Women in Islam – Muslim Women
The issue of women in Islam is highly controversial. Any materials on this subject, whether in print or online, should be used with caution because of the lack of objectivity. While it is generally agreed that the rights granted to women in the Qur’an and by the prophet Muhammad were a vast improvement in comparison to the situation of women in Arabia before the advent of Islam, after the Prophet’s death the condition of women in Islam began to decline and revert to pre-Islamic norms.
Yet just as the women’s movement in the West began to pick up steam in the twentieth century, the same thing occurred, although to a lesser extent, in the Muslim world at this time. Feminists in the Muslim world in the twentieth century (until the 1980s) were generally upper-class women whose feminism was modeled after feminists in the West.
But just as modern socio-political models in the Muslim world after the colonial period began, in the 20th century, to shift from Western models of society and government to “Islamic” models, feminism in the Muslim world began to take on Islamic forms rather than aping the Western feminist form.
This has been true not merely for Muslim women but women throughout the entire third world. Having thrown off the shackles of colonial imperialism, women of the third world are increasingly growing resistant to the cultural imperialism marketed by the West, even in the form of feminism.
Hence, third-world women, like women of color in the West, are realizing that while they have certain things in common with the struggle of Euro-American feminists, what is best for Euro-American women is not necessarily going to be best for them. Consequently, Muslim women have been developing a distinctly “Islamic” feminism, just as women of color in the West have been developing “womanism” in contrast to feminism, which primarily was shaped by the concerns of upper-class Euro-American women.
One example of the differences between Western feminism and Islamic feminism concerns the issue of “veiling.” The hijab (often translated as “veil”) is in the form of a scarf or hair covering commonly worn by Muslim women. It has always been seen by Western feminists as oppressive and as a symbol of a Muslim woman’s subservience to men.
As a result, it often comes as a surprise to Western feminists that the veil has become increasingly common in the Muslim world and is often worn proudly by college girls as a symbol of an Islamic identity, freeing them symbolically from neo-colonial Western cultural imperialism and domination.