This past Ramadan was a challenge because I had a toddler and an infant. My second baby was just 6 months old, so there was a lot I couldn’t do that month (like go to the masjid). I really wanted to grow spiritually that month, despite the limitations I had, so I settled on reading aloud to my children from my English Quran. I was hoping it would increase my faith and the feeling of peace that I crave so much and lack so often in my day-to-day life.
This one-afternoon sticks in my mind with glaring clarity. I was reading aloud from Surah Imran to my infant while swinging him to sleep. I know you’re not supposed to stop during reading or recitation of the Quran, but as I was having this time with him, I came to some ayaat that literally left me dumbstruck. My voice trailed off and I sat there with my mouth open and chills all over. I couldn’t even speak from the wonder of those words.
Never in my life had I read anything like this.
The ayaat (verses) were about the conception and birth of Maryam, the mother of Jesus (peace be upon him). You can find them in 3:35-36. Maryam’s mother offered her child as a special slave of Allah, and then cried out in dismay when she found that she had given birth to a little girl. Allah reminds us then, that women have special roles to fill, and that He knew best and had created a female specifically for that special service.
In the English translation I had, verse 36 states, “And is not the male like the female.” It brought me up short because it was such a special thing to have, right there written down for all time, that women are people of value whom Allah Himself created for special reasons. Like men, we were made on purpose to do something Allah wanted to have done. It was also clear that women were NEEDED for our religion, not just to help the men do great things!
This reading could not have come at a better time for me. It hit right at the core of something that was decreasing my imaan (faith) and causing me a lot of pain and, yes, occasional doubt. When I was researching Islam before taking shahadah, I was told over and over again that Muslim women are valued, that Allah commanded that they be treated well, that we wear hijab as an honor because we are important.
But the sad fact of life – and I found this out after marriage – is that people conveniently forget this when it comes to actually living as Muslim husbands, fathers, and brothers. From being pressed into very tight and tightly dictated roles, being scorned, ignored and treated as less than a man for those very roles, ordered around our homes like waitresses, to being outright taken advantage of, the modern Muslim society can be a great trial for women (particularly for wives and mothers).
The language that men use to describe our different roles is all too often demeaning by nature. Instead of being treated as people of dignity and honor (as everyone agrees we are), we’re usually spoken to like an inconvenience and hurried away from notice like a child being sent to their room while the grownups talk. (I am not at all objecting to gender segregation. I firmly believe it is both right and necessary! But the way it is enforced on women leaves a great deal to be desired.)
The double standards I saw all around me, and the way people spoke to and about women even within our own faith, took a toll on my imaan. I occasionally had those worrisome thoughts, “What if what you thought was Islam, was the right way of life, is actually something else?” I thought, “Do I not have the right to be treated with respect, like my husband, or with consideration, like him in Islam? How can that be right?”
Alhamdulilah I pursued Islamic knowledge instead of looking to culture. At the end of the day, we aren’t Muslims because of other people. We don’t take shahadah and upend our lives because we have Muslim friends. We do it because the message is true and right, and that’s what I saw when I looked to the Quran and the Sunnah.
On this wonderful afternoon in Ramadan, the truth hit me like a glass of cold water in the face and washed away my doubt on this point.
Our Prophet (peace be upon him) always advocated for not just fair, but the kind treatment of women. He did not only provide for his wives’ material needs and physical safety, he exemplified tenderness, patience, and compassion toward them. He took Aisha (ra) to watch some dancers at practice and waited for her as long as she wanted. He ate and joked with his wives and didn’t let them sleep away from him even when they were in a state of ritual impurity (due to their period). And who did Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) turn to when he first received revelations from Allah? He went straight to his wife, Khadijah (ra), and asked for counsel!
That’s the picture the hadith gives us, of how a righteous Muslim regards women. In the Quran itself, here in these sacred words from our Lord, it is laid out that women are not accessories but slaves of Allah who are NECESSARY to our faith. We were created different from men, yes, but different because we can do and be things they cannot. Allah made us exactly the way He wanted, with a perfect design, exactly like He created men who were prophets and warriors. A Muslim woman’s dignity is just as important.
That’s what I needed to know and that is what I want everyone who even thinks about Islam to know as well. And that is why it is important for women to speak up for who we are and for the dignity that Allah Himself gave us. In every society, women tend to be treated as tools more than as people. We’re objectified, discounted, belittled and marginalized. Even supposedly free societies will tell you that!
Even in my own country, the amount of objectification and harassment women are bombarded with at every turn is sickening and dehumanizing. I began to wear hijab well before becoming a Muslim because I so hated the solicitations and comments I was subjected to when I did normal things like walk to work. The only effective way I could find to publicly declare myself “private property” was to wear a veil. My “no” and my behavior were totally ignored; my voice and stance as a female meant nothing.
Islam pulls us out of this awful state. Islam affirms the precious nature of women. It does not allow us to be second-rate, humiliated, emotionally or intellectually crippled. Allah demands more than this from us and for us.
The more we remember this, the more we need to speak up for our Islamic rights and responsibilities and stand up to fill these special roles that we’ve been called to – with honor.
Author: Abigail Trumbo
Editor: Umm Sumayyah