Patriarchy and Class for Women of Islam

Categories: IslamIslam And Women

In the few articles I chose, all of the writers are discussing “Islamization”, modernity, moral regulation, and nation-state sexuality in women. The main argument in all of them is religion, particularly Islam and how that religion explains the role of women in it. I want to go over each article and explain how Islam is not the cause of these cultural behaviors. How in each country these cultures define class and patriarchy in different levels to different extremes. When a person sees a Muslim women wearing the religious attire, they immediately think she is deprived and she needs to be saved.

Why can’t she want to practice her religion and culture without one thinking she is in need of a saving? Muslim women have been categorized as helpless women and they are also thought of as controlled by men for centuries. This is not due to religion this is culture.

Every Middle Eastern country treats their women differently due to what culture is and what they are accustomed to.

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In Saudi Arabia for example they treat women as if they have no say in what they want to do. They do not allow them to drive, they do not allow them to work with the opposite sex, and they are not allowed to walk the streets without wearing the veil. This is a perfect example of cultural ways, not religion. There is nowhere in the Quran that states a woman is not allowed to have her own freedom. In Lebanon however, there are Muslim women who are the head of the household they provide for themselves and their families.

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Another major controversial subject is marriage in Islam. A lot may confuse religion and culture because of the marriage clause, in Islam a man may marry outside of the religion however, a woman may not. The reason behind this is because a child follows the religion of the father not the mother. Also, a female and male are not allowed to have sexual relations prior to marriage, but that can not be solely based on Islam, other religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism does not permit any sexual acts prior to marriage either.

The Islamic religion is based on the culture around it, it does not have anything to do with Islam but people portray it that way. Many research involving Muslim women refers back to how the religion itself deprives a women from doing what westernized women are able to do. When it comes to a Muslim woman saving her virginity until marriage, it’s a matter of respect for ones body and saving herself for the one person she will be with forever. Not that forever really means anything in this century but the point is to save yourself for someone who is willing to spend his or her life with you. When these women are judged because of that they don’t understand that this rule applies to Christian women, Jewish women and Catholic women. But why are the Muslim women the ones who are targeted and judged? I think it goes back further than just the whole aspect of being a virgin it goes back to judging women of that religion simply because they are Muslims. Fernando goes into detail about laws in France. This law called Laïcité secularism, which is the separation of church and state, state, belongs to public and church belongs to private.

Your religion is your business whatever you believe in is supposed to stay within your homes. She brings up a case held in the courts on an annulment of a marriage in which the husband appealed for because he claimed the wife was not a virgin before they were married. The annulment was granted because she “lied”. Religion entered the public sphere when this case entered the court. The Muslim woman was asked to talk about her faith in the public but it is illegal to do so. She cannot win either way because she violates the law—- Secular Cunning. Draws you into a conversation about your faith in the public and when you respond you violate the law and you already lose. In reading Fernando’s article about sex religion and secularity in contemporary France, thoroughly I’ve come to realize that being a Muslim woman in France there is no winning any battle. If Muslims try to defend themselves, people will push until they react and their reaction will prove what everyone thinks of Muslims-pathologically violent nature. Islam is portrayed as a violent religion and it is being targeted all around the world because of radical terrorists that are using Islam as their religion. It is understandable the fear people have however, the mistreatments that all Muslims face because of these groups is unacceptable.

For a Muslim woman to not be allowed to wear her religious attire because some people fear her is morally and ethically wrong. The religion doesn’t define who a person is, it is not the religion that makes a person, it is a person that makes the religion. Miyanthi Fernando examines all of these factors in France. She analyzes how political, legal and institutional practices focus on Muslim French women and it reveals their most intimate details on their sexual and religious lives. Throughout her article Intimacy Surveilled: Religion, Sex, and Secular Cunning the biggest question is why must Muslim women remain virgins until marriage and why is it frowned upon if a female isn’t a virgin when she gets married? If a woman chooses to have relations prior to marriage that isn’t something another person should judge.

In western cultures it is common that women do not wait until marriage to have sexual relations, however in Middle Eastern countries it is forbidden and that is why many Muslim women have to resort to surgeries such as hymenoplasty to reserve their dignity. If a man marries a woman that lies about her virginity when she gets married, he has the right to annul the marriage without questions asked. Fernando also explores stories of Muslim women and the obstacles they face due to wearing the headscarf or better known as the Hijab/Veil. Another talked about issue are arranged marriages. Arranged are not as uncommon as many may think, they originated in India during the Vedic period and have become popular within different cultures throughout the years. Many believe that arranged marriages have a higher success rate than when one chooses their own spouse. Now in Islam, arranged marriages aren’t part of the religion rather it is a choice of culture chosen by the parents.

As Toor explains the women in Islam and how they are portrayed in Pakistan, she speaks about a specific case of a female marrying someone that wasn’t arranged to her and that ultimately left the marriage invalid. This case was the ‘Saima Love Marriage’ case. The validity of marriage in Islam is solely based on if the marriage is known to the public in front of God as well and is not hidden from anyone. If it is done privately it is considered invalid, the fact that this marriage was not arranged doesn’t remove its validity. Women in Pakistan may be oppressed in that matter from not being able to choose who they want to marry and spend the rest of their lives with. Why target women of Islam when it comes to cultural beliefs though? These women grew up in these forms and are adapted to it. It is considered of norm to them opposed to the lives people live in the United States for example.

While people of a western culture look at these women as oppressed, these women of the middle east may see nothing wrong with their arrangements in life and may see different women of other countries as oppressed. The Saima Love-Marriage case is a perfect example of how people associate class with religion. In this case in particular, Saima came from a lower middle class family that became upper class through social nobility. The man she chose to marry was not of upper class and that made the issue arise. If Saima were to marry out of arrangement someone of wealth and higher education the family would not have made such a big deal about it but because he was not of their class standards’ the issue became a big deal. Although the case was in favor of Saima because she didn’t break any laws, this issue was common and still is in many Middle Eastern countries. The courts also did not talk about Islam when presenting this case it was all a social ruling.

This marriage was brought into a social domain, which was confined to public opinions and public laws. If it had stayed within a civil domain it would have stayed between the families and within the privacy of their own homes. Love marriages occur often and yes they are frowned upon in these countries but that has nothing to do with laws in Islam. It’s just the simple fact that people in lower class desire to be in upper class and that is common all around the world, not just in Pakistan. It all narrows down to patriarchy and a male having sense of power and power from the parents controlling whom their daughter marries for their benefit. Toor examines two major cases of “moral panic’ in the recent history of Pakistan in her article on Moral Regulation In a Postcolonial Nation State. First one is a process that focuses on Islamization itself and how the local tribal traditions class alignments equally. This case was the General Zia ul-Haq’s military regime and the new series of laws in the 1980’s. This aimed at controlling women’s political, social and sexual status.

Another example she uses is the ‘Saima love-marriage case’, this occurred during the democratic years of the 1990’s. It also focuses on cultural forces and how Muslim women are victim figures of Islamic fundamentalism. Toor discusses how Islam is portrayed in Pakistan in particular how strict the religion is over there and what consequences are dealt when wrong decisions are made. In Pakistan most marriages are either arranged or have to be approved by parents in order for it to work out. Typically a male can marry whomever he wants but a female must have an approval. True patriarchy. Categorizing a woman of Islam as oppressed because of her religious attire is most common in Western countries. The misconceptions and misinterpretations of Hijab and the faith behind it in Islam and culture show the ignorance and racism of Western cultures towards Muslims.

In Western patriarchy they always show the women wearing the veil as how good and free the women in the West have it. They show that western women should be grateful that they aren’t oppressed and this is exactly how one enforced patriarchy. This is the mentality that infuses Western feminists so that they can try to apply their belief structures on Third World Women. With doing so this perpetuates the oppression and ignorance from western feminists to these women without a care for these women’s actual desire to becoming equal. The mentalities of people who view women as oppressed for wearing the veil are ignorant and uneducated in my opinion. The veil for these women is a choice. Although there is controversy about it being mandatory in certain countries such as Iran, those countries don’t define the women of Islam because misogynists rule it. Some women wear it because it is so socially ingrained that a proper women wears it and that to do otherwise makes them feel naked. Some women wear it to fight the oppressive colonial influence in the Middle East and North Africa.

Some women wear it as a symbol of feminine empowerment. Hoodfar points out that the veil is not directly forced by Islam, and instead has been adopted through interpretations of religious text. In 1930’s a case study was done in one of the most religious countries out there, Iran. Iran made a law that made it illegal for a woman to walk anywhere outside while wearing the veil. This was terrible for the women that were comfortable in their choice of wearing the veil. The law stated that these women were only to cover their hair with European hats, nothing else. It permitted the authorities to pull off and tear up any other kind of head covering other than the European hats. The de-veiling law and its harsh enforcement pushed the women to stay home and beg the males in their homes to public tasks women normally carried out themselves. The de-veiling law had a huge impact on public, social and leisure activities of urban women of modest means.

The stereotypes of Muslim women are so deep rooted and strong. This was another major argument in this article. To the western feminist eye the image of a veiled woman obscures all else. There is a perfect example of stereotype in this article she mentions speaking to one of her colleagues and he stated that he worked with a young girl who was wearing a veil and his first impression was that she was a “bundle of contradictions”. He stated “she first came to see me with her scarf wrapped so tight around her head and appeared to me so lost that I wondered whether she would be capable of tackling the heavy course she had taken with me… She, with her feminist ideas, and critical views on Orientalism, and love of learning, never failed to amaze me every time she expressed her views. She does not act like a veiled woman.” She concluded her article by stating that the assumption of veiling is a static practice, which symbolizes the oppressive nature of patriarchy in Muslim women.

In the western society feminist were buying into racial construction of the veil, which caused women of Islam to choose between fighting racism and fighting sexism. A perfect question to end this article is asked why should we choose between fighting racism and fighting sexism? In the article The Veil in Their Minds and On Our Heads, Homa Hoodfar writes about the obstacles of Muslim women wearing the veil. She explains the difficulties one faces when wearing the veil/hijab. She explains in detail the reactions of others towards these women, how they are viewed and treated. The veil is an article of clothing that covers and conceals the body from head to ankles, with the exception of the hands, feet and face.

In this article she explains how the veil is more cultural and it is not considered religious. Hoodfar explains where the veil originated as well as how it was originated. She covers many aspects of not just why women wear it, but also where it’s more common and what feelings these women face when wearing the veil attire. The practice of veiling and seclusion of women is pre Islamic and originates in non – Arab Middle Eastern Mediterranean societies. It is also said that the veil was originated in Middle East and North Africa. It has spread through out the whole world; women from everywhere who practice Islam are wearing the veil. It was not until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century that the west’s preoccupation with the veil in the Muslim women emerged. This is when the world began to view Muslim women as oppressed. Feminist and other scholars working in Muslim societies have recently begun to trace entrenchment of the western image of the oppressed Muslim women.

It was said that during that time period the ideology of femininity came to be known Victorian morality was developing in Britain, and variations of this theme coming into existence in other areas of the Western world. Western writers described the oppression of Turkish and Muslim women, with little regard that many of these criticisms applied equally to their own society. Both Muslims and Christian women were thought to be in need of male protection. It is stated that they were expected to honor and obey their husbands. Again yet another point of patriarchy! Let me revert back to marriage again and show the views from different feminist writers. The most interesting part of this article is when Mahmood speaks to a woman about marriage. It is said that if a woman in late twenties to early thirties is not married she is in some way ‘defective’. The rules for marriage in Arabic cultures are outrageous. Why must a woman have to get married by a certain age and why is she considered damaged if she isn’t married in her teens? A lot may argue that after a woman turns thirty she can be barren or have difficulties conceiving.

Others may argue that she isn’t married because of her looks, or her reputation. Reputation is huge in Middle Eastern countries towards Muslim women. Any rumor that is said about a woman can leave her scarred for life. I’ve personally experienced this first hand and I know the struggles. If I were to remain in Palestine I would probably not be married, however meeting my husband here in NY it was easier because he is considered more ‘American’ and does not believe in the whole reputation theory. Many ask opposed to believing a rumor why can’t they just go and ask the female or her family directly? Unfortunately due it’s due to ignorance, which is a major topic in this essay. Saba Mahmood writes an article on Feminist Theory, Embodiment and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival.

This article is focused on the relationship between feminism and religious traditions. Mahmood discusses a women’s movement in the mosque in Cairo, Egypt but also discuses the women she meets there and their difficulties of fulfilling the standard marriage clause in Middle Eastern countries. She discusses the pressures of being single in a society where “heterosexual marriage is regarded as a compulsory norm” (Mahmood, 217). Mahmood explores different narratives of these two women she met on her trip who identified themselves as “secular-Muslim”. A secular Muslim is defined as someone who believed separation of religion from the state and also believes that such a separation is compatible with Islam. She explores how these women managed to survive what they considered a painful situation encountered by unmarried women. Mahmood had asked one of the women about cutting off ties with the Imam that asked for her hand in marriage indirectly and her response was as follows. Nadia said, “But there is nothing wrong in a man approaching a woman for her hand in marriage directly as long as his intent is serious and he is not playing with her.”

Mahmood asked “but what about the fact that he is already married?” and Nadia responded by saying “You think that she shouldn’t consider a marriage to an already married man? I don’t know how it is in the United States but this issue is not that simple here in Egypt. Marriage is a very big problem here, a woman who is not married is rejected by the entire society as if she has some disease and is an issue that is very painful indeed”. This particular issue of shaming women that are not married at a certain age in Middle Eastern culture is such a common practice. This does not apply to men again the theory of patriarchy takes a huge lead here as well. Men that aren’t married at any older age are not judged but a woman is judged and her reputation is tarnished. The idea of class does play a role as well, if a woman is in her late twenties or thirties and is not married but is very wealthy she would have no problem marrying who she chooses, however if she is not well educated and doesn’t have a lot of money she is spoken about poorly.

Do Muslim women still need saving is an article written by Lila Abu-Lughod which uncovers a lot of questions that are asked by women of Western cultures. This article pertains specifically for women in Afghanistan. If Afghan women were to free themselves from the Taliban they might still want different things from what Western women want. To these women freedom may be something as simple as not being ruled by men and still remaining in their conservative ways of attire and being home makers. Being free for these women doesn’t necessarily mean they want the freedom to go to clubs or dress proactively, it may simply mean that they want to be able to do what they please without having to answer to a male figure or worry of the consequences these men will have them deal with. It could be as simple as getting an education, a job they dream of, or just simply a breath of fresh air.

Lila Abu-Lughod wrote an article called Do Muslim Women Still Need Saving, which targeted the exact point I’m trying to uncover in this paper. She focuses on analyzing how individual Muslim women experience their freedom rights. She is also known for a method she calls “writing against culture”, which allows her to avoid generalizations and highlight the individuality of women’s experiences, Abu-Lughod interestingly applies this approach in order to show the uselessness of blaming culture for the oppression of Muslim women. Abu-Lughod proposes a few conclusions; first proposal is that there are many causes of discrimination against women that religion is only one. Second are gender relations and women’s options in all societies. Third option is a focus on misery elsewhere as an escape from the lives they live. And fourth, is the issue of power that remains crucial for understanding gender inequality. Abu-Lughod exposes how Muslim women must remain distant and with out opinion, awaiting intervention. This makes us think about the real question being asked if Western women are oppressed, or are Middle Eastern women oppressed.

To conclude my essay, I have examined a total of five articles written by five different feminists exploring women of Islam. These articles all have one major point in common which is patriarchy. They exploit the men of these Middle Eastern cultures and how they try to make women less than them. They use the religion as a factor in their battle however it is the complete opposite of what point they are trying to argue. I feel that the women of Islam will always be a study for Western feminist groups because they just don’t fully study the true meaning behind Islam in which portrays peace and higher power for women. The lives that these women in the Middle East live are not considered oppressed because each obstacle they face has a certain faith or belief behind it. It all comes down to cultural beliefs and not incorporating religion to it. Veil, marriage, arranged marriage, social and civil laws, they all equal out to what culture is practiced in their own countries.

Works Cited

  1. Fernando, Mayanthi L. “Intimacy Surveilled: Religion, Sex, and Secular Cunning.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 39.3 (2014): 685-708. Web.
  2. Toor, Saadia. “Moral Regulation In A Postcolonial Nation-State.” Interventions 9.2 (2007): 255-75. Web.
  3. Mahmood, Saba. “Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival.” Cultural Anthropology 16.2 (2001): 202 36. Web.
  4. Hoodfar, Homa. “The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads: Veiling Practices and Muslim Women.” Women, Gender, Religion: A Reader (2001): 420-46. Web.
  5. Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Do Muslim Women Need Saving?” Times Higher Education (THE). N.p., 22 May 2015. Web.

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Patriarchy and Class for Women of Islam. (2021, Sep 14). Retrieved from

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