The Issue” is TMWT’s exploration of what Muslim women experience and the nuances that shape them. In this instalment, Fadilah Ali addresses the issue of institutionalised misogyny and the lost essence of the spirit of Islam.
On Institutionalised Misogyny
Today, more Muslims are facing a crisis of faith than at any other time. In this period of technological advancement, it has become commonplace for most young people to harbour doubts about their faith. This could be caused by several factors, which include the ever-growing Islamophobia, lack of adequate knowledge about Islam, personal struggles, and pressure from within the Muslim community.
While external Islamophobia is to be expected, one of the gut-wrenching issues eating away at our community is the blatant misogyny women face from fellow Muslims. A significant number of Muslims today have put aside the actual tenets of Islam such as taqwa, sadaqah, sabr, gentleness and cultivating a deep relationship with Allah. They have placed their priorities on issues like hadd punishments, the alleged superiority of men over women in Islam, outward displays of piety and whatnot. It is not uncommon to find a cherry-picked ayah from the Qur’an or a contested hadith posted on social media to manipulate women into accepting their inferiority, which is then accompanied by women being told to accept it without questioning or risk being thrown out of the fold of Islam.
The Issue: Institutionalised Misogyny
If women are not being told that feminism is incompatible with Islam and is responsible for most of the world’s problems, we are told that having a dislike for polygyny makes us bad Muslims. If we are not told that wearing the hijab is to protect men from themselves because men cannot control their desires for women, we are told that based on our alleged “biological inferiority”, we must absolutely submit our senses to the men in our lives. We are constantly told that we’re going to be the majority in hell not because of our deeds but because we are inherently evil. We are chastised and harmed by our family members for doing things that men will always get away with. We are told that not wearing the hijab means that we are sluts who amount to nothing before Allah. We are not allowed into the mosques where we are ordinarily supposed to find sisterhood. We are denied education, made to marry as children, raped, attacked with acid and even killed. We are told that divorce is worse than death and it is a sin to leave abusive marriages. We are told that physical abuse is religiously sanctioned. The list is endless.
Yet we wonder why women are having doubts about the faith?
When Muslims act with extremism and come up with things that weren’t issues in the time of the Prophet (PBUH), making Islam out to be something no sane person would want to be a part of, it should not be so difficult to understand that a sane person would want to leave. When a woman is not okay with polygyny, and it is forced on her in the name of Islam, it is not hard to understand that she will seek a way out.
Sometimes one wonders why the world is this obsessed with Muslim women. Women are at the centre of Islamophobia and Muslim misogyny. While Islamophobes seek to “show” how Islam is purportedly anti-women, Muslim misogynists, weaponize the Qur’an and hadith to assert superiority and dominance over women, just to boost their male ego.
I would have been shocked if men didn’t weaponise religion to justify misogyny. It comes as no surprise that there are Muslim families forcing their daughters to wear hijab or to get married. It is a basic human trait to want to dominate others, especially those who are under our care. At that moment it doesn’t matter that the Prophet (PBUH) only advised and never forced anyone to do anything. It is easy to forget the example of the Prophet (PBUH) when perpetrating hideous behaviours under the guise of ‘enjoining good and forbidding evil.’
Considering that Islam emphasizes education for all Muslims, one would think that the woeful statistics reporting the number of Muslim girls who are out of school were a mere farce. With the way the prophet (PBUH) emphasized good treatment of women in his last sermon, one would marvel at the number of Muslim men who have made misogyny not only a personality trait but also a religious duty. When we reflect upon the way the prophet (PBUH) treated his wives and children; never uttering a bad word to them and never raising a hand, one would be shocked at the men who claim to love him by following his example while being the absolute worst to their wives.
Our problem as a community is that we have jettisoned common sense when dealing with issues that are nuanced and complex. We focus too much on superficialities and care a lot about the opinions of non-Muslims. We are more concerned about how we are perceived than we are about the actual issues plaguing our communities. Muslims will make a big deal out of a woman wearing a short dress while ignoring the thousands of girls who are out of school, forced into marriages, raped, attacked with acid and killed. We prefer to engage in meaningless debates, trying hard to make the non-Muslims think that we’re not as bad as they think we are while ignoring the countless number of Muslims who need counselling to get over their crisis of faith.
What do we stand to gain by constantly undermining women, by shaming them, by telling them how worthless they are, by justifying their ill-treatment with Allah’s book? Not everyone has the resources to find knowledge and that means that a good number of them will never realize that their ill-treatment has nothing to do with Islam. Muslims sabotage women’s every move. When they are born, their brothers are treated better. When they grow up, they are held to idealistic standards while their brothers are given free rein. When they have careers, they are told that their success is meaningless without a husband and children. When they don’t get careers and instead opt for being stay at home moms, they are belittled. And when they decide to focus on building their relationship with Allah and opting for the akhira, they are also told that they will go to hell.
There is a problem when people derive pleasure from seeing women being undermined and condemned to hell. Muslims nowadays lack the sense of nuance that comes with dealing with sensitive topics like polygyny and divorce amongst others. Nothing is ever all black or white. Not every issue in life is a fiqh issue which deserves a fatwa. When there is an issue with a lot of complexity, especially in this modern age of ours, it doesn’t do to define them into the halal/haram binary.
Where do women then turn to? How do we reconcile all of these with the fact that they are done in the name of Islam? Muslims are responsible for every woman who walks this road and decides to leave Islam. The damage being done is greater than we can imagine.
Projecting The True Spirit of Islam
The Qur’an itself is a miracle. It is the word of Allah given to humans to guide them through life’s obstacles. What we’ve done with the Qur’an is unforgivable. It has taken the backseat in our daily lives while controversial issues have taken over. We don’t study the Qur’an enough. We don’t study the message conveyed in beautiful poetic synergy, the history of past nations, the scientific miracles, all of it. We take it all for granted. We don’t reflect upon the sunnah of the prophet, which is the lived practice of the spirit of the Qur’an.
The reason a pure heart is emphasized is that anyone can come to the Quran to interpret it as they want. The same Qur’an one would read and then go on to look after orphans is the same Qur’an an extremist uses to justify his vile actions, and it is the same Qur’an an Islamophobe would read to justify his hatred for the religion. When we come to the book of Allah with our different agenda, hoping to find things that will justify our actions, we must be prepared for the consequences.
To the women feeling hopeless in their faith because of the religious sources taken out of context to justify their inferiority, I say hang on. When anyone, Muslim misogynist or Islamophobe bombards you with Hadiths on how the majority of hell’s occupants will be women, think of it like this: the majority of nurses in the world are women. That does not mean that the majority of women in the world are nurses. When they say that the majority of people in hell are women, it does not mean that majority of heaven’s occupants are men.
Moreover, this particular Hadith is highly contested and several scholars are sceptical about its authenticity in being traceable to the prophet. Even if this were not the case, this shouldn’t be our focus as Muslims. People get into either heaven or hell based on the quality of their deeds, not based on their gender. Doing our part in worshipping Allah makes us eligible to Jannah.
This also applies to all other ‘problematic’ issues raised today. The Sunnah of the prophet is a shining example open to whoever wants to reflect on it. We must try our best to not constantly expose ourselves to the words of hateful people. Though we may not realize it immediately, it takes its toll on our iman and general wellbeing. Allah is just, loving and merciful.
Fadilah Ali is the Features Editor for The Muslim Women Times. She has a B.Sc in Microbiology and she is passionate about reading, writing, women’s rights, and tafsir.