Throughout recorded history, women have been dehumanised, subjugated, and silenced. Although progress is occurring, this story is still true to too many women, especially in the developing world. Half a billion Muslim women inhabit approximately forty-five Muslim majority countries, with another thirty or more countries with significant Muslim minorities, including in the West. Some Muslim women find themselves under extremely conservative, patriarchal systems that embrace Islam and Shari’a in its most reactionary form regarding Muslim women, e.g., Iran, Sudan, and Northern Nigeria. In response, Muslim women are striving not just for basic human rights, but are using Islam to demand gender equality via a more liberal reading of the Holy Qur’an and Islamic jurisprudence, new civil liberties, and new relationships to the outside world.
The purpose of this phenomenological research study is to provide a detailed and comprehensive description of how Muslim women around the world use Islam to promote gender equality and improve their treatment within their daily lives. The study also seeks to advance knowledge of how Islam, as a religion, can promote gender equality via an Islamic theology (Kalam) framework, which is also used for this study. Kalam recognises biological differences between men and women and extols motherhood, but also says that biology does not equal destiny. Additionally, this research study further addresses the effects Islam will have on future gender relations between Muslim men and Muslim women within patriarchal, gender-based regimes. The anticipated results may also be useful in improving gender relations within Islam by serving as a roadmap to resolving conflict between Muslim women, and Islamic clerics and scholars.
The study took a qualitative phenomenology research approach, with data collected from observations and semi-structured individual interviews and transcriptions from participants from diverse geographical locations, educational levels, sects, socio-economic backgrounds, and nationalities. Additionally, a significant literature review introduces and discusses key concepts and issues, and provides material for context and analysis. Inductive analysis allowed for the emergence of themes in relation to Muslim women and gender equality within Islam, while an Islamic theoretical (Kalam) model provided a conceptual framework for the study, allowing participants to discuss acquiring and/or achieving gender equality within Islam without separating their religion from their respective traditions and cultures.
A number of significant themes emerged from the research that helped to illustrate how Muslim women can employ Islam to promote gender equality while improving their lives, all of which are discussed in-depth alongside transcripts of the participants own words. The eleven themes identified were: religious consciousness; Islam as a religion; Islamic tenets and principles; gender equality, which a majority of participants considered to be promoted by Islam; Islamic covering of women; religious activities; the role of Muslim women; the public and private treatment of Muslim women; the difference between being a Muslim women in the West, as opposed to living in a majority Muslim country; Islamic fundamentalism, and the negative connotations toward it revealed by participants; and finally voice and expectations, in which participants expressed varying expectations for Muslim women, with culture and tradition largely dictating the views of women in their various and diverse geographical locations.