polygamy

A recent radio program on Asian Network Reports Special focused on the increase of polygamy among British Muslim men. Although bigamy is banned in the United Kingdom, according to Islamic Sharia Council, there has been a noticeable increase in the rates of polygamous marriages in the last 15 years. Continue reading

Child Marriages against Islam

Protestors holding a picture of Fawziya Ammodi, 12 year old who died in childbirth

In 2008, Nujood Ali’s story got headlines around the world. The ten-year-old girl had escaped from her husband, to whom she had been forcibly married, and went to the courthouse and asked for a divorce. Ali was eventually granted her divorce. However, the court asked Ali to pay compensation to her husband because she was the one initiating the divorce.

Under Islamic law, whoever initiates a divorce carries the consequence. So, if the husband initiates a divorce he cannot take back the dowry and must complete payment of it if he has not paid it in full.  If the wife initiates divorce, she must return the dowry to the husband. Unfortunately, the court did not seem to recognize the circumstances of the situation and applied the traditional rules for divorce by asking Nujood to pay. Nujood’s lawyer, though, was able to raise the money.

After her divorce, Ali received fame for her story and was even named one of Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year. Ali’s story called attention to the practice of child marriages in Yemen. Continue reading

Ayesha’s Story: Mother of the Believers

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Update – This program is now available for streaming and free download from the Inside Islam archive.

What do people know about Ayesha, the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad? Her age is the focus of any discussion and seems responsible for the controversy around her. Many, however, do not know the extent of her influence on the history of Islam and the role she played in preserving much of what we know about the Prophet Muhammad. Ayesha was a teacher, a political leader, and a warrior.

Kamran Pasha, a Muslim Hollywood screenwriter and television producer and author of Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam, will join us on our next Inside Islam radio program (July 21) to talk about Ayesha’s story. Continue reading