Islam and Modernity: The Rights of Muslim Women in the Modern World
The advancement of religion and its connection to the rest of the society remains a major topic of exploration in the sociological theory. Throughout history, Islam has been viewed and interpreted from a male perspective, despite the fact that the first convert into the new religion was a woman; Khadijah, Prophet Muhamad’s wife. Over the course of history, numerous women have continued to play a fundamental role in the transmission of hadith as well as the establishment of Sufism. Unfortunately, they have largely been marginalized in the Islam religion, whose laws and scriptures are mainly interpreted from a male endeavour and are denied leadership roles both in the society and their places of worship. In the recent times, however, the role of Islamic women in the society have changed dramatically. Despite the rise of women empowerment and the call for equality in the Islamic world, the right of Muslim women in the contemporary world is still limited compared to other parts of the developed world.
Early marriage for girls is a prevalent issue in the Islamic world. Unlike the men who are allowed to have up to four wives, Muslim women are only allowed to have one spouse. In Islamic countries, family law is founded on the scriptures written in the Quran. A’isha, who was Prophet Muhammad’s favorite wife, was only six years old when the wed, and nine when they consummated their marriage. Similar cases are common throughout the Islamic countries in which the legal age for girls to marry is very young. For instance, in Iran, it is legal for a girl as young as nine and a boy of 14 years to get married (Segal-Engelchin & Massry 726). As a result, it is common to find old people taking advantage of such laws to marry young girls, only to abandon them and marry others. Even though countries such as Yemen have implemented laws that forbid the marriage of girls under the age of 15, such laws are often ignored. In most cases, the onset of puberty is regarded as the most opportune time during which a marriage can be consummated.
Muslim women still find it extremely to file for divorce even in the contemporary world today. As stated by Fortier, women in the Islamic societies find it quite difficult to sue for divorce, yet the men can easily be released from their vows on demand (160). In fact, a man can be divorced from his wife by simply saying the phrase ‘I divorce you’ three consecutive times. In some countries, such as Pakistan, the law is reluctant enough to allow for alimony, which lasts for three months to certify that the woman is not pregnant before the marriage is officially dissolved. Furthermore, most of the women choose to remain in unfulfilling marriages out of the fear of poverty and the possibility of being separated from their children (Fortier 161). In Islam, the father automatically gets custody over any male child that is beyond the age of six and girls once they hit puberty. Thus, given the difficulties they face while seeking to terminate their marriages, most women choose to remain in abusive and bad unions.
Muslim women are expected to always obey their husband, and any act of disobedience is punishable by beating. Sura 4:34 of the Qur’an states that husbands have pre-eminence over their wives. It further states that in the case of an insubordinate wife, the husband should scold her, leave her to sleep alone, and eventually beat her (Ammar 517). While this might not explain the reasons behind the rampant cases of wife battery in Islamic societies, it could give reasons why the female victims of domestic violence in such countries consider the violent acts of their husbands as acceptable and do not seek for external interventions. Besides domestic violence, Muslim women are also prone to incidences of ‘honor killings’. According to Chesler, these killings occur in instances where a select number of Muslim women are murdered by their husbands and relatives once they are suspected of disobedience, sexual discretion, or getting married against the wishes of their family (3). In most cases, the killers are almost never punished as those who kill their wives after they catch them in an act of adultery are exempted from punishment. As a result, Muslim women in such countries are exposed to numerous forms of extreme violence while the male perpetrators are not held liable for their actions.
On the other hand, Muslim women have gained increased roles in the society in the recent times. To begin with, literacy and education of the girl-child has facilitated the inclusion of Muslim women in the interpretation of the Quran. Since the early 20th century, millions of girl in Islamic countries are taught the Sunnah and the Qur’an, and are allowed to attain primary and secondary education. At the same time, the mosques created space for women to allow them to take part in public prayer services. In Egypt, Zaynab al-Ghazali founded the Muslim Ladies’ Association in 1938 with the aim of carrying out social welfare activities (DeLong-Bas). Over time, the association grew and started training women to execute religious exhortation, or da’wah, and to pass the Islamic religious principles to other women. Through such efforts, more and more women were able to gain fundamental understanding on the exegesis on religious hadith and Qur’an. Furthermore, the knowledge that they gained from such activities meant that they were equally capable to recite, teach, and interpret the Qur’an as the men in their societies.
While the concept of female empowerment and gender equality has been embraced throughout the Western world, Muslim women have limited rights even in the modern world today. Early marriage for girls remains an issue of concern in the Islamic world where girls under the age of ten and boys as young as 15 are legally allowed to marry. At the same time, sharia laws make it excessively difficult for women to dissolve their marriages, hence, forcing hundreds of women to remain in bad marriages out of the fear that they would lose their children or live the rest of their lives in abject poverty. Furthermore, the fact that the Qur’an allows men to beat their insubordinate wives has resulted in domestic violence being accepted as a norm in the Islamic world. Such laws are unfavorable to the women since they give more power to the men to marry as many times as they want and use harsh modes of punishment in dealing with their disobedient wives. However, education seems to be playing an instrumental part in the society by allowing women to be involved in recounting, teaching, and read between of the lines the Qur’an in the present-day Islamic society.
Ammar, Nawal H. “Wife battery in Islam: A comprehensive understanding of interpretations.” Violence against women, vol. 13, no. 5, 2007, pp. 516-526. http://library.niwap.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/CULT-Tool-BatteryinIslam.pdf. Accessed 26 January 2018
Chesler, Phyllis. “Worldwide trends in honor killings.” Middle East Quarterly, vol. 17, no. 2, 2010, pp. 3-11, http://www.meforum.org/2646/worldwide-trends-in-honor-killings. Accessed 26 January 2018
DeLong-Bas, Natana J. Women, Islam, and the Twenty-First Century. 2018, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/Public/focus/essay1107_women.html Accessed 26 January 2018
Fortier, Corinne. Chapter 6: The Right to Divorce for Women (khul’) in Islam: Comparative Practices in Mauritania and Egypt. 2012, http://las.ehess.fr/docannexe/file/1931/womendivorcemoorsegypt.pdf Accessed 26 January 2018
Segal-Engelchin, Dorit, Efrat Huss, and Najlaa Massry. “The Experience of Early Marriage: Perspectives of Engaged and Married Muslim Women in Israel.” Journal of Adolescent Research, vol. 31, no. 6, 2016, pp. 725-749. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.932.2875&rep=rep1&type=pdf. Accessed 26 January 2018
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