Islam isn’t a country. Its rules and teachings aren’t just what goes on in the Middle East.
As the world found out two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia will be one of the last countries to finally legalise a woman’s right to drive as of June 2018.
But, seventh century Islam elevated a woman’s status at a time when daughters were being buried alive out of spite for their gender.
In 2011, women’s rights activist Manal Al-Sharif was jailed by the Saudi government simply for posting a YouTube video of her driving a car.
It’s a funny version of Islam they have, considering that among the greatest Islamic figures is Nusaybah Bin Ammara who was at the forefront of the battlegrounds. A warrior, she fought with her sword in one arm and shield in the other alongside the Prophet Muhammad during the early days of the Islamic Empire.
The world is so ready to blatantly accept the common restrictive, sexist and male dominated representations of Islam, blocking out the screaming voices of Muslim women themselves, like Yassmin Abdel-Mageid who copped unfair criticism for strongly labelling Islam as the ‘most feminist religion”.
Islam’s Sharia Law is not what King Salman of Saudi Arabia preaches while sitting beside his gold plated Kleenex dispenser, nor is it the atrocious actions of self-proclaimed Islamist groups like Boko Haram, ISIS or the Taliban.
Rather, it lies in the unchanged words of the Quran; words that shatter the cultural interpretations of Islam, but more importantly, words that embody female empowerment because of the equal status of all people in the eyes of God.
The first word revealed from the Holy Book is “Iqra”, meaning read. God did not say to educate your men and let your women sit at home and be passive and obedient to the men in their lives.
Instead, Islam in chapter 96 of the Quran makes it an obligation on each and every Muslim to seek knowledge and educate themselves, not just on matters of religion but also on the world.
It is a Muslim’s duty to question what they are told and not simply accept common practices without completely understanding it.
How can the Taliban be an accurate point of Islamic Fundamentalism when they have managed to shut down 900 schools, reject girls’ education and be so fearful of the power of knowledgeable women like Malala Yousafzai, once notoriously shot by the extremist group and now studying at Oxford University.
Under the rule of the so-called Islamic preachers Boko Haram, the number of girls under the age of 18 that are forcefully married lies at 43 per cent. Islam strictly opposes this oppression.
It is one of the greatest sins to force a girl to marry outside of her will. Islam gave women the right to their own liberty and the freedom to make their own choices at a time when women were seen as nothing more than objects of sexual gratification and baby-making machines.
Paradise lies under a mother’s feet. Raising daughters with love and care becomes a parent’s key to entering paradise. A husband has no right over his wife’s earnings no matter how much wealth she may have compared to him.
These are just some of the many instances in Islam that raise the status of women, that demand women be treated with respect and as equals.
Though Islam originates from the cities of Makkah and Medina in Saudi Arabia, the Muslim population is spread across the globe. It’s said to be the fastest growing religion in the world with predictions that Muslims will make up a quarter of the world’s population by 2050.
Women make up the majority of those that convert to Islam annually in Britain, one of the empires of the western world. There has to be something more to Islam than the oppressive anti-feminist regimes that are dominant in Muslim central countries of the Middle East.
The name Islam derives itself from the Arabic word ‘Salam” that means “peace”. If these countries want to use religion to justify the torture, oppression and restriction towards their women, it should seriously start its preaching with the basics of the religion. Respect. Equality. Self-empowerment.
ISIS can wave as many Islamic flags as they’d like in the face of an anti-feminist war and the Taliban can try and box away as many girls as they wish.
But, Muslim women like Susan Carland, Dr Jamila Karim, Linda Sarsour and Ibtihaj Mohammed will turn to what Islam really is rather than what it is said to be and find power from within it.
So to all the Saddam Hussain’s and Bashar Al-Assad’s in the world, don’t use my religion to mask your own oppressive and anti-feminist agendas. It has become a worn out joke.