I wonder what image first occurs to you when you think of Muslim women. Is it a modern lady with a head covering? Or a mysterious, fully veiled woman from the Gulf? In fact, Muslim women all over the world vary hugely in how they dress as well as in how they think. Identifying with Islam does, however, place them within a system where they have less authority than that of a man, and are often regarded as inferior. For many women, it places them in a situation of very low self-esteem or even abuse.
Traditionally, Muslim women with little access to power have tended to seek it by resorting to magic (Folk Islam) or by cultivating a very strong relationship with their sons. Unfortunately, this often has the consequence of young boys being hopelessly spoiled by their mothers, which might not make them the best husbands and fathers in the future.
One of the biggest social issues that impacts Muslim women all over the world is the pressure to get married, coupled with the fact that a Muslim man is permitted to have four wives. The idea that their husband might take another wife, and the issues involved if he does, is a source of constant anxiety and worry for many women. It is very hard for them to build a positive self-image in this undermining context.
One way women do seek to build up their self-image is through excelling in education. This offers them some hope for personal status and economic independence, but it does not free them from the obligations placed on them by society. Moreover, it is only a real solution for those who do well. For the others, failure on this level compounds their negative view of themselves.
So how do cultural views of women impact their spirituality? We have already mentioned the tendency to resort to magic or Folk Islam as a means of gaining power or influence. Muslim women may also become very religious, seeking to gain power within a system that is massively stacked against them. This has the ironic consequence that some of the strongest devotees to the system that is oppressing women are women themselves.
At Arab World Media, we speak to many women who feel undervalued and depressed. Some have suffered mental, physical and sexual abuse. Many feel unloved by their mothers and fathers. We offer a series of self-help modules to help women address some of the personal issues arising from feeling second-class. We offer hope for a completely new reality – seeing oneself as made in the image of God and loved by him.
What to do now
- Pray that chains will be cast off and hearts and minds set free to know the one true God.
- Pray for fair laws for women in Muslim countries, especially freedom of education and equal human rights.
- Pray for those who are oppressed, beaten and abused to have dreams of Jesus who loves them.
- Pray that those who need help and have little or no access to mental health services would discover our self-help video modules (focusing on things like depression, grief and low self-esteem).
- Pray for our response team. They often counsel women who are very distressed and burdened. Some are trapped in situations over which they have no control.
- Finally, lift up women believers who have converted from Islam. We know of a number who are in difficult situations, keeping their faith secret out of fear or experiencing immense pressure to recant. Pray for their husbands and/or family members to be saved.
Make a comment below or use social media to let us know what you’ve been praying and how God has been speaking to you. Use the hashtag #RethinkingRamadan.
Tomorrow, as we rediscover, we’ll be looking at Islamic beliefs about the Bible.