How Islam Empowers My Feminism
Posted on May 01, 2017
Ah, to be a woman in 2017. We live in an era where the leader of the free world is a bona fide misogynist, scores of Latina and African American girls go missing in DC without massive outcry, ISIS shackle women captives en masse as sex slaves, and my own good friend got harassed by three men at three different airports in a WEEK. We’re expected to be docile and agreeable by our well-meaning immigrant parents, to constantly challenge the ‘oppressed’ persona projected onto us by neighbors and coworkers, and maintain a classy and reputable image in our community, resisting actions and words that would make us seem too aggressive or strong-willed. These expectations, which are not limited to the Muslim community, are arbitrarily grandiose and wholly unnecessary. While power structures in much of the world today hinder basic human rights and dignity to our gender, our faith provides the antidote to such ills. Contrary to what any naysayer may tell you, Islam and women's empowerment are complimentary and go hand-in-hand. Read on to see why.
We are empowered by choice and free will
Believing men and women are judged equally by their actions and deeds. While both men and women have responsibilities to their parents, to each other as spouses, their children, and as citizens in society, women are not beholden to the will of anyone except Allah (S). Human beings are among the best of creation, and what separates us from angels is our free will and agency. There are many verses in the Qur’an that emphasize a person’s free will and actions, and one of them is from chapter 76, verse 3: “We have shown man the path of truth and the path of falsehood; he may choose either the path of guidance and offer the thanks, or choose the path of ingratitude."
We spend out of our earnings and property as we wish
For over 1,400 years Muslim women have possessed the right to keep current and future properties to their name (by contrast, women in America did not receive the right to own property until 1839) and are not required to spend out of their income or property in caring for their households.
We belong to no one - except Allah (S)
Our religion does not teach us that women are the property of men. In chapter 4, verse 34 which begins with, “Men are the protectors of women…,” men are given the responsibility of being women’s protectors and maintainers because God holds them liable for taking care of his wife, protecting her, defending her honor and fulfilling her worldly needs, NOT to wield full power over them. The essence of the oft-used verse from the Quran, “Inna lil lahi wa inna elayhi raji’oon” – indeed to Allah we belong, and indeed to Allah we return means that everything we are given in this life – our possessions, our bodies, and our lives are impermanent and reside squarely in Allah (S)’s control.
Education is a right, not a privilege
Our faith obligates every man and woman to read and learn. The Prophet (S) has famously said, “the search for knowledge is a duty for every Muslim.” Furthermore, the Prophet (S), also said, “If anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise. The angels will lower their wings in their great pleasure with one who seeks knowledge, the inhabitants of the heavens and the Earth and the fish in the deep waters will ask forgiveness for the learned man. The superiority of the learned man over the devout is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave neither dinar nor dirham, leaving only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion." These Prophetic traditions apply to both men and women, equally.
Our worth is not based on whether we marry or have children
I’ve heard many times how marriage completes half our faith, and if interpreted carelessly, one would think that by not marrying, his or her faith is incomplete. This is not the case. Marriage is, “half our faith” because of the amount of effort exerted by both spouses to overcome the tests and trials along the way that help bring one closer to God and live according to His rules and guidelines. This is a wonderful blessing, but by no means should our worth be tied to whether or not we marry. Marriage is not the only path to paradise or salvation, and neither is having children. In chapter 34, verse 37, Allah (S) tells us, “It is not your wealth nor your sons, that will bring you nearer to Us in degree: but only those who believe and work righteousness…”
We are encouraged to use our talents for social good
Girl power dates back to the Prophet (S)’s era! We need to look no further than the example of Aisha (RA) who was an Islamic scholar, military commander, and issuer of fatwas in her lifetime. When Sumiyyah bint Khabbat refused to renounce her faith in Islam, staunch enemy of Islam Abu Jahl shot a spear through her heart, making her the first martyr of Islam. Shifa Bint Adwiya was a doctor before she converted to Islam, and the Prophet (S) not only encouraged her to continue nurturing her gifts and talents, but asked her to teach one of his wives to read and write, as well. Check out Anse Tamara Gray's Lean In- Our Feminist Manifesto for more examples of girl power during the Prophet (S)'s time.
Islam celebrates and honors women. Unfortunately, some voices both within and outside our community - whether Islamophobic or rooted in misguided cultural mores - would make the case that Muslim women need to be subdued or are second-class citizens because of their faith. In terms of belief, we are seen as equal to men in the eyes of our Lord. We are commanded to worship and serve humanity in His name with the same stringency as our male counterparts. Our faith empowers us in every way possible to live to our highest potential. In no way are we downtrodden or in need of anyone’s pity. Rather, we are independent and unabashedly impassioned. Loud or soft-spoken if we want to be. Fiercely vocal and bravely vulnerable. Intelligent, crazy, dorky, witty, and everything in between. Most importantly, we are proudly and brazenly Muslim. Any act of faith, no matter how small, is a means to a shared end: to attain ultimate success with our Lord, which is judged by no one except He and He alone.