I am a black Muslim woman completing a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies, and I am responding to Maria Kareva's letter "Women do not enjoy social equality under Islam." I teach and write about Muslim women of color as a way of raising awareness about race and gender inequalities in the U.S. and abroad. The best of human societies have betrayed their highest ideals by committing excesses against people with less power. As the descendant of African slaves, I need not say more. Similarly, communities of faith who hold the noblest ideals have perpetrated injustice in the name of faith, including Muslim communities. Let us be fair enough to acknowledge that gender discrimination in all of its manifestations from glass ceilings to honor killings occurs not only in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia but also in the United States, Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Germany, India, China, Thailand and Great Britain. I could go on.
Although gender inequalities reflect a global phenomenon, this does not mean that Muslims who do horrible things to women and children should be excused. In the last sermon of the Prophet Muhammad, he told the first Muslim community that "a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action" and to "treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers." I see the Prophet's words as a warning and a foretelling that Muslim communities will, like all other human groups, fall vulnerable to social ills like racism and gender oppression. For those Muslims who have fallen, Islam provides a reminder through the words of the Prophet and the Qur'an to act with justice and equity.
I encourage students to take a course on Islamic civilization to learn that Muslim societies are as much influenced by the ideals of their faith as they are by sexist cultural traditions and by political ambitions that have nothing to do with Islam. This means that it is possible for a society that claims the highest ideals to have leaders and citizens who harm others in order to assert political power. We all have a responsibility to do something about a world full of injustices, and I'm starting at home by being an American Muslim scholar-activist.