Al-HewarBy Azizah al-HibriMarch 15, 2001A couple of summers ago, I traveled to the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderto meet with Afghani women and men. One of the women was a former judge,religious and well-educated. She had sad eyes. She could not fathom thepossibility that her daughter will be one day much worse off than her.Deprived of higher education, the daughter could not be a lawyer, letalone a judge.

The group briefed me on the situation in Afghanistan. They said thatthere had been some improvement in the education of women, but that itwas far from adequate. They had lost many generations of progress inwomen's rights. Members of the group also complained that while thingsin Afghanistan were terrible, the Western press had not reported thesituation accurately. It has instead sensationalized it and used it asan opportunity to attack Islam. The Afghans were thus twice victimized,and placed in an impossible position. As victims of the Taliban, theywanted the world to help them, but as good Muslims they did not want tobe used by Western media to defame Islam.

This attitude is widespread among Muslim men and women living underoppressive regimes. Some recent immigrants also experience it; they findthemselves caught between the malaise in their old homeland and thepressures of rejection and prejudice in their new one. For centuries,Islam was presented to the United States through Orientalist eyes. Evenin the days of Jefferson and Madison, our Prophet was called "theImposter"; and Muslim slaves were forced to convert. Now that AmericanMuslims have finally been brought under the constitutional umbrella, thetime has come for us to state in our own voice what Islam, as a religionand not a political tool of corrupt leaders, is all about.

The Qur'an, which is the basic source of Islamic law, states that menand women were created from the same soul. Eve is not held responsiblefor the fall of Adam; they were equally responsible. The Qur'an assignsMuslim men and women the same spiritual rights and obligations.

Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet was a successful business womanwho was many years his senior. A'ishah, the woman the Prophet marriedafter the death of Khadijah became a major jurist and political leader.

The Companions of the Prophet included hundreds of women, some of whomasked him one time to schedule special meetings with them because mentended to dominate discussions. As a result of the Prophet'sencouragement of women and their active participation in public life,much of the information about the Prophet came down to us through women.In later centuries, even as patriarchy and authoritarianism were on therise, Muslim women - such as Arwa the Queen of Yemen, Shajarat al-Durwho ruled Egypt and various authors, scholars and jurists - were stillable to achieve great successes. These successes would not have beenpossible without the Islamic vision of women's rights, which inspiredwomen in both the public and private arenas.

In the public arena, Islam made the pursuit of knowledge the duty ofevery male and female. For this reason, there were many highly educatedMuslim women throughout history. In one recent immigration case, anAfghani woman demanded political asylum in the U.S. on the basis ofreligious persecution. She correctly argued that she could not possiblydischarge her religious duty of educating her daughters if returned toAfghanistan.

The Qur'an also guarantees women their right to work and earn. Medievaljurists agreed that the Muslim woman had an independent financialstanding. Furthermore, the Muslim woman kept her own name after marriageand was not required to do housework. Traditional medieval jurists notedthat the marriage contract was contract not of service but ofcompanionship. They argued that it was the husband's duty to obtainprepared food for his wife if she did not volunteer to cook. The Qur'anitself defines the marital relation as one of tranquility, affection,and mercy. It enjoins Muslim couples to live together in kindness orseparate charitably.

It is this majority view of Islam, which has attracted Muslim women overthe centuries, even as patriarchy attempted to erode it. Today, in theUnited States, Muslim women are getting closer to this Islamic ideal ofgender relations than most of their predecessors. The Taliban arefighting a losing battle.