I want to first start this letter off by saying how proud I am that Allah (SWT) has blessed me with you: a little person who is intelligent, focused, compassionate and caring. I know that I’ve made and will make many mistakes while rearing you but one that I refuse to make is allowing you to believe that your gender gives you power over women, rather than responsibility, and that this somehow makes you better than her.
I’m sure you will have no idea what I’m talking about, but when you get older it will make perfect sense. I am writing this letter to you now in case I forget to tell you this later in life or never make it to see you blossom into the man I hope you will be someday.
You were born into Islam, a religion that I chose for myself. Unfortunately, our religion has become synonymous with male chauvinism and the oppression of women. While these generalisations are not fair, they are fairly accurate in describing some men of the Muslim faith.
While I would love for patriarchy to be outdated, the reality is that in mommy’s time it’s more prevalent than ever and in very real and tangible ways. Women are still paid less than their male counterparts and currently women only helm about 22% of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies.
On a microcosmic scale, Muslim women are facing abuse, unequal mosque facilities, unequal access to education and disproportionately low marriage prospects once they reach a certain age or have been married before. With all of these prevalent issues, including corruption, hunger and lack of knowledge, pervading the community, surprisingly, the debate constantly returns to hijab and what Muslim women are and aren’t doing with their bodies.
So son, here are a few things that I want you to understand and implement when it comes to associating with or discussing women and in particular Muslim women.
1. You do not control women’s bodies. You are in control of your body only and even that is on loan to you from Allah (SWT).
2. Muslim women, no – women period – were not put here for your amusement and enjoyment. Allah (SWT) says that, like you, women were created to worship him: “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me” (Adh-Dhariyat:56).
3. Muslim women do not wear hijab for you, they wear it for Allah (SWT). In addition, modesty and proper covering is prescribed upon you as well: “O children of Adam, We have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your private parts and as adornment. But the clothing of righteousness – that is best. That is from the signs of Allah that perhaps they will remember” (Al-’Araf:26).
4. Education of women in all of its forms is essential to Muslim women and their deen! This goes without saying as by the time you read this you will have known three highly educated women, myself and your two sisters insha Allah, yet still it bears listing here. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said, “Acquisition of knowledge is binding on all Muslims”. (Narrated by Ibn Maja in al-Sunan, 1:81 §224.) There is no need to mention the numerous hadith where women were present and asked questions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in order to acquire knowledge.
5. If your sisters ever get reprimanded by us for staying out later than usual and we did not extend this same courtesy to you please remind us of this letter; we shall immediately rectify the situation and both of you will be grounded post-haste. Indeed, women were created from one soul as its mate and there is no inferiority inherently created in this process. Allah says, “O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer” (An-Nisa:1).
6. Never, ever, ever, allow your anger to cause you to harm any woman, not your sisters, not your future wife and especially not your mother. We know that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has said repeatedly that Paradise lies at the feet of your mother. In the Qur’an, Allah (SWT) says, “And We have enjoined upon man [care] for his parents. His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness and his weaning is in two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents; to Me is the [final] destination” (Luqman:14).
7. Which leads me to chores. By now you will have grown up in a household where gender lines were blurred. You’ve seen me grill, your father cook, me take out the trash, your father pushing a broom and both of us working full-time jobs. Helping to keep the house clean, whether it’s ours, yours or one shared between you and your future spouse, is a responsibility to be shared. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was also known to participate in household chores. A hadith narrated by Imam Ahmed states ‘A’isha (RA) said:” I was asked about what the Prophet used to do in his house. I replied: “He was an ordinary man, he used to sew his garment, milk his goat and serve himself” (Al Bukhari).
8. Which leads me to this all important bit of advice that I hope you never have to hear: ”Your wife does NOT have to serve you your meal! If you’re home while dinner is being cooked or as it is finishing up, do your wife a favour and help yourself to the food. In fact, if you have children help them serve themselves as well.
9. I very sincerely hope that you will one day bring children into this world as they are truly a miracle and blessing. If you should be so lucky please help your wife with feedings, take the night shifts a few times a week and, most importantly, become acquainted with changing a nappy… or two.
10. Finally, we’ve come to the entire point of this letter, I ask that you not bear witness to the oppression of women without trying to change it! Always ask yourself if this were my sister or mother, would I like this to occur? Would I let it occur? If the answer is no, then you must do something, stand up if you can, speak out if you must and, if all else fails, change it with your heart through du’a.
Keziah S. Ridgeway is a High School History Teacher at Al Aqsa Islamic Academy, wife, mother of three children, and the creator of Philly Hijabis Killing It. She currently resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.