Sunday August 26 was the annual Women’s Equality Day which marked the achievement of American women to gain voting rights back in 1920. In Dallas, a private luncheon was held yesterday at the Crescent club, hosted by the Dallas Women’s Foundation and the U.S. Trust, commemorating Women’s Equality Day. This historical marker has been celebrated all week last week when Dallas City Hall held a ceremony on August 22nd by honoring another Dallas-based women’s organization, the Women’s Issues Network (WIN), co-Founded in 1980 by Shirley Miller, wife of Dallas Morning News columnist Bob Miller. Attending the celebration were representatives and members from Peacemakers, League of Women’s Voters, National Council of Jewish Women-Greater Dallas Section, Women’s Council of Dallas County, and Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation among others.
Young Americans today can hardly believe that in the 1800’s, women could not own property, had no legal claim to the money they earned, and were not allowed to vote. Starting in 1848, a massive peaceful civil rights movement led by women kicked off the world’s first Women’s Rights Convention. In 1919, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed and in 1920 it was ratified, guaranteeing all women the right to vote. Yet suffrage rights did not totally empower women. In 1957, Shirley Miller, co-Founder of WIN, applied for a newspaper job that paid women only $50. Yet, Miller lobbied over the years and ultimately WIN was born. On the national level, August 26 was designated in 1971 to honor continuous efforts to uphold women’s equality rights.
Harder to believe is the fact that while American women were denied suffrage, ownership, and financial rights, women on the other side of the world, in the Middle East and in the Muslim world, had been enjoying such rights since the 7th century. A disclaimer here: even though Islamic law and history guaranteed women such rights, they were not-and still are not- exclusive in some societies, cultures, and historical eras due to the clash of cultural traditions with Islamic traditions. However, a survey of Arab women in the 1800’s in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt among other places reflects the influential positions that women had and used to secure their financial rights.
In the 7th Century, with the rise of the monotheistic message of Islam, women were given a high status as human beings equal to men, and privileges for being mothers, wives, and daughters. There is no original sin in Muslim beliefs and Adam and Eve are equally responsible for the fall. Women are in the eyes of God free individuals just as men are; they have equal rights and obligations in the religious realm, and they have equal rights and obligations in society. Women in 7th Century Muslim Arabia advised and taught men from the religious field to the battle field. They had rights to inherit, to marry, to choose their husbands, to work, to spend, to own, to rent, to lease, to invest, and to get an education. They had exclusive rights to their money; husbands are not allowed to claim their wives money against their wishes under Islamic law. Muslim women participated in voting early on when Prophet Muhammad sought refuge from the oppressive tribe of Qureish by making an alliance with the tribe of Ta’if; two representatives in that alliance were women.
Thus, when Muslim women, like the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation among others, participate in the Women’s Equality Day, they do that from the rich background of their American Muslim identities that cherish the great compatible ideals of the two traditions. Today, American Muslim women are also reclaiming their God-given rights by contributing to America and lobbying for rights to empowerment, development, and enrichment. At the Dallas Women’s Foundation’s luncheon yesterday, Jackie Vanderbrug, national advisor Gender Lens Investing, said: “Research has shown that companies with progressive gender policies outperform their competitors.” Can you imagine what nations with such policies can achieve globally?
Fortunately, the DFW Muslim community is catching up with national trends, empowering its women, recognizing their significant roles, and reviving their Islamic heritage. In November, Dallas will host F.E.M.M.E., the first scholarly Muslim conference by women, for women. Sponsored by the Muslim community’s men and women, the event is a women’s only event that will present Muslim women with an equal right to religious leadership and representation. More about F.E.M.M.E. following in the upcoming weeks.