Women in Islam
In terms of following, Islam is among the largest religions in the world, only second to Christianity. The religious group has a huge following across the globe, with most of its believers in Asia and larger parts of North Africa. In Asia, Islam is dominated by Arabs that account for more than 20% of the total Muslim population in the world. Just like with most religious groups, dressing is a main element of consideration for both the male and female faithful. Islam dressing is specifically about women. The tradition is traced back to the time of the founder and prophet of Islam, Muhammad. These traditions require women to wear hijab and the burqa, which were meant for the wives of the prophet. The Islamic code of dressing for women has however, been outlined in the Islamic Holy Book, Quran. The Quran clearly points out about the hijab: O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw closely over themselves their hijab… (33:59)
The hijab is the most important of the women’s dressing since it was introduced to Prophet Muhammad’s wives to distinguish between his wives and other women. It was therefore a symbol of nobility for the wives of the prophet, who he only married after the death of his first wife Khadija. She was accorded the title of the Mother of Believers. The wives of Prophet Muhammad were required to portray distinguished character and dressing, hence, had to cover parts of their bodies including the hair, part of the face including the chin, neck and hands (Schimmel 27).
The distinguished display in character and dressing was a perquisite so that they may not attract attention to their beauty. Thus, it is clearly stated in the Quran of the prophet’s wives: O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women: if you are wary (of Allah). Then do not be complaisant in your speech, lest he in whose heart is a sickness should aspire, and speak honorable words (33:32). However, of all Muhammad’s wives, Khadija the first wife was the most important to not just the Prophet but also Islam.
Initially, Khadija was Prophet Muhammad’s employer. During that time, Muhammad worked as a merchant for the twice widowed woman, who eventually proposed to him upon which they got married. Their marriage was a cordial partnership which propelled Muhammad to lay the foundations of Islamic religion. Since Khadija was wealthy, she took in Muhammad and his cousin, and supported him through his meditation and divine dreams which became the words of Allah to the world. Therefore, it is Prophet Muhammad and his wife Khadija who laid the foundations of Islam. Through the prophet’s moments of doubt, Khadija helped him through encouragement and support to bring forth the foundations of the religion as it is known today (Helminski, 1). Part of the encouragement was the consolation and conviction of Muhammad to the fact that ‘’the revelations he experienced in the cave at Mount Hira during his meditations were not demonic but of divine origin’’ (Schimmel 26).
Khadija also played a critical role in laying foundations of a deeper understanding and communication with the divine world, a part of Islam known as Sufism. This part draws on the personal experience with the divine through love, just like in the case of Prophet Muhammad and Khadija, who manifested through their daughter Fatima.
Rubi’a al-Adawiyya is an individual with particular importance in the history of Sufism. She fully expressed human affiliation with the deity in the Sufic language portraying the attributes of God, as well as the relationship between men and women. The Quran identifies the position of women as the alter ego of the man, a complement to the actions of a man. Through Sufism’s history, women are viewed as trainers, teachers and supporters of men, in showing the love of mystism that denotes Sufism. Therefore, in Sufism, both men and women participated in the ceremonies, while in some cases there was separate worship for the two genders. In fact, some women like Rubia submitted themselves wholly to spirituality in society, while others acted as patrons, enhancing study and worship (Helminski 1).
Rubia was born to a poor father but holy man who devoted himself to the service of Allah. However, the state of poverty helped Rubia towards devotion of her life to Allah, having been a slave to a master. She turned down marriage because of her devotion to Allah, having heard his voice and decided to get married to Him. Although Rubia was quite beautiful and desired by many men for marriage, she remained devoted to her higher calling that culminated into a massive following.
The fact that that Rubia portrayed herself as a sincere and righteous woman in her earthly body is related to the belief that the women are not deceptive as claimed by many Muslims. In her earthly body, she was still able to influence a huge following including both men and women, while obtaining guidance from a Shaykh. Therefore, the origin of Sufism, although began with Prophet Muhammad and Khadija, was fronted by Rubia, who remained devoted to Allah and denial of earthly pleasures. Being a woman in Islam, she proved that the female body is not as wicked as is considered by a majority of Muslims, despite one having a veil or not.
As pointed out however, the Quran remains specific on the use of the hijab by Muslim women. The Quran ordered Prophet Muhammad’s wives to cover their adornments, as a significant feature to distinguish the respected women from other who were not married to the prophet (Schimmel 27). The covering of adornments by Muslim women was therefore a show of honor, which only became stricter considering the changes in society, thereby resulting into seclusion rules.
Today, the veil denotes various kinds of things since its nature has been significantly transformed over the years from its initial symbol. The Muslim tradition views the veil as the virtue of the females, considering that the very nature of the woman’s body is morally corrupt or corrupting, hence should be covered. Apart from shielding men from the temptation of women, the hijab also shows a woman’s femininity, which she is required to proudly wear. Besides, it also helps in the identification of Muslim women to non-Muslim men (Barlas 4).
According to the critics of the Islamic religion, the hijab has been viewed as a sign of oppression against women in countries where the tradition is practiced (Diffendal 129). Muslim women on the other hand, have proudly won the hijab, some donning it as a sign of opposition against government regulations. Although this may look as a good show, for females to assert their independence by wearing the hijab, the assertion according to Diffendal, only takes place in a male-dominated society and may therefore not bear much meaning on the individuality of the women (130).
The discussion on the independence of women arises from the fact that in many Islamist countries, women are not just hindered from working but also walk without a male companion or even allowed to drive. This is with regards to the teaching of the Quran to women which states that: And Abide quietly in your homes, and do not follow your charms as they used to flaunt them in the old days of pagan ignorance (33:33). This comes at a time when the prophet’s wives, like Khadija, were playing a critical in the life of the prophet, supporting him in his quests without the inhibitions and limitations of staying at home as housewives. A majority of Muslim women therefore look up to the prophet’s wives who were at liberty to participate in the life of her husband. Khadija was a business woman who hired Muhammad, and even during his pilgrimage and meditation went ahead of her business contrary to the current state where they are required to do nothing apart from the roles of housewives, as per the teachings of the Quran.
At the foundation of Islam, Muslim women were instrumental in advancing the course of the religion as portrayed by such great women like Khadija and Rubia. Societal changes have however, relegated women to a position of housewives and nothing greater. Although the Muslim traditionalists claims that the female body is sinful, and that have an unruly sexual appetite and should therefore be tamed by placing a veil between them and women, it there is much to be debated considering that women like Khadija and Rubia were pivotal in advancing the religion.
Al-Arfaj, Muhammad bin Ali. What must Be Known About Islam. Riyadh: Darussalam, 2002
Barlas, Asma. Islam and Body Politics: Inscribing (Im)morality. Conference on Religion and Politics of the Body. University of Iceland, 2009
Diffendal, Chelsea. “The Modern Hijab: Tool of Agency, Tool of Oppression.” Chrestomathy, 5 (2006): 129-136.
Helminski, Camille, Adams. “Woman and Sufism.” Women of Sufism, A Hidden Treasure, Writings and Stories of Mystic Poets, Scholars and Saints. Shambhala Publications, 2003
Schimmel, Annemarie. My Soul Is a Woman: The Feminine in Islam. Bloomsbury Academic, 2003