Dr Natalie Schoon writes for nina-iraq.com
Regular contributor and Islamic finance expert Dr Natalie Schoon, takes a wider perspective, examining a woman’s role in Islam
It is un-Islamic for Muslim women to laugh out loud in public. At least, this is what was stated by a senior Turkish cabinet member early summer 2014. Unfortunately, he is not alone in this belief. The question is whether this is really related to Islam, or whether there is a deeper underlying reason. Is it perhaps the case that women should not be seen or heard because men cannot control themselves?
Disregarding the origin of the issue, it has a significant impact on women in every aspect including their position in the workplace and as entrepreneurs. If women are not allowed to make themselves heard, how are they expected to participate as full members of a country’s economy?
It could be much worse. In some countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, women can be jailed for ‘moral crimes’ such as being the victim of rape, or running away from forced marriage and domestic violence. It is this type of behaviour that leads people globally to believe that Muslim women are inferior to men. There is, however, no ground for any inequality or this type of behaviour in the Quran and the Hadith in which it is recognised that men and women differ, but neither of them is considered superior to the other. Their roles are complementary and supplemental which is for example supported by Sura Al-Ahzaab in the Quran which mentions men and women in equal measure.
Contrary to other religions in which the role and independence of women is significantly limited, within Islam women have been granted independence which clearly shows from both the Quran and the Hadith. Women have the right to own, use and dispose of their own property, they cannot be forced into marriage, they retain their own name and identity after marriage, can initiate divorce, and are entitled to an education (‘To seek knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim, male and female’).
Of particular interest are the following two Hadith:
- Let no Muslim man entertain any bad feeling against a Muslim woman, and
- The best of believers are those who are best to their wives and families.
Nevertheless, violence against women is often justified by referring to some selected parts of the Quran which are taken out of context. Although it is true that adultery is not permitted by Islam, this does not only apply to women. Men are equally not supposed to have intimate relationships with a woman who is not their wife. In combination with the fact that violence against women is strongly condemned, there is no basis for imprisoning women who are victims of rape or domestic violence.
When reading the Quran, it is very clear that statements such as ‘women should not laugh out loud’, and ‘women should not be seen outside the house’ do not have a basis in Islam and must have been introduced at a later date, most likely as the result of a male dominant society. It is worth bearing in mind that modesty in behaviour and dress applies to both men and women.
Although the world generally believes women can be treated badly in Islam, there is more than enough proof that this is not the case. In addition, Muslim women have historically been fully involved in all aspects of society including business, politics and religion which in itself is a powerful tool in combating growing cultural sensitivities around women in the workplace.The question then is how to change this perception, and who would be responsible for doing this. Education and communication are key to change the rather distorted view on women’s rights in Islam. Women, whether Muslim or not, should not rely on men to come to this conclusion on their own, but should take matters in their own hands starting with themselves and their own families.
 Human Rights Watch (2012) ‘I had to run away: the imprisonment of women and girls for moral crimes in Afghanistan’
 The words, acts and tacit approvals of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh)
Read this feature in Arabic
To see Natalie’s previous feature go to http://nina-iraq.com/category/finance-for-growth/