The treatment of women in Islam as characterized by the “West” has been a source of great sadness for me. It is an unfortunate consequence of a multitude of factors including the lack of differentiation between cultural practices of a region and Islamic beliefs. This misunderstanding is amplified by media and political structures which value simple explanations to complex phenomenon by leveraging ingrained biases. Women have been mistreated and viewed as second-class citizens throughout history. Voting rights, employment opportunities, freedom of movement and genital mutilation are only some of the categories where women have suffered. They have been a step removed from slavery for a large part of our history.

There is a sharp contrast between how Islam views women and what the West’s perceptions are.

Islam’s Golden Age is largely considered to be between the 8th century and 14th century when scientific advancements and economic developments were abundant. The start of this period is approximately 150 years after the Prophet’s death, and it is important to note the foundations that were laid during and shortly after the Prophet’s time that elevated the role of women in society. The saddest aspect of modern Islam is the failure of its political and religious leaders to look back at this era and examine the principles and attitudes that that era was founded on. That is entirely another story, but suffice to say that modern Islam “leaders” are heavily influenced by patriarchal customs and beliefs of a region, not a religion.

The Quran is explicit about women and men having equal rights in Islam (9:71, 4:124). This is a concept that only started to come to light in the United States in 1920 when the 19th amendment was passed and women were given the right to vote. The US Supreme Court denied women suffrage rights in 1875 (Minor v Happersett). Divorce existed prior to Islam but Islam made it more favorable to women in terms of seeking one (instant), property rights and support after divorce. Unlike the Catholic concept of indissolubility of marriage Islam only encouraged couples to seek recourse, not make it illegal to divorce.

The Quran makes no comment on abortion either way. However, Islam offers a wide latitude on women pursuing abortions. Most scholars agree that within the first 120 days there is no debate. After that, abortions are legal in case of incest, rape, threat to the woman’s life, fetal deformity and even social or economical reasons. Though the details vary, the larger idea of providing women access and rights to abortion is significantly ahead of its time.

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