Before I give you an answer, let me first offer you my initial
response to your question: That sounds some outsiders say about the
women in my religion! (OK, maybe an exaggerated form of what some
might say.) Yet many of the women that are in my faith (including my
wife, who has a master's degree and votes as a liberal Democrat) are
intelligent, consider themselves feminists, and think for themselves.
And they certainly don't consider themselves oppressed by males (in
fact, as is the case in many U.S. churches, in my church you'll find
more women who are actively involved in church life than you'll find
My next reaction was a reaction to my own thoughts: many of what
outsiders may see as oppressive are things that have to do with the
culture of the religion, not with the religion itself. So it is
possible for some women to profess and follow the faith yet not meet
the stereotype in terms of appearance or behavior. (For example, in my
case, the stereotype is that women are expected to obey their
husbands. The reality is that, according to official church doctrine,
husbands and wives are obligated to help one another as equal
partners.) So I strongly suspected that some of the things you
mentioned were similar in that way, in that they may reflect a
stereotype rather than reality.
Anyway, to get on to your question, I felt that the best way to find
out what women see in the Muslim faith is to ask them. Since I
couldn't do that very easily, I looked on the Web for statements by
Muslim women themselves, either why they follow Islam or why they live
the faith or certain aspects of it. I found a wealth of articles by
women who had converted to Islam, and I felt that their words would
answer your question best, since most of them had grown up in cultures
where people asked the same question you did.
Here are some of their stories:
by Sultana Yusufali, 17, a Toronto high school student
"And the concept of the hijab, contrary to popular opinion, is
actually one of the most fundamental aspects of female empowerment.
When I cover myself, I make it virtually impossible for people to
judge me according to the way I look. I cannot be categorized because
of my attractiveness or lack thereof. Compare this to life in today's
society: We are constantly sizing one another up on the basis of our
clothing, jewelry, hair and makeup. What kind of depth can there be in
a world like this?"
"... When people ask me if I feel oppressed, I can honestly say no. I
made this decision out of my own free will. I like the fact that I am
taking control of the way other people perceive me. I enjoy the fact
that I don't give anyone anything to look at and that I have released
myself from the bondage of the swinging pendulum of the fashion
industry and other institutions that exploit females. My body is my
own business. Nobody can tell me how I should look or whether or not I
am beautiful. I know that there is more to me than that. I am also
able to say no comfortably when people ask me if I feel as though my
sexuality is being repressed. I have taken control of my sexuality."
Islamic Traditions and the Feminist Movement
by Dr. Lois Lamya' al Faruqi
"... as Muslims we regard Islamic traditions as standing
clearly and unequivocally for the support of male-female equity. In
the Quran, no difference whatever is made between the sexes in
relation to God. 'For men who submit [to God] and for women who submit
[to God], for believing men and believing women, for devout men and
devout women, for truthful men and truthful women, for steadfast men
and steadfast women, for humble men and humble women, for charitable
men and charitable women, for men who fast and women who fast, for men
who guard their chastity and women who guard, for men who remember God
much and for women who remember - for them God has prepared
forgiveness and a mighty reward' (33:35). 'Whoever performs good
deeds, whether male or female and is a believer, We shall surely make
him live a good life and We will certainly reward them for the best of
what they did" (16:97).'"
My Journey to Islam
by Amina Cisse Muhammad, an American woman whose grandfather was a
"Islam has brought peace to my life. Islam has taught me to more
completely submit to the Divine order of things. It has given me
purpose and direction in life, and so has filled the void I once felt.
Islam has given me the vehicle by which I have established a personal
relationship with my Lord and Creator, and by which I can continually
move closer to Him. Islam has given me a practical and useful
framework in which to conduct all of my affairs; hence, it encompasses
all of my life ? the physical as well as the spiritual and
intellectual. The Muslims I have encountered in the last 24 years have
not been perfect (no human being is), but they have come closest to
practicing what they profess to believe and what they preach than the
adherents of other faiths that I have encountered in my life's time."
My Journey to Islam
by Aisha, raised Christian
"I compared the two religions [Islam and Christianity] and found Islam
to conform to my intellect and nature, in addition to my ideals of
modesty, cleanliness, justice, and dignity. After three months, I
officially chose Islam as my religion and entered an Islamic chat room
to declare my new faith. The people in the chat room were eager to
offer their complete help and assistance, particularly two brothers
whom I will never forget; may Allah reward them generously."
My Journey to Islam
by Khadijah Jandhli, an American adult convert to Islam
"Upon hearing that I had become Muslim, all the students came to see
me, brought food to fill my empty cupboards and refrigerator, and sat
with me every evening for a time to answer questions. The sisters from
the university and community brought me some clothes, including an
Islamic dress. When I finally put on my Islamic clothes, I felt I had
finally come to my real home, my real faith, my real identity, my real
language, my real family."
My Journey to Islam
by Sarah de Andrade Siqueira, Brazilian convert
"When I had a blessed opportunity to read the Holy Qur'an which
narrates with scientific accuracy the development of the baby in
mother's womb, since his first moments of life; I have decided to
embrace Islam. Beyond this, I also have to say that the submission to
only one God and the complete way of life established by Allah through
his last Prophet Muhammad had touched my heart."
My Journey to Islam
Diane Charles Breslin, Ph.D., former Catholic
"Learning Quran has changed every facet of my life. I no longer wish
to have any earthly luxuries, neither cars nor clothes nor trips can
lure me into that web of vain desires which I was so caught up in
before. I do enjoy a fairly good life of a believer but as they say?
it is no longer embedded in the heart...only at hand. I don't fear the
loss of my former friends or relatives -if Allah chooses to bring them
close then so be it, but I know that Allah gives me exactly what I
need, no more- no less. I don't feel anxious or sad anymore, nor do I
feel regret at what has passed me by. Because I'm safe in the care of
Allah -THE ONE AND ONLY whom I always knew but didn't know His name."
Shattering Illusions: Western Conceptions of Muslim Women
by Saimah Ashraf
"One of the basic principles of Islam is justice for all humans and
equality in the eyes of God. Women are considered no less than men in
aspects of religion and are not denigrated anywhere in the Quran."
"As a teenager I was attracted to the beauty and intelligence of Islam
and immediately embraced its principles and have made it my own
spiritual and political duty to resist,recapture, and reinvision
representations of Islam and particularly, women in Islam. With
undergraduate academic papers and recent publication projects, I am
one of many working to continue to advance the issue of the
problematic singular oppressive images purported in society about
Islam and in both its thought and practice.
"Thinking women do freely choose to practice Islam and at each and
every opportunity, I feel obligated to demonstrate that embracing
Islam, in and of itself, is and should be liberating."
My Path to Islam
by C. Huda Dodge (raised Christian in California)
"That summer, I returned home to the Bay Area and continued my studies
of Islam. I checked books out of the library and talked with my
friends. They were as deeply spiritual as I was, and had also been
searching (most of them were looking into eastern religions, Buddhism
in particular). They understood my search, and were happy I could find
something to believe in. They raised questions, though, about how
Islam would affect my life: as a woman, as a liberal Californian :),
with my family, etc. I continued to study, pray and soul-search to see
how comfortable I really was with it. I sought out Islamic centers in
my area, but the closest one was in San Francisco, and I never got
there to visit (no car, and bus schedules didn't fit with my work
schedule). So I continued to search on my own. When it came up in
conversation, I talked to my family about it. I remember one time in
particular, when we were all watching a public television program
about the Eskimos. They said that the Eskimos have over 200 words for
`snow,' because snow is such a big part of their life. Later that
night, we were talking about how different languages have many words
for things that are important to them. My father commented about all
the different words Americans use for money' (money, dough, bread,
etc.). I commented, 'You know, the Muslims have 99 names for God - I
guess that's what is important to them.'"
How I Came to Islam
by Anne Collins (convert from Christianity)
"My sins weighed heavily on me, and I didn'[t know how to escape the
burden of them. I longed for forgiveness. ...
"...I saw Muslims praying on the TV news, and wanted to learn how. I
found a book (by a non-Muslim) that described it, and I tried to do it
myself. (I knew nothing of Taharah -- ritural purity -- and did not
pray correctly.) I prayed in my own strange, desperate way, secretly
and alone, for several years. I memorized some parts of the Qur'an in
English, not knowing that Muslims memorize the Qur'an in Arabic.
"Finally, after eight years of reading the Qur'an, I found this verse:
'This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor
for you, and chosen Islam as your religion.' ... I wept for joy,
because I knew that, way back in time, before the creation of the
Earth, Allah had written this Qur'an for me. Allah had known that
Anne Collins, in Cheektowaga, NY, USA, would read this verse of the
Qur'an in May 1986, and be saved."
Interview with Maryam Jameelah (formerly Margaret Marcus)
"In Islam, my quest for absolute values was satisfied. In Islam I
found all that was true, good and beautiful and that which gives
meaning and direction to human life (and death); while in other
religions, the Truth is deformed, distorted, restricted and
fragmentary. If any one chooses to ask me how I came to know this, I
can only reply my personal life experience was sufficient to convince
me. My adherence to the Islamic faith is thus a calm, cool but very
intense conviction. I have, I believe, always been a Muslim at heart
by temperament, even before I knew there was such a thing as Islam. My
conversion was mainly a formality, involving no radical change in my
heart at all but rather only making official what I had been thinking
and yearning for many years."
by Lady Evelyn Zeinab Cobbold of England
"I am often asked when and why I became a Muslim. I can only reply
that I do not know the precise moment when the truth of Islam dawned
upon me. It seems that I have always been a Muslim. This is not so
strange when one remembers that Islam is the natural religion that a
child, left to itself, would develop. Indeed as a Western critic once
described it. Islam is the religion of common sense.'
"The more I read and the more I studied, the more convinced I became
that Islam was the most practical religion, and the one most
calculated to solve the world's many perplexing problems, and to bring
to humanity peace and happiness. Since then I have never wavered in my
belief that there is but one God; that Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and
others before (peace be on all of them) were prophets, divinely
inspired, that to every nation God has sent an apostle, that we are
not born in sin, and that we do not need any redemption, that we do
not need anyone to intercede between us and God, Whom we can approach
at all times, and that no one can intercede for us, not even Muhammad
or Jesus, and that our salvation depends entirely on ourselves and on
If I were to summarize these writings, I would say, first, that these
women are Muslim because they found spiritual fulfillment in the Islam
faith that they did not find elsewhere. Many of them also sound like
they're quite idealistic, and they are able to separate the ideals of
their faith from the way it is sometimes practiced. It's interesting
how many of them noted the Muslim teachings of equality -- obviously,
they have discovered that aspect of their faith where some others have
Many of them also found that the Muslim faith is a much preferable
alternative to lives that are dominated by greed, selfishness and that
sort of thing.
In many ways, these women sound very much like many people I have
known who have converted to one type of Christianity or another: They
were searching for answers to life, and they found those answers in
the teaching of faith. In other words, they are Muslims because they
have found its teachings to be true in their lives.
I also suggest you read this excellent article, by an American woman
who was surprised by what she found while living in the Middle East
during the mid-20th century:
Islamic Feminism Finds a Different Voice
"The Muslim women's movement is discovering its roots in Islam, not in
imitating Western feminists."
A excellent source of articles about and by Muslim women is
Resources for and about Muslim Women
Here are some other sites that may be interesting:
Rights of the Muslim Woman in Morocco (by a Muslim female attorney)
Women in a Qur'anic Society
by Lois Lamya 'al-F'aruqi
I found this question very interesting. I hope you can fully read my
answer and follow the links to get a broader sampling of how Muslim
women who chose their faith find happiness in their lives.
Google search terms used:
"life as a muslim woman"
"why i am a muslim"
"i am a muslim woman"
"stories of muslim women"
I also browsed through the site at http://islam.about.com to find
links to some of these articles, because I knew the editor of that
site is a Muslim woman.