Gender equality

Men and women are equal in the sight of God. But sadly not in the sight of many people, this has to change.

There is much debate about this subject and it can’t really be given justice in a few sentences. However it is important to point out that in the name of Islam, there has been much misogynistic practice that has been carried out across the world.

Many would argue that this is due to regional cultural influences rather than the actual teachings of Islam as a faith, which seemed to have a remarkably emancipating approach for its time. One can see differential cultural influences at play in the Muslim world – so for example, in Malaysia one can find Muslim women who are business leaders, professors and highly educated academics, whereas in Saudi Arabia they are not allowed to drive cars, or in Afghanistan, even their basic education is contested by some!

Certainly the teachings of Muhammad tried to create a clear space for women in 7th century Arab society – they were recognised as individuals with their own agency, allowed to contract marriage, to own property, to engage in commercial transactions, allowed to inherit, to have a political voice, to become scholars and great teachers, etc. But some thinkers now acknowledge that cultural trends quickly changed and women were sidelined from the ‘mainstream’ and were left with quite distinct roles, mainly focusing on rearing and nurturing children. Perhaps this was the way of the world until very recently; after all, it was only in the 1970s that women in Switzerland got the vote, and only around World War II that women began to be seen commonly in the workplace in Europe. However the advances made in Western nations, particularly in the latter half of the 20th century, have left many in the Muslim world quite dazed.

The current debate is therefore a crucial one, in which Muslim women (and men) – by re-examining the Islamic teachings in light of changes in the west – are beginning to articulate new positions and with an increasing confidence.