With the repression that Muslim women face in many parts of the world, some people question why Muslim women would remain Muslim if they can choose otherwise. Many of the difficulties that Muslim women face depend on factors that have little to do with religion. However, Muslim women use religious commitment to make a moral case for change.
The Qur'an was revealed in a patriarchal society. While Islamic source texts limit some of this inequity, neither the Qur'an nor ahdith call for immediate, total equality. The Qur'an specifies that female relatives receive half the share of a male relative of the same degree. Most schools of Islamic jurisprudence require the consent of a male relative, usually the father, for a woman to marry, and men have an uncontested right to divorce, whereas women must either request a divorce from her husband or the court.
Many Muslim-majority countries are part of the developing world, and political and economic instability lower quality of life for everyone. Women in the developing world, including Muslim women, have unequal access to education, economic opportunities and health care. Muslim women may be the victims of domestic violence or ethnic cleansing. Muslim women in the Middle East and South Asia face sexual harassment in public areas.
Rights Granted to Muslim Women in Islamic Source Texts
The Qur'an grants women some rights at a time when they had nearly no protection outside of the tribal system. Islamic scholars such as Khaled Abou el Fadl, Amina Wadud, and Asma Barlas believe that this indicates a moral trajectory towards protecting women's rights. The Qur'an grants women inheritance rights, which was unusual in the world at that time, and a radical change for a society in which wives could be inherited. Islamic source texts grant women access to divorce, and the right to place stipulations in the marriage contract which serve their interests. Muslim women have the right to education, to be housed, clothed and fed in the same manner as the head of the household, and can retain property and their birth names, even in marriage.
The Qur'an on Spiritual Equality of Men and Women
The Qur'an explicitly states women's spiritual equality in the 35th verse of Surah al-Ahzab: "For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah's praise -- for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward." While the Qur'an usually addresses believers in masculine pronouns, this verse makes the inclusion of women clear.
Traditional cultural values can seem confining, but a close-knit family network ensures that the needs of relatives are met. Muslim women can often count on family for financial support, help with household tasks and finding a spouse, an important task for all Muslims. For Muslim women in the Americas, Australia and Western Europe, the opportunity to forge your own religious and cultural paths has yielded new insights on religion, art and culture.