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As an imam, I'm often asked about women's role in Islam – and this is my message for International Women's Day

I’ll never fully understand the fight that women experience daily. I do, however, recognise that fight and see suffering in society as well as in the Muslim community that I know needs to be stopped

Qari Asim
Tuesday 06 March 2018 18:00 GMT
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Women are an integral part of both Islam and Britain alike, and the Quran regards women and men as equal in the eyes of God
Women are an integral part of both Islam and Britain alike, and the Quran regards women and men as equal in the eyes of God (Reuters)

International Women’s Day is an incredibly important date, which should act as a reminder that we must live its values on every other day of the year. This year, more than ever, men have a responsibility to take part in the conversation, and have a responsibility to do what they can to further women’s rights. It is not women’s responsibility alone.

I am often asked about women’s role in Islam. The reality is that women are an integral part of both Islam and Britain alike. The Quran regards men and women as equals in the sight of God. It’s time, then, that we champion the success of Muslim women such as Malala Yousafzai, Mishal Husain and Nadiya Hussain, who are throwing a positive spotlight on the contribution that Muslim women make to British society and who give young girls up and down the country and around the world someone to look up to.

Islam grants women, as it does men, fundamental rights to life, property, and opinion, and has done so for more than 14 centuries. However, it cannot be denied that despite this, they’ve had to fight for equality every step of the way. Men have sought control over their finances, opinions and fundamental rights to life, but “Time’s Up” on those controls; it’s time for a cultural shift.

International Women's Day: Why we celebrate it

I’ll never fully understand the fight that women experience daily. I do, however, recognise that fight and see suffering in society as well as in the Muslim community that I know needs to be stopped. From domestic violence to honour-based violence, being denied access to certain mosques, or having headscarves ripped off by an ignorant member of the public, it’s time for women to be treated equally and with dignity.

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Sadly, we have seen some sickening instances in the news of some British Muslims and those of Pakistani heritage disproportionately involved in the localised grooming of vulnerable girls. Their actions are as horrifying as those exploiting my religion in their fight for Isis. None of these actions represent Islam, and they do not represent our communities or society. Any regressive demands – whether it be forced marriage, honour killing or social and economic exclusion – voiced in the name of Islam must not be tolerated.

I refuse to stand by and remain silent while extremist narratives dictate that Islam oppresses women. White supremacist groups like the English Defence League only fuel Islamophobia by claiming that the actions of a few represent the whole of Islam. Sexual offenders bring nothing but shame on their religion, their families and communities. We need to be robust in always calling out who the criminal is, whether it be a far-right individual or a member of the Muslim community, and work to protect and stand up for women.

Focusing on someone’s race or religion when calling them out for doing something illegal detracts from the real issue. The real issue is exploitation of vulnerable people.

The message I have to the men in my congregation on International Women’s Day will be to start by thanking the women in your life for the sacrifices they have made – big or small – and take time to recognise what it must be like to be a woman around the world. Women in our communities, whether at work or in a mosque, must be valued and welcomed. British Muslim women are increasingly confronting inequalities and discrimination. A woman’s strength should be celebrated and supported – not abused or silenced.

Qari Asim MBE is the senior imam of Leeds Makkah Masjid (Mosque) and senior editor of ImamsOnline.com

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