It is Absorption of Alien Cultural Practices that Beget Misperceptions
Adil Hussain Bhat
Women constitute one half of the society
This gives birth to the other half
So it is as if they are the entire society (IBN-TAYMIYYAH).
Women in Muslim societies are thought to be subjugated, degraded and oppressed by their religion. Islam is stigmatised as an oppressive religion. On numerous occasions authors wrongly attacked the religion of Islam for the cultural practices of Muslims in certain places of the world. Polls have showed that about 70 percent of the American public acknowledged being unfamiliar with Islam. Thus, it is not a surprise that most Americans cannot distinguish Islamic religion practices from cultural practices by Muslim majority countries. Culturalists in some Muslim societies cite the Islamic faith in defending “honour killings” of women and marriage for child brides and right to choose her spouse by her parents. Muslim women are marginalized not by the true tenets of their faith but by patriarchal cultural practices.
The mistreatment of women in some Middle-Eastern societies or in Muslim families is due to the culture that some Muslims absorb and follow exterior of Islam. About fourteen hundred years ago, Islam gave women rights that women in the West have only recently began to enjoy. It is only in the last twenty-years that western society has recognized the rights of women, while Islam has allowed their rights from all times. The question which naturally arises here, what constitute Islamic practices?
Islamic practices and beliefs are those that have roots in the Quran (which Muslims believe to be the last and unchanged revelation from God) and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Any belief or practice even if it is common among some Muslims majority countries, which is not backed by the Quran or the Sunnah cannot be regarded as Islamic belief or practice. Many of the countries that are commonly called ‘Islamic countries’ which in reality are merely ‘Muslim-majority countries’ practising an amalgam of Islamic as well as non-Islamic elements.
I think it is not wrong to say that Muslim culture is, on the one hand, damaged by the non-muslim culture of different societies and , on the other hand , distorted through innovations and misinterpretations by Muslims themselves. The culture which we have presently is not Islamic but a bag of borrowings which we have borrowed from different societies like the practices of dowry system, restrictions on acquisition of wealth by women, right to choose her spouse by parents, practices of divorce and right to obtain inheritance, right to education and so on.
Islam allows the practices of dowry system but in this form! Husbands must give women their dowry (Quran 4:4). Unlike the traditional system of dowry where a woman must give her husband a bridal gift of value upon marriage, Islam reverses the concept, where it is the husband who must pay his wife whatever amount she requests. Not only he is obliged by law to give his bride this dowry, but also the Quran states he must do so graciously, without expressing any dissent:
“And give the women [upon marriage] their [bridal] gifts graciously.” Quran 4:4
Islam did not restrict women for acquiring wealth. Upon receiving dowry, the husband is prohibited from touching this wealth entirely. In fact, the Quran mentions that even if she received an immense sum of money; the prohibition still applies:
“Do not take [bridal] from it anything. Would you take it is injustices and sin” Quran 4:20
Another cultural practise which is practised mostly by parents in our societies is to choose spouse of daughter without her permission. Islam came to annul this ignorant practice and give a woman the right to be her agent. In fact Islam gives women the right to choose their own husband as clearly shown by the great statement.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said:
“The virgin women should not be given in marriage until she gives permission”
The most common cultural practise which men follow after marriage in our societies is to avoid kindness with her spouse in order to make them sub-ordinate. This cultural practice sometime leads to conflict between them. But Islam denounces this cultural practise and Quran implores men to treat women in kindness and respect, this means spouses must practice beauty in their speech, their action and in their overall presence amongst one another.
“And live with them in kindness” Quran 4:1
In Islam women are not subjugated to spend on their families. But husbands are ordained to spend on their wives. A man is obliged to financially provide for his wife. He is responsible to provide food, clothing, shelter and medicine all necessities to the best of his ability. This includes providing his wife with the same standard of living which he expects for himself:
“Let him spend (on his family) from what Allah has given him” Quran 65:7
Last but not the least, the cultural practice of divorce which is prevalent in different Muslim societies especially in Indian society has distorted the real image of Islam and among the adherents of Muslims who are unable to read the Quran and Hadith. Then what Islam preaches regarding divorce? Islam preaches to avoid bitterness following divorce (Quran 2:231). In many instances in the Quran, God advises Muslims towards patience and avoid divorce. He in fact states that if the two spouses truly wanted to resolve their issues, Allah would reconcile the two of them together. Nevertheless if divorce does happen, Allah advises both spouses to do so in a manner that is both righteous and honourable, void of all hardships and conflict.
So yes, for some Muslim women, like all other women, may face oppression in their homes. Clearly, it has nothing to do with Islam rather consequence of cultural practices. If it is not culture then why many women around the world, mostly in developed nations, willingly embrace Islam?
—The author is student of Kashmir University and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org