A Muslimah writes
Wife beating, discrimination, imprisonment, inferior, seclusion from society, subjugation, enslaved to men, second-class citizen. Put these words together and the title “Islam and women” would probably come to the minds of many. So when in 2011 the multi-faith organisation, Faith Matters published the findings of its report that of the 100,000 British converts to Islam that live in the UK, almost two thirds were women – it would perhaps not be surprising if a chorus of “WHY?” resonated from a significant proportion of the British public.
The UK is not alone in this trend. Of the 20,000 converts to Islam in the US, 75% are women (Council of Islamic-American relations) – a conversation ratio that is mirrored in many other Western societies. The report also described a significant majority of these female converts adopting the Islamic headscarf. So what exactly is the appeal of Islam – a religion which to many represents the anti-thesis of women’s rights – that has so many women born, bred and educated in the West convinced, willing to go against the tide of popular fashions and leave all the “freedom” of the liberal lifestyle in exchange for the laws and limits set down by the belief.
Some would argue that the majority of conversions are simply the result of relationships of Muslim men or young women taking a step as a fad or act of rebellion against their family or society. However, not only are these assumptions highly patronising, suggesting that these hundreds of women enter the religion blindly, unaware about what it would mean to their status and rights as a woman, but they are also at odds with the facts. The Faith Matters report and previous ones, describe a significant proportion of female converts as being university educated. Kevin Bryce of Swansea University, an expert in conversions to Islam in the UK and one of the authors of the report states: “They seek spirituality, a higher meaning, and tend to be deep thinkers.”
So why would British women want to enter a religion that is commonly perceived within many Western societies as the embodiment of misogyny and women’s subjugation?
Well those who study the religion with unbiased minds would perhaps discover a belief that is surprisingly different to the stream of negative accusations that consistently emanate from the pages and newsreels of particular Western media outlets and the tongues of certain Western politicians. They would uncover a religion that rather than condoning forced marriages, honour killings or genital mutilation considers them abhorrent, non-Islamic traditional practices that need to be eradicated from communities alongside all forms of violence against women.
A way of life that in contrast to wife beating, women hating perceptions, obliges men to treat women with respect and kindness always, reflected by the saying of the Prophet Muhammad (saws): “The best of you are those who are best to their wives”, and a belief system that established full rights of citizenship of the woman in education, economics, the legal sphere and politics including the right to vote from the time of its origins 1400 years ago and hence stands at odds with the injustice meted out against women by un-Islamic autocratic regimes that currently plague the Muslim world, who’s rulings are shaped upon the personal whims of kings and despots rather than Islamic texts.
Independent study of the religion would perhaps also reveal an ideology that seeks specific values and outcomes for society, that many in the British public would share but are sadly in decline within states governed by capitalism and self interest. When asked about their views regarding the negative aspects of British culture, converts in the report pointed to the
“unrestrained consumerism”, “the lack of morality”, and “the sexual permissiveness”“.
Within many Western societies consumed by consumerism, dominated by chasing the next best car, iPhone, fashion trend and home accessory, Islam can provide a higher meaning of life than pursuing meaningless materialistic lives. In an environment where many Britons are exacerbated by a growing individualistic, self gratifying culture resulting in rising levels of binge drinking, anti-social behaviour, drug abuse, risky sexual relationships, disrespect of parents and teachers and neglect of the elderly, Islam not only prohibits such destructive behaviour but can offer values that promote a mind-set of accountability for ones actions and care, concern, respect and responsibility towards family, the community and society.
At a time when many in the British public are at a saturation point, with seeing the bodies of women commercialised by the capitalist money making machine in advertising, entertainment and sex industry, her dignity bought by the free market in the name of profit, Islam’s prohibition of the objectification and sexual exploitation of women can offer an alternative perspective to securing the respect of women. In an atmosphere where women constantly face pressure to embrace the ceaseless quest to achieve the perfect body ideal, the Islamic dress code for the woman often labelled oppressive, can in reality liberate her from feeling policed by a template of beauty, free her from defining her self worth according to the gaze of others and empower her by elevating her status beyond physical appearance, focusing society’s attention to her skills and abilities and way from her body.
And while British politicians consistently talk about a “Broken Britain” – with rising numbers of teenage pregnancies, abortions, single mothers and the meltdown of the family unit – resulting from the liberalisation of sexual relations, Islam’s social laws that regulate the relationship between men and women and promote sexual modesty (often described in the West as out-dated and restricted) are viewed by many converts as more relevant than ever as a means to protect the family structure and the rights of children.
For those who try and measure individual Islamic rules against a Western liberal template, they will never match up. However for those who examine the religion based upon the outcomes that the comprehensive application of its body of laws aspire for society, they will perhaps see what many British female converts do – the belief that holds credible solutions to some modern day human problems.
One thing is for sure – such large numbers of well educated female converts to Islam in the West surely merits at minimum questions regarding the truth behind allegations of Islam’s mistreatment of women. Perhaps its time to take a deeper look at what is really behind the veil.