Before I continue any further, as the writer, I would like to stress that the entirety of this article is in no way meant to be used as a barometer to judge other women upon. Rather, it should be a piece that ignites a sense of reflection about the type of world that we live in and how we as Muslim women should look beyond the false illusions of beauty that are propagated to us by society. The opinions and thoughts expressed are indeed my own, of which I wish not to impose upon the reader.
The topic concerning the worth of women in Islam is one that is very much discussed, contested and debated upon by many Western media outlets and among religious and secular intellectuals alike. As Muslim women, within our own religion, we tend to forget how Islam has elevated us in a plethora of ways. In today’s current commercial climate of “sex sells” and “if you’ve got it flaunt it”, we as women find ourselves engrossed by the ideas of what constitutes beauty. Consequently, this serves to opiate us from the realities of what Islam has to offer.
As the title suggests (and as many of you are aware), there are many notions and concepts regarding the issue of beauty of which in turn may affect the confidence and self-worth of women in our society. This is very much epitomised in the countless stories we hear and see in the news of women and young girls going to extreme lengths to attain a societally set standard of beauty, sometimes with dire consequences.
Having said this, it has now become a familiar occurrence that many Muslim women and girls experience conflict between the ideals endorsed by the Western media such as hedonism and superficial beauty, and the inner tranquillity and freedom that Islam provides without stress or hassle over one’s physique.
I know which one I would opt for, and as a convert to Islam it was through my journey that I realised this.
“She makes up one half of the Ummah and gives birth to the other half.”
Contrary to the ever-constant media driven rhetoric that Islam debases the woman, as a female revert in my early 20’s, I can honestly say that Islam gave the women her rights before any bra burning feminist in the 60’s. Subjected to being marketed as a sexual commodity in magazines, music videos and films and at times being addressed by demeaning names, one can hardly say that freedom and respect in relation to the women in our society is being given in its entirety. Perhaps one of the biggest fallacies presented to us is that through being exploited i.e. being used as sex symbols and being bombarded with constant commercialisation, we are in fact being liberated and free. That’s like saying that although illegal narcotics are trafficked and sold on the streets by dealers, because the drug addict had an autonomous mind and exercised an option to purchase the narcotic substance that somehow he is demonstrating his freedom!? I guarantee that society would not use this same epistemology of thinking to say that the drug addict was liberated (ahhh…the epitome of double standards!).
Through my experiences and observations, I find it rather impossible to criticize the niqab, hijab or any elements of the Islamically prescribed dress code (according to Qur’an and Sunnah) without a thorough exploration into Western clothing and the false notion of beauty that our society foist upon women. Indeed it is a travesty to say that a woman dressed in hijab or even niqab, is oppressed when we as a society (conveniently) never stop to critically think about the oppressive practices that are operative within the Western Society we live in. This is exemplified in the magazines, music videos, commercials all propagating a notion of beauty that (with all due respect) most women will struggle to achieve.
As women we are the nurturers of our children, the backbone of the home, the care provider etc…basically without us the household will fall apart (let’s face it you wouldn’t trust your brother to handle your laundry delicates now would you?). We are responsible for how our children grow, and if we spend all our time immersed in worldly things and not raising them in the way of Islam, then we are doing a great disservice to our daughters and sons.
The acquisition of knowledge is also something that is overlooked by us as Muslim women, the confidence of many Muslim women is waning as we are unaware of the great successes that have been achieved by us in the past…but more centrally, what we could achieve presently and in the future. For example, Sumayyah bint Khayyat the first female martyr who was killed for her conversion to Islam. Her death exemplifies a sense of pride we should have in our religion and how we should have strength in the midst of the pressure to conform to society’s ideals of what constitutes a “modern” woman and the tarring of our image as oppressed, weak and submissive. Strength in conviction and character, despite what the rest of society has to say on the matter, is surely a character that is invaluable and a true sign of courage.
Another example would be that of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him). A true exemplar of today’s so called ‘career woman’, but most especially an honourable wife and mother. Successful in all her trade she never once sacrificed her integrity and was never fooled by the illusions of her time. Instead she made significant contributions both in commerce but also, as a Muslim woman, to that of her marriage and family life. She was a strong woman who stood by the Prophet through persecution in his quest to convey the valuable message of Islam.
Let us be a backbone for breeding the next generation of Scholars, Doctors, Imams, and other people of knowledge to which we reflect upon these teachings and implement them in order to become a people of depth, courage and seriousness.
“Cry Liberation? Who wrote the book?”
As I am writing, one of the interesting things that strike me in regards to the standards of freedom is this: who set the standards of what amounts to the liberation of women? Similarly, where is the demarcation between freedom and oppression? Often we find ourselves subjected to being judged and intensely scrutinised by the standards of Western liberal and secular concepts of what a woman should encompass to the point that anybody who believes outside of this criteria would fail and thus are relegated to being undesirably labelled as “extremist”, “radical” “fundamentalist” etc.
As a consequence of taking the Western ideal of freedom as the bench mark, many Muslim women both those living in the West and those residing in Muslim countries have started to develop a sentiment of inferiority complex – of which one has to adapt or “integrate” an Islamic way of living to fit in with false notions that at times go against our Islamic principles.
In turn, this leads us as Muslims to compromise the status of the Muslim woman and in many cases re-affirm the preconceived ideas and rhetoric that Western media already have tried to engrain in our minds. I hardly think that the likes of Tommy Robinson or Pamela Geller are the right authority to inform or dictate to us, about the status of the Muslim woman (yes, I still await their certificates from the Islamic University of al-Madinah authenticating their degrees in Shariah, Hadith or Dawah…NOT!). As Muslim women we do not have to conform to these ideals, rather we should realise that through the light of Islam and trusting in Allah’s omniscience, we should conduct ourselves in a way which we do not debase ourselves. But instead maintain our honour and dignity according to what had been prescribed and ordained by Allah azza wa jal.
The thing that breaks my heart the most is when a muslimah doesn’t realise and embrace her own worth and her inner beauty, because some magazine columnist or celebrity tells her that being she just isn’t good enough.
However, my dear sister I leave you with this: we shine bright like diamonds, we are protected like pearls…and like a kite in the sky we are elevated through the clouds of this world (and in sha Allah the next). So maybe it is not as hard being yourself in an appearance obsessed world after all. All you have to do is to believe in yourself, hold steadfast to the rope of Allah and you can overcome the shackles of a materialistic and beauty obsessed world and realise your real worth.