Gender inequality is present in almost every aspect of human endeavor—in education, employment, consumption of goods, political agency, and the ability to acquire property. These are just some of the areas that gender inequality may be observed, but regardless of the venue, it is almost always the female who is disadvantaged. Gender-inequality, hence, is tantamount to discrimination and oppression of women. Efforts to control the practice of discrimination have long been underway.
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From the time of Khadija, the role of women in Islam has been evolving depending on how the social and religious leaders bestow treatment on them. To delve into the role and status of women in Islam poses great challenge, in that many different perspectives about the subject are fighting for equal consideration. Yet the only possible way to completely understand the lives of Muslim women is through the Qur’an, the “source of Truth” for the Muslims, which according to Asmas Barlas, serves as the “essential nucleus” of their religion (32). This Holy Scripture is both a religious guide for personal piety and the basis for the adherents’ practical and political behavior (Barlas 32). Qur’an does not separate religion from the secular. It encompasses all aspect of life, such that within the lines of the Suras is where one can essentially find the delegated place of women in Islam, as pronounced by the Prophet himself.
The early Muslim women, for instance, were assigned a special role in which they were responsible for ensuring that their fellows in the society perform their religious duties. For Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, the role of the women of Islam is to discharge collective responsibilities though in many occasions they may be relieved from such tasks of family maintenance, attendance of group prayers and conscription for war if men can sufficiently attend to them. Nonetheless, the relative consideration towards women did not prevent many from actively participating in military services and public affairs, the prophet’s favourite wife, Sayidah Aishah, being one of these active women (Barlas, 2002).
The women of Islam during those earlier days of religious conquest were both visible in the pursuit of public good and religious merits. The wise Prophet himself occasionally intercedes for women in the name of justice. During Jihad, the women’s military participation includes bringing water to the thirsty warriors, treating the wounded and carrying them to safety. In some instances, women were even said to engage in the warfare themselves. When it comes to public affairs, they have their voice and were often consulted for further opinion.
They were not segregated from such important gatherings as public meetings and festivals (al-Turrabi). Hence, women used to carry out important roles just like men, especially in the building of Islam. The eventual degradation of their statuses, which causes the current gender discrimination and seclusion, may be explained by the fact that the way women are treated now under Islam may not be the way they should be treated in reference to the foundation of Islamic faith. grave inequality that the non-Muslim world is now seeing is due to the intermingling of pre-Islamic ideologies that rest on patriarchy with Islam tenets. (Barlas, 2002).
A survey conducted by Naseef Nassar of National Constitutions among Muslims Arab countries today revealed the three types of modern “constitutional parameters” concerning women (Haddad and Esposito 6). Amongst the traditional nations including Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Northern Yemen, women are confined to the roles of a wife and a mother, and her identity is said to depend on her familial relations. In the second cohort, composed of Syria, Southern Yemen, Algeria and Iraq, women of Islam must pursue the same traditional wife and motherly roles but they should be treated as educated and cultured individuals. Thus, women can work and become involved in political affairs. The third group from which Morocco and Egypt belongs grants the most liberal position to women, so that they can fulfil the multiple roles of being a wife and a mother as well as an active member of the community. As can be seen in the lifestyles of Muslim women in the third group, they lead dynamic lives as keepers of their homes yet with equal opportunities in the political, cultural, and economic realms. This is what social analysts now call the “progressive” view on the role of women in Islam. (Alarifi Pharaon, 2004).
Women encounter inequalities in almost every aspect of their lives, and many of these are reinforced by the social structures and organizations in which they live. Though a great number of women have already proven that they have achieved equality in education there is still a larger group that incessantly encounter roadblocks to quality education. In fact, it may be the case that society is under-investing in the education of women, without realizing that the price for such negligence is slower economic growth, poverty, and poorer quality of life. A consensus among researchers who have studied the relationship between gender-equality in education and economic growth and development states that gender-equal education leads to better performing economies, which in turn, reinforces gender equality (Alarifi Pharaon, 2004). The nature of the women's citizenship rights in societies in Middle East results because of the4 built-in discrepancy in the different constitutions giving the rights to men and women as well as the different codes that define women.
In Saudi Arabia, Muslim women are not permitted to drive although many say that these practices are “totally unrelated to the origins of Islam”, but based on “cultural and traditional customs which have been injected to these societies”. These deviations are the result of man’s interpretation and applications of the Islamic teachings. Man and woman in Islam are not actually duplicates of one another but the complements. This division of labor allows the shortcomings of one sex which will be compensated by the strengths of the other. It is recognized that both sexes came from one source and therefore, enjoy the same status. There are differences in terms of beliefs as the how women originated and in a way, this has influenced the view of women’s role. (Alarifi Pharaon, 2004).
In Kay Ebeling’s The Failure of Feminism, she recounted her experiences as a single mother and the experiences of other contemporaries whom she believes are the victims of the feminist movement that failed. “Today I see feminism as a Great Experiment That Failed, and the women in my generation, the perpetrators, are the casualties (Ebeling 2005).” Ebeling’s account is true to some extent. The present condition of the women in her generation does not show any signs that the feminist movement succeeded in “liberating” women. They became single working mothers who only get a chance in blind dates that only make them realize how far men have gone ahead of them and how they could get away with having children and yet not having to bear the responsibility of childbearing (Ebeling).
In conclusion, inaccuracies emerge and are perpetrated if we tend to accept everything without being judicious and vigilant. We appreciate the clarifications set forth by Muslim women and it helps in eliminating our ignorance. Westernized/modernized that we are, we must not consider ourselves superior simply because we embraced the progress made by globalization and technology. In fact, these are very tools we should maximize to widen our understanding and distill, from among the millions of images and information, which is which according to our own personal beliefs and experiences.
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