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What a deceptive title. Muslim women do not need empowerment. What so many Muslim girls (especially in the United States) need is to be educated on how much Islam empowers women. We live in a world where Muslims are the most discriminated and oppressed religious minority, and a society in which Islam is widely misunderstood. Therefore, it is especially vital, in this time and age, for Muslims – especially Muslim women – to recognize their rights in Islam.
What a deceptive title. Muslim women do not need empowerment. What so many Muslim girls (especially in the United States) need is to be educated on how much Islam empowers women.
Too many times I have come across Muslim high school girls, college girls, and even mothers who were not aware of some of the most basic elements of Islam that empowers them as Muslim women. Some Muslim girls do not realize that a group of women can lead a jama’a (group) prayer without a man, so instead they each pray separately. Many Muslim girls think that their voices are ‘awra to the extent that they think it forbidden to recite Quran in front of a male Imam. Many Muslim women do not know that their money is their own and they do not have any obligation to share it with their husbands. Many Muslim women do not know that it is best in Islam - and most empowering - to keep their family names even after marriage. I lack much information as well, but Muslim women must unite to share the knowledge that is the key to our power.
However, it is unfair to place all the blame on women if they are ignorant to things beyond the scope of what they have been taught. If our mosques lack regular sisters’ meetings, lack a female presence on the board, lack female scholars, and lack a sense of community by placing walls or curtains between men and women, what knowledge and ideas do we expect women to have? Mosques are our centers for education, yet often they do not provide half of the programs for girls or women as they do for boys and men. Quran recitation sessions, memorization classes, halaqas, outings, and events are often for boys or men only, and rarely do we ever see an equivalent amount of events for girls or women. Yet, females make up more than half of our population – and no, not all women are mothers who are busy with children. In the late nights of Ramadan, the women’s designated areas are often empty or even locked while the “men’s” prayer areas are filled with males of all ages. I write “men’s” areas sarcastically as the exemplary mosque of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did not have two separated prayer areas; if we are going to discuss innovations, let us begin with these issues.
If our mosques lack regular sisters’ meetings, lack a female presence on the board, lack female scholars, and lack a sense of community by placing walls or curtains between men and women, what knowledge and ideas do we expect women to have?
We speak little of the gestures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as he would carry his wife, Aisha (RA), in a large crowd so she could watch a performance; or how during the time that Umar bin Al-Khattab was Caliph, women held prominent positions such as heads of security and finance. When I introduce myself to Muslims, on most occasions, they have no idea that I am named after a female companion of the Prophet (PBUH) – the first female companion who participated in battle and was wounded while protecting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
How can we expect to raise knowledgeable, powerful, intellectual young women when we do not provide them with the same resources as we provide our boys? How can we expect girls to love their faith and love going to mosques when they do not even feel welcomed? What messages are we sending to girls when they see flyers for boys’ basketball tournaments or Quran classes without opportunities for girls? When will we begin giving women opportunities to enter our discussions and engage in Islamic discourse? How can we, Atlanta Muslims, grow as a community if our governing bodies remain stagnant? I await the day when mosques no longer have women’s committees and male-dominated boards, but instead have majority female boards, or at least equally representative boards. (We all know women are better at getting any job done, anyway!)
How can we expect to raise knowledgeable, powerful, intellectual young women when we do not provide them with the same resources as we provide our boys? How can we expect girls to love their faith and love going to mosques when they do not even feel welcomed?
Yet, we cannot speak of one part of a much larger problem. The Muslim community today lacks unity in terms of race, class, and gender. For example, some people reading this article may have thought, “Well there is a woman on the board of my mosque!” But how often is that woman a black woman? How often is that woman not the wife of a popular man in the community? How often is that woman single? And often when mosques do have women on the board, women are not equally represented. Asking such questions can help us realize some of the injustices we have committed as a Muslim community.
Let us be clear. We live in an unsettling situation where our country is at war with Muslim-majority nations, and sometimes they are our own home countries. We Muslims, and especially Muslim women, experience a great deal of discrimination and are one of the most marginalized groups out there today. (And the darker her skin color, the more marginalized she is.) Meanwhile, many of our fellow American citizens around us every day demand our responses and feedback. Muslim women are most often associated with either being oppressed people or threatening terrorists. How do we respond to attacks and claims of the media, including news stories and Hollywood films? Who do we associate with? Most often, people want to know, “How does Islam treat its women?” Obviously Islam does not treat women or anyone in any way, because Islam is not a being. But we are the ambassadors of Islam, whether we do a good job of it or not. Others interpret Islam through our actions.
Let us represent Islam the way it was represented by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Let us provide equal opportunities for men and women in classes, events, jobs, and positions. Let us split the seats of the boards at mosques (or Islamic schools) to equally represent both genders. Let us educate our daughters and sons about the power, honor, and value of Muslim women – not as people who must be hidden behind curtains and walls but as people at the forefront of Islam in the United States. I want my future daughter to grow in a community in which she is encouraged to be athletic, independent, intellectual, and knowledgeable. Let us reflect the social justice and equality that permeates the Quran. Let us show everyone else what I know in my heart: there is no woman more empowered than a Muslim woman.
Let us show everyone else what I know in my heart: there is no woman more empowered than a Muslim woman.
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