Thursday, June 30, 2011

Women of Islam

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It is commonly understood that information shared freely amongst society within the realm of everyday hearsay is at times lacking a strong foundation of truth. Bethania McKenstry, a quotation author, summed this up in one of her works “Im not sure I want popular opinion on my side -- Ive noticed those with the most opinions often have the fewest facts (1). Benightedness and opinion in a lot of cases lead to extremely distorted ideas about reality, especially when dealing with a subject that is nearly taboo in a society. A society, however, wouldn’t fit the definition if it didn’t consist of a certain sense of culture, ideas, and somewhat of a standard conduct. When one chooses not to make any attempt at fitting the mold of the society they interact with, often many conclusions are drawn as to the reason for their choice. An example of this is the ideas that surround women of Islamic faith that are citizens of the United States, most of which dealing with the Hijab, or veil that Muslim women wear on a daily basis (Mustafa 1). It is, however, a complete injustice to the Muslim religion and the women that practice it, to assume that Islam has been forced upon them, or that they practice their religion under any sort of oppression by the men they consider to be the perfect balance to life.


It is usually thought that the idea of supposed male supremacy in the religion of Islam stems strictly from the idea of the biological inferiority of women to men. The truth, however, consists of a much more complex period of time and can be found within the rise of urban societies. During these times professional classes consisting of agricultural laborers, merchants, and artisans and simply the idea that it was unheard of for women to perform manual labor, paved the road for an extreme level of subordination of women to men in the developing society. After the Mesopotamia area became somewhat settled, the laws governing family life began to change and created quite harsh living conditions for women of the times. In the beginning of the settlement, there were laws that governed the amount of time that a woman and her children could be pawned for the sake of fulfilling the father or husband’s debts, but as the Assyrian rule changed its laws, such regulations were lifted and women and children became virtually at the mercy of fathers and husbands. Assyrian law also specifically allowed for atrocities to the extent of pulling the hair of women out, deformation of a woman’s ears, and beating them with no questions asked. They set forth very strict guidelines as to those who could veil, and those who could not under penalty of extreme physical punishment and humiliation. With the restrictions set forth, it became apparent that the veil of that time was to be worn simply to distinguish the women that were to be considered “respectable” and the women that were not. Not only Assyrian women suffered through periods of development in which they were forced to answer to male dominance. According to “The Status of Women in Islam”, an essay written by Jamal A. Badawi, “Athenian women were always minors, subject to some male-to their father, to their brother, or to some of their male kin. “India had similar principles in that “subjection was a cardinal principle. ()” The first step towards liberation came through times of war. Due to the absence of their husbands and fathers, women took on a form of liberation in that they were forced to perform the roles that were once unheard of for women when the men were called to serve their country.


According to Mary Ali and Anjum Ali, the authors of “Women’s Liberation through Islam”, women’s liberation was called for in the seventh century, and contrary to popular belief, was begun by the Prophet Muhammad, not the women themselves. Through the teachings of Muhammad, who can be considered a feminist for his time, Islam came to condemn the harsh conditions that the pre-Islamic times set forth for the women (Fact from Fiction 1). Women found themselves turning to the Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet, Hadith or Sunnah, to establish their rights and duties amongst society. In these works women of Islam can find their human rights, civil rights, social rights, political rights, economic rights, rights as a wife, and duties as a wife(Ali 1-). The Qur’an establishes in regard to the human rights of women, that due to the idea that men and women both come from the same essence, that their rights as humans are equal at the time of birth and that neither is more inherently worthy of societal rights. Therefore, the idea of women’s physical inferiority to men would not hold any ground for excusing the idea that suffer any inequality when dealing with their moral progression or their accountability towards Allah (Women’s Liberation 1-).


The Qur’an states “There is no compulsion in religion. Right has been made distinct from error(Women’s Liberation ).” The civil rights of women are spelled out within the Qur’an, and establish a basic freedom of choice and expression based on her individual personality.


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In dealing with the social rights of women in Islam the seeking of knowledge is mandated in the Qur’an for both men and women of the Muslim faith, and is set forth in the belief that knowledge and understanding in all aspects of life will help them to maintain good, and demote bad behavior. It is encouraged for women to contribute their knowledge and ideas to the Mosque, but it is preferably done through their husbands. Among other social rights is the right to work outside of the home if she has the skills, and provided the duties as a mother and wife are complete. In Iran 5% of the work force consist of women, and in a place where it was at one point illegal for women to be educated as a form of subordination, 54% of the make-up of college students are women (Beyer 5-6). The duties of wife and mother are a priority in the Islamic lifestyle of women because it is believed that the success of a society is directly affected by a woman’s role as a mother and wife. (Women’s Liberation ).


1400 years ago Muslim women were given the right to vote by God. Along with the right to vote, women are also allowed to hold office, and currently many are doing so throughout the world(through islam). The parliament in Syria consists is ran by ten percent women, and in Iraq 1 of 50 members of parliament are women. Many of the ideas about women of Islam and their supposed powerlessness within society come from the United States, a country that has never had a woman as a president, or even vice-president. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Turkey, all of which are Muslim countries, are, or were at some point ruled by women (Beyer).


Many of the misconceptions about women of Islamic faith surround the sanction of marriage, and women’s rights as a wife. In the majority of western cultures, marriage is regarded as a very special rite of passage, one of complete freedom and choice. The misconception about Eastern cultures, however, is that they are forced to marry a man selected for them, and in addition to that, that they are to be a servant to their husband out of obligation to him. This misconception can be cleared up with the reading of information on any family of Muslim belief.


Islam gave women the right to accept or reject a marriage proposal free from pressure, and by mutual agreement to specify in the marriage contract that she has the right to divorce(if she misses that option she has the right to seek court divorce if she deems the marriage to have failed beyond repair).


Also, contrary to popular belief, Islamic women are not required to change their name at the time of marriage(Fact from Fiction). An article from The Institution of Islamic Information and Education explains that when a man marries that he has certain obligations to his wife just as she does to him, but neither role is more extreme than the other. The woman’s role consists of watching over the household, in aspects such as promoting good for the children and guarding the material possessions, while the husband is responsible for making the money and providing for the family. With these opposing roles assigned by the Qur’an, the idea of a Muslim marriage is that the husband and wife’s roles compliment each other to make the perfect lifelong combination. According to the prophet Mohammad, “The best of you are the kindest to their wives and I am your best to mine(Fact from Fiction).” Here he promotes the good treatment of women by their husbands, and offers the idea that good treatment of them will gain his approval. He also made the comment that “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them(Status of Women).”


There is a strong importance placed on Marriage because of this and many other reasons. The way that marriage is represented in the Qur’an and other Muslim works is that it is to take place in an attempt to appease Allah. “And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts. Undoubtedly in these are signs for those who reflect (Rahman).” Marriage and raising a family to follow the teachings of the Muslim religion and to be servants to Allah will in turn promote a good standing with Allah, and the Muslim community. The ultimate praise to women within the Muslim community is given to those who have brought children into the world and raise their families according to the teachings of Allah and the Muslim religion. “Paradise is at the feet of mothers,” is a common teaching of the Prophet Muhammad (Status of Women). In truth Islam mandates more for men to marry then for women. “When a man marries, he has fulfilled half of his religion, so let him fear Allah regarding the remaining half.” Here the Prophet indicates that without marriage that man cannot complete all aspects of their religion, and that once married that they will be less likely to take part in or think about things that are not of religious purview (Badawi). In a study of Islamic women done by Carol Anway in an attempt to understand her daughter’s way of life, she found that the unmarried participants, all of whom were women, felt “that marriage would give them a better position in the Muslim community.” Without marriage they felt a loss of power and felt that if they had married that they would have more of say in the decisions of the Mosque by way of their husbands (Anway).


By definition the Hijab is “The headscarf worn by Muslim women sometimes including a veil that covers the face except for the eyes (Ali Question). The Hijab, however, to those whom do not understand it the word and sight of it can mean confusion. In a religious aspect the Hijab is worn because of the teachings of Allah “O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing woman to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out among men). That is better in order that they may be known (to be Muslims) and not annoyed…”(Ali Question). This statement represents the idea that women are to cover themselves in an attempt to not be hassled by men, or by any sort of standard they set forth. Ms. Naheed Mustafa, a Canadian born Muslim, says she wears the veil “Because it gives me [her] freedom.” In her article Hijab and Muslim Women she explains that she wears the veil to retreat from the societal burdens of image, and sexuality. As a child and teenager she struggled with the idea of fitting in with her peers and attaining a certain look. After dealing with bulimia, she took on the practices of Islam, and found a freedom in wearing the Hijab. Other ideas set forth in the Qur’an establish that the Hijab is to be worn for the purpose of defending women against the idea that their sexuality might alter or affect the way that they are viewed in society. The Qur’an calls for women to cover all of themselves with exception of what they have to have uncovered to still function such as their eyes, and sometimes their entire face, but in general it calls for modesty of both men and women believers


“Say to the believing man that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing woman that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands (Qur’an 40-1 Hijab).”


Staring is unacceptable by believers, and the Hijab is meant to guard against such things. Marriage is one way that it is suggested to maintain modesty “O you young men! Whoever is able to marry should marry, for that will help him to lower his gaze and guard his modesty (Badawi).” It is required by the Muslim religion to marry if a man is having unpure thoughts or his modesty is in question. Many countries, however, mandate the Hijab as a form of oppression, and therefore take away the pride that Muslim women do find in wearing it as a symbol of their belief. Regarding the Hijab in relation to recent issues, the Taliban that once ruled Afghanistan enforced the wearing of the attire in order to create an extreme level of subordination of women almost to the point of non-existence, far beyond those of the pre-Islamic times. In an article by Time Magazine “About Face for Afghan Women”, women commented on the fact that with the leaving of the Taliban came a new sort of religious freedom in wearing the Hijab, a freedom they thought they would never see again, just an example of how history repeats itself ().


The recent events of the United States and possibly many other countries have led to a severe misconception about the lives of Women of Islam. Americans saw nothing but the suppression of the Taliban, a group that suggests they were following the teachings of Allah, but by no means have any true Islamic basis for their actions. Confusion, misrepresentation, and ignorance on the part of non followers of Islam have led to the idea that women, because of their faith, are forced to deal with mistreatment. An unnamed scholar commented this idea “It is believed that there is no text, old or new, that deals with the humanity of the woman from all aspects with such amazing brevity, eloquence, depth, and originality, as this divine decree”(Status of Women).


Works Cited


Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven, CT Yale University


Ali, Mary C. “The Question of the Hijab Suppression or Liberation.” Chicago, IL. Gulf Coast Community College Library, Panama City, Fl., April, 8, 00. http//www.unn.ac.uk/societies/islamic/women/hijab.htm


Ali, Mary and Anjum. “Women’s Liberation Through Islam.”


Chicago, IL. Gulf Coast Community College Library, Panama City, Fl., April, 8, 00.


http/www.unn.ac.uk/societies/Islamic/women/women.htm


Anway, Carol L. Daughters of Another Path. Lee’s Summit, MO Yawna Publications.


Badawi, Jamal A. “The Status of Women in Islam” Gulf Coast Community College Library, Panama City, Fl. April 8, 00. http//www.iad.org/books/S-women.html.


Beyer, Lisa. “The Women of Islam” Time Magazine. http//www.time.com/time/world/articl/0,85,185647-1,00.html


Lacayo, Richard. “About Face for Afghan Women” Time Magazine Gulf Coast Community College, Panama City, Fl. April 8, 00. http//www.time.com/time/world/article/ 0,85,185651,00.html


Mckenstry, Bethania. “Quotes of the Day” Gulf Coast Community College Library, Panama City, Fl. April 8, 00. http//www.quotationspage.com/qotd/00-04-0.html


Mustafa, Naheed. “Hijab (Veil) and Muslim Women” Islamic Information & News Network. World Wide Web, Panama City, Florida. April 8, 00. http//www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/humanrelations/womeninislam/hijabexperience.html.


Rahman I, Abdur Prof. “Women in Society”. Zaira, Nigeria. Gulf Coast Community College Library, Panama City, Fl., April 8, 00. http//www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/humanrelations/womeninislam/womeninsociety.html.


“To Separate Fact From Fiction.” California. Gulf Coast Community College, Panama City, Fl. April 8, 00. http//www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/humanrelations/womeninislam/introtowomen.html


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