Women, Feminism, and Islam

Today, feminism and women empowerment have become a lot more important than they were years ago. How Indonesia as the most populous Muslim country in the world should address the issue, especially in the middle of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism?

Women, Feminism, and Islam

Women and Islam

Islam has become a hot topic for the last few years. People from countries where Islam is a foreign concept, like the Western and Northeast Asia, have been growing curiosity about what Islam really is. Meanwhile, people in Muslim countries like Indonesia have been trying to redefine what it really means to be a Muslim. 

To talk about women in Islam, many view Prophet Muhammad SAW as a feminist for his time. Before Islam was introduced in the Arab world, it was a custom to bury female newborns alive. It was Islam that prohibited such practice. Despite the fact that gender discrimination towards women is still common especially in patriarchal societies, Islamic law makes it possible for women to access education and to own and inherit property.

These days, the acts of cruelty that were claimed to be under the name of Islam have created this popular assumption among the non-Muslim countries that Islam has some inhumane values and especially cruel to women. But for Muslim women who grow up in a moderate Islam society, we know those assumptions are false. Particularly in Indonesia, we have seen how women have been playing important roles for the country. From independence heroes to president, we’ve had strong women building our nation, which many among them are Muslims.

Despite that, we cannot neglect the fact that until this day Indonesian women haven’t had the equal rights and respect that they should get. The Women’s March in Jakarta earlier this month was held not without reasons. It was held not because it was trending. Rather, it was because it’s important to raise the awareness of how women have been playing a huge role in the society yet haven’t got the fundamental rights they deserve. It has even been said that women is the backbone to country’s development. Yet unfortunately, they haven’t been treated like one.

Nevertheless, in my personal opinion, I think it’s important to understand that the common norms which discriminate and disrespect women are manmade norms. It’s important to see that the mainstream societal norms we know today are results of social construction, and therefore should not be confused as the real value of a religion. 

An American journalist Carla Power once wrote an article about her conversation with Islamic scholar Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi. She asked him about why Muslim men treat women so badly, and he said it was because men weren’t reading the Al-Qur’an properly. He replied “People just use it for whatever point they want to make,…They come to it with their own ideas and look for verses that confirm what they want to hear.”

Women and Islamic Fundamentalism Movement

At the other side of the note, to say women’s role is ignored and seen as unimportant among the Islamic fundamentalist isn’t completely true. Dete Aliyah, the producer of the documentary Jihad Selfie, revealed that there’s a shifting role. In Islamic fundamentalism movement today, women no longer act only as supporting players but rather as the main ones. For example in Islamic State (IS/ISIS), women do not only act as logistic arrangers but also as agents of change, campaigners, and even recruiters.

There are various reasons that cause these women to join the movement. It varies from poverty to religious calling. Poverty and injustice often become the strongest urge for people to join the group as it promises a big amount of financial rewards and prosperity. 

Maybe for people who are foreign to the practice and the recruitment process, including me, it’s easy to assume that these women might have been uneducated. That would explain why these women are easy to be persuaded to join the extremist. But, apparently such assumption isn’t entirely correct. Dete in one of her presentations revealed that many of these women are well-educated and are even top university graduates.

So what went wrong here? If people say that education is the answer to everything, it doesn’t seem to be the answer we hope for in this case. Dete then shared her findings during her time making the documentary. She said that many women feel oppressed with what their husbands do (participate in terrorist group). And when they find out about what their husbands do, they tend to be too afraid to stand up for themselves and say no. Even when they know it’s not the right thing to do. 

So what we can do to empower women and prevent them from involving in the terrorist act is to motivate and teach them to be brave enough to say no. Education mean far more than literacy. To educate women is also to make them understand what they’re capable of doing for themselves. To support that, it’s also important minimize the reasons that can motivate them to join the terrorist groups. For example, by giving them fundamental rights, justice, and economic support.

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Women have been playing critical roles for the country. To empower women isn’t merely to build our country’s backbone to development, but also the backbone to peace. 


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