Muslims are the most discriminated people in western societies. While most Muslims lived comfortably (although separately/parallel) within western societies, the event of the 9/11 attack made the previously invisible isolation within western societies for Muslims much more obvious. While the challenge of integration is real for Muslims at large, particularly in the western societies, Muslim women are perhaps the most disadvantaged among Muslims given the challenges and obstacles they have to overcome both within western societies and in Muslim communities (Ali 1). Although the challenges that Muslim women face may be different in the western and Muslim communities, they are quite similar. They all prevent upward social, economic, and political movement of the women within the societies. Among the obstacles and challenges include poverty, lack of formal education, political control, patriarchy, discrimination, and fighting off stereotypes of being weak and oppressed.
In looking at the challenges and obstacles faced by Muslim women in the west and the Muslim world, it is important to note that while some of the challenges and obstacles are similar for both, there are slight differences in the challenges. Of importance, is the emphasis and weight given by women in the two worlds of the challenges they have to face constantly. One of the issues, for instance, that Muslim women in the west put weight on is the veil/hijab and its default identity marker for the women as Muslims (al-Hibri 38). For the general western public, the hijab represents Islam, and their assumption is that all Muslim women in the hijab are the same. The difference in personality, social and economic status, political view and even the Islamic sect to which the different women belong is lost on the western public. The public conveniently bundles the women together, with the blanket view of them as Muslim women.They see them as having the same values and expect them to act in a particular way, mostly of weak and doing what their religion asks them to do. With such a narrow view of the Muslim women in the west, the general public expects that the women should behave the same, have the same moral values, as well as have (or not have) similar political viewpoints. The veil, however, may not be an issue for the Muslim women in the Muslim world as other pressing matters are of much importance.
Poverty is among the obstacles and challenges that Muslim women have to deal with daily. Poverty is an issue for the women in both the western societies as well as in majority Muslim population. For instance, among Arab Muslims in Israel, only 21% of the women participate in the labor force; this is one of the lowest in the world. Given that employment is one of the most effective ways of escaping poverty, it means that such women have even greater obstacles to overcome in their fight to escape poverty. Further, children and lack of good education makes poverty worsefor the women. The need to make a home and look after children ground many Muslim women, reducing their chances for upward social, political, and economic movement. The lack of education means that most of these women cannot get formal employment in addition to their ownership of limited skills for any meaningful source of livelihood. Thus, any form of employment they get, particularly in the west, only pays minimum wage, has no employee benefits, is sometimes dangerous to their health, and has no job security.
Another challenge that Muslim women have to deal with is discrimination. Poverty as an obstacle for the Muslim women is a result of many factors among them discrimination. In the west and other non-Muslim countries, the veil is an identifier for the women. The veil in effectmarks the women, basically exposing them to discrimination. Therefore, aside from gender discrimination in employment, promotion, and pay, Muslim women have an additional obstacle in their religion as a source of discrimination. Muslim women in the west have the same difficulty, where educated non-Muslim women are more likely to get employment than Muslim women. The discrimination for Muslim is so widespread in that even when Muslim women have the same qualification as non-Muslim women; the non-Muslim are more likely to get employment than the Muslim women.
Whilefighting off discrimination, Muslim women also have to deal with the challenge of defining their identity. The challenge of identity is especially real for women living in multicultural communities that define the western worlds. For instance, Muslim-American women are constantly at war in unifying different parts of their identities. Race, religion, and gender are different aspects of every human. These are aspects that do not exist individually, but are part of what makes a whole person, and, therefore, require understanding and integration to make a whole person (Karasun.p). Muslim women, therefore, have to deal with all these competing identities, and in the wake of the 9/11 attack are constantly at a loss on their faith and whether to show itas part of their identity (Karasun.p).
While the hijab, discrimination, and identity may be challenges among Muslim women in the west, Muslim women in the Muslim world face different sets of obstacles and challenges. Patriarchy in majority Muslim world is one of the obstacles to gender equality for women. Islam in its basic sense brought significant changes in the issue of women rights and democracy (al-Hibri 40). However, different cultural customs and traditions silently found their way into the Islamic law (or were infused into Islamic law) that have introduced particular disadvantage to women (al-Hibri 41). Thus, while the Quran insists on the equality of both males and females right from the beginning of the creation story, many of the disadvantages that befall women are really cultural introductions of the pre-Islamic Arab culture that was mostly patriarchal (al-Hibri 42).Patriarchy, therefore, stands in the way of many Muslim women in the Muslim world, limiting their access to education, work, inheritance, association, and socialization, as well as free speech.
Aside from being entrenched within the constitution, freedom of association, right to work, marriage and divorce are all issues infused within the Quran as enjoyed by Muslim women in the west. Muslim women in the Muslim world, however, have different experiences. Learning of the Quran, as a way of access to proper qur’anic teachings on socialization, is absent removed by controlling political actors opposed to any form of education among their subjects (al-Hibri 42). While the freedom of expression is restricted in the Muslim world for both males and females, women bear the negative effect of this political control. Cultures in the Islamic world in which women are not allowed to drive, walk freely without male company, work, vote or vie for political office highlight the political control that women in the Muslim world have to deal with. Within such societies, there is political highhandedness against the women as well as biased cultural practices and customs.
It may be argued that Muslim women in the patriarchal cultures are indeed comfortable given their upbringing in such cultures. However, the selective application of the qur’anic laws, the introduction of unacceptable customs and cultures as part of the qur’anic laws work only to suppress the voices of women and men opposed to such additions. Notably, while Muslim women in the west and Islamic world have challenges and obstacles to overcome in seeking gender equality, their experiences are naturally different. The difference in culture and political set up within which the women live highlight the differences in challenges that the women experience. However, there are similar challenges including discrimination and patriarchy, even with the differences in the total experience. Ideally, any change in the lucks of Muslim women in the west and the Muslim world must take into consideration the difference in experience for the two groups for it to be effective. The challenges and obstacles that Muslim women face are of great concern, requiring remediatemeasures in the march towards gender equality and religious tolerance.
Al-Hibri, Azizah, Y. “Muslims Women’s Rights in The Global Village: Challenges and Opportunities.” Journal of Law & Religion, vol. 15, no. 37, 2000, pp. 37-66.
Ali, Kecia. “Rethinking Women’s Issues in Muslim Communities.” Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith. Rodale Press, 2002
Karasu, Seren. Muslim-American Women in the United States: What is Considered Muslim Enough? 2018
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