Term Paper: Women in Islam

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Muslim Women

Women's Progress in Muslim Societies

This paper explores the genuine progress that has been made in the lives of women in Muslim societies during the past few decades. The purpose of this paper is to provide a detailed analysis of the current status of women in Islam and of the Muslim faith, and to assess whether enough progress has been made toward improving the lives of women living in Islam and related areas.

Historically many activists have explored women's status and moves toward liberalization in the Muslim world. Cooke (2000) notes many organizations including the United Nations established programs with the intention of creating greater awareness of injustice against Arab women. These organizations also worked diligently to help support women and promote greater empowerment among women, allowing many women during this time to gain some independence in the form of reproductive choices and in the form of compensation for works performed as a service to others (Cooke, 2002).

Changes like this are dramatic given the patriarchal system in which Islamic women grow up in. Previous to the initiatives started in the mid 1970s, most Arab women remained for the most part "invisible" as many considered them non-intellectual and subservient to their partners. Movements including the "Decade for Women" launched by the UN helped encourage women to pursue education and establish themselves as intellectuals or intelligent women capable of performing and contributing at the local, national and international level (Cooke, 2000).

Cooke (2000) notes the lack of presence or mention of women in literature and narratives of Islamic origin. Progress has been made here, as women writers in Islamic countries have found a voice and have begun a revolution of sorts, ensuring their voice is present in the literature available to the Muslim community. This suggest women are finding their voices and starting to take more active roles, seeking greater education and the ability to express their opinions, beliefs and desires publicly, through tools including the written word. Cooke (2000) suggests many "Islamic feminists" exist that are willing to take on "the challenges" associated with creating greater freedom of expression. This does not suggest however, that women do so without endangering themselves in some Arab and Islamic nations.

Statham (2004) notes many policy and political debates have centered on the hardships faced by minorities including Muslim women.

Statham (2004) suggests from a "European" vantage Islam "has been particularly resilient to political adaptation" making it difficult for Muslim women to create relationships with liberals promoting democracy and women's rights. The author acknowledges that it is often religion that shapes a nation's political beliefs and practices, and the Muslim religion is quite specific in its demands on women. Women are subject to many orders and restrictions which for democratic or westernized cultures may seem harsh and cruel. However, there are some that believe religion identification is not a problem in Islam or among Muslim women (Statham, 2004). Many politicians and organizations promoting justice however, suggest that statements like this reflect the ignorance of those in charge and the lack of willingness on the part of the political leaders of Islam to promote opportunities for freedom among women.

It is in fact the Muslim faith and religion that has much to do with the moral codes that dictate how women should act, and whether they should aspire to greater independence and freedom, at least according to stringent religious leaders in many Arab nations (Statham, 2004). Women living in Arab countries are more likely to remain subject to the stringent rules of the patriarchal system than those that migrate to other countries. Female Muslims that migrate to Europe and assimilate are more likely to retain some cultural beliefs but also enjoy much greater freedoms than women currently residing in their "homeland" (Statham, 2004).

Of interest, women that do migrate still experience some problems, including reverse forms of discrimination. Statham (2004) makes an example of a woman that was chastised for covering her head in public, something the natives rejected because they consider the practice to be suppressive of women's freedoms. It is important however, for politicians to distinguish between religious idealisms and the political rules and regulations that exist to restrict women. Women can knowingly accept the Muslim faith they are brought into, and thus may have no problem with covering their head when in public even when they are fully liberated. There are many politicians, what some might refer to as "fanatics" however, who feels women that are liberated should follow the path of Christian leaders. This line of thinking may be just as suppressive as the political and religious beliefs held in a woman's native country.

The reality is no one should force their beliefs on another. This begs the question, are women following the Muslim faith acting out because they want to or because they have to? Statham (2004) suggests there are mixed reactions from politicians when asked these questions. It is interesting to note that in much of the research and discourse on women in Islam, relatively little attention is given to the opinions of women. There are few direct references to testimonials from women as to their thoughts on whether they are experiencing greater freedoms or suppression resulting from acts to liberate women in their home country.

Wyche (2004) notes there is actually much diversity among Muslim women, but few people recognize this because they tend to categorize Muslim women into one faith, the traditional Islamic religious group. There are many stereotypes that still exist abroad and among Muslim societies that present the Muslim women as shrouded, veiled, silent and subservient (Wyche, 2004). Quite the opposite is true however. While many women are still subject to the stringent terms of the primary traditional Islamic faiths, today there are many other branches of Muslim women including for example, African Muslims that are more feminist and active than their traditional counterparts. Even so, they do not enjoy the full liberties one would associate with a non-Muslim woman living in a European or Western society.

Wyche (2004) goes on to say there are much less divisions in the Muslim faith than there are in many Western religions, allowing for more "unity and identity" according to Muslim practitioners. Wyche (2004) accepts that some women are creating literature, but the number of women recognized is still not significant enough to proclaim much has happened in the way of positive change for Muslim women in recent years.

Fattah (2006) notes the "how" of women's progress depends on "how" one views the Muslim faith. Fattah, who currently serves as president for the National Association of Muslim American Women and works with the International Association for Muslim Women and Children, notes many of the perceptions that women are not progressing are Western falsehoods rather than truths. The author acquiesces it is important Muslim women are afforded opportunities for freedom and equality, but also notes that women have made much in the way of basic progress. Fattah also notes that women of the Muslim faith have some freedoms other women do not. For example, the author notes that in Islam women are not considered "unclean or a source of bad luck" during menses, and Islamic Muslim women who first started joining feminist groups supported by the UN.

Other leaders support this premise (al Faruqi, 2005) noting Islamic law is more lenient now than it has been in the past toward Muslim women. Muslim women have a duty to themselves now, states the author, to take action to maintain their freedoms and their status in society. From the information gathered from this synopsis of women in Muslim societies, one may conclude that while women still do not enjoy the same liberties as men do, they are beginning to become a voice in many Arab nations. Women are also… [END OF PREVIEW]

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