By Humeraa Qamar
The oppression and discrimination that Muslim Women face in the US has been the topic of heated discussion amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike for a while, especially among men. Non-Muslims claim that all Muslim women are oppressed and Muslims claim that not a single Muslim woman is oppressed. The truth lies somewhere in between.
This topic has become especially relevant in today’s America where sexual harassment, the #metoo campaign, and harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric in some circles raise special concern for Muslim American women. As a Muslim woman living in USA I can expand on this subject first hand.
Since I do not don a hijab or dress differently in any shape or form, I do not find myself at the receiving end of openly hostile glances or verbal hostility in public. I am a physician working in private practice in a small town in Florida: my patients are from self-selected non-racist families. Hence, I have not faced any overt discrimination in my office or the hospitals I go to, from patients, staff or other physicians.
In the public sphere too I seem to have survived relatively unscathed as most people we meet outside the work sphere or our immediate group of friends (who are also Muslim like us) are open minded and overtly non racist (whatever their inner convictions maybe). However that does not mean that other Muslim women do not face discrimination, especially the ones that wear the hijab.
We all hear stories of hate crimes being rampant all across the country especially in big cities like NY, Chicago, Washington DC, Houston, etc. which is surprising as you would think that big cities are mostly populated by more educated and less racist people. However we have all learnt that racism and education are not mutually exclusive.
This brings us to the topic of Muslim women facing oppression within their own communities. So what constitutes oppression from within? The inability to leave the house without the men’s permission, to work outside the house, to dress the way they want to, to socialize at will, to have any control over their sexuality and have financial freedom. All of these things fall within the realm of oppression of women.
Muslim women also face oppression/discrimination at the mosques where they are expected to pray in a small separate space, behind the men, shrouded in long black mysterious robes. Any attempt to criticize this or increase intermingling is perceived as a “sin” which is planted in the rebellious women’s head by none other than Satan. We have all heard horror stories of Muslim wives being brow beaten by their husband into allowing them to “marry” another woman while still being married to the first wife, a polygamist practice which is clearly against the law. So how common are these unfair practices and how do Muslim women deal with them?
The answer again is not as straight forward as most of us believe. Most women I know try to exert some semblance of control over their lives by means of establishing more control over finances and decision-making. How successful they are, is in turn determined by their level of education and upbringing and how well assimilated their families are in the west. Several Muslim families I know of, although living here and enjoying the full benefits of being citizens, never fail to complain about how morally corrupt this country is and how much the government oppresses Muslim countries worldwide yet will never talk about migrating to a Muslim majority country. These families are the worst offenders vis- a-vis women’s oppression.
So in conclusion, it seems like the Muslim communities in the USA need to mature, integrate, self-reflect and self-correct a lot more than they have so far and grant women more freedom to peruse lives as they deem appropriate.
Dr Humeraa Qamar is a paediatrician who loves humanity and strives for a secular and moderate Islam.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Muslim World Today.