Written by Hina Latif
History demonstrates the extreme forms of cruelty and exploitation that women and girls have been subjected to, solely because of their gender.
In ancient Arabia, women were treated as property, and female offspring were buried alive. This practice was common, and accompanied by the unequal treatment of women and girls embedded within Arabia’s social fabric. Females were exchanged for services, goods, and other trade purposes prior the advent of Islam.
Islam’s holy book, the Quran, and its Prophet Muhammad, granted women rights and regarded women as equals to males, through socially, economically, and spiritually statuses. Given that no nation, culture or religion granted such right to women at that time — or for centuries after that — these teachings were a transformative aspect for all societies.
Today, some countries continue to struggle with granting women their rights. For example, parts of Southeast Asia and the Middle East have two major elements at play that drives the mistreatment of women.
The first is the economic infrastructure. People lack job opportunities and cannot take care of their families’ needs. Therefore, they resort to criminal behaviors like abducting girls and selling them into domestic slavery or sex work — human trafficking.
The second is a lack of education in regards to both secular and religious knowledge. An education is essential to understanding the mechanisms of morality and inequality; a lack of education lending itself to reliance on cultural practices means that people continue to engage in backwards behaviors.
In recent news, Christian women in Pakistan have been consistently targeted by Muslim extremists. In one case, a 23-year-old girl was abducted from her house and forced into marriage. Based on Islamic teachings, consent from both parties is necessary for a valid marriage to take place. Thus, per Islam, her marriage is invalid. And hypothetically, had she in fact actually consented to the marriage, per Islam, she could have remained Christian while married to a Muslim man. Islam advocates freedom of religion, and mandates that there is no compulsion in religion. Events like this are deplorable, and they highlight the continued abuse of women in the name of culture, due to a lack of education.
The lack of rights for women remains an unfortunate reality for many women in Pakistan and other developing nations. According to the 2015 Trafficking in Persons report by the Department of State, Pakistan has not complied with the minimum standards to address human trafficking. In fact, they have failed, for two consecutive years, to address or increase any efforts in combatting cases of kidnapping and abductions. Both crimes are incredibly prevalent in Pakistan, and human trafficking is one of the country’s biggest problems. It was through Islam that the Prophet Muhammad granted women their rights; yet sadly a country that considers itself an Islamic Republic consistently fails to protect its women.
To be Muslim is to advocate for justice, meaning Muslim shouldn’t just stand by while these crimes against humanity are occurring. Because the lack of education is a large driver in these crimes, youth groups for Muslim men should work to educate their members to respect women; not in spite of Islam, but because of Islam.
Recently, Muslims in America launched the True Islam and the Extremists campaign which highlights 11 points that are often distorted regarding Islam’s true teachings.
One of the campaign’s points states that true Islam believes in empowerment, education, and equality for women. Many examples during Prophet Muhammad’s time illustrate his keen interest in liberating women from slavery. His work for women’s rights is held dear by many Muslims and non-Muslim women alike, and sets an exemplary standard for us today.
Islam condemns exploiting women. Islam itself brings with it the revolutionary teaching that women should be empowered and educated — a concept some of the world still clearly needs to accept.