An opinion piece

By Nadia Cassim


Does the title of this article upset you? If you are a feminist, it definitely will tick you off, but just hear me out before jumping to any assumptions on the content of this article.

Anyone who knows me well knows how passionate I am about the rights of Muslim women in Islam. They also know how much I despise the cultural norms in society that curb a woman’s freedom and force her to be viewed as nothing more than an object to satisfy the demands of a man.

So why would I turn the tables, so-to-speak, on women and accuse them of being the problem. Let me explain my thoughts through a simplistic real-life example I have recently encountered.

About a month ago, I was present at a close friend’s formal marriage proposal. The guy she intended on marrying was, as far as I knew, an open-minded and kind fellow who believed that men and women in Islam have equal rights. He had no objection to her working in the corporate environment and felt strongly that who she was as a person, would complement him in every way. His family however, are very traditional and so began their struggle.

I remember the scene that unfolded vividly because not only was I proud of them as a couple, but I was shocked at the resistance that was met by his family on account of one of their requests. My friend had very bravely stated that she wished to be present at her nikkah (marriage ceremony). She felt strongly that she wanted it to take place in a mosque and that the Imam should recite a prayer and read out her Islamic rights as a Muslim woman in marriage.  The groom to be had also managed to secure such an Imam who was willing to perform the marriage ceremony this way, as well as a mosque that would accommodate them.

(Hear! Hear!) I silently cheered. I watched as the menfolk shifted in their seats uncomfortably. The head of the guy’s family spoke out abruptly. “This isn’t how it is done in Islam”, he said “No legitimate mosque would allow such a thing to happen”.

I felt my friend’s dismay at such a statement, but before she could defend her stance, the groom’s sister-in-law who wasn’t much older than she, spoke out. “He’s correct. This isn’t the way it is done. As Muslim women we have no right to be in a mosque or present for our nikkah”, she said.

I stared at this woman in disbelief (huh? Did I just hear her correctly?). I couldn’t fathom how a young woman living in the modern era could say such a thing against her own sex. This is just one example of many instances where I have heard Muslim women concur with men on issues of gender inequality in Islam. Often, such women will blindly regurgitate the nonsensical guidelines of a patriarchal society, disguised as religious prerequisites, and approve of them. This form of thinking, which I must sadly confess after reading many blogs, social media posts, and forum discussions, is predominant amongst my sex. With the majority of women thinking that inequality is “her lot” in Islam and that men are born leaders, the voices of the minority who keep fighting against social injustices and abuse in the Muslim community, become nothing more than a whisper.

If one only turns to history as a point of reference, the decades-long struggle to gain the female vote (as recent as 1920)¹, the right for women to own property in our country (South Africa)²  none of which was achieved without some form of casualty or struggle. Whilst the women in the western world have fought to achieve their fundamental human rights, we as Muslim women submit to the men in our communities without question.

The reality is that we are struggling to acknowledge our rights. We are fed dangerous notions of what is deemed our religious duties by sexist patriarchs.  We are told that if we do not do our “religious duties” then the fragrance of paradise will be forbidden to us or the wrath of God will be upon us. Do we stop and question any of these false teachings and look to our Islamic history or our Holy book, the Quran for answers? The deafening echo is NO!

When we say that we aren’t allowed in sacred spaces such as mosques do we know that Allah addresses both men and women in the Quran regarding the Friday prayer thus?

“O you who believe! When the call is made for the Prayer on Friday then hasten to extol the name of Allah and leave off all business. That is best for you if you only knew” (62:9)

Is the term “O you who believe” only referring to men? Is the Almighty asking you to go home and pray or to benefit from the Khutbah (sermon) delivered at the pulpit by the Imam?

Or what about when the angels, messengers of Allah, said to Mariam (pbuh), mother of Isa (pbuh) the following:

“O Mary! Be devout to your Lord and prostrate yourself and bow along with the congregation of the worshippers of God” (Quran, 3:43)

Does this not scream out the right, in fact the obligation upon us, to join the congregation of worshippers in a mosque as Muslim women? We are often told that we need to follow the exquisite example of the pious women mentioned in the Quran and yet the majority of our mosques are built without accommodating females.

My point is quite simple. If every fibre of our body does not resonate with the belief of being equal to men, if we do not stand up as one united force of Muslim women against the false teachings we are brainwashed to follow, and we do not PRACTICE our beliefs when we are subjected to chauvinism, then we cannot expect the men around us to acknowledge their wrongs. If we echo their sexist sentiments and stand against the few women who are fighting for equality, then we are fighting against our sisters in faith, not with them.

So, as one Muslim woman to another, stop blaming men for your condition, blame yourselves for not fighting against your condition. You may ask, why should we have to fight at all? It shouldn’t be this way. Men should know our rights as well as we do. I agree with you, but unfortunately, this is how the world is. Nothing worth fighting for is achieved without a struggle. As the Almighty says:

“…Verily Allah does not change the condition of people until they change their ways and their minds” (Quran, 13:11).