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Women’s empowerment: Islamic worldview — Prof Dr Amriah Buang

Women’s empowerment: Western vs Islamic Worldview

In the West, the struggle for women empowerment has been couched in the struggle for Women Liberation.

The gist of the struggle of the feminist movement in the West is about attaining to what has not been given to women – such as their status, rights, privileges.

The women in the West have got to initiate movement, thoughts and activities that signify their demand for obtaining those rights.

Quite in contrast to that, for the women in Islam, the purpose of their struggle is to restore back to the women what God has already given them – restoring what has been our God-given rights. 

Why restore women’s empowerment?

Most contemporary scholars with proper knowledge of Islam concur that it was Islam that empowered women for the first time in human history with the most progressive social, legal, economic and political rights since the seventh century. 

William Montgomery Watt, for example, suggested that Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam SAW, “can be seen as a figure who testified on behalf of women’s rights” (Bashir Maan and Alastair McIntosh (2000).

The caring for, and sustaining of, women’s welfare from time to time is an ongoing cause/obligation/amanah that Muslim societies should need no reminder of.

Yet, in his farewell sermon on the Ninth Day of Dhul Hijjah 10 A.H. in the ‘Uranah valley of Mount Arafat, Mecca, the Prophet made it a point to still stress on the duty and responsibility of society to safeguard the interests and wellbeing of women:

O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today…

O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah’s trust and with His permission.

If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness.

Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste.

Remember, one day you will appear before Allah and answer your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.

All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness, O Allah, that I have conveyed your message to your people.

Prophet Muhammad SAW

Yes, the Prophet made it a point to still stress on the duty and responsibility of society to safeguard the interests and wellbeing of women.

Why is that? 

Because the Prophet knew that taking care of women’s interests would be a Muslim patriarchal society’s inherent weakness. 

Just look, for instance, at the various unceremonious ways women’s rights have been (mis)treated by Muslim men even in the progressive 21st Century: 

  • Afghanistan: We ban women from getting educated
  • Iran: We force women to wear the headscarf
  • Pakistan: We allow honour killings and forced marriages
  • Saudi Arabia: We ban women from driving
  • Somalia: We stoned 19-year-old rape victim
  • Sudan: We arrest and flog women for wearing trousers
  • Turkey: We ban women from wearing the headscarf

The media is replete with news of the various forms of suffering that contemporary Muslim women and girls had undergone: from death after being made a child bride…


An eight-year-old Yemeni child dies at hands of 40-year-old husband on the wedding night. In February 2009, a law was created in Yemen that set the minimum age for marriage at 17. Unfortunately, it was repealed after more conservative lawmakers called it un-Islamic.

….to being shot for defending the right of girls to get an education…


Malala Yousafzai was shot on October 9, 2012, by the Taliban on her school bus in Swat Valley, Pakistan, for defending Muslim girls’ right to go to school. Eight of the 10 Taliban hitmen were not convicted and their secret trial was a pathetic sham, and just TWO are serving a 25-year prison sentence.

…to being discriminated against as violence or war refugees and migrants…


A migrant Muslim woman holds her 3-year-old son Abdul, who is suffering from malnutrition, as she attends the health awareness and service camp at a very remote Baralakhaiti village on the sandbars of River Brahmaputra, February 10, 2014.

….to being instantly divorced without due considerations…


Triple talaq bill — the plight of Muslim women must come to an end. Talaq-e-biddat, instant divorce or talaq-e-mughallazah (irrevocable divorce) has been banned in 22 countries, several of which are Muslim-dominated. Yet, India lacks the courage to take the bull by the horns. Despite knowing that the oral form of divorce does a grave injustice to Muslim women, none of the parties showed the gumption to bring an end to this regressive, patriarchal tradition for fear of upsetting religious sentiment.

…to being abandoned wives and becoming single mothers without receiving any child financial support from the fathers… 


Non-payment of child support worsen financial hardship faced by single mothers. Single mothers’ income from employment mitigates the effect of non-payment of child support by absent fathers. Child support issues need to be seriously considered by policymakers as it affects the wellbeing of children in single mothers’ households.

…to being denied the right to divorce unjust husbands…

…and to being killed for the sake of somebody else’s honour.


Pakistani activists perform a skit in a street in Hyderabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008, to portray the recent “honour killings” in a tribal town in Pakistan’s Balochistan province with a banner which reads “Stop burying women in the name of honour killing.” Pakistan opened an investigation into the killings of five women who tried to choose their own husbands after a provincial lawmaker defended their deaths as a “centuries-old tradition.”
Reasons for honour killing

The above examples of the mistreatment of Muslim women in their societies beg the question of how unfaithful Muslim societies have been in obeying the instruction of the Prophet SAW to treat women well and to be kind to them.

Given that Muslim societies generally have been slow to give women the empowerment that the Quran and the sunnah had granted them, it is not too farfetched to say that in the face of this systemic weakness it is women themselves who have to always be on the alert, to come forward, and do whatever they can to protect and defend themselves.

In short, to mobilise themselves in order to restore the empowerment that is their God-given right.

REFERENCES
  • Amriah Buang (2020), Gender Equality vs Gender Equity: Islamic Worldview, Paper presented to the IIUM-ISTAQ Roundtable Discussion on 3rd March, 2020, Ibn Khaldun Hall, ISTAQ, Kuala Lumpur
  • Bashir Maan and  Alastair McIntosh (2000), “ The Whole House of  Islam, and We Christians with Them: An Interview with the ‘Last Orientalist’ Rev. Prof William Montgomery Watt,” http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/articles/2000_watt.htm (accessed 31 December 2014).
  • Shafin Verani, 2013, Matters related to gender in the Quran https://www.slideshare.net/shafinverani1/gender-equality-and-equity 
  • Amriah Buang (2020), Gender Equality vs Gender Equity: Islamic Worldview, Paper presented to the IIUM-ISTAQ Roundtable Discussion on 3rd March, 2020, Ibn Khaldun Hall, ISTAQ, Kuala Lumpur
  • Elmira Akhmetova (2015), Women’s Rights: The Quranic Ideals and Contemporary Realities, Islam and Civilisational Renewal, ICR Journal, Vol 6, No 1.Jamal Badawi, 2014
  • World Economic Forum (WEF) (2020), Global Gender Gap Report 2020, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf
GLOSSARY
  • empowerment: The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.
  • gender: either of the two sexes (male and female), especially when considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones.
  • Gender equality: the state in which access to rights or opportunities is unaffected by gender.
  • Gender gap: The difference between women and men as reflected in social, political, intellectual, cultural, or economic attainments or attitudes.
  • Women empowerment:  The process of making women becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights in social, educational, economic, political and psychological aspects.

Contributed to us by Prof. Dr. Amriah Buang

President, Interactive Muslimah Association (IMAN), Malaysia

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best Fikrah team. Read all her contributed articles here.

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