As a feminist, one reason I chose Islam as a religion is because true Islam teaches gender equity and empowerment of women.
Before I converted to Islam, I, like many Americans, believed Islam was a religion that degraded women. News stories of child brides, honor killings and punishment for rape victims make it easy to interpret Islam’s treatment of women as terrible if we solely rely on these monstrous anecdotes. Our newsfeeds are filled with stories about extremists who treat women as less than human, leaving room for critics such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali to state that Islam is “especially bigoted against women.”
In my path toward Islam, I discovered that if all Muslim men actually practiced what Prophet Muhammad taught, they would be gentle, kind and equitable toward women. Instead, extremists are the brutes who lead to the question recently featured in The New York Times: “What is the Future of Women in Islam?”
Based on my experience, the answer is best left to the women of Islam — not the critics.
Not until I interacted directly with Muslim women did I find genuine understanding of the extent to which Islam empowers women to be educated, productive members of society. I attended an all-women’s event in a mosque, where I participated in women-led workshops and seminars on Islamic knowledge.
I was impressed with the scholarly knowledge of the women but was even more surprised by the Muslim men at the event. I was struck to learn that there were dozens of men in the kitchen cooking for the hundreds of women. Since then, I’ve seen how Muslim men in my community extend themselves for the comfort of Muslim women, whom they respect. This is far from the Islam you see in the news.