International Women’s Day is incredibly important this year because we have come to realise that we must live the values of this day on every other day of the year. Men have a responsibility to take part in today’s conversation, and have a responsibility to do what they can to further women’s rights. It is not her responsibility alone.
I am often asked about women’s role in Islam. The reality is that women are an integral part of both Islam and Britain alike. The Qu’ran regards men and women as equals in the sight of God. It’s time then, that we champion the success of British Muslim women such as Nadiya Hussain who are throwing a positive spotlight on the contribution that Muslim women make to British society and give young girls up and down the country someone to look up to.
Islam grants women, as it does men, fundamental rights to life, property, and opinion and has done so for more than 14 centuries.
It cannot be denied that despite the rights that religions, including Islam, have granted women, they’ve had to fight for equality every step of the way. Men have sought control over their finances, opinions and fundamental rights to life, but ‘Time’s Up’ on those controls; it’s time for a cultural shift.
Whilst I know I’ll never fully understand the fight that women experience daily, I recognise that fight and see suffering in society as well as in the Muslim community that I know needs to be stopped. From domestic violence to honour-based violence, being denied access to certain mosques, or having headscarves ripped off by an ignorant member of the public, it’s time for women to be treated equally and with dignity.
Sadly, there are sickening instances of some British Muslims and those of Pakistani heritage disproportionately involved in localised, street grooming of vulnerable girls. Their actions are as sickening as men exploiting my religion in their fight for Daesh. They’ve kidnapped and raped women and claimed that this is part of their religion. None of these men represent Islam, they do not represent our communities and do not represent our society. Any regressive demands voiced – whether it be forced marriage, honour killing or social and economic exclusion – in the name of faith that undermine the rule of law must not be tolerated. Women in our communities, whether at work or in a mosque must be valued and welcomed.
I refuse to standby and remain silent whilst extremist narratives dictate that Islam suppresses women. The likes of the EDL fuel Islamophobia by claiming that the whole of the Muslim community is grooming young girls because Islam says so. Such sexual offenders bring nothing but shame on their religion, their families and communities. We need to recognise who the criminal is, whether it be a Far-Right individual or a member of the Pakistani community, and work to protect and stand up for women.
Focussing on someone’s race or religion when calling them out for doing something illegal detracts from the real issue. The real issue is exploitation of vulnerabilities. It might be white girls in Oxford, Asian girls in Birmingham, Muslim girls in Bradford, women refugees of Syria and Iraq or women affected by the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. Men may exploit women in return for love, a bottle of alcohol or supplies of food in devastated areas.
The message I have to the men in my congregation on International Women’s Day will be to start by thanking the women in your life for the sacrifices they have made – big or small – and take time to recognise what it must be like to be a woman around the world. British Muslim women are increasingly confronting inequalities and discrimination. There is real strength there that should be celebrated and supported—not abused or silenced.