This article uses dialogue form to explore popular misconceptions concerning women in Islam.
She smiled at the lady and said: “thank you.” As she put her scarf back on and was styling it, she heard “I really don’t know how you do it.”
When the lady saw that she was staring at her, and realised she had heard her comment, she added with a sheepish look, “no offence, but I can’t imagine having such beautiful hair, and being as stunning as you are, yet covering all that up. It seems like a crime.”
Asiyah smiled. “None was taken. Thank you for the compliments. I cover because God asked me to.”
“Uh huh. Do the men in your family expect it of you though? Do they…” she trailed off.
“You mean do they force me to dress this way?”
“They don’t. This is my choice.” She could see lady didn’t seem convinced, so she extended her hand, and said “I’m Asiyah.”
“Can we step out of here, and talk better?”
“Sure. I have always wondered about the way Islam treats women.”
” What do you mean?”
“I mean; Islam seems to support chauvinism.”
Asiyah laughed. “I’m not surprised. That kind of thinking results from buying into stereotypes. It’s funny though because Islam has never prevented women from getting educated, owning property, or anything of the like.”
“Yeah. Even when other women all over the world couldn’t do all these things, Muslim women could. In fact, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said ‘seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.’ One of the greatest scholars during his time was his wife Aisha (RA), and she taught men and women. The first university in the world; The University of Al Qarawiyyin was founded by a Muslim woman, Fatima Al-Fihri in the 9th century in Morocco, where a variety of subjects including medicine, geology, mathematics, astrology, and even music was taught. Even in the early days of Islam, women had various occupations- some such as Rufaida al-Aslamia were nurses, others such as Khawlah bint al-Azwar were warriors who helped to defend Islam, and so on. Women and men are equal before God. No one is superior. What sets a Muslim apart from another is sincerity in worship and good character. In certain ways though, men and women have different rights. I’m sure you would agree that justice and equality are different concepts.”
“Take, for example, a mother has more rights over her children than their father. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said ‘your heaven lies under the feet of your mother’. Also, when he was asked who is most worthy of one’s good companionship, he said your mother, three times, and then your father. A man, on the other hand, is the head of the house. Men have rights over women, and women have rights over men. Qur’an 4:34 says ‘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.’ A good Muslim man will take good care of the women in his family, and be kind and respectful to women generally. The Prophet (PBUH) said ‘the best of you are those who are the best to their wives, and I am the best of you to my wives. One of his last statements was ‘look after the women.’ A good Muslim strives to emulate Muhammad (PBUH).”
“What about Muslims who kill women for tarnishing their family’s image? Or force girls into marriage?”
“That has absolutely nothing to do with Islam. Islam extols chastity. Men and women are supposed to lower their gazes from looking at forbidden things, and not engage in illegal sexual acts as Allah says in Qur’an 24:30-31. Zina, which means unlawful sexual relations (premarital or extramarital sex) is a major sin, and the punishment is the same for a man as it is for a woman. Unlike in some societies, where women are expected to be the epitome of virtue, yet men can behave, or misbehave in this context however they deem fit. Murder is one of the greatest crimes a person can commit. Anyone who kills an innocent person would be severely punished. And on the issue of forced marriage, Islam does not even allow compulsion in religion, talk less of allowing a person force another to marry someone they don’t want to. One of the conditions of marriage in Islam is agreement. Both parties must agree to it, no one can legally force another into marriage.”
“Hmm. What about Muslim countries where women are not allowed to drive?”
“That has nothing to do with being Muslim. Women rode horses on those same lands in the Prophet’s time.”
“I see. I never realised this is actually how Islam is. I never made an effort to know, as you said, I bought into the stereotypes. This is actually the first time I have talked about Islam with a Muslim. Yet somehow I had so many opinions. It is ridiculous now that I think about it. The dressing though, really, this is the 21st century, the world has evolved.”
“There is really no specific form of dress for a Muslim woman, so far she follows the set guidelines- her clothes should not be revealing, that is they should neither be tight, nor transparent, and they should cover the required parts of her body, when she is with men who are not her Mahram, which means men she cannot marry; her father, brother, grandfather, and uncles. And of course, there is no restriction with a woman’s husband. Her face, hands, and feet (depending on opinion) do not have to be covered. As I said earlier, we dress this way because God asked us to. And we strive to please Our Lord. 21st century, or whenever, it doesn’t matter, God has not changed, neither have His words, and that’s how they will remain forever. We get rewarded for every little thing we do sincerely for Allah’s sake. So every day I step out with this hijab, I get many rewards.”
“I never looked at it that way. It has been really enlightening talking to you. I apologise for being so prejudiced before.”
“That’s alright. Islam teaches us to forgive. Besides, you were willing to listen to the truth, rather than stand firm on false beliefs. I’m glad to have met you.”
Biola smiled. “I’d like to keep in touch if you don’t mind.”
“I was just about to ask for your contact.” They exchanged contacts and went their separate ways.
This article was written by Muhammad-Salisu Safiyyah, a 5th year medical student at the Lagos State University College of Medicine, Ikeja, Lagos.