Myths, Realities and Opportunites for Muslim Women

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Myths, Realities and Opportunites for Muslim Women

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By Emily Rios

On Thursday, January 31st, Boston College Professor Natana Delong-Bas visited Lowell High’s National Honor Society in a discussion on Women and Islam. Delong-Bas addressed common myths about Muslim women, and the opportunities they have. The event gave new insight on a topic often glossed over- the realities of the Islamic religion and the people associated with it.

Delong-Bas’ interest in studying the Islam religion began when she noticed similarities between that religion and her own. From then on she immersed herself in the culture and history of the faith. The catalyst to her pursuit occurred while studying in a program for Arabic language. There, she gained access to 18th century untranslated transcripts. Compelled by the undiscovered, Delong-Bas translated the transcripts- it was not easy. Passages from the transcripts would reveal information with a lack of context. To understand everything these texts offered, she jointly studied 18th century history of Asia and surrounding regions.

Her work was not in vain, and what she discovered incited a deeper study of the religion. Despite how old these documents were, they stated beliefs and institutions uncharacteristic of that time period. Her discoveries ranged from women’s roles in political society and the promotion of education. The early Islamic system of sharing books from that century eventually transformed into the modern libraries of today. Among the new information lied another question; what more is out there?

Professor Delong-Bas found that with discovery and education came a comprehension of the world around us. In order to fully understand a concept, there needs to be multiple sources to refer to it. In society, Muslims have been stigmatized and stereotyped. Despite Islam being the world’s second largest religion, not much is common knowledge of the religion. In reality a small proportion of Muslims reside in the United States, feeding into a skewed view on Muslims.

A common myth is that most Muslims lived in the Middle East. And while a small number live in America, the highest population of Muslims is actually in Indonesia. Other myths pertain more towards Muslim women, and their roles in society.

Muslim women are subject to a majority of stereotypes about their head wear. All women in this faith are not forced to veil, although in some regions it is mandated. The veils Muslim women wear are known as hijabs, and there are multiple reasons for wearing them. Women may veil out of cultural respect, protect from harassment, or to maintain a personal relationship to Islam.

Another myth is that Muslim women are uneducated. This belief is deferred when analyzing the educations of Muslims. Particularly in the Saudi Arab gulf states, women are starting to out-educate men. It may be because men have more job opportunities than women in certain places, leaving studies more compelling than the relatively small job market.

Women’s rights to education and other institutions have been targeted in the past by hate groups such as the Taliban. Women’s and human rights advocate Dr. Sima Samar retaliated against this, and fought the Taliban for the pursuit of education for all women.

Muslim women are also believed to be oppressed by men, and that they hold no rights. In actuality, it depends on many factors. Different countries have different legal systems; America’s rights are not universal. Another factor is that the Islamic sacred book, the Quran, has many different interpretations. Rights specified in the book do not correlate exactly to common secular rights.

The final myth is that Muslim women are in need of rescue by Muslim men. Women have put their foot forward in defending themselves and their independence. They based arguments on the ground of religious and moral justification, working for legal reforms.

For example, last year Saudi women won the right to drive. The movement of Muslim women protested by walking, showing that their actions alone can rescue themselves. In Iran, women won the right to watch football games in public stadiums after marching into the World Cup game and refusing to leave. Time and time again women have proven that they are capable of overcoming obstacles, regardless of religion.