Over the last few months, the coverage of the hijab in international news has been mentally and emotionally crushing for Muslim women across the globe. We feel as though our right to free choice no longer exists.
The French government bans women from wearing hijab, then the European Union passes a law allowing employers to ban it in the workplace. Albeit the support of a few thousand defending the right of European Muslim women to wear their headscarves, real global outrage supporting Muslim women’s free choice only came with the Taliban take over of Afghanistan. As a Muslim woman myself, it aches to know that my fellow sisters in Islam living in France are being forced to remove their hijab, while my sisters in Afghanistan are having their rights stripped away. But, it is the rise in Islamophobia and widespread misconceptions about Islam circulating the media and web that is most painful for me.
I am a Muslim woman and I do not wear the hijab full-time. But I am lucky enough to live in a country that does not dictate my choice. Acknowledging this privilege, I wish to share with my readers the beauty of being a Muslim woman; the fact that many commands of Islam are indeed feminist in nature.
My fellow Muslim women and I have once again found ourselves having to defend our faith and our choice to follow the religion of Islam. We have to remind everyone that Islam literally means peace and it is necessary to differentiate between Islam and extremism.
Contrary to popular belief, Islam is a beautiful religion that holds women in very high esteem. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) preached kindness towards women.
He said to his Muslim brothers:
“Fear Allah in respect of women”
“The best of you are they who behave best to their wives,”
“A Muslim must not hate his wife, and if he be displeased with one bad quality in her, let him be pleased with one that is good”
“The more civil and kind a Muslim is to his wife, the more perfect in faith he is.”
Muslim men are commanded to treat their wives with the utmost respect. To begin with, Muslim women have the right to choose her husband. The Taliban’s version of Sharia Law does not represent real Islamic law. Islamic law is stern on consent. For a marriage to be Islamically legal, the woman must consent. Chapter 4, verse 19 of the Holy Quran explicitly forbids anyone to inherit women against their will and continues to command that they be treated with kindness and not harshly. Islam clearly mandates that women cannot be coerced into marriage.
Reports are circulating and trending on social media that Afghan women are being forced to abandon their schooling and quit their jobs. If you were to really read on the teachings and history of Islam, these demands from the Taliban are not Islamic in nature. They are cruel and extremist. In fact, Fatima al-Fihri, a Muslim woman, founded one of the worlds first known universities, the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morroco. Education for both men and women is promoted in Islam.
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) championed equal access to education saying, “The pursuit of knowledge is a duty of every Muslim, man and woman.” Together with his wife, a wealthy businesswoman, Khadija (RA), they stood up against the mistreatment of women, advocating for their respect, right to own property, run businesses like Khadija (RA) herself did, and to have a say in politics. Khadija (RA) was a phenomenal, independent and strong woman. The Prophet (SAW) loved Khadija (RA) with all his being and never attempted to silence her or stop her from being extraordinary.
As if that isn’t enough evidence, The Prophet (SAW) also ensured that his own daughter was highly educated and always respected. The Prophet’s third wife, Aisha (RA), was a brilliant scholar and jurist. She is the Mother of Believers, as she paved the way for Islamic education and scholarship. It is because of her, her studies and her recordings of the Prophet’s (SAW) communications that we have so much Islamic scholarship today.
As Muslims, our beliefs, commands and rules come from the Holy Quran as well as the teachings, sayings and actions of the Prophet (SAW). Women are beloved, admired, recognised, celebrated and well-regarded in Islam.
The Prophet’s (SAW) wives were powerful women; women who were allowed to work and seek education. They were highly respected and they supported other women who would often go to them for advice and guidance. All the women in the Prophet’s life received his love, appreciation and esteem.
The first lesson as a young Muslim girl I learnt growing up was that the Prophet (SAW) said “Heaven lies under the feet of your mother,” reminding me that the woman most important in this world, the woman that has earned the most respect and love, is my mother.
It baffles me that Islam is mostly known for “oppression” when I know the teachings of Islam to have always focused on treating women equally. I have admired these eloquent and influential women who were at the Prophet’s (SAW) side my entire life.
Should we ask a random person living in the Western or European world to describe a Muslim woman, there is a high probability they’ll describe her as covered from head to toe, or they’ll probably speak about the many rights she lacks. Honestly, when I post on TikTok and Instagram proudly identifying as Muslim without wearing a hijab, I attract many comments about being a “fake Muslim.” The non-Muslims only know what they see in the media and the movies, but nothing about the reality of my religion.
It is disgusting that I have also been subject to bomb and Taliban “jokes” just because my name is Khan. Sadly, I feel I cannot blame these folks entirely for their prejudice as tragedies like the Taliban take over of Afghanistan is almost always exploited to breed Islamophobic tropes.
We must focus on the real issues at stake, like calling for expanding asylum programmes and more political pressure on the Taliban. Instead, too many people are weaponising the instability and adversity in this war-torn country to score political points against Muslim citizens.
Women in pre-Islam Arabia were highly mistreated and had zero rights. It was the Prophet (SAW) and his wives (RA) that improved and bettered the lives of women. Feminism in the days of the Prophet (SAW) may not have existed, but the barriers to women’s equality that He opposed in the 7th century seems all too similar to the ones we 21st-century feminists are fighting against today.
Both the Taliban and the French Government are using religion as their basis to place demands on Muslim women. But it is extremism that is taking away our right to free choice, not Islam.
Islam loves women, extremism doesn’t. Learn the difference. I am a Muslim woman, I am a feminist and I stand with all Muslim women supporting their choices whether it is to wear hijab or not, pursue studies and/or find a place in the working world.
The abbreviated SAW salutation after mentioning the Prophet in Arabic stands for Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam which translates to Peace Be Upon Him.
The abbreviated RA salutation after mentioning the family of the Prophet (SAW) stands for Radhi Allah Anhu which translates to May Allah Be Pleased with Him/Her.
As Muslims, we used these salutations as a form of respect and ask God to bless them.