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The image of the typical Muslim woman wearing the veil, forced to stay home, and forbidden to drive is all too common in most peoples' thoughts.
The status of women in Islam is often the target of attacks in the secular media. The ‘Hijaab,’ or Islamic dress code for women, is cited by many as an example of the ‘subjugation’ of women under Islamic law. Before mentioning the reasoning behind the religiously mandated Hijaab, let us first study the status of women in societies before the advent of Islam.
In the past, women were degraded and generally used as objects of lust.
The following are examples from history which amply illustrate the fact that the status of women in earlier civilisations was very low, to the extent that they were denied basic human dignity:
A. Babylonian Civilisation:
Women were degraded and denied all rights under the Babylonian law. If a man murdered a woman, instead of him being punished, his wife was put to death.
B. Greek Civilisation:
Greek Civilisation is considered the most glorious of all ancient civilisations. Under this very ‘glorious’ system, women were deprived of all rights and were looked down upon. In Greek mythology, an imaginary woman called ‘Pandora’ was the root cause of misfortune of human beings. The Greeks considered women to be subhuman and inferior to men. Prostitution became a regular practice amongst all classes of Greek society.
C. Roman Civilisation:
When Roman Civilisation was at the zenith of its ‘glory’, a man even had the right to unjustifiably take the life of his wife. Prostitution and nudity were common practice amongst the Romans.
D. Egyptian Civilisation:
The Egyptians considered women to be evil and a sign of the devil.
E. Pre-Islamic Arabia:
Before Islam spread in Arabia, the Arabs looked down upon women and very often, when a female child was born, she was buried alive.
When Islam came, it uplifted women and gave them equality and expected them to maintain their status. Islam raised the status of women and granted them their just rights 1400 years ago.
Too often the image of a covered woman is used to represent what much of the world views as oppression. Her very existence is described in terms that convey ignorance and unhappiness. Words like, beaten, repressed and oppressed are bandied about by the western media in a desperate attempt to convince the readers that women in Islam have no rights. Descriptive and intrinsically oppressive terms such as shrouded and shackled are used to portray an image of women who have no minds and who are the slaves or possessions of their husbands and fathers.
This is a misconception of the real image of women in Islam. In Islam, a woman has the basic freedom of choice and expression based on recognition of her individual personality. She is free to choose her religion. The Quran states what means: "There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] religion. The right course has become clear from error… " [Quran: 2:256]
In Islam, women are encouraged to contribute their opinions and ideas. There are many traditions of the Prophet sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam which indicate women would pose questions directly to him and offer their opinions concerning religion, economics and social matters.
A Muslim woman chooses her husband and keeps her name after marriage. A Muslim woman's testimony is valid in legal disputes. In fact, in areas in which women are more familiar, their evidence is conclusive.
The reason why Hijaab is prescribed for women is mentioned in the Quran in the following verses of Surah Al-Ahzaab: "O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known [as chaste, believing women] and not be abused. And ever is Allaah Forgiving and Merciful." [Quran: 33:59]
The Quran says that Hijaab has been prescribed for women so that they are recognised as being modest women, which may also prevent them from being molested. Suppose two equally beautiful twin sisters walk down a street. One of them is attired in the Islamic Hijaab, i.e. the complete body is covered, except for the face and the hands up to the wrists. The other sister is wearing western clothes, such as a miniskirt or shorts. Around the corner is a lout who is waiting for a catch to tease a girl. Whom will he tease - the girl wearing the Islamic Hijaab or the girl wearing the miniskirt or shorts? Naturally, he will tease the girl in the more revealing dress. Such dresses are an indirect invitation to the opposite sex for teasing and molestation. The Quran rightly says that Hijaab prevents women from being molested.
Under the Islamic Sharee'ah (Law), a man convicted of having raped a woman is given capital punishment. Many are astonished at this ‘harsh’ sentence. Some even say that Islam is a ruthless, barbaric religion! I have asked a simple question to hundreds of non-Muslim men. Suppose, God forbid, that someone were to rape your wife, your mother or your sister. You are made the judge and the rapist is brought in front of you. What punishment would you give him? All of them, without exception, said that they would put him to death. Some went to the extent of saying they would torture him to death. To them I ask that if someone rapes your wife or your mother you want to put him to death, but if the same crime is committed on somebody else’s wife or daughter you say capital punishment is barbaric? Why should there be double standards?
Western Society Falsely Claims to have Uplifted Women
In western countries, where liberation encompasses unlimited freedom, women are actually finding themselves living lives that are unsatisfying and meaningless. In their quest for liberation, they have abandoned the ideals of morality and stability and found themselves in marriages and families that bear little resemblance to "real life". What is so liberating about being forced to work all day and coming home at night to housework? What is so liberating about having babies who, at six weeks of age, can be deposited in child care centres to learn their behaviour and morality from strangers?
Western talk of women’s liberation is nothing but a disguised form of exploitation of her body, degradation of her soul, and deprivation of her honour. Western society claims to have ‘uplifted’ women. On the contrary, it has actually degraded them to the status of concubines, mistresses and society butterflies who are mere tools in the hands of pleasure seekers and sex marketers.
In conclusion, the Muslim woman was given a role, duties and rights 1400 years ago that most women do not enjoy today - even in the West. These are from God and are designed to keep balance in society; what may seem unjust or missing in one place is compensated for or explained in another place.