Is Islam the best religion for women


Christine Schirrmacher

To person

Dr. phil., born 1962; Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Bonn, research focus: Islam in Germany and Europe, sharia law issues, women's and human rights, Islamist and jihadist movements.

Islamist legal norms severely limit the lives of women. Even so, women are turning to Islamism and Salafism. Her reasons include her role as a fighter in jihadism.

Depending on the interpretation, rules of conduct, clothing and marriage law vary slightly in Islamism, Salafism or Jihadism. (& copy picture alliance / NurPhoto)

Introductory explanation of terms: Islamism and Salafism

"Islamism" means an interpretation of Islam according to which Islam is not only belief and religion, but also a social order and politics. So Islamism describes a politico-religious ideology. It refers to Muhammad and influential theologians of the early days of Islam, but did not lead to a large number of political movements until the 20th century. Their common goal is to establish an Islamic system of rule and society in which Sharia law is used in civil and criminal law (see info box). Democracy is rejected as man-made and the "western" social order condemned. However, the various Islamist currents differ in the question of how the necessary transformation of society into an Islamic order can be achieved.

The fastest growing current of Islamism today is Salafism, which is ideologically closely related to Wahhabism (the interpretation of Islam at home in Saudi Arabia). Salafists live their lives strictly according to the Koran and sunna from (the deeds and words of Muhammad, his exemplary habit) as well as from the example of the Prophet's companions (arab. as-salaf as-salih; hence "Salafism"). Salafist groups are mostly divided into:
  • puristic (or: quietistic) Salafists who want to reshape society through their exemplary implementation of "pure Islam" and through missionary preaching (arab. dacwa),
  • political Salafists who seek to influence politics in favor of their goals and
  • jihadist Salafists, whose supporters are also ready to use violence to overthrow what they consider to be "illegal" governments and to establish "true" Islam. However, there are also mixed forms of these ideal-typical categories
Today women are not only represented in these different currents of Islamism and Salafism, they are also playing an increasingly prominent role. They are no longer passive members of these networks, but take an active role themselves.

Islamic Legal Norms for Women - Where Do They Come From?

Islamic marriage and family law is part of Sharia law; criminal law or ritual law (with its rules for the practice of religion) are further components. Sharia law was never codified, i.e. it was never written down in all individual provisions in a collection of laws. Therefore, the individual orders on marriage and family from the Koran and the Islamic tradition can be interpreted to a certain extent. There is not just one interpretation, but four Sunni schools of law and various interpreters within the schools of law. Nevertheless, the scope for interpretation is generally quite limited because influential early Islamic jurists and theologians from the 7th to 10th centuries also formulated the norms and guidelines of marriage and family law. They formed the few provisions of the Koran and the explanation of these rules in the tradition into a legal corpus that has remained unchanged in Islamic theology and jurisprudence since the 10th century and is still recognized today. Islamic family law to this day reflects the tribal law that applied on the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century AD.


Sharia law

Sharia law is based on the legal provisions of the Koran and Islamic tradition. Very few legal questions are dealt with by way of example in the Koran; The legal provisions of tradition are more extensive. "Tradition" is the name given to the collection of decisions made by Muhammad, his companions and their immediate successors, including the first four caliphs after Muhammad. By interpreting the legal texts of the Koran and the tradition, theologians and legal scholars developed a corpus of legal provisions in the period from the 7th to 10th centuries AD, which is known as Sharia law. Among these theologians and legal scholars, the founders and students of the four Sunni and the most important Shiite school of law, the Twelve Shiites, are of particular importance.

Restrictive interpretation of legal provisions
Islamist groups interpret these legal provisions in a particularly restrictive manner. If the traditionally interpreted marriage and family law based on Sharia law discriminates against women and grants them fewer rights than men, then this applies all the more to its conservative interpretation in Islamism and Salafism. Because who his life strictly adheres to the Koran and sunna (the custom of Muhammad) cannot ignore the legal provisions from the 7th to 10th centuries, since Islamic marriage and family law as part of Sharia law was fundamentally formulated at that time and religiously legitimized as a revelation from God. Depending on the interpretation, rules of conduct, clothing and marriage law vary slightly in Islamism, Salafism or Jihadism. Ultimately, however, the scope for interpretation is quite limited, since the interpretations of the early theologians and jurists as a whole move within a conservative framework.

Examples of Islamist regulations
There is hardly any leeway when it comes to the obligation of women to veil in Islamism or Salafism. Anyone who fully affirms Sharia law in its traditional interpretation and wants to imitate the time of Muhammad without compromising and adapting to modernity is bound by certain regulations on the veiling of women. It is also difficult to avoid the warnings of tradition that women in the public sector can easily become a temptation for men with the argument that these norms are no longer valid today. The strict gender segregation, as is often practiced in public appearances by Islamist preachers, the definition of women on a role as wife and mother, or the wife's duty of obedience to her husband is also hardly disputed in the field of Islamism and Salafism. This also applies to the man's basic right to a plural marriage (provided certain conditions, such as the corresponding financial circumstances, are given) as well as the right to chastise his wife for disobedience, which is usually expressly confirmed in Islamist literature.

The attraction of Islamism and Salafism to women

Although one could assume that such a marriage law would be rejected by many women in the 21st century, Islamism and especially Salafism in Germany have some popularity among women. Some are Muslim women with or without a migration background from traditionally religious, liberal or even entirely non-religious homes, others are converts. What is the reason for the attractiveness of Islamist circles with their gender segregation, strict dress code and commitment to the role of wife and mother?

Various reasons for the path to Islamism or Salafism
There are many reasons why women find their way into Islamism or Salafism. There is no one motive that applies to all women. However, there are explanations and experiences from the work of security authorities, from work in schools, from youth work and from the work of those who work to prevent radicalization.
  • Since Salafism offers very clear rules and guidelines, it seems to give some young women (and men too) support, security and boundaries in an increasingly unbounded society.
  • Solidarity and assistance, warmth and community in a group of like-minded people can provide support in times of personal crises through illness, divorce or death, especially if the families do not absorb such crises or are even their cause.
  • The sometimes unsolved question of one's own identity through life between the worlds, which migration often brings with it, also seems to be a favoring factor: The search for one's own (religious) roots in a largely secularized society can turn into a demonstratively religious one , lead Salafist group. The claim to be able to get to know the "real" Islam in such a group is obviously attractive for some young people with a migration background, who often received little in-depth knowledge of their religion from their parents.
  • If young girls and women from Muslim parents in particular opt for a stricter form of Islam than that practiced by their parents' generation, this can also be a form of "empowering" in a patriarchal family hierarchy.
  • The feeling of not belonging anywhere, of being permanently excluded as a "foreigner" due to the origin of the family and also by religion, even if one was born, raised in Germany and is a citizen, can encourage one's own desire for a particularly conspicuous demarcation. This also applies to the clothing style of women in Salafist circles, which is particularly noticeable.
Those who feel socially discriminated may perceive such a tight-knit community, in contrast to the society "out there", as a contrast program that offers support. For those who have little success in school and at work, the portrayal of Islam as the religion that is superior to all others and a devaluation of "Western society" as godless and depraved may make sense. If in such a group a Salafist preacher portrays "Western society" as racist, Islamophobic and hypocritical, the environment can collectively be blamed for its own failure without having to take account of its own deficits.

Furthermore, warmth, support and acceptance within the group develop a great power of persuasion and offer emotional support. The newcomer is taught that he is in the right place and that he is an important member of the community who has a big job to do. It is often personal friendships through which first contact with a Salafist group is made. It can be a coincidence whether the "prodigal daughter" or the "prodigal son" ends up in a right-wing extremist, left-wing extremist or Salafist group. Joining an extremist group can also be a protest against school and parental home, a means of demarcation - which becomes particularly apparent when the person sports a new name, new dietary regulations and a new dress code.

Conflicts for converts
For converts, turning to Salafism usually means complying with a large number of new regulations for everyday life, which often lead to conflicts with family and old friends:

Food: Salafists often do not want to compromise on food regulations and only "halal"eat. Food that"halal"are, come from a production that guarantees that there are no prohibited substances such as alcohol or components of pork fat in it. Meat must be slaughtered by a Muslim butcher and the animal must be completely bled after the name of God has been invoked on the animal.

dress: Another area of ​​conflict is often clothing. According to the Salafist view, women should wear floor-length skirts and coats. A headscarf that completely covers the hair and the neck area is the least, but usually a veil is worn that covers the head, neck, shoulders and chest area or even a full-body cape (similar to an Iranian chador), which extends from head to toe falls and completely covers the clothing underneath. Often the entire outer clothing is kept in black or at least a dark color. Strict Salafist women also wear black gloves and / or a face veil.

The particularly strict clothing regulations reflect the Salafist view that the behavior of women is crucial for maintaining morality in a society. Since, according to the Salafist view, a society by the exemplary, strictly on the Koran and sunna The dress codes for women are of great importance because they are not allowed to fitna (in this context, for example: temptation) for others.

Workplace: According to the Salafist view, women should not do any work that brings them into close physical contact with men, such as the hairdresser. Work in a restaurant is also rejected due to the inevitable contact points with alcohol and pork there. Music, dance, art and visual representations of humans and animals are rejected as well as anything that promotes “immorality” between men and women (even talking to one another about unrelated people can be understood as a form of immorality, as can collegial interaction in the workplace or the joint processing of tasks). In any case, due to the striking clothing of Salafist women, many jobs are out of the question from the employer's point of view, which in Salafist circles is usually viewed as discrimination, Islamophobia or restriction of religious freedom as well as a sign of moral aberration in Western society.

The role of the woman: In addition, in Salafism, the ideal of women as wife and mother applies to women; In contrast, gainful employment is of subordinate importance. The man is responsible for the livelihood. Although this is also part of the sharia regulations of marriage law, it is handled much more strictly in the Salafist area.

Duty of obedience to the husband: In return for the obligation to work, the man has the right to obedience to his wife - this is also part of classic marriage law; however, Salafist publications often also emphasize the man's right to use corporal punishment to make a woman obedient if she defies his instructions. Salafists also consider the man to be entitled to determine his wife's freedom of movement; he can allow or forbid her to work. Not infrequently, he also determines the contacts his wife is allowed to maintain and determines whether, how often and for what purpose she can leave the house.

All individual regulations on clothing, food, manners, roles and behavior for women (and men) are by no means secondary issues from a Salafist point of view, since for Salafists, through the visible imitation of the example of Muhammad, the environment gets to know "true" Islam and thus an invitation to Islam pronounced, so dacwa is made (see above under "Salafism"). In Salafist forums the duty to dacwa often thematized and at least for quietist Salafism the actual instrument for influencing and reshaping society.

Women as fighters in jihadism: from the passive to the active role

According to the traditional jihad teaching of Islamic theologians, women, as those who are obedient wives, bear children and raise the next generation in the spirit of jihad, play a supporting role in jihad. As the classical Islamic doctrine of jihad emphasizes, they should not take part in combat operations. However, this "classic" understanding has changed considerably in recent years. Although women still see their involvement in combative jihad as supporting their men, they play a much more active role:

  • Propaganda and recruitment: Today they are very important as advertisers for jihad: They run forums on the Internet in which they paint younger girls and women who are in the combat zone in Syria in pink colors and lead them to believe that there is a marriage and Family life with a courageous jihad fighter was the fulfillment for them, yes, that it was only possible in Syria and in the areas conquered by IS to lead a life in full accordance with the teachings of Islam. Nobody there looks down on them and their clothes, actually that is their society to which they belong. These jihad recruiters give the girls tips on the Internet on how they can keep their departure plans a secret from their parents and the school and how they can cross the border into the Syrian combat zone. As the older "sister" you create a personal bond with the young woman and take on the role of a surrogate mother who takes care of all the young woman's concerns and questions. It seems to be this personal bond in particular that makes young women follow the propagandists' recruitment.Jihadists make use of the strict gender segregation because men cannot build up a relationship of trust with women in this way.
  • Wife for fighters: Others, often very young women, have traveled to combat areas as wives with their husbands in recent years or set out alone or in pairs to marry a fighter in Syria. According to classic marriage law, women would not be allowed to set out without a husband and without close male relatives, but the rules have been adapted for the journey to jihad.
  • Women's brigades: women play an important role in the combat zone. On the one hand, because they are mediated by matchmakers to the male fighters and thus create something like normality and family life on the spot between the murder and enslavement of many people, destruction and fighting. On the other hand, because they support the struggles themselves and concentrate particularly on the women. In addition, women fighters guarantee media attention. In the combat area of ​​the so-called "Islamic State", a separate women's brigade, the Khansaa Brigade, is a kind of religious police responsible for the control, education and punishment of women. Others take care of logistics, fundraising or medical care.
Apart from the immediate battlefield, women are of great importance in the entire field of political Islam as supporters of fighters and propagandists: They provide prisoners in prisons with the things they need to survive, they spread their ideology in times of persecution, they indoctrinate and advertise new trailers and smuggling material in and out of detention centers.

In the case of women emigrating to the so-called Islamic State, in addition to romantic ideas of a marriage with a "courageous lion", the desire for self-determination and escape comes into question. With the departure women can on the one hand set themselves apart from their parents and the crampedness of their parental home, but at the same time demonstrate how abysmally they despise the materialistic western society.

Subordination instead of emancipation
The active role that young women play in jihadism today could look like an emancipation movement, a kind of self-determination and liberation. However, this is not the case. The young women in the combat zone do not decide who they will be married to or who they will be passed on to as a widow if their husbands are killed in combat. Also, if they become disillusioned with life in the so-called Islamic State, if they are ill or traumatized, they are not allowed to leave the combat area. They are checked and are not allowed to leave the house without a male escort. Some of them are temporarily married to one of the IS fighters in time marriages, with or without their consent. They have far fewer rights than classical Sharia law would grant them.

Whether radicalized jihad returnees, some of whom have had combat experience, are ready to carry out attacks in Europe or will one day even carry them out cannot be foreseen at the moment.

More on the subject:


Women for jihad. The manifesto of the IS fighters. Herder: Freiburg, 2015

Jessica Davis. Women in Modern Terrorism. From Liberation Wars to Global Jihad and the Islamic State. Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, 2017

Nina Käshage. Jihad as a way out. Why Chechen women go to war and German fighters follow them. On cleats: Jump, 2017

V. G. Julie Rajan. Women Suicide Bombers. Narratives of Violence. Routledge: Abingdon, 2011

Britt Ziolkowski. Palestinian female martyrs. Self-portrayal and inner-Islamic perception of female suicide bombers. Klaus Schwarz: Berlin, 2017

Britt Ziolkowski. The Hamas activists. On the role of women in an Islamist movement. Klaus Schwarz: Berlin, 2017