There are prevailing misconceptions within Christian communities that Muslims hate Christians and that women are oppressed by Islamic teachings. It is widely reinforced by many Christian leaders. The most profound revelation was the reality of their limited interest in understanding beyond their perceptions and preconceived notions.
They see Muslims as monolithic. We are only Shia or Sunni and if we even divert from their perceived “oppressive,” “hate filled” and “violent,” understanding of Islam, we must be Sufi; completely misunderstanding our schools of thought, diversity within our communities and relevance in modern society. They miss the multitude of complexity and individuality within Islam.
In Islam we have no hierarchy of clergy. There are scholars of different scopes, from social policy, language, history, law and interpretation. There is no governing body of Muslims. There is a tradition of personal responsibility and individual commitment to scholarship. There are schools of thought and their proponents. In that sense, many Muslims will follow a school of thought which closely resembles their scholarship and others also follow proponents of those schools of thought.
The Islamic orthodoxy of law is quite vast and versatile, although there are hindrances to that versatility. There are issues that have led to some scholars blindly following certain fixed schools of thought, and in turn to the subjugation of religious values to popular culture; thus our current dilemma/dichotomy.
“Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason.” (Quran 8:22)
In many patriarchal societies the role of the woman Imam or scholar is limited to preaching and teaching other women, regardless of the core of Islamic teaching that men and women are equal and both are teachers of Islam to each other.
Since immigrants are still the major stakeholders in the Mosques, most mosques have not had a female board member, executive director and have never had a woman scholar or preacher speak to the community.
This perspective of patriarchy does not reflect on the teachings of Islam. It reflects on the cultural factors of a society and within what have become socially acceptable norms.
“The believing men and women are patrons of each other. They command to good, rebuke evil, establish prayers, give alms, obeying God and His messenger. They will have God’s mercy. Indeed God is Mighty and Wise.” (Qur’an, 9:71)
This verse, like many others, puts men and women on equal footing regarding the practice of religion. It is especially significant because its linguistics equates men and women working together in preaching.
Early Islamic leaders recognized the importance of women in society as leaders and reformers in a time when women in the world were seen as of little significance, Islam gave women a voice and rights.
“Back in the days of ignorance before Islam, we didn’t consider women of much significance at all. This all changed with the emergence of Islam in which God mentioned them with respect and gave them new rights then we realized their rights over us.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 5843)
“Sometimes we the companions of Muhammad would get confused about Islamic teachings. We would then go and ask Aisha about itand we found she always had the knowledge we were seeking in it.” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi, 3883)
Aisha being a great female scholar of Islam, wife of the prophet and religious leader in her own right even after his death, spoke to, counseled and was the influence to many of the Caliphs which were to follow.
Female scholars were the teachers of the male scholars and leaders of Islam in Islamic history.
The exceptional women of Islam are too numerous to name. Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr is only one of many. Zainab bint Kamal taught hadiths in the 12th century. Umm al-Darda became a teacher of hadith and fiqh and lectured in the men’s section. One of her students was the caliph of Damascus. The Prophet taught that there is no difference in worth between believers on account of their gender.
The gross violations of women’s rights in the Muslim world today, relegating the Muslim woman only to the role of a mother and housewife is a relatively modern phenomenon. In early Islam women were the driving force in the formation of Islamic history. Fatimah supported the prophet and was his counsel. Aisha Led an Army.
In the religion of Islam, there is no original sin. Men and women bear equal responsibility. Many traditions have grown weak and women have been relegated in patriarchal societies to second class citizens, contrary to the core teachings of Islam, with cultural norms overtaking the religious teachings of Islamic tradition and the female role in Islam in many cultures.
Women scholars spent their lives in pursuit of historical facts. Historical criticism is a fundamental principle in Islam.
The Qur’an requires
“O believers! If any iniquitous person comes to you with a slanderous tale, verify it, lest you hurt people unwittingly…” (49:6)
Many Muslims have strayed from scholarly tradition and have become used to certain ways of dealing; that does not mean that our traditional sources of law are not relevant in modern society. These traditions to include the female scholar are better suited for modern society and helping to identify in regard to social issues.
It is important not to judge Islam by the state of nationalist and conservative mindsets refusing to proceed with the progressive and forward thinking nature of Islam. The religious doctrine does not support the cultural norms of these nationalists. The religion of Islam is much bigger than that. There are generations who laid the foundation of modern civilization.
Islam is more than capable of addressing and resolving many contemporary issues. There is an obligation within Islam to provide the tools and a setting to address issues like racism, misogyny and oppression that have been lost on those who refuse to remain relevant.
To address the question for Christians about where Islam and Muslims stand on Christianity; there is only to look at the Quran, the words and mandates of the prophet Muhammad for answers.
Muhammad saw Christians as part of our community, our people, to be allowed freedom of religion and protection from oppression and religious suppression as evidenced in his writings and promises to Christian communities.
The Quran expresses religious unity between Jews, Muslims and Christians as one community with many paths to the same destinations and refers to Jews, Muslims and Christians as “the believers.”
“Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)
Preachers who teach falsehoods of a dubious nature to subvert pluralism and unity will lead their followers astray and thrive on sectarianism. A thinking population is always dangerous to the status quo. A religion that was only devised to control and cheat people would never expose religious preachers like this, for it would be against their very interests,
“And they (the common people) will say: O our Sustainer! Behold, we paid heed unto our leaders and our great men, and it is they who have led us astray from the right path!” (Quran, 33:67)
Islam teaches Muslims to be free and critical thinkers, to question everything and then question it again.
The Quran tells Muslims to think for themselves, to uphold justice, to speak up and speak out against injustice and oppression.
The Quran expresses the need for social justice and the mandate in fighting oppression. Islam is not a religion that only gives you dogma to follow blindly, in return for some grand reward of paradise. Instead it expects one to use intellect and resourcefulness to help those less fortunate and vulnerable in society and to do all this in the pursuit of justice.
The Quran establishes that faith is only the beginning on the path. It isn’t the end of the journey. And on that journey are men and women on equal stance.
Contrary to popular belief, women are not subjugated by Islam, they are empowered by it. They have played an important part from the beginning, as teachers, preachers, warriors and leaders.
Research can present women with confidence in their role in Islam, while some are confined to their homes because of cultural norms others are vying for and fighting for leadership throughout the Muslim world.