The majority of Europeans see muslim women as timid, slavelike creatures, deprived of rights by their tyrannical husbands and shari’ah laws. Are those concepts true to life? Let’s try to clear it out a bit and slightly raise the secret veil in order to get some answers.
The life of regular muslim women like that of any other women all over the world is definitely not a bed of roses. However, one should not paint a gloomy picture all of a sudden, judging only from their personal vision and perception.
One man equals two women
A gobsmacked American tourist tells about a scene she witnessed during her trip to Arab Emirates:
“A black limousine stopped in front of a very posh restaurant. The security hurried to open the door of the car. A sheik with a shiny black beard went out. However, the security didn’t touch the other doors. They were opened by the passengers who were six Arab women all dressed in white hijabs. They lined up in front of the sheik gazing reverently at him. He started to examine them meticulously. All of a sudden he slapped a woman on the face for a strand of hair that was hanging out of the hidjab. The woman with a hangdog expression started to adjust the hair. When she was done, they all entered the restaurant.”
It is quite true that according to shari’ah laws, (from Arabic shari’ah means the righteous way), a body of laws for muslims for all possible occasions, women are rather abridged in their rights and demands. The sacred book of muslims Koran allows a man to marry up to four women and have a countless number of concubines, with the only condition that he can support all of them. In courts one testimonial evidence of a man equals two witness statements of women. Besides, the husband has the right for divorce. In some countries it is enough for a man to say “I divorce you” (in Arabic, talaq) three times to no longer live with his wife. For women in such countries it is almost impossible to get divorce, they either have to prove their husbands’ infidelity or present the evidence of systematic infliction of beatings.
Wives and concubines must be faithful to their husbands, all cases of adultery are severely punished. Norms of shari’ah involves the practice that includes the seclusion of women from public observation by wearing concealing clothing from head to toe and by the use of high walls, curtains, and screens erected within the home. A few decades ago Muslim women were unable to get education and take part in any public activities.
Are these oppressive shari’ah laws still being abided in the present-day Muslim society? Is a woman in hidjab deprived of rights now? The truth is that the life of a Muslim woman has changed considerably in the course of a century.
The word polygamy sounds rude and means inappropriate things to western people. However, it provokes a smile on the faces of Iranian women. Theoretically, a man can still have four wives, but “may Allah help him to support at least one”, they say chuckling.
The expenditures of a man, willing to get married, begin long before the actual marriage. Iranian wedding is a very complicated process and demands scrutinous preparations that are the responsibility of a husband. For a bride it is enough to bring a self-weaved carpet as her dowry. The rest is provided by the husband: he has to buy a house (it is not accepted to live with parents), and pay all the family needs.
The women have more opportunities now. They are more free and liberal. The growing rate of educated women is gradually changing the society. Muslim women sign marriage contracts where they can establish their demands. The only problem after any divorce is focused on children. In most Islamic countries children stay with their fathers rather than mothers, whether they want it or not. In these terms women are still oppressed and unsecured. Their maternal rights have no power in most Muslim countries.
Prophet Mohammed said: “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.”
Thus, getting education among Muslim women is encouraged nowadays. It should be noted that the majority of women willing to work can do it without any obstacles. During the last years, under the influence of the European civilization Egyptian women became more liberated, self-assured and self-sufficient. They are involved in their careers, do sports, listen to modern music, aware of all trends. They are willing to get education at the best universities, some of them go abroad to study in Europe or the USA. Upon their return they get well-paid jobs and are able to support themselves without a man’s help. As a result, the feminized Muslim women do not hurry to get married and have families of their own.
Iranian women are also willing to get good education and be self-sufficient. The majority of Iranian women work as much as men. Among students females has recently begun to surpass male students. Nevertheless, male and female students study separately from each other, at work women stay at other offices, sit far away from men on the bus and in public places.
Muslim women are extremely united. If the phenomenon of women solidarity exists, we can say that it strongly manifests among eastern Muslim women, where one treats another as a sister. They found women organizations, fight for their rights. For example, in Yemen women were protesting to get the free right for wearing a hidjab in all public places. Most of them consider the veil not a symbol of slavery but respectability. They say:
“HIJAB saves me from the bad eyes, HIJAB protects me from the evil attacks”
During the past century women have obtained the right for education, work, social activities, travelling abroad, quality medical aid and other benefits. In fact, nowadays they are on the same social level as men. A few years ago the general secretary of the World’s Islamic Organization Abdul Omar Hasif officially declared the right of Saudi Arabian women to drive a car, which is sure to start an explosive feminist revolution there.
While the older generation of Muslim women feels absolutely comfortable with wearing hidjabs, the youngsters may still have great desire to boast with their new jeans or dresses. Numerous boutiques sell trendy clothes, and it may be a bit strange to see women, covered from in black robes from head to toe, buying T-shirts, dresses, swimming suits. In most cases they can only wear it at home. However, in some countries, Muslim women are wearing knee-length dresses with the exception that they have to wear jeans or pants underneath.
Cosmetics has also successfully entered the life of Muslim women. The fashion for straight noses has led to numerous plastic surgeries among them.
The choice of a partner
The eastern tradition when parents choose a spouse for their daughter still exists, but it is not as harsh and strict as it used to be. Shari’ah laws protects women and demand from parents to choose a husband that would not be repugnant for the future wife. Muslim girls take active part in choosing a husband. The only possible disadvantage is that the couple can not test their feelings. They hardly talk or see each other before the marriage. This fact holds true for many Islamic countries, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Arab Emirates, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and others.
So we see that the life of Muslim women all over the world has changed considerably. Nowadays they have access to education, medical aid, social life and the like. The notion Muslim country is no longer homogeneous. In some countries like Turkey or Egypt women are entirely free in their actions and have the same rights as men. However, more reforms are needed to make the life of Muslim women a manifestation of their free will.