Are Muslim Women Oppressed?

I’ve been wondering about this. Are Muslim women oppressed? Is the oppression of women intrinsic to an orthodox understanding of the Quran? Do the supplemental texts, the Hadith and Sunnah endorse it? Is this yet another way in which backward Muslims are inferior to enlightened Westerners? (Sorry, got a little snarky there.)

Is the assumption that Muslim women are oppressed part of a broader tendency to lump all Muslims together? There are certainly situations in which oppression seems too light a word for what women in some Muslim majority nations face. Other women in other times and places have enjoyed what would appear to be great freedom of conscience and practice.

Three friends of mine, each with years lived abroad and current deep relationships with Muslim women weigh in:

Jami: “There is no way to say “Muslim women are….” about anything! No stereotype holds true for every story. Most of my current Muslim friends, both here in the U.S. and in various countries around the world, live lifestyles very similar to mine. The Truth Collective aspires to prove to women that the absence of Truth is the most violent oppression as it deprives women of security, identity and hope.

Emily: “Some interpretations of Islam are terrible to women. Others are not so terrible. It really depends so much on ethnicity and level of education”

Gayle: “Muslim women’s lives have different parameters of normal from the average western woman. What seems normal to them, doesn’t seem normal to us. But then what is normal in the western world today was not normal 150 years ago. Some differences are improvements, some not so much.”

My concern is that we use “oppression of women” as a reason to not just dislike Islam, but Muslims as well, to put them further away from us, to use a trendy term, “other-ize” them. The challenge is to love all Muslims and continue to learn, while not endorsing what is wrong.

Help me understand this more. Please comment here or email me.

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4 Responses to Are Muslim Women Oppressed?

  1. Melody Gritton

    I have very mixed feelings on this post. In a lot of countries, women are denied rights we, in the U.S., think they are due; education, driving a car, etc. We have seen atrocities committed due to women and girls trying to get an education, be a doctor, etc. Of course one of the most famous is Malala Yousafzai. A lot of this happens in Muslim countries, but know other countries that are not Muslim suppress women’s opportunities.

  2. Peter Lee

    Several years ago, a leading Palestinian-American female anthropologist, Lila Abu-Lughod wrote a book titled, “Do Muslim Women Need Saving.” She makes a similar observation as you are making here. She actually does not treat “Muslim women” as a category, but looks into nuances and complexities in lived experiences of those with whom she spent a lot of time. I think she adds a valuable voice in our understanding of this complex world.

  3. Julie Gamponia

    I used to teach English at a large, public school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Some of my staff colleagues and students were Muslim women. We had some students who spoke excellent English, were high-achieving students and spoke well. When I asked one lovable student what her plans were for after high school, and she shared that she was going to work full-time in her uncle’s restaurant until she could get married. She, or rather her parents on her behalf, had not yet received any marriage proposals. She said that she was grateful for the protection of her family, and her faith: that she didn’t have to go out and keep studying and then look for work, exposing herself to the competitive, unkind, secular world. She was grateful that she could focus on helping her family, and hopefully soon, have her own family to nurture and grow in faith. Oppression wasn’t a word she would use to describe her situation at all, but gratitude.

  4. Schatzi Fry

    My burning question about how Muslim women are treated would be this: Are they truly respected equally with men in their culture? In a court of law, is their testimony weighed equally with that of men? Can they conduct the business of life without some sort of male guardian or overseer? Do they enjoy protection under the law if they are abused by their husbands or divorced or raped by a coworker? Can they pursue their choice of career?
    And, yes, I do understand that in many cultures women AND men may be pressured by family to choose a particular career field.

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