For Muslims, Ramadan is a month of fasting, purification, study and prayerful reflection. And after two weeks of prayerful reflection, I have concluded there is no tragedy that has befallen Islam and the Muslim people of the world greater than the derogation of Muslim women. Why?
- Because that abomination has made our communities, our faiths and our religion more vulnerable to catastrophe and less effective in meeting challenges for at least the last thousand years.
- Because we did it to ourselves.
Every Muslim will tell you proudly how Islam began as the most egalitarian of religions. From the Quran's declaration of the equality of all persons (male and female, regardless of race, creed or gender) under God's (thankfully merciful) judgment, through Muhammad's own egalitarian practice, that message is consistent throughout. He even worked for his first wife Khadija as her employee, made the woman Umm Waraqah one of Islam's first imams and told his followers to learn half their religion from his youngest wife Aisha, for Heaven's sake!
But let's all be honest for a change: Many Muslim men from the very beginning haven't been comfortable with the way Muhammad exalted women. Even Umar, our second Caliph, admitted he didn't like the way men's power over their wives was diminished. But when he tried to impose his own wishes −- by limiting the financial clout of Muslim brides -− one lone woman had the power to put him back in his place, by calling him back to the letter of the Quran's revelation and the example of Muhammad's exemplary Islam.
Now it's obvious that didn't last. However, instead of learning from our mistakes, most Muslims (both men and women, strangely enough) prefer to gloss over the profound difference between our bright beginnings and the state of Islam today. Few Muslims will even admit to Umm Waraqah (and when they do they get bogged down in mechanical issues over her authority to lead prayer for men, women or family members, either from in front or behind), or the fact that more than a dozen of Islam's most honoured early leaders were women, including Aisha.
Instead, for reasons that were primarily political, pertaining to the early disputes that began the Sunni-Shiite split, Aisha's age of marriage to Muhammad was artificially diminished from 18 to less than 10
, taking her authority with it. And Muslim men -− perhaps jealous of the marital authority of their Christian and Jewish compatriots -− adopted interpretations of Quranic revelations that gave women half the worth of Muslim sisters who lived before them. They ignored verses proclaiming that God even made men the way we are solely to make it easier for us to provide for our families, preferring interpretations that confirmed the male right to beat their wives at their own discretion. Despite the fact that, at least while Muhammad was alive, everyone knows that right was taken away.
No scholar worth his beard will deny these truths, even though most will quickly leap to defend those strange decisions that earlier scholars made. But the tragedy is this: Muslim men have been denied the wise council of Muslim women, when according to Allah that's something we need. According to the Quran, it's simple: to govern the world, our families and ourselves to the best of our abilities, men need women and women need men.
Thank God that's finally beginning to change. To me one of the most interesting (and exciting) aspects of the "Arab Spring" has been the leadership structure, so different from the patriarchal systems previously in place. It's decentralized, lead visibly by women and similar to the earliest days of Islam.
While others have noted the Arab Spring's longevity and focus, I know that wouldn't have surprised the first Muslims. Because Muslims then knew something that Muslims today are beginning to wake up to. The Muslim world is finally changing because Muslim women are waking up to the power and authority they really have under Muhammad's Islam.