A few years ago, one of my colleagues at NBC News asked my reasons of being so happy to be a Muslim. Without any hesitation or second thinking I said, “In Islam, my money is my money and my husband’s money is my money, and there is no matching deal anywhere else.” My friend’s jaw dropped and he demanded further explanation. “See, my husband is fully responsible for providing for our family. All the expenses are his. Islamically, he cannot demand a single penny from me for anything. It’s my own choice and will if I would like to share the cost of anything or not.” I explained.
“What about the inheritance? Don’t you receive just half of what your brother would receive from your parents’ inheritance,” another friend inquired suspiciously.
Indeed, I received exactly half of my brother’s portion, when my father died a few years ago. For many feminists/women-rights activists this is the biggest point to crusade about. Unfortunately, they don’t understand the beauty of the system, since they do not do enough research or have read the wrong books. In my case, receiving half of my brother’s portion was the biggest privilege of my life that boosted my confidence by many folds. My love for Islam and for the men around me was deeper than ever before. I never miss a chance to share this story with my friends and colleagues.
My father died of a sudden heart failure at the age of 56, leaving his wife, two married daughters and two highschooler sons, 16 and 17, behind. The only inheritance he left for us was the family’s house that had good value but was the only place for my mother and brothers to live. That is when I experienced the beauty of the Islamic system very closely. The first thing that my husband said to me was to tell my mother that we don’t need any inheritance. He was a fresh college graduate with no job and no money in his pocket at that time. Still he suggested that I should withdraw myself from my inheritance to help my family. Although it was my own decision at the end, his saying that gave me an extra level of confidence and stability that is irreplaceable to this date.
In the pursuit of a happy solution, my brother-in-law, the only financially established man of our family at that time, offered to buy the house but requested to transfer it to his wife’s name. His wife, my older sister, was just a homemaker and had never made even a penny in her life. It was all his money that he used to pay for the house and make it a memorable and priceless gift for his wife. My brother-in-law also insisted that my mother and brothers keep living in the house as before and should not worry about rent or any other expense.
As my mother received the money from the house sale, she and my brothers refused to use my portion. They insisted that I take mine and use it whatever way I wanted to. I was told that it was a gift from my father and no one has any right on it besides me. Yes, it was half of what each of my brothers received, but it was all mine. I am not responsible for anybody or anything, and my husband is still responsible to provide my bread and butter. And yes, my brothers received twice more than I did, but their money was not theirs. They are responsible not only for themselves and their mother, but also for me, my sister, and our children, if God forbid anything happens to our husbands. Islamically, if there is any woman who does not have a male provider in her immediate family, the men in her extended family are required to spend their money on her. This is why they get more.
“Wow, we need this system too,” was the response of my female colleagues at NBC. But my male colleagues were not so sure. One of them said out loud that it seemed to him that actually Muslim men are oppressed not the Muslim women. For the next whole week, we kept discussing the real Islamic system of inheritance, rights and responsibilities of men and women according to the Islamic book not by the culture.
For the contemporary American women, Islamic wealth distribution system is like a fairy tale from a far away land. It’s a tale that they are not supposed to hear. As they have been listening to the lullabies of false freedom and financial independence in this country for so long, they are influenced by the mainstream stereotypic coverage of Muslim women. It’s easy for them to believe that a Muslim woman could not be a privileged woman by any chance. But for my colleagues, it was not hard to deny the stereotypes when their own Muslim colleague, in a loose attire and covered face, became the living example of happiness and personal privileges while working in the newsroom as one of the high achievers and the most competent.
Throughout my tenure at NBC News, my journalist friends and colleagues told me that they believed that a covered woman could not speak English and would not be allowed a step out of her house without her husband. My presence in the newsroom day and night broke all such stereotypes and they actually learned that the media stories about oppressed Muslim women were not true. It may be culture but not the religion.
During my hundreds of long and short conversations with my girl friends and colleagues over the years, I have found a clear contrast between their lives and mine. They work harder and longer and make more money than I do. They struggle harder to keep a balance among their finances, family lives, and careers than I do. At the end of the day, in case of domestic disputes, they also lose more than I do. When I lose, there are plenty of feminist organizations fighting for my rights. When they lose, nobody wants to even acknowledge it, for the fear of losing the feminist face of a happy liberated American woman.
Eventually, it all comes upon us, the privileged Muslim women, to bring the reality into light and to sing the songs of liberty and freedom that has been bestowed upon us in the name of Islamic laws. The more we do that; the more we will be able to liberate our oppressed sisters from the deceptive male agenda and false propaganda.
Zerqa Abid is a social/political activist, journalist, writer, blogger, editor, TV producer/director, speaker, marketing communication specialist, campaign maker, event manager/organizer and CEO of her business, ZAPS Technocrats Inc., based in the United States. This article was previously published at Wajahat Ali’s blog, Goatmilk. It was first published on AltMuslimah on March 30, 2009.