Saturday, April 15, 2006

The missing rights of women?

I have a dilemma this morning. Last night I heard this imam or sheikh or whatever he was talking at my masjid. His topic was 'The Role of Women in Society.' Overall, I think he did a very poor job, and he's made me question a few things. Early in his lecture he said when people ask him why women have no rights in Islam, he respond with the question, what rights do they not have? And he proceeded to address a few similarities/differences between instructions regarding women in Islam and Christianity and Judaism. I wouldn't say he was especially informed in that regard, personally. He did a brief discussion about exemplary women in the Qur'an, and provided some ahadith about how the Prophet treated his wives. In my opinion, that had absolutely nothing to do with the Role of Women, but is rather the treatment of women--and it was not directed at the mixed-gender audience present, but to male listeners only. I get the impression that many in the audience disagreed with him, I think, as much as I did.

Some of the points he made, which are common in discussions about women, were normal, but he had, in my opinion, a very poor approach. In defense of polygamy, he described a confrontation with a young woman asking about it. He described her attributes, that she was a very attractive young lady, and that no man would man would be ashamed of marrying her. He then suggested that she may, through some accident, scar her beauty (her face) and no longer be attractive. And then, he provided two options for the husband: first, that he divorce her and marry another woman, and second that he keep her and marry another one. In both situations he gravely insulted women in general, by suggesting that beauty, namely on the face, is the only reason for a man to be attracted to a woman, and that if a woman cannot boast such beauty, then she does not deserve a husband to herself. This was a particularly vile way of defending a man's right to marry more than one woman, in my opinion; not false, but vile, despicable. There is a right that a woman has lost--the right to value as a wife greater than her beauty.

In the Q&A session, he brought up another right that he has taken away from women, and that is the right to actually go anywhere. Not only is it haram for women to travel, apparently, it is actually haram to leave their homes without a mahram. For claiming he didn't want to cry haram all night, he said it awfully frequently. Why is this right absent from women in Islam, why are they denied the right to leave their homes? This is my problem with how he presented his entire lecture--women are not people, to be treated with respect or honor, but they are like children, who need constant protection and supervision. So they have gone from property in other cultures, to children in Islam. Women can't go anywhere because it isn't safe, apparently, as though this man has any idea what is safe and not for a woman in this country. Because according to him, it is necessary or a woman to shop, so it is allowed for her to shop without a mahram. However, it is not necessary for her to go to the masjid, so she must go with a mahram. Utter nonsense. How can this man say that the grocery store is safer than the masjid?? The fact of the matter is that it's not, but it seems probably too tedious for a man to have to always shop with his wife or sister or daughter or mother--yes, too tedious--so she may do it alone. But in the masjid? He then suggested that a prayer of a woman is better in her home--a hadith which I mysteriously cannot find. Nor can I find the one saying that a woman leaving her home without a mahram is haram.

Now I know that I'm not a scholar, but I know that women would go to fajr prayer without mahrams to pray with the Prophet, sallallahu alaihi wa salaam, and I know that he told men specifically to not prevent women from going to the masjids. He didn't say, don't prevent them from going, not prevent them from going alone, or go with them so they don't go alone... simply don't prevent them. How could it be haram, then? From a fatwa on islamonline, I read the following summary:

Women in the West go everywhere. They are in the markets, in malls, in restaurants, and in offices. It is ironic that some men allow them to go to all the places of temptation, but they want to stop them from coming to the places where they can pray to their Lord and learn about their faith.

It is ironic indeed that women are permitted to do those other things but not attend the masjid--absolute nonsense, if you ask me, especially in the name of safety and protection. But since all the women around me disagreed with this man, and even some of the men (the ones I could see seemed upset by it as well) I guess I shouldn't worry too much. One sister is planning to ask the imam of this masjid about it, because it seems contradictory to everything he has told them. That is nice.

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