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Muslim women should seek rights endowed by Islam, not pyrrhic ‘equality’

As women we’re told to “look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man and work like a boss.” For men it’s much simpler, “Be a man”. That’s it. Men have no problems defining what it means to be a man. Their being is not differentiated into categories of looking, acting, thinking and working. Masculinity covers it all.

Women’s month has just come to an end – and while many who fight for gender equality (if that really exists) and gender justice won’t necessarily be silenced – their voices aren’t celebrated like they readily are in newspapers, magazines and television throughout the year as is done during August.

For some South African Muslim women to be included in masaajid and the Eid Gah and to be given a seat in leadership positions of Islamic scholarly organisations is seen as a subject of importance. For other women proving that they are capable of doing anything a man can do is a sign of equality. And it makes me wonder if achieving either of these makes us a man’s equal or whether it makes us pseudo men.

In Islam women were given dignity and rights to earn an education, propose marriage and own property when Muhammad SAW stood up as our leader. Never was it said that women and men were equal. The lack of that admission did not mean women did not have rights, because equality doesn’t earn anyone their rights – their very existence does.

Even in his last sermon Muhammad SAW used the word “rights” to discuss men and women, not equality. Equality and superiority were terms used with regards to people of different nationalities and race. In fact the only time one Muslim can surpass another in superiority, irrespective of gender, is with respect to the level of their Imaan. And even then, that superiority is not really known to us.

There are many women in the Muslim world who are suffering grave injustices by laws passed in the name of Islam under tyrannical Muslim male leaders. Countless women are being harassed, their dignity threatened, if not robbed in countries where wars are being condoned by those very leaders – with their monarchies, secular democracies, military dictatorships and theocracies – who supposedly represent the Muslim world.

Leaders – who shake hands with war mongering superpowers and their brand of terrorism. Leaders – who are failing to protect the rights and dignity of their women, who turn a blind eye to abusers, imprison rape victims and rob women of their economic and political rights. Inept leaders of regimes that are the main cause of misery for women in the Muslim world. Not Islam.

Shouldn’t we be raising our voices in unity for them and their rights?

Allah sent direct revelation when Khaulah bint Tha’labah – a woman – went to Muhammad SAW complaining about her husband in Surah Mujadilah. The khalifah Mu’tassim sent an entire army to the Roman Empire upon hearing that a Muslim woman had been dishononoured by a Roman soldier. The memory of Hajar AS and her pleas between mounts Saffa and Marwa is “lived” today by both men and women alike. There are many other stories where a woman’s value and importance and the protection of her rights are proven.

Muslim “feminists” shout about gender equality in Islam. Then, why has there been a rise in the number of women globally embracing the codes of Islam, dress, practices and lifestyle, rejecting worldly liberalism and its “perks”?

Because reverts understand that practices such as forced marriages, honour killing and the seclusion of women from society are cultural traditions and not Islam even though the media portrays the religion in that light.

Muslim Women who stand up for other women’s rights must be heard, but we must ask ourselves if we understand our rights according to Islam or whether we seek them according to a Western ideology of gender equality.

Men and women were not created to mirror each other. They were created by the very essence of their differences to support each other.

The first person to embrace Islam was a woman. The first person to die for Islam was a woman. The greatest scholar of Islam was a woman. Women were at the forefront of Islam, in many cases standing side by side with Rasulullah SAW.

These women and their status are never described in terms of any man but they are hailed for their own characteristics. Yet we readily wish to identify ourselves and our rights in terms of our male counterparts.

Look like a woman, act like a woman, think like a woman, work like a woman. Be a woman. We should embrace our womanhood and the rights it affords us, as women.

Sakeena Suliman – Opinion | 02 September 2013

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