Last friday (Nov 3), Muslim women from around the world gathered in Barcelona, Spain for the second 3-day International Conference of Islamic Feminism aimed at fighting male-dominated interpretation of the Quran, in which they discussed problems of Islamic law and family codes in the Islamic world.
The event was seen by some as timely as the debate over the right of Muslim women to wear the full-face veil, gets increasingly heated throughout the Western world.
Advocates of the Islamic feminist movement, which comprises about 29 countries, say that Islam should not be a pretext for cultural practices degrading women, dictated by men with a monopoly of interpreting Islam's Holy Book.
Participants at the conference, mostly well-educated women, stressed the fact that the Quran, as well as Islamic Sharia laws do not put women on a lower footing than men.
As far as I am comcerned, it is important to stress that the dressing code for women such as the hijab is a duty Allah, the Almighty prescribed for the Muslim woman, and she has to comply with that order and show her sincere faith in Allah, for He says: "And it does not become a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided an affair (for them), that they should (after that) claim any say in their affair." (Al-Ahzab:36)
The full-face veil as worn by most women in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and a few Middle-Eastern and North-African countries, are in fact not as commanded by Allah. A woman do not have to cover her full face!
Even in the Islamic Republic of Iran, one can see Muslim women observing the Islamic dress code as commanded by Allah, so does Muslim women in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. They do not cover their faces with full-face veils. It is important for us to differentiate between what is commanded by the Almighty and what is directed or told to do so by man.
I am not against the full-face veil but that is not the way for Muslim women to "tutup aurat" or obey the Islamic dress code.
When a Muslim neglects to dress according to the Islamic code, it is usually because of lack of knowledge and weakness of Iman or faith. Negative influences from her environment can further dissuade her from obeying Allah. Things like media (especially television), literature (entertaintment magazines and mosquito tabloids), friends and socialization.
As stated earlier, Islam does not degrades women. In fact Islam placed on record and appreciated the role played by women in the birth of Islam.
First of all, that of Khadijah, first wife of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), to whom he remained faithful until her death. A most unusual and exceptional person, she was the first to embrace Islam. It was she who managed to put the Prophet's heart at rest after his deeply disturbing encounter with the archangel Jibreel (Gabriel) in the Hira grotto. It was also she who persuaded him that he had a genuine mission and that the revelation was authentic, taking him to consult one of her cousins, a blind sage named Waragah ibn Nawfal, who convinced the Prophet that his visitor was none other than the Messenger of the All-Powerful Being, and that he, Muhammad, had been selected to be one of the Prophets. Khadijah made over her entire fortunes and all her worldly belongings to Islam.
Islam's first martyr was also a woman. Her name was Sumayyah, daughter of Khayyat, and her husband too was was to be a martyr (both died in 615 A.D.), as was her son, Ammar, who fought with the fourth caliph Ali ibni Abi Talib, at the battle of Siffeen in 457 A.D.
Once again it was a woman who gave the best example of fidelity to her faith; Umm Habiba Ramlah, daughter of Abu Sufian, the political and military leader of Makkah and sworn enemy of Islam for over twenty years. This heroine, along with her husband, was one of the first Muslim immigrants to leave for Abyssinia. Her husband, attracted by the money of his hosts, became an apostate and left the faith. His wife, who had a young daughter, instantly left her renegade husband just as she had broken off relations with her pagan father. Unaided and all alone in her exile, in the most dreadful material conditions, she never succumbed to despair and finally became the wife of the Prophet.