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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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

Most New British Muslims Are Women

Lauren Booth, Tony Blair's sister-in-law and revert to Islam

This past January, I wrote about a study put out by Kevin Brice called “A Minority Within a Minority” which documented the rising number of British reverts over the past 10 years. (In Islam everyone is believed to be born Muslim, so when they begin practicing the faith later in their life, they are seen as returning or “reverting” to their original state.) According to Brice, the average revert is a 27-year-old women. An article in The Independent appeared at the beginning of November that highlighted not only the numbers of British reverts but also the obstacles that they face.

According to the article, 50% of British reverts are white and 75% of them are women. This is interesting considering all the negative images surrounding Islam and women. One of the most common stereotypes of the faith is that it is oppressive towards women. Yet the article emphasizes that 25% of the female reverts actually said they became Muslim because of the status Islam affords them. Continue reading

On Hitting Wives

Love and Mercy in Arabic

Among the many stereotypes about Islam is that it is oppressive towards women and that it is a rigid and unchanging faith. Often the hijab and covering in general are mentioned  as examples of this oppressiveness. Another example that is used to demonstrate the faith’s attitude towards women is verse 34 in chapter 4 of the Qur’an:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all). (34)

For many, this verse permits men to hit their wives. While it is true one cannot dismiss this verse and must address the issues that it raises, it is equally important to recognize that throughout the history of Islam, discussion, dialogue, and diversity of opinion and interpretation have all be been prominent features of the worldwide Muslim community. This verse, specifically, has sparked and continues to generate discussions in regards to how men should treat women. Continue reading

“I Speak For Myself” Radio Show

This Thursday, May 5th, Jean will be speaking with contributors to the new book I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim. The edition comprises the personal narratives of 40 women under the age of 40 from diverse backgrounds: blogger, academic, advocate, activist, artist, journalist, teacher, student, engineer, coach, government representative. They all, however, share three  things: they are American, Muslim, and women.

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Islam and Women in Niger

Even though 98% of its population practices Islam, the Western African country of Niger is a secular state, protected by laws mostly inherited from the French. In recent years, the government has adopted some woman-friendly policies but rejected a few as well. What’s behind those rejections? What role does Islam play in the politics of women’s rights laws? Alice Kang, a PhD candidate in the UW-Madison Department of Political Science and a former SKJ Fellow through Global Studies, spent a year in Niger to look for answers. She sat down with Inside Islam to share her findings.

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