Samah Khan explains how being Muslim doesn’t hold girls back, the media stereotypes do.
“You’re Muslim, oh okay, I wasn’t sure. So how is it, you know, being Muslim and female?” This was a question that I was asked last week.
Well to be honest, I had never given much thought to it. I mean, I get bad hair days, spots and general mood swings every month but what girl doesn’t? I therefore came to the conclusion that I am basically a normal girl, (which was great to know!) However, the question made me think that as a Muslim I was being considered different by others or dare I say it, even oppressed (thanks to the media, Daily Mail, cough cough). I am certainly neither different nor oppressed by my religion, and what I can say for certain is that I am a proud Muslim.
In fact, Islam is not only a way of life for me, it forms my entire identity. By this, I mean from my name to my daily routine there is something noticeably Islamic about each, but what does this mean for me as a girl you may ask. It is now important for me to emphasise that being a Muslim and being an independent girl are not mutually exclusive. I would say contrary to popular belief, my religion advocates female rights and opposes the objectification of women. For example, Islam was the first jurisprudence to give women the right to own, sell and purchase property in their own capacity and even after marriage the properties a woman owned would remain hers. Women were only given these same rights under British law in 1882! The media chooses to portray Muslim women as weak and suppressed, choosing to focus on the Middle East as if it were the only Muslim region in the world. However, I would point out that Muslim women particularly in the Middle East are now, more than ever before, becoming economic powerhouses of their own accord with more and more of them starting their own businesses and having a great deal of spending power. This is something that should be encouraged more, even here, in women from all walks of life regardless of their religion or race.
Furthermore, Muslim women throughout the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and the history of Islam have been involved in lawmaking, administrative positions, Science and Mathematics, and even on the battlefield- so much for staying at home! In fact the oldest University in the world, University of Al Quaraouiyine, which still runs today was founded by a Muslim woman. There are also countless feminist Islamic icons such as Khadīja bint Khuwaylid (R.A), who was not only a wealthy business woman, but also the Prophet’s boss, along with being a single mother and a widow before she chose to marry the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). I would point out the importance of “chose” here because that’s right: as Muslim women we have the right to choose who we marry, and I wish this was something stated more often in the mainstream media. Moreover, as a result of her actions Khadija Bint Khuwaylid defied societal norms that exist even today; she was 15 years older than the Prophet and initiated the marriage proposal herself. So what does this mean for me in 2016? This means that I can be Muslim and hold the same dreams and big ambitions that any other woman has. Islam does not hold me back from reaching top positions at work, obtaining a good level of education or choosing who I fall in love with.
The obstacles to my goals instead come from prejudices and stereotypes that some people hold, which have arisen subconsciously or consciously due to various sources, most notably Islamophobic media coverage. Front-page headlines such as “1 in 5 British Muslims sympathy for Jihadis” are misleading, inaccurate and anger the large majority of Muslims including me, who condemn these minority groups that do not act in accordance with Islamic teachings. Additionally, this irresponsible reporting by the media has led to people associating Islam with terrorism and extremism, which is not what Islam stands for at all! It is from these incorrect ideas that some people argue that Muslim women are forced to cover up with regards to clothing, to which I retort that it is part of my freedom that I am able to choose the parts of my body that I show to people. I feel comfortable in what I wear. Feminism does not necessarily mean wearing the shortest skirt but does refer to the resistance of being classified as a sexual object, something which Islam achieves.
In short I would like to finish off by saying that my worth is not defined by a man, I believe in the empowerment of women, the right to female education and challenging and shattering the glass ceiling that we as women face. These are ideals which do not contradict, but are supported by my Islamic values.
This article is part of our Islamophobia Awareness Month series.