Before venturing into the ideals and movements of Islamic feminism, it is important to recognize some of the biased views Westerners often take when it comes to women in Islam. Because of the portrayal of women in the Arab world through pop-culture and the media, some Westerners may believe that Islam creates a society in need of modernity. The concepts of religious government are also foreign to the Western world. Feminists often focus on the practice of veiling women in Islamic tradition as a law made to minimize the importance of women as citizens. It is important for us to recognize where our biased views exist, and what sorts of root assumptions we make about women in Islam.
The truth is, Islamic culture is highly misunderstood, and the customs within Islam are often misinterpreted by Westerners. Often we point to the Arab world as an example of poor treatment of women, without evaluating our own laws and practices. In an article in the Start Tribune published in 1989, Dr. Fatma Reda, a scholar from Egypt who came to the U.S. with her husband the year before, experienced some of the Western stumbling blocks for women and longed for her Islamic country. She decided to buy a parcel of land for herself, but in the U.S., she needed a co-signature of her husband. She had been used to more equality in Egypt between men and women. “Under Islamic law, women can own property independently of their husbands… in Islamic teaching, women are entirely equal to men… many times Muslim women make choices that look on the surface like we don’t have as much freedom, but it is just different” (p. 1).
Many Islamic cultures do in fact see women as secondary citizens, but Islamic women are becoming much more active and interested in the quest for the original teachings of Islam, which they believe has room for total equality between the sexes. Many Muslim women desire Western feminists to accept women’s right to choose instead of being encouraged to follow a western model of liberation. Nationally known Islamic theologian Riffat Hassan says: “Koranic law does give women many rights, to own property, to be independent financially. They can keep their own names (when they marry). At the same time, what has happened is a lot like Judaism and Christianity. The law has developed within a patriarchal framework. If the Koran were properly implemented, there wouldn’t be any discrimination against women” (star trib, p. 1).
Much of the appeal of Islam is its structure. Islam, like Catholicism, gives a place and a role to everyone, which in turn, gives a sense of security to each member. Many women find freedom in the structured life of Islam. Some women view customs such as veiling, as a way to distinguish themselves and their Islamic identity. Their lives are ordered by putting their spiritual lives first, praying five times a day, and finding unity within their community. Many women look at the Western world...