Breaking down misconceptions of women in Islam

Islam Awareness Week woman’s panel

Credit: 
Via Wikimedia

Islamic Awareness Week brings together students from various faculties and groups participating in activities and presentations to bring knowledge about Islam to the student body.

Opening the series of talks being held throughout the week, Chaplain Kate Johnson and Mona Rahman, a post-doctoral fellow at Queen’s and the education co-ordinator with the Islamic Society of Kingston, presented Monday night in Dunning Hall on the topic of “Women in Islam”, an intersection of education on women’s rights and Islam. 

Islamic Awareness Week at Queen’s is hosted by Queen’s University Muslim Student Association. The group held several events on campus throughout the week.

Both speakers presented from very different backgrounds, each aiming to address the image of Islam as inherently oppressive to women. 

As a Muslim woman, I’ve never personally felt oppressed by my religion and find any oppression I experience typically stems from elsewhere. I appreciated the points each woman brought to the table, and the general sense of solidarity in the room for combatting oppression against women.

Kate Johnson, the University Interfaith Chaplain since 2013, spoke to the mistreatment of women in society at large, illustrating how the problem isn’t by any means unique to Islam. Rahman, a post-doctoral fellow in Biochemistry, spoke to the history of Islam and women’s position in it.

Johnson opened the discussion by speaking to the oft-overlooked oppression of women in Canada. 

“We need to remove the log in our own eye,” she said, speaking about women gaining personhood rights only in Canada’s very recent history. She also discussed the status of the female in other religions, namely Christianity, and the role of female ministry which has only recently become more widely accepted.

Johnson closed by addressing consumerism, and how women often experience oppression as a result of the economic marketplace. 

Rahman, went deeper by exploring the place of women in Islam since the religion’s inception, both historically and in scripture. She spoke about women being viewed as equal to man in Islamic scripture, with equal rights in marriage, the economy and politics.

On the topic of current misconceptions of women in Islam both within and outside the religion, Rahman spoke about the role of education and colonialism in reproducing inequities seen today among many Muslim societies. 

Rahman’s explanation for removal of educational opportunities for women in many Muslim societies is the spread of colonialism. By any standard, she said, this isn’t unique to the Islamic world, as women everywhere are fighting for equity in education and the economy. 

Both women spoke about the Islamic practice of hijab and its role, which is often mistakenly perceived and discussed as an oppressive tool. Rahman spoke to the misconception that the concept of hijab as modesty applying to women only. According to the Qu’ran, Rahman said, both men and women must cover themselves appropriately and “guard their modesty.” 

This week, International Women’s Day was an added chance to celebrate women, show solidarity and support for women around the world in different countries and cultures. In a broader sense, it’s an opportunity to collectively agree to continue fighting for a seat at the table — wherever the table may be. 

As Rahman summed it up, “when you don’t know your rights, you can’t fight for them.” 

Islamic Awareness Week continues to Friday of this week. 

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