Gender equality in Islam: Perspectives from female Muslim converts in the West
Fen-Fang Tsai(Graduate Institute of Hakka social and cultural studies)
Based on empirical data from scholars in Western countries, this study explores how female converts to Islam in the West view gender equality in Islam by investigatingthe backgrounds, social and cultural contexts, and motives of conversion, particularlyregarding differences in gender equality between the West and Islam. Generally speaking, in Western discourse and media representation, Islam is considered a religion with gender inequality that oppresses women. However, Western women who convert to Islam are captivated by the gender issues of Islam, such as stable gender norms and order, and the recognition of “equal but different” between genders. Moreover, in most Western society, people devalue housewives, but Islam recognizes women as mothers who take care of family and children. That women’sconversion to Islam is usually unacceptable entails discussing the image of Islam in the eyes of non-Muslims and in Western discourse. The argument in which oppressed women are the symbols of maintaining religious and ethnic boundaries is also worthy of investigation. Subjugation and oppression imposed on Muslim women reflectthe problems of secular regimes; however, this does not fully clarify how women are regarded in Islam. Therefore, examining women in the Quran is necessary to delineate the Islamic perspectives regarding women. Despite the negative attitude toward Islam in the West, mainly concerning oppression of female Muslims, the female converts examined in this study nevertheless embrace Islam,thus being grounded in the concepts of gender, gender equity, womanhood, and motherhood in Islam to meet their particular needs. The central meaning of gender equity focuses onbeing fair and reasonable in a manner that treats everyone equally. Furthermore, the social and cultural contexts in which female converts are involved influences their perspectives regarding gender in Islam, in which internal differences exist. In conclusion, the perceptions and understandings of female converts to Islam in the West on gender equality in Islam render Islam not homogeneous and unitary, but rather dynamic and full of diversity in that Muslims from various social and cultural backgrounds redefine and refresh the meaning of Islam through their practices and interpretations.
gender equality, Islam, conversion