Sexism in Islam

By | 25th April 2018

I was watching a programme yesterday of a church service and found myself comparing the experience of those who go to church on Sundays to Muslims who go to mosques on Friday. There's a very distinct difference in the demographics as Churches are full of families spending the time together where as Mosques are mostly male members of the family. This, I found to be very fascinating. I'm not a lover of any institution whether it be a church, mosque, synagogue or temple etc but just comparing the two I'm most familiar with, the experience of going to church is clearly a more enjoyable one than going to a mosque.

One of the reasons for it being a more enjoyable activity is that it's a family affair. Families go and sit together, after the service, families will quite often mingle with other families and members of the community. Even if you're not religious, this is a great way to build relationships and be a part of the community.

In contrast, the experience of going to a mosque is very different. Men and women have separate entrances, men's entrance being at the from of the building where as women are expected to enter using the side or back of the mosque and the entrance can often be quite unpleasant. Even if a family went to the mosque together, they will have to segregate and sit separately. So it is no longer a family affair. Once the service is over and everyone has done their prayers, individuals do have the opportunity to mingle and meet other members of the community. However, as the other half of your family is in a separate part of the mosque, the object seems to be to find the rest of your family which you can only do leaving the mosque and just go home. There are those men and women who will mingle amongst their fellow sexes but the experience isn't quite the same. You don't get to meet the family, rather just individuals that has been forced to separate.

I've always found anything to do with Islam quite a male dominated alien experience. I've been to many mosques and religious talks etc in my life and always found it really awkward. You'll have the men, quite often at the front if not in a different room and the women at the back or adjacent and sometimes behind a curtain. Nobody talks to one another, and the whole experience is like going to a doctors appointment. You go, wait, see your doctor and leave as quickly as possible. Not an enjoyable or inviting experience.

If you look at the supposedly holiest place in Islam, the Kaaba. I've never been so can't speak from personal experience but from what I've seen, there is no separate entrance for men and women, they seem to pray together, and everything else like perform their pilgrimage ritual in a mixed environment. So why are local mosques nothing like the grand mosque?

Lead by the Muslim Reform Movement by Asra Nomani, there has been some incidents where people are trying to get mosques to be more accommodating, allow women to enter through the front, pray in a mixed environment, lead by a woman but so far, very little has changed. Judging by the comments I see in the posts promoting this, the wider Muslim community are not very tolerant of these changes. Men and women.

This made me think about all the other issues with Islam that is very gender bias. You get a lot of people saying that Islam gave women certain rights when other nations were not recognising women as even human equal to men. This may be the case and Islam was quite revolutionary in the 7th century. But we don't live the seventh century any more. If you compare the women's rights in Islam compared to the rest of the world now, women in Islam definitely have the short straw.

Hadiths are inherently misogynistic but using the traditional translation the Quran as an example, there is a lot of inequality in the holy scripture as well.

  • Women inherit half of what men inherit
  • Men have the right to beat their wives
  • Me can marry 4 wives
  • Women have to request a divorce from their husband
  • Two female witnesses are equivalent to one of a man.
  • The Quran does not stipulate any rights that women have that exceeds that of a man.
  • Wear a hijab, niqal or burkha and be covered from ankle to wrist.  Although not a universal rule, it is a generally accepted requirement. Some translations of the Quran even advocate covering one eye as both eyes may cause lustful feelings.
  • Though not stated in the Quran, women are also forbidden from praying or fasting during their menstrual cycle. So if you believe praying and fasting are rewarding activities, women will always achieve less.
  • Women are pressured to marry as soon as they hit puberty so they are guaranteed to be virgins but no such expectation of men as they generally marry a lot later.

Also, if you have a look at a Traditional Muslim family, the women are the carers of the children, do all the domestic duties, and they are given the responsibility of looking after the mans parents and extended family. This isn't strictly a Muslim issue but Muslims are not living any differently to their Hindu or Sikh community. Some women do work but that doesn't always relieve them of their domestic duties. There are obviously exceptions to every rule and women in every community do more domestically than men but Muslim women are faced with their religious limitations as well as their gender bias expectations.

The sexism women face are not limited to Islam, it is also very prevalent in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism etc but Muslim women have a habit of either promoting the 'great status' women have in Islam or ignoring these elements of sexism because they live in a society that gives them more rights over and above their religion. Muslim women are quite happy demanding equal rights within the society they live but not within the faith they choose to practice.

Men and women are equally responsible for fighting sexism and oppression. Women are just as guilty of sexism against other women as men are. The reason for this is probably because women want to keep the peace instead of ruffling a few feathers. Look at what's happening in Iran, women are fighting for the right to not wear the hijab and you have other women who are trying to stop it. Accusing these women of insulting their community, drawing too much attention to themselves and making themselves vulnerable to rape and harassment.

It has become very fashionable for Muslim women to wear hijab and they will tell you that they are choosing to wear it which most of them are. However, they are choosing to ignore the fact that they are promoting something that is a symbol of oppression in a lot of countries, a symbol of misogyny and some would call it a chastity belt for the head. When you cover a child's head with a hijab, you are teaching her to be submissive, to accept what she is being given basically saying your child is responsible for the sexual desires of men.

Something I read by Mona Elthahawy struck a chord with me recently. Which is that instead of teaching girls to be submissive good little respectable looking girls, we should teach them to stand up and demand their rights to be treated with respect and dignity and give them the same rights are men. We should also be teaching our boys to treat women as equal members of society that have the same rights and choices as women. Men and women are not the same biologically, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't have the same rights!

So what changes do we need so that Islam is no longer behind the times earning itself the label sexist?

  1. I would like to see mosques become a place for the family and the community to get together and build relationships and not just somewhere for people to stand bow and prostrate
  2. I would like women from Muslim families to inherit the same as their male siblings from their parent unless the parent feels otherwise
  3. Women and men need to support women and help them to stand up for their right to choose how to dress, who to marry, choice to work, live a lone or whatever else it may be.
  4. Zero tolerance for domestic abuse, physical or mental and emotion. whether it be from parents, partners or even siblings and the extended family
  5. Women's right to initiate a religious divorce and have it dissolved easily even if they have not registered their marriage legally. I would advise women to not to do their Nikkah if they haven't yet registered their marriage.
  6. In regards to fasting and praying, if you believe these are rewarding activities, then I suggest not letting your menstrual cycle stop you from continuing to do these as there are no evidence from the Quran that it is forbidden.

We can't deny that sexism exists in Islam as we know it. It is up to us to make the changes needed to bring it in to the 21st century and keep it as progressive as it once was.

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