Pre-Islamic Arabia was devoid of justice for women circa 600AD. Baby girls were killed solely for being female.
Women had no rights to education and inheritance. They had no say in choosing a spouse. In sum, women were treated as possessions. The world was indeed ripe for Divide Guidance. This guidance came via Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He brought the message of Islam which directly addressed men and women, truly liberating women and restoring their rights and dignity.
When a companion of the Prophet (pbuh) entered a town to deliver the message of Islam, he said, “I have come to free you from the servitude to the slave and bring you to the servitude of the Lord of the slave.” Within this beautiful statement lies a powerful treasure and message. This is the key to empowerment and the only path to true liberation. The moment we allow anything other than our Creator (God, or Allah), to define our success, our failure, our happiness, or our worth, we have entered into a silent, but destructive form of slavery. This is because that thing which defines your self-worth, your success, and your failure is what controls you. It becomes your Master.
The “master” that has defined a woman’s worth has taken many forms throughout the ages. One of the most prevalent standards made for woman has been the standard of men. But what we so often forget is that God has honored the woman by giving her value in relation to Himself—not in relation to men. Yet, as Western feminism erased God from the scene, there was no standard left—but men. As a result the Western feminist was forced to find her value in relation to a man. And in so doing she had accepted a faulty assumption. She assumed a woman can never be a full human being until she becomes just like a man.
When a man cut his hair short, she wanted to cut her hair short. When a man joined the army, she wanted to join the army. She wanted these things for no other reason than because the “standard” had them. What people didn’t recognize was that God dignifies and honors both men and women in their distinctiveness – not in their sameness. When we accept men as the standard, suddenly anything uniquely feminine becomes by definition inferior. Being sensitive is an insult, becoming a full-time mother becomes degrading. In the battle between stoic rationality (considered masculine) and selfless compassion (considered feminine), rationality reigned supreme.
As soon as people accepted that everything a man has and does is better, all that followed was just a knee jerk reaction: if men have it—we want it too. Somewhere along the line people accepted the notion that having a position of worldly leadership is some indication of one’s position with God. But a Muslim woman does not need to degrade herself in this way. She has God as the standard. She has God to give her value; she doesn’t need a man to do this. Given our privilege as women, we only degrade ourselves by trying to be something we’re not – and in all honesty – don’t want to be: a man. As women, we will never reach true liberation until we stop trying to mimic men, and start valuing the beauty in our own God-given distinctiveness.
And yet, in society, there is another prevalent “master” which has defined for women their worth. And that is the so-called standard of beauty. Since the time we were little, women have been taught a very clear message by society. And that message is: “Be thin. Be beautiful. Be attractive. Or…be nothing.” So women were told to put on their make-up and wear their short skirts. They were instructed to sacrifice their lives, their bodies, and their dignity for the cause of being pretty. They came to believe that no matter what they did, they were worthy only to the degree that they could please and be beautiful for men. So they spent their lives trying to make the cover of Cosmo and they gave their bodies for advertisers to sell. They were slaves, but were told they had achieved freedom. They were treated as an object, but they swore it was success. This is because they had started to believe that the purpose of life was to be on display and to be beautiful for men. They had them believe that their bodies were created to market their cars and their sodas and their restaurants. But they lied. A woman’s body, a woman’s soul was created for something higher. A much higher purpose.
The image of a woman wearing a veil from head to toe these days is considered to be oppressive. In fact, when a woman puts on a headscarf out of her own free will, it causes her private relationship with God to be manifested in a very public way. Unlike prayer, fasting or even reading the Qur’an, when a Muslim woman chooses to cover herself, she is suddenly putting a piece of her religiosity on display. In Islam, women are honored. But it is not by their relationship to men—either being them, or pleasing them. The value of women is not measured by the size of their waist or the number of men who like them. Their worth as a human being is measured on a higher scale of righteousness and piety. And the purpose in life – despite what the fashion magazines say – is something more sublime than just looking good for men. God says in the Quran:
‘Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one who is most righteous’ [Quran 49:13].
Islam teaches women that they are a soul, a mind, a servant of God. And that their worth is defined by the beauty of that soul, that heart, that moral character. A Muslim’s submission is to something higher. Muslim women have been liberated from the bondage to society’s standard of beauty or fashion that attempts to define our worth. We don’t need to become just like men to be honored. Our worth, our honor, our salvation, and our completion lie not in becoming a slave of another slave. Our high position is achieved by becoming a slave to the Creator of all slaves.