Women nowadays largely contribute to the well-being of the society. Through the recognition of their helpful and significant roles played in the global contemporary society, we are not closer than ever in achieving parity in gender. Women of today compete in the different fields as they prove their worth and potential. In the past, women were deprived of certain civil rights and regarded as domestic providers and homemakers. Some of the fundamental rights of a person like suffrage cannot be exercised by women. Women were not allowed to participate in major economic and political issues and events.
Gender differentiates men from women, but also distinguishes false from fabricated. Yet, the reform in the worldwide perception on women encountered some conflicts, especially when it came to clashing with religion. Islam is one of the oldest religions in the world, with its distinguishable and unique characteristics in the realm of their religious beliefs and practices. There are notable characteristics in the way Muslims perceive women in early Islam. For Muslims, the authentic woman is essentially a divine being from God.
Women in early Islam were depicted as symbols of the Islamic foundation as they became the persons whose actions were not based on their own will but on the intention of their Supreme Being, Allah (Shahidian, 2002). Despite the reverence for women in early Islam, discrimination towards women and inequality has become prevalent in the Islamic rules and traditions. For instance, according to Islam, men are allowed to create their own harem, permitting them to marry up to four wives while women were expected to be loyal to her husband and submit to sexual intercourse with him whenever he wants (Moghissi, 1999).
The overview of Islamic history provides evidence of increasing segregation, seclusion, and degradation of women. Women were perceived as passive, submissive and consequently more and more isolated based on the premises of the religion (Smith, 1985). This conventional perception on women Muslims was because Islamic legal tradition was a product of traditional and patriarchal society. Moreover, the authoritative works on the legal status of women of Islam was fabricated by men. Therefore, unsurprisingly, male stereotypes of women were incorporated in the Islamic tradition and were retained as remnants of the Islamic rights.
One of the examples of this perception on women is forbidding women to drive in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia. It was evaluated that this provision was based on the historical Islamic percepts (Moghissi, 2005). Another example is leadership of a community, which was typecast as a male duty. Hence, if an Islamic community was led by a female, Muslims believed that they will never find the path for salvation (Shahidian, 2002). Islam is not alone in the stereotyping of the roles of women. Sex stereotyping in Islam closely resembles the portrayal of sex in the Christian faith.
It can be seen that in the Catholic Church, only one of the denominations were sex stereotyping and was used to support the important doctrines of the church. It was cited that “all males”—implying that women have to be kept isolated due to their inferiority (Moghissi, 2005). The Islamic society is composed of great complexity due to its social forms and religious configurations. Within the confines and different levels of Islamic society, Muslim women lived under different conditions wherein they conformed to the local customs and practices.
In recent times, there are significant social upheavals that happened in different Islamic communities (Kramarae & Spender, 2000). In another Muslim country such as Iran, women through various types of fields—political, feminist and women’s movement—contributed to the revolution of Imam Khomeini. The revolution made significant impacts in the society that made strong efforts in retracting and reforming certain Islamic provisions (Kramarae & Spender, 2000). In contemporary Islam, women began to rise and fight for their rights.
In the 20th century many Islamic countries reformed their legislation, affecting marriage, divorce, and inheritance in the process. These reforms were due to the inevitable penetration and bombardment of the western culture. As a result, many women of contemporary Islam are no longer characterized by the physical manifestation of removing the veil and the dress code of women. Rather, they are portrayed in terms of fulfilling their traditional roles and acquiring self-achievement (Esposito & Voll, 2001). Today, Muslim women are also able to participate in the male-dominant world of politics and decision making.
Currently, they have been bargaining place in education and employment. Although many reforms have been implemented to render equality to both sexes, it is not truly accepted in the Islamic society where prevailing norms are anchored to deeply-rooted values and beliefs of Islam. The conflict lies within the religious and conventional beliefs and the objectives of a modern woman. Due to this unresolved conflict, it may result in undesirable events. For instance, in an Islamic country such as Pakistan, the Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in an election rally.
Aside from the political motive of the suspect, an angle on historical percepts was not disregarded. Female Pakistani minister Zilla Huma Usman was also shot dead by breaking the Islamic dress code. The suspect said that he killed Usman for he believes that she was dressed inappropriately for the occasion and she was advocating the emancipation of women that is not acceptable in Islamic rules. Islam can be considered as one of the earliest faith in the world with traditions and values acutely based on the religious dogmas and maxims. There is the undeniable difference in the treatment of sexes within the confines of religion.
In early Islam, women are treated based on their traditional roles as wife and mother. But throughout the course of history and significant societal changes, perception on women has been changed, even in the Islamic society where rules and principles are very uptight. However, the reformation in the roles of women in society was not fully accepted and may result in unwanted catastrophic events. References Esposito, J. L. & Voll, J. O. (2001). Makers of Contemporary Islam. Madison Ave. , New York: Oxford UP, Inc. Kramarae, C. & Spender, D. (2000).
Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women’s Issues and Knowledge. London: Routledge. Moghissi, H. (1999). Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Limits of Postmodern Analysis. Fitfth Ave. , NY: Zed Books, Ltd. Moghissi, H. (2005). Women and Islam: Critical Concepts in Sociology. New York: Taylor and Francis. Shahidian, H. Women in Iran. (2002). Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. Smith, J. I. (1985). Women, religion and social change in early Islam. In Y. Y. Haddad and E. B. Findly (Eds. ), Women, Religion and Social Change (pp. 19-36). Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.