Women and Islam

Published 26 Jun 2017

In her work, Hassan speaks about the role women play in Islam. The author refers to the continuous misinterpretation of the Islamic provisions and traditions; as a result of this misinterpretation, a woman in Islam seems to play a role submissive to man. “Negative ideas about women that have no base in the Qur’an have apparently become part of Muslim thinking by assimilation from surrounding cultures” (Hassan, 2007, 243). In reality, many schools of Islamic law refute the idea of a woman being inferior to man. Islam teaches men to treat women with kindness and respect (Hassan, 2007, 243). Qur’an teaches the Muslim community to secure the safety rights of women (Hassan, 2007, 246). Special attention is paid to safety, if a woman is suspected of adultery: the fact of sexual relations will never be proven unless four witnesses can confirm it (Hassan, 2007, 248). Although Qur’an makes certain reference to disobedient wives, its initial aim is to provide women and men with equal rights to reach heaven. A woman in marriage plays a special role of man’s advisor and supporter (Hassan, 2007, 251). This is why in early Islamic history many Muslim women accompanied their husbands in battles. This is why early Islamic history has given birth to several significant female figures, among which Khadija, A’isha, and Fatima were the most prominent.

However, even in the light of these promising trends, Islam remains a predominantly male religion. “There is as yet no possibility that women can hold positions of spiritual authority in mosques” (Hassan, 2007, 258). Islamic traditions vary from country to country, and while some women are allowed to attend the shrines and to beg for spiritual intervention to solve their personal problems, the female majority is forbidden to even approach a saint’s tomb (Hassan, 2007, 258). Many Islamic communities openly express their negative attitudes towards westernization, thus adding to women’s social burden in Islam. Women are still responsible for contraception in sexual relations with their husbands; some smaller communities were known for applying genital mutilation to girls (Hassan, 2007, 261). In many aspects, the Islamic norms which put women on equal terms with men remain unrecognized by the larger Islamic community.

For centuries, the major Islamic provisions have been re-interpreted by men. This is why Hassan argues for the importance of studying primary Islamic norms by women (Hassan, 1999, 250). As “male-centered and male-dominated Muslim societies […] keep women in physical, mental, and emotional confinement and deprive them of the opportunity to actualize their human potential”, women have no other choice but to be more actively involved into the process of studying the Islamic theology.

Hassan is extremely disturbed by the fact that only a handful of Muslim women are good connoisseurs of Islamic theology; the increased religious activity of Muslim women will provide the basis for combating brutality, female exploitation and the power of anti-women laws. However, it is not enough to make women more active; it is critical that religious women pay special attention to the three major theoretical issues in Islam. First, the Islamic theology of women should examine the issues of women’s creation in Islam (Hassan, 1999, 254). Second, the female theology of Islam should examine the issue of “woman’s guilt in the ‘fall’ episode” (Hassan, 1999, 257). There is still no definite answer to who should carry the major responsibility for a man’s fall in paradise. Third, the Islamic theology of women should finally examine the primary purpose of a woman’s existence (Hassan, 1999, 261). The male Islamic community views a woman’s purpose in Islam as “to be of use to men who are superior to them” (Hassan, 1999, 263). Women should be more active in studying the Islamic theology, to improve their social position within the Islamic religion.

Veil (or hijab) remains the corner stone in the conflict between traditional Islam and westernization. By many, veil (hijab) is viewed as oppressive means of emphasizing women’s inferior position in Islamic religion. In her work, Hassan avoids critical judgments, and tries to be objective. In her view, hijab (veiling) “for women is a part of the reassertion of their traditional culture” (Hassan, 2007, 242). In many aspects, Hassan’s views are similar to those Naheed Mustafa expressed in her article My Body is My Own Business: “wearing hijab has given me freedom from constant attention to my physical self”. Hassan and Mustafa are common in that hijab gives Muslim women more opportunities to work, to go outside, and to socialize. This knowledge provides a new vision of a woman in Islam, for whom veil is not an oppression but the instrument of freedom, and for whom the knowledge of Islamic theology is the direct pathway towards social equality with Muslim men.


  • Hassan, R. “Women In Islam.” In Women in Religion, Fisher M.P. (eds)., 235-269. Pearson / Longman, 2007.
  • Hassan, R. “Feminism in Islam.” In Feminism and World Religions, Sharma, A. & Young,K.K. (eds.), 249-278. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.
  • Mustafa, N. “My Body Is My Own Business.” The Globe and Mail, 29 June 1993.
Did it help you?