Salaam all. Ok, you know how much I love a good chat about women and our status in Islam, so you can imagine how excited I was to find a fellow blogger, convert, and Muslimah sister who likes to talk about the same thing!
Today, I am so excited to have my friend and sister Khawlah writing a bit about the story of our very first parents, Adam and Eve (as), and how their beautiful story in the Qur’an has set the precedent for women’s rights in Islam.*
Khawla unexpectedly stumbled upon Islam in the Spring of 2013, and took her official shahada on February 3rd of the following year. Islam has brought her purpose, peace, contentment and happiness, and she uses her writing and blog Muslimah Misunderstood to share her experience as a Western Muslimah, with all of the challenges, frustrations, misunderstandings and misconceptions that she faces. She aims to channel all of these difficulties into something productive, creating an honest celebration of the true beauty that Islam provides in this world and the lives of individuals.
So, without further ado:
The most notable time for women’s rights in recent history has to be – in the UK at least – the Suffragettes. A pioneering group of females who fought, risked, and in some cases lost their lives in a brutally determined movement to fight for the women’s right to vote; a law which was finally passed in England in 1918. But if the Suffragette leaders were here today, would they feel their work was done? In the progress that modern society has made since the early 20th century, how far have we come in terms of equality and women’s rights?
In 2017, almost a full century since the government accepted women as fellow citizens, we are still fighting for equal rights to pay, rights to education, and even rights to our own bodies. The fact that ‘rape culture’ has become a well-known phrase here in Britain and particularly the US in recent years is shocking in itself, but the statistics speak for themselves: “Global estimates published by WHO (World Health Organisation) indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.”
A lot of feminist campaigns often focus on the argument of the double-standard – if a woman is a victim of physical or sexual abuse, it is often her dress or her behaviour that comes into question above the behaviour of her attacker. If she suffers domestic abuse, why was she in a relationship with this man? If she is the victim of an assault, how intoxicated was she? What was she wearing? Why did she put herself in that situation? Even when she has the courage to stand up to her attacker and seek justice – and succeeds – the media asks not ‘how has her life been affected?’ or ‘how is coping with the trauma?’ but ‘what was her motive?’. Continually, women who have suffered such psychological or physical traumas at the hands of a male, the devastatingly inherent notion is that she did something wrong. It always appears to be reflected that it was the woman to cause the sin.
This unequal, chauvinistic and patronising treatment of women is a disease within our society that has been rotting away for quite some time. Despite many milestones that the female gender has overcome in recent times, like the right to own a home (1882), the right to compete in the Olympics (1900), and of course the right to vote (1918), among other rights obtained over the years, the stubborn notion that women are the lesser of the sexes can be traced a long way back, past the Victorian era of women being the owned property of their husbands; past the Roman era where women were commonly stored as nothing but sex slaves; and even past the era of the cave man, where Flintstone-esq depictions show the women being dragged along the floor by their hair (which may or may not be an accurate representation). All the way back we can go, to the very first man and woman on earth, Adam and Eve – if we are going by the Bible version, that is:
“[The serpent] said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.”’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband” (The Bible, Genesis 3:1-6)
It’s widely known as a fact that the Bible has been changed many times, through intentional mistranslations and unashamed adaptations, often to suit personal or political agendas. In a society where men were largely in charge of laws and regulations, it was also men who were responsible for overseeing the translations and public availability of the Bible. Although the accuracy of this information is debated by historians – as are the details of any past event – it is worth noting that evidence suggests that the Church council, in the year 584, held an official discussion to vote as to whether or not women had souls. It was concluded that women do indeed have souls, winning the decision by just one vote. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the blame for this “original sin” for which man has forever apparently been doomed, was placed entirely on the inconvenient female, Eve.
In another book, a book which remains unchanged and un-tampered; a book “in which there is no doubt” (Qur’an 2:1); which has been lovingly memorised by millions and remains in the exact words through which it was revealed through Angel Gabriel over 1400 years ago, the story of Adam and Eve is also told very similarly to the Bible’s version, with one very significant difference:
“We said ‘Adam, live with your wife in this garden. Both of you eat freely there as you will, but do not go near this tree, or you will both become wrongdoers.’ But Satan made them slip, and removed them from the state they were in.” (Qur’an 2:35-36)
Through the Qur’an, God confirms that the blame on Adam and Eve is entirely equal. In fact, contrary to common misconceptions about the Islamic faith, the Qur’an and the teachings of our Prophet Muhammad (SAW) continually reiterate the equality of men and women in the eyes of God.
“For men and women who are devoted to God – believing men and women, obedient men and women, truthful men and women, steadfast men and women, humble men and women, charitable men and women, fasting men and women, chaste men and women, men and women who remember God often – God has prepared forgiveness and a rich reward.” (Qur’an 33: 35)
In our modern-day battle for gender equality in the West, we are actually moving further and further away from the value placed on us as women. As we fight against a centuries-old unjust condemnation, we are so busy proving that we are ‘just as good as men’ that we don’t give ourselves a chance to actually celebrate everything wonderfully incomparable about simply being a woman. It breaks my heart when I hear a woman being asked what she does for a living and she responds by saying she’s “just a mum” or “just a housewife”. Subhan’Allah, you have the most honourable role imaginable, and using the word ‘just’ is the equivalent of Elizabeth II saying she’s “just the Queen of England”.
If you follow the teachings of Islam, you will know that being a woman is an undeniably wonderful honour. As soon as you are born, you’re the gate to Paradise for your parents; as soon as you are married, you are the value of half your husband’s deen – as he is the value of half of yours; when you have children, their Paradise lays beneath your feet. The very organ that makes you a woman – your womb – is proven its value in the way Allah named it: “I am al-Raḥmān and created the rahm (uterus, also kinship, family ties) – And I named it after Me.” (Hadith Qudsi). Tell me, who has a value any higher than that?
*As a side note, I (Ashley) would like to note that she does not address the issues faced by women of colour in this article, as she (like me) comes from a Caucasian background. InshAllah I hope to have someone soon to guest post on what it means to be a person of colour in the Muslim community, as that is also a very important topic, and one that does not tend receive a whole lot of attention.