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Gender issues the world over, including the Muslim world need urgent attention. However, the issues faced by women in the Muslim world are of a vastly different nature as compared to issues faced by women in the West.
Firstly it is important to differentiate between the status of women in Islam and the present status of women in the Muslim world. It is also important to appreciate the vast diversity of the Muslim world, with its varying levels of adherence to Islamic injunctions, with regard to the status of Muslim women. In a world-wide population of 1.5 billion Muslims, the status of women varies from culture to culture and often within the same culture. Thus the stereotypical image of the oppressed Muslim woman with limited or no access to education is just that, a stereotype based on gross misinformation.
The bedrock of the Islamic civilization was learning and intellectual striving, and women scholars have been common from the earliest days of Islam.
Limiting women’s access to higher education either openly or by tacit discrimination as happens in some countries is a violation of Islamic injunctions. It is true that in some places, parents tend to favor their sons over their daughters. This is in clear violation to the Prophetic tradition .
Social evils such as “honor” killings, domestic violence and the abuse of women exist in Muslim as well as non-Muslim cultures. They are completely anathema to the Islamic concept of adl (justice). To associate these evils with Islam is a grave injustice to the cause of women’s empowerment.
To say that women in Muslim countries do not have the same rights as women in the West assumes that the general status of women in the West is worthy of emulation by Muslim women, something that even ardent Western feminists would disagree with strongly. Germaine Greer, the renowned feminist, writes in her book “The Whole Woman” in 1999 referring to her earlier bestseller written thirty years ago:
“When The Female Eunuch was written our daughters were not cutting or starving themselves. On every side speechless women endure endless hardship, grief and pain, in a world system that creates billions of losers for every handful of winners”. (p. 3)
It is therefore important to understand that the status of Muslim women need not be viewed through the prism of the aspirations of Western women. The aberrations in the present status of Muslim women are a result of not following the teachings of Islam, rather than conforming to them. Therefore, improving the status of women in the Muslim world requires more and not less adherence to Islamic injunctions .