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

Islam and the Reality of Women’s Power

Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser Al Missned speaking at the U.N. Photo: Maher Attar/HHOPL

The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (RISSC) in Amman, Jordan, recently released the third edition of The Muslim 500, an annual publication highlighting the movers and shakers of the Muslim world. From Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan to Sufi scholar Seyyed Hussein Nasr, the list compiles a wide range of personalities from all corners of the globe. Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud topped the list, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an placing third and Iranian Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei taking fifth.

As usually happens when anyone tries to quantify popularity or prestige, there was disagreement on the blogosphere over the rankings, compounded by the fact that  Muslim 500 does not clearly define its exact criteria. But my primary concern with the list is that only 13% of those featured are women, with a mere three making the top 50 most influential.

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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: Khadijah bint Khuwaylid

Khadijah in Arabic

A very common name for girls among Muslims is Khadijah. Many choose this name to commemorate the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad. Even though Khadijah only lived to see the early stages of a Muslim community, she was considered a central figure in the history of Islam. Khadijah is the focus of this post, the fifth in a series on significant figures in Islam. Continue reading

Mixing in Mosques: An Influence of Neighborhood Norms

Tamil Muslim Children Photo: Dennis McGilvray

A few days prior to my departure from India in August, I ventured south from Hyderabad to the old French colony of Puducherry (Pondicherry), situated on the Bay of Bengal. I had a few minutes before my overnight bus journey back to Hyderabad and I decided to take a quick tour around the neighborhood to get a flavor of the area. Upon turning the corner of an old Hindu temple and noticing posters of Hindu gods transitioning to signs in Urdu and other objects marking the Muslim section of the neighborhood, I came across a typical 3-story white and green mosque.

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