Islam: The Oppressor or the Liberator?

Maheen Ashfaq

women's rights in Islam

Women’s rights. 

A phrase that we are hearing too often in today’s headlines. 

As a woman, every time I see anything related to women in the news, I am drawn towards it in an instant, as if there is a magnet between me and the word woman. None of us are strangers to the current situation in Afghanistan, with fears that the Taliban will return to oppressing women and keeping them confined to the four walls of their homes; just like they did 20 years ago.

20 years ago, these women were stripped of their basic dignity and human rights under the façade of Shariah Law. They could not seek an education, they could not work, they were publicly executed, and their role was limited to that of solely cooking and cleaning for the men in their lives. There are reports that the Taliban is collecting names of women ages 15-45 to try and marry them off. 

As a 20 year old myself, this news is sickening. Now, there is a stark difference between how the Taliban implemented Shariah Law and what the Shariah actually is. 

Shariah preaches that there is no compulsion in religion and that there should be a separation between state and religion. 

Moreover, 1400 years ago when the Shariah was revealed, it came as a liberation for women. A true champion for women’s rights. At a time where infant girls were still being buried alive out of shame, Shariah taught us the real value of a woman and her high status in society. As a daughter, she becomes her father’s ticket to heaven. As a wife, she completes half her husband’s faith. As a mother, paradise lies under her feet. If this is not an indication of the grand status given to women, then I truly do not know what else is.

Islam places such great emphasis on education that it commands men and women both to strive for excellence and take in a piece of wisdom wherever you can. Being able to freely travel to university and gain expertise in a field that I am passionate about is something that I am truly grateful for and I understand why education is mandatory on Muslims. 

For if we do not advance in this society and put our best foot forward, how will we ensure that our next generation is equipped with all the skills to succeed in this ever-changing, fast-paced society? 

Islam commands that a woman has full freedom to work and that her income is hers and no one has any rights over it. Whereas her husband is obligated to fulfil all of her expenses. A man cannot force her to dress a certain way. A woman has the right to divorce, the right to own and inherit property – rights that weren’t given to women until the last couple of centuries. A woman has the complete right to decline a marriage proposal.

Take a look at countries like France where a woman covering herself is seen as oppressive. Yet, we only need to go back in the archives 70 years or so to see that women were walking the streets in loose clothing and shawls covering their heads. What is seen as acceptable by society and the acceptance of social norms changes all the time. 

Muslim women choosing to cover themselves is not the issue.

The issue is people in positions of authority thinking that they have the right to dictate what a woman should wear.

The truth is that the Taliban’s implementation of the Shariah is in no way a correct reflection of Islam, and I believe that media outlets broadcasting the same rhetoric without any appropriate research or knowledge are part of the problem at hand. We all have the access and the means to do our research and convey the correct message to present Islam as what it really is. 

A religion of peace and a true champion of women’s rights.

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