Many people believe that Islam is "backwards" and/or oppressive of women. However, nothing could be further from the truth. So, in this blog post, I am going to attempt to respond to those things that ppl consider "backwards" and explain the reasons for them....and insh'Allah, you will see how beneficial and freeing the rules are instead of seeing them as oppressive.
The very first thing I wish to address is the "hijab" (headscarf) and "niqab" (face veil). Many non-Muslims think the hijab is oppressive...but in reality, it is liberating. It is commanded by Allah (SWT) in the Qur'an that women should cover themselves:
"O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when out): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful" (Qur'an 33:59).
The main reason I wear hijab is for the sake of Allah (SWT)...He commanded it, and He knows what is best for me, better than I do, so therefore I submit to His will. According to this verse, the hijab has a dual purpose....one is so that the women can be identified as Muslim; and secondly to protect the woman.
The first aspect....being noticed as a Muslim. For me, being recognized as a Muslim gives me the opportunity to give "da'wah" (education on Islam/invitation to Islam). I have had many non-Muslims ask me about the hijab out of genuine curiosity. This gives me the chance to educate them a bit on Islam, alhamdulilah!
The second part of the ayah (verse)...protection. In American society, women are sexualized and objectified way too much. So many women concern themselves with how attractive they are....they have to have the make-up; the hair done right; the sexy clothes; be thin...etc. It's sad. We should not be judging ourselves based on how we look...but rather our intelligence and personality should be more important. Many women in American society are anorexic/bulimic; or have body dysmorphic disorder (where they hate their body). And not only are we judging ourselves...but men are judging us as well. As my fiance once pointed out, when a woman is walking down the street in skin-tight jeans or short shorts; tight shirt; hair done; make-up done...the first thought that enters his mind is NOT a positive one. Wearing the hijab is our way of demanding ppl judge us on our intellect and personality and not on the shape of our body. It's showing respect for ourselves and demanding respect from others. It's unfortunate that there are Muslim women that do not cover...esp new Muslimahs. Usually it's due to prejudice they face from family, non-Muslim friends, job, etc. How sad it is that in this country it is more acceptable for a woman to dress provocatively, and in some cases practically nude (i.e at the beach), but when a woman wants to dress modestly, she is seen as "strange."
Another benefit that I've gained since wearing hijab is that it serves as a reminder, for myself, that Allah (SWT) is All-Knowing; All-Seeing, and so therefore I should be aware of my speech and actions at all time.
Some say people have the mistaken belief that hijab is only for women and that men are free to do as they please. Men in Islam are also governed by rules on how they should dress and present themselves, esp in front of women. And, the Qur'an tells both men and women to lower their gaze:
"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do" (Qur'an 24:30).
So, it's not just women that have to dress modestly, but so do men.
As for the niqab...the face veil...there is debate in the Islamic community on whether it is "fard" (obligatory) or "sunnah" (optional). The majority of people believe it is optional, and this is my stance as well. Based on a hadith (saying/actions of Prophet Muhammad, SAW) where he was approached by the daughter of Abu Bakr (his best friend): ‘A’isha (Prophet Muhammad's wife) said: Asma’, daughter of Abu Bakr, entered upon the Apostle of Allah (May peace be upon him) wearing thin clothes. The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) turned his attention from her. He said: O Asma’, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands.
Some women choose to wear the niqab...as I have recently begun doing. Each woman has their individual reasons, I'm sure...but for me, first and foremost, I wear it for the sake of Allah (SWT). In our society, men are not taught to lower their gaze as the Qur'an commands them to do. So, since they don't lower their gaze, I will cover myself completely. I love wearing my niqab.
Lastly, on the issue of hijab, the Qur'an tells us not to show our "adornments":
"And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons..." (Qur'an 24:31).
Basically, this means we should save our beauty for only our families and our husbands...as a gift, almost. To me, that is one of the most romantic things ever, masha'Allah.
Here is a funny video from Baba Ali on Hijab:
Okay...next thing...why can't the women pray with the men?
Why women pray separately from the men....this was one of the first q's (after the inquiry into hijab) that I asked. I thought this was very unfair. However...once it was explained, it made so much sense. In most Masjids women either pray in a separate area than the men, or at the least pray behind the men. When we pray in Islam, we literally bow and prostrate ourselves before Allah (SWT). That means our rear-ends are up in the air. The last thing I want is some guy checking out my behind during prayer when he should be focused on worshiping Allah (SWT)! Both Masjids I attend, the women have a separate area altogether where we listen to the sermon and pray. I, personally, like this much better. It makes it easier for me to concentrate on the sermon and to focus during prayer...instead of worrying about someone making googley eyes at me. I've heard ppl tell men to "go to church" to find a nice woman....astighfirullah (Allah forgive me)! They should be going to church to worship God...not find a woman!! All the more reason for me to appreciate the separate areas in the Masjid for men and women. Also...recently there was an article that said that 33% of women said they were approached (inappropriately) by a leader of their church....another thing that I can almost guarantee never (or nearly never) happens in Islam because we are kept separate.
(Here's the link to the article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...l?hpid=topnews )
If the Imam does, for some reason, want to talk to a sister about an issue (i.e. a fundraiser), there are always other brothers and sisters around....this way the chance of anything like that occurring is slim.
Why shouldn't men and women "inter-mingle" freely?
This was an issue that I didn't understand at first when I became Muslim, and I kinda didn't really pay attention to the ruling so-to-speak. Before I reverted to Islam, the majority of my friends were males....I never got along with females too well.
However...there are many examples that keep showing up in my life (well, the lives of those I know) that show me more and more why we should strive to follow this ruling.
This vid gives a great example of why we shouldn't inter-mingle freely (and it's funny):
Even in situations where the female thinks "oh, he's like a brother to me," typically the man has other motives in mind...and often (not always) they will eventually tell you that they "love" you and an awkward situation occurs....or worse yet, "mistakes" end up happening that ppl don't intend for...i.e. sleeping with them. Then ppl are filled with regret.
Think about this...in our country, the divorce rate is 50% of all marriages!! Often one spouse or the other is cheating! This is what I see occurring in many ppl's lives around me.
Another reason we shouldn't mix freely is to protect the woman's integrity. You know how it is....you see a woman and man whispering somewhere, and what is automatically assumed?? They could be talking about calculus for all ya know. So, to avoid from ppl talking negatively about a sister (or from preventing a man LYING about a sister...'cuz you know that happens too; some men will say they slept with a woman, or whatnot, even tho it never occurred), we should not mix freely, and if we are talking with someone of the opposite gender, the female's wali (male Muslim relative) should be pesent, to protect her integrity, and to prevent the other male from taking advantage of her.
Contrary to what people think, Islam holds women in HIGH regard!! There is a hadith that says a man asked Prophet Muhammad (SAW) who should he respect the most, and he was told his mother; then the guy asks "who next?" and is told "your mother;" and the guy asks a third time "who next?" and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) says "your mother;" and when the guy says "who next?" again, finally he is told "then your father." Islam is all about protecting the women, and making sure they are provided for.
Okay, this is much longer than I anticipated it would be, so I am breaking this up into two blog posts. Insh'Allah, this has been beneificial.