"Surprisingly, Islam is now condemned for not giving women their rights, but in the past it was blamed for a totally opposite reason. Riffat Hassan (2007, p. 162) argues that “propaganda against Islam and Muslims is nothing new in the West. It is as old as the first chapter of Islamic history, when the new faith began to move into territories largely occupied by Christians.” Europeans always constructed Islam as a civilizational adversary and the religion, an antithesis of European values. Accordingly, during the medieval period, when women in Europe were denied many basic human rights which Muslim women had enjoyed since the seventh century, Islam was denigrated for being gender egalitarian. Previously in the West, women did not have property, inheritance and many other basic rights. In places such as Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi in the US, women’s property rights were restricted up until the 1960s and 1970s. Interestingly, the first American states “to grant women inheritance rights were Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico, all of which were once under Spanish control,” for which Fernea (2000) credits the Islamic influences on Spain. Parliament in Malta passed divorce laws only on 25 July 2011 (“MPs in Catholic Malta”). In other words, until recently, Maltese men and women have been barred from seeking divorce in the Catholic country. In Britain, women did not have the right of equal pay to equal work until the enactment of the Equal Pay Act of 1970 (enforced in 1975 and amended in 1984). The elite club of Britain’s Conservative Party, the Carlton Club, was established in 1832 and barred women from becoming full members and from attending or voting at general meetings until May 2008, although in 1975 it granted “honorary” membership to Margaret Thatcher (“Carlton Club,” 2008). Conversely, to be fair to the religion, Islam has granted women rights to inheritance, ownership, equal pay, engagement in public life and to initiating divorce since the seventh century. The Qur’ān declares: “Men shall have the benefit of what they earn and women shall have the benefit of what they earn” (4:32) and “From what is left by parents and by those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for women” (4:7). Furthermore, the very reason of women’s economic empowerment in Islam caused
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the Christian medieval world to wonder: “What kind of religion would allow women to inherit?” (Fernea, 2000). This amazement is identical to what the Arabs had exclaimed following the Qur’ānic revelation regarding women’s right to inheritance. Some of them rushed to the Prophet and asked: “O Messenger of God! Are women really entitled to half of the property though they can neither ride horses nor defend themselves?” (Rahman, 2008, p. 32)."
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