Islam, Oct - Dec 2007, Women in Islam

Identity of a Muslim Woman and Maintaining it

By Samantha Sanchez

A Muslim is someone who submits his/herself to Allah (God). A person who believes that there is only one God and Muhammad (pbuh) is His Prophet. Who believes in the Day of the Judgment, the Books, the Angels…

But what is a Muslim woman… something far beyond this definition. A Muslim woman is unique in that she wears her Islam on her sleeve or her head and not just in her heart. Why? Well we can debate all day from both standpoints the feminist and the REALIST about whether or not it is an infringement of her rights, or a blame on her sexuality. We might also say we wear it because we are modest and we fear God who states in the scripture that it is required of us. In verses 24:31 and 33:59 of the Qur’an women are instructed to cover and are given several reasons for this. First, to guard their modesty (as a protection for themselves), second not to display their ornaments (not to objectify themselves), and third so they be recognized and not molested.

The truth remains when a woman wears her Islam on her head or her sleeve, I identify her as Muslim, and if she doesn’t cover, she becomes as obscure as the men (sort of blends in to the crowd). How many of us are not sure unless we know that she is Muslim, whether or not we should say salaam. It is an honor, a right, a privilege and a liberation to be a Muslim woman and be seen as just that. We all know that people regardless of the phrase, judge a book by its cover. Certainly this has drawbacks. But that all depends on what the person judging believes it symbolizes. Oppression or liberation?

I assure you my Muslim sisters and I are not oppressed. Muslim women are the most “progressive”, educated, intelligent, active, happy, spiritually centered people I know. No this doesn’t come from covering the head. But covering the head doesn’t hinder any of these qualities either.

I always think of the Muslim Woman this way:

Mothers (of the)
Ummah (muslim community)


Does this sound to you like an oppressed individual? The ignorant outsider sees Muslim women as a piece of history in the here and now, her backward ways, her cultural preoccupations. But if we look at examples of women even in the beginning of Islam we can be sure that even then they were not oppressed.


May Allah be pleased with them. These are just some of the women in Islamic history who epitomize what it is to be a Muslim woman. Strong, intelligent, independent women who are willing to believe and have faith, to fight for a cause despite the consequences, and to ensure that Islam lives on.

We are rebels with a cause. The cause is Islam. Why does Turkey fear women’s covering? Will they be too strong?

Being a woman in the world means having to decide whether you should be judged by your looks and charms or by your intelligence. Women often sway at the border between a subject and an object. The Western world talks about feminism and a woman’s right to choose what to wear what job to have etc.. But this type of feminism leads women to either strive to be something they are not…i.e. MEN…or it tells them that the only way they can get respect or attention is to become an object. TRUE FEMINISM says yes a woman has the right to choose what to wear. The right choice, however, should be that which frees her to be seen for her mind and not her body as a subject to be respected and not an object to be projected.

The Muslim woman can be or do anything she wants. Despite misconceptions about how they do not have a voice and cannot be leaders, Muslim women have and will lead nations as prime ministers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, and last but certainly not least, mothers. She has rights given to her 1400 years ago that other women only gained in the last century.

Now that we know the true identity of the Muslim woman, how can we maintain it? First, regardless of your level of faith at present, you should remember that comporting yourself as a Muslim woman means dressing modestly but it also means not being complacent in speech. This does NOT mean that women should not talk it means they should not flirt. If you have something to say, say it, like you mean business, especially when talking to the opposite sex.

Second, the issues of other Muslim women should tug at your heartstrings. By involving yourself in the cause of other fellow sisters, we empower ourselves and maintain the identity that throughout history Muslim women have always had…as defenders of the faith, loyal to the ummah.

Third, we should become as educated as possible not only in the secular but in the sacred. What good is hijab if you don’t know what it stands for. I urge all of you to strive to the top of your given field, become lawyers, doctors, professor, engineers, etc. Look to Khadijah (ra) a successful businesswoman.. But also, become scholars of Islam. Part of being a Muslim woman is being able to impart your knowledge of Islam to others. Look to Aisha and Hafsah (ra) the women who narrated so many ahadith (sayings of the Prophet) and guarded the Qur’an so that our generation could have the unchanged truth.

These women are known as the Mothers of the Believers, respected and held in high regard.

Fourth, we have rights and responsibilities and part of maintaining our identity is exercising those rights and fulfilling those responsibilities. We have a duty to our families. One day all of you will be married and have families of your own. Remember my acronym. Muslim woman are the mothers of the future Muslim community and the makers of a nation. There is a saying, “the first university is the mother’s lap.” We should be educated not only for ourselves but as part of our duty to our children. We would not want to place the burden on them of drifting along wandering to find what is Islam is. We should be the best resources for them.

Fifth, maintaining a Muslim woman’s identity in the western world, even in Muslim countries (i.e. Turkey, Kosovo) can be a daunting task. There is a famous quote, “Ignorance is bliss.” I suppose it rings true for those who are ignorant. They can be happy with their present situations. It is quite a task here and in so-called Muslim countries to separate fact from fiction. Many authors who claim to be Muslim tell us that what I have defined as the Muslim identity is antiquated and needs to be revised. They believe that they are doing us a favor but it is a disservice. The first step to maintaining a Muslim woman’s identity is to know what it really means and what it does not. It does not mean that in order to be a Muslim woman in the present time I have to alter the meaning of the scripture to suit my needs. Fatima Mernissi and others want us to do that. This is a destruction of the true Muslim woman’s identity. If I comply with their wishes and reinterpret as they call it, the scriptures of God then I am no longer a Muslim. How can I tell God what He means in a verse if I am supposed to be submitting to Him? Certainly there are opinions in Islam. Scholars have debated many things. But when there are interpretations that are agreed upon based on evidence, how can I oppose them. Perhaps if these women studied as much Islam as they did secular works, they would not have this misinterpretation.

In closing, being a Muslim woman is not always easy. But the easy path is not always right one and the right path is sometimes the one with obstacles. People may stare, tell you how backward you are, claim that you are oppressed. Remember, ignorance is bliss, then, enlighten them. Exude the confidence, the grace, and the intelligence, that the true Muslim woman possesses.

© 2001