When one thinks of the Middle East and women, perhaps the first thing to come to mind is a woman covered head-to-toe in black fabric, hidden away from the world as a prize jealously kept by her husband to her own. This stereotype is the reason one connects (or one is prone to connect) Islam with misogyny. Based on Muhammad’s life and the life of his wife Aisha, I would disagree; Islam was never meant to be misogynistic. While the cultural attitudes towards women at the time of Islam’s creation were not equivalent to today’s egalitarian standards, one cannot assume misogyny to be a tenant of Muhammad-era Islam.
Aisha, who was supposedly Muhammad’s favorite wife, presents a surprising example to a stereotypical western assumption. Aisha actually helped solidify many of the prophet’s teaching through the hadiths (Muhammad’s personal teachings), based on her first-hand accounts of his life and sayings; Islam would not exist as it does today without her help. Also, Aisha led a battle against one of the Caliphs that had taken power after Muhammad’s death by extolling her comrades from the back of her camel (the battle would later be called the Battle of the Camel).(1) Apparently women were not always considered simple property or people to be domineered; in Aisha’s case, she was an influential leader to the early Muslims.
In Muhammad’s establishing of Islam he did include some specifics about women, such as a woman’s inability to rule. This was not directly misogynistic; it was simply in line with the culture. In the sixth and seventh century men were leaders and women were not and it was accepted, with exceptions to cases such as Aisha’s. Men were seen to have the political and social abilities to rule, while women were expected to be the meeker and more reserved sex. This was not out of hate towards women, but was derived from gender roles of the time period. This does not, however, mean the social system designed by and for men was enjoyable for women.
In this way one cannot view gender inequality as misogyny, but as a product of the cultural Islamic context. While this clashes with a modern understanding of radical Islam, one cannot say that Islam is itself misogynistic, for the religion can be misunderstood and misrepresented even by its followers.