When I was a non-Muslim, I, too, believed that Islam was misogynistic, male-dominated and backwards. Imagine my surprise after I read the Qur'an and learned Islam is diametrically opposed to misogyny and male dominance, and, in fact, is a very progressive and gentle faith which protects women.
I have seen a lot of controversy over the last few weeks about the application of sharia law to resolving family disputes between willing individuals in Canada. The subject has led to a discussion of the status of women in Islam.
As a Canadian caucasian woman who recently accepted the Islamic faith, I would like to share my thoughts.
There is good and bad everywhere and it is important to stress that not every Muslim follows true sharia. Humans are not infallible.
First and foremost, Islam gives a woman more legal rights than she is afforded using Canadian law -- the right to keep all of her property, even in a divorce; the right to keep her own money; even the right to be sexually satisfied, among many other things. Non-Muslim women don't have those rights; they are just expected to suck it up.
The concept of a dowry might seem odd in Canada, but it has its merits. Many divorced women in Canada live below the poverty line because their ex-husbands are unwilling to support them. They pay the least amount of alimony possible and transfer their assets to their new wives so that the ex-wife gets nothing.
There are not many divorced women who live at the same standard they had while married unless they are professional women. To me, a dowry is like an insurance policy -- the just-in-case part of marriage.
(I thought the concept of men being able to have multiple wives was also a way for women to be kept safe and protected if their husbands died or they could not otherwise marry. I'm not sure whether that is as relevant today; most men don't have enough money to support more than one wife and family. Moreover, the Qur'an stipulates that what one wife gets, the others must also be provided with).
Islam gives women more respect than any other faith. My experiences have shown me (for the most part) that Muslim men really respect women and like them for who they are. In my opinion, nothing is sexier than a woman who is covered up. No woman with any amount of self-respect would walk around looking like she is soliciting sex. Too many people have no respect for each other at all. It's very sad to see.
Refraining from sex before marriage affords the woman the right to know a man first and give the man her mind, heart and soul before she decides to give her body (which is completely backwards to the thinking here, where a woman has to "put out" in order to get another date).
The woman is never compromised or coerced in any way in Islam. She is always in control of her body and is always provided a safe environment. What a concept.
Women are protected in Islam. Men are responsible for the safety, protection, financial support and well-being of their wives and families. Perhaps an old-fashioned concept, but it works. Real women want to be with real men. Moreover, Islam allows for women to be emancipated and independent.
Islam is easy and fair for both sexes. It is a faith between an individual and God. In its story about Adam and Eve, Islam did not mention that Eve encouraged Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. The original sin concept led to the downgrading of women in the early Christian culture. Islam actually treats love-making with ease and Muslims expect to be rewarded for making love to their lawful spouses.
Muslim women can do anything that any other woman in the world can do, cultural limitations notwithstanding. The only difference is good Muslim women still have their honour and respect their husbands.
Generally speaking, my experience has been that Muslim women have more self-respect and confidence than non-Muslim women because Muslim women know what really counts.