I visited the Islamic Society of Akron Kent on October 26th. Heading into the site visit I was very anxious because I thought I would somehow offend the members or their religion. I felt this way even though I knew that the member would be inviting and understanding that we were new to the religion of Islam.
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As I walked into the mosque, I noticed there were very few decorations, one of the few were lines on the floor out of sheer practicality. There was a niche in the wall showing the direction of Mecca, the direction to pray. The first thing I heard after the buzz of conversation was the call to prayer, sang by the imam. The sermon began in Arabic and was finished in English. They then began their prayer, which lasted a few minutes. After the service we were led into the community hall, where we were given snacks and presentations about the Islamic religion. I was surprised how similar this experience was to the experiences I have had at a Christian Church because I expected the two to be very different. I was also surprised by how warm and inviting the members of the community were because I expected the worst-case scenario, them to be harsh and inhospitable. I was afraid to do something to offend the members because I was unsure what to expect from this whole experience. One presupposition of mine that was made self-evident was that men and women would be in separate areas. This was basically true; they were separate prayer areas for the men and women, however they had incorporated a women’s prayer corner in the men’s prayer are. This one bias was made self-evident, but my presuppositions were mostly proved incorrect. This just shows that you shouldn’t make any decisions before you experience something yourself.
Women’s roles have changed drastically from the founding of Islam to present day Islam. Technically, Islam sees men and women as spiritual equals, however women have not always been treated equally. “”In Islam, it is believed that women and men are different but equal.”” (Bowker 640). Over time Islam has made bounds towards the equity of men and women.
Before Islam was founded, Arabs were a typical patriarchal society. Women were the property of their families or their husbands. Once they were married the dowry was given directly to her male relatives instead of to her. Men could have as many wives as they desired and divorce them whenever they wanted and for whatever reason they wanted. And because women were seen as inferior, female infanticide took place rather frequently. “”Women were regarded more as possessions than as human beings, and infanticide, especially of girls, was commonplace.”” (Smith 164).
After Islam was founded, however, women’s rights were upgraded. All of these above issues were addressed and improved upon. “” Islam allowed a woman to choose her own husband and decide if she wanted a divorce. Also, once they were married the man paid the dowry to the bride not her family. Also stated in the Qur’an is that women could inherit money and property and that could have the control over their own money and property. The Qur’an also stated that men could only have up to four wives, and only if he could comfortably provide for them all. And lastly the Qur’an prohibited female infanticide.
After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam spread past the Arabian Peninsula and as it spread it absorbed parts of the cultures they conquered. This included the veiling and secluding of women, even though it is not expressly written in the Qur’an. Two of the most stereotypical “”Muslim”” practices for women are not even Muslim practices but practices of the cultures in which Muslims live.
Later, European powers gained control over many Islamic groups. Because of this European rule, western ideals were brought into those Islamic societies; those related to education, seclusion, and veiling especially. It began with the formation of schools for girls, even universities for women. Women then began to hold political and public office, earn advanced degrees, and work in new professions.
Even though there have been these progressions, the number of girls and women that have these opportunities to take advantage of are still low in developing countries. This just shows that even though there have been many advancements in Islamic women’s rights, there are still many improvements to be made for them to catch up to western society. “”If in another century women under Islam do not attain the social position of their Western sisters, a position to which the latter have been brought by industrialism and democracy rather than religion, it will be time (Muslims say) to hold Islam accountable.”” (Smith 166). However, because of poor economic or poor political conditions in certain Muslim countries, more women have had to go outside of the house to get work in order to provide for their families.
A Hijab is “”any partition which separates two things (e.g. that which separates God from creation), but usually the veil worn by Muslim women”” (Bowker 243). There is a variety of options for Islamic women who want to hijab. The most revealing version of hijab is a headscarf, which just covers the hair and neck. Some women wear just the headscarf, while some women wear a bonnet underneath to cover all of their hair. Another version of hijab is a chador, full length of fabric that covers the head and entire body. One more version of hijab is a niqab and abaya; a niqab is veil that covers the face and head except for the eyes, and the abaya is long, loose garment which covers the whole body. Lastly, the most conservative version of hijab, is the burka; which covers the whole body and face, except for a screen over the eyes.
There are a varieties of reasons why Islamic women participate in hijab. Some women wear the hijab as a show of submission to the Qur’an and its instruction for modesty. Women participate in hijab because they believe that God has specifically instructed women to be modest, and it shows their devotion to God. Others wear it to show to others their devotion to their Muslim faith without even saying a word. A lot of women wear the hijab because of cultural expectations. In more culturally progressive areas, women use the hijab as an accessory to their outfits. In areas like the Arab Gulf, women wear the more covering niqab in public or even the company of men. And in Afghanistan, women wear either a chador or a burka in a public and in the company of men. Women in Afghanistan even sleep with a scarf over their head.
Some Islamic women even choose not to wear a hijab. Some women believe that even though the Qur’an calls for modesty, the hijab is the cultures’ interpretation of the Qur’an. Another reason Islamic women don’t wear a hijab is that they believe that while the original reason for wearing the hijab, to avoid attention in public, has proven to be the opposite in recent society. Whether or not Islamic women decide to wear the hijab, most of them agree that it ultimately should be the women’s right to veil.
IV.The most common media representation of a Muslim is radical insurgent who wants to wage war on the non-Muslim world. This is why most Americans view Muslims as a threat, or problem, to America and our safety and freedom. Americans see Muslims in this light because media coverage has always portrayed them in this light, whether it is the U.S. hostage crisis, wars in Iraq, or September 11th. Stories like these are shown in the news so often because they are the outliers and the actual news, not just the day to day positives you can see in a Muslim home.
The accumulation of these positives can be seen at the 4th Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies. This forum brings together hundreds of Islamic thinkers from around the world to foster peace among Muslims and peoples of other faiths. It hoped to examine how hate speech and Islamophobia prevent a worldwide dialogue of friendship and understanding between individuals of different cultures. The people attending this forum hope to do the necessary sharing of thoughts and experiences in order for Islam and other faiths to coexist peacefully. The Forum Executive Director, Zeshan Zafar, said it best, “”This convergence is critical to vaccinate against deconstructive ideological notions that threaten security and further conflagration in Muslim societies, fueling a vicious cycle of mutual fear and suspicion which fosters hatred, racism, and exclusion.”” This is just one example that shows how Islam is a religion of love, friendship, and acceptance.
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