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Islamic beliefs honor Women

By Dina Aman

Los Angeles District


Sunday, September 28, 2008



Have you ever walked through a mall and seen a woman with a veil covering her hair? What crossed your mind? Did you think she was one of the many wives of a rich Saudi Arabian oil sheik? Did you feel sympathy for her because some man forced her to dress that way? Or did you shrug your shoulders and decide it was just one of life's mysteries? The veiled women are Muslims who have adopted the Islamic dress code for modesty. Islam is one of the world's largest monotheistic (belief in one God) religions. Almost one billion people in 40 countries are Muslims, with Arabs less than 20 percent of the total.

Contrary to popular belief, women and men are regarded as equal in Islam, but with different responsibilities. This difference, however, doesn't mean women can't undertake similar tasks or responsibilities. A woman is recognized as an independent individual entitled to work, own a business, obtain an education, and participate in government.In fact, Muslim women were given the right to vote 1,400 years ago. They are entitled to equal rewards for performing the same tasks as men, and they may keep any money they earn. Discrimination against women is considered unjust in Islam and is not tolerated. The family unit is very important in Islam, so the role of the wife and mother is highly honored and respected. The belief that paradise is at the foot of every mother elevates motherhood to a level not equaled elsewhere. In fact, a Muslim feminist would urge women to make motherhood their primary career. A Muslim husband is expected to treat his wife kindly and with generosity. He can't force her to work and can't make any claims on her earnings or inheritance. In a husband-wife relationship, the spouses are equal in dignity and respect. Their roles are best conceived as attitudes and responsibilities, rather than specific work or activities.

One of a Muslim woman's responsibilities is to observe the same religious duties as a Muslim man. Islam places great emphasis on feminine modesty. From a Western point of view, the veil and long loose clothing appear oppressive,"backward", and against a woman's rights of expression. Guarding her modesty is consistent with a muslim woman's rights and power over her body. Her success is attributed to her intelligence, ambition, and abilities and not attributed to her physical beauty. A Muslim woman would take the expression "if you've got it, flaunt it" to refer to her ability to express ideas, and opinions, and contribute to society.

The traditional form of Islamic clothing is called the hijab (pronounced hee-jab), which means to cover or conceal. The aura (Arabic for private parts) for both men and women are to be covered. For a woman this includes her hair, chest, arms, and legs. Hair is considered part of a woman's allure. Both Muslim men and women are required to wear loose modest clothing that does not reveal the shape of their bodies. A Muslim woman is not required to wear the hijab around her husband, other male members of the family, or boys under the age of 13. A girl begins following the Islamic dress code when she reaches puberty and is mature enough to understand the meaning and responsibilities of the hijab. It is a life-long commitment and must be taken seriously.

However, a woman who does not observe hijab is not considered less pious and is not treated disrespectfully. The hijab is a symbol of respect and identity, much like police uniforms and doctors' smocks. The hijab is a reminder to the Muslim woman of her beliefs and helps her remain god-conscious. She is identified as a Muslim, so she must guard the image of Islam through her conduct. The concept of hijab is also practiced in other religions. The Virgin Mary and nuns like Mother Teresa are seen wearing loose clothing and a veil. So hijab is not a strictly Muslim tradition, but one that is universally practiced.

The view of women and hijab described here is part of the Islamic religion and must not be confused with ethnic culture. Misconceptions of Islam's view of women arise from how women are treated in various Muslim countries. For example, the law against women driving in Saudi Arabia has no Islamic basis and is unique to the Saudi culture. In some Islamic (and non-Islamic) countries, women are not given equal rights in education and government. This is a reflection of those particular cultures and should not be blamed on Islam. So beware of stereotypes and misinformation. The day we learn to understand each other is the day we learn to live with and respect each other.

(Dina Aman is a civil engineer with Los Angeles District. Her parents are from Egypt; she was born in the U.S. and raised as a Muslim. Aman has written articles for the LAD newspaper explaining Muslim beliefs, including this one about Muslim women. Aug. 26 is Womens' Equality Day, the day we celebrate American women gaining the right to vote. It is interesting to read Aman's explanation of the roles of Muslim women and compare them to American culture.)

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