After watching Oct. 4th's episode of the TV show "7th Heaven," regarding the women of Afghanistan, I feel that it is my duty to inform the public that this so-called "gender apartheid" does not exist in Islam.
The show depicted Afghani women as being oppressed and subservient to men, unable to practice medicine, go to school and pursue careers of their own choosing. This kind of restriction on female human rights is not in any way supported by Islamic doctrine. On the contrary, it is forbidden to oppress women.
In fact, Islam encourages husbands to treat their wives well. Our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said in his last sermon, "O, people, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers...."
In Islam, women are individuals in their own right, and have the right to own and dispose of their property and earnings without any guardianship over them. Women have the right to buy and sell, give gifts and charity, and may spend their money as they please. Women are encouraged to go to school, to have businesses, and to pursue successful careers in such fields as medicine, science, etc.
As for the Muslim woman's dress, "7th Heaven" gave the impression that Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab (the traditional modest dress of Muslim women which covers all parts of the body, and serves to hide the figure, leaving only the face and hands exposed). Yes, Muslim women must abide by this command; however, God commanded the wearing of the hijab in order to protect the purity and chastity of women at all times, as well as that of the men.
While the intention of Western dress is to reval the figure, the intention of the Muslim dress is to conceal it, at least in public. Modest behavior is prescribed not only to women, but to men as well. As for the shape, color and design of the garment, no particular instructions have been given. Instead, they have been left to the requirements and choice of the individual.
Before converting to Islam, I myself dressed like every other young American woman. Now that I am a Muslim, I can see that being modest and guarding one's self from inappropriate looks and glances is the right thing to do. I feel so much more beautiful and feminine wearing the hijab than I ever did following the ways of Western dress. Unfortunately, the negative stereotypes and misconceptions put forth by the media and shows like "7th Heaven" serve only to imbed the wrong image of Islam and Muslims into the minds of the American people.
During the course of the 7th Heaven episode, the mother on the show said to her husband, 'I love my life!" That is exactly how I feel about my life as a Muslim woman. I love my life, and I love my hijab! It is my sincere wish to put an end to these misinterpretations of Muslims and Islamic life, and help Muslims and non-Muslims come to an understanding between each other. Without ridding ourselves of these media half-truths, we will never be able to go forward.
Note: PBUH means Peace Be Upon Him.