Assalāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāhi Wabarakath,
The statement that Muslim Women who cover are backwards and not as successful and accomplished compared to their Non-Muslim Western counterparts is a statement that I've often heard, read and debated upon. I find this statement absolutely ridiculous and would like to expound on this subject a bit.
The Media plays a big role in this misconception that is believed by a large number of people. Right now, the Media is largely controlled by the West and it is common knowledge that a lot of the news reports that come out are biased and anti-Islam. It has come to the point when a report comes out I think twice about believing it, especially when it involves anything related to Islam. The Hijab or the Niqaab is very rarely portrayed in a positive light.
A lot of [ignorant] opinions form because we don't see a lot of Muslim Women on the News or in the Media. Simply because a lot of Muslim Women will refuse to be photographed, video taped or appear in the news. There are a number of reasons for this.
One of the main reasons is Hayaa. Muslim Women cover, some only leave their hands and face to be shown, while others only show their eyes. The last thing a Muhajibah or a Munaqabbah would want is her picture in the newspaper or flashed on the news.
We don't know where or in what way the photo will end up. Considering the amount of software that is available, pictures can be altered and changed. And in this day and age there is not a lack of perverts who would use such pictures for a sick reason. [Someone once linked me to a group where Non-Muslim Men had posted pictures of Muslim Women in Hijaab and Niqaab which were taken without their consent. Why? They thought them attractive and there were some crude remarks made for many of the pictures.] In majority of the Muslim Countries, taking a photograph of a Muslim Woman who covers, will result in your camera being taken away. Especially if the Woman goes to the police. It is only recently that we find Muslim Women willing to appear on the news and so on.
Now what I find happening in malls here, and I've experienced it myself, that a lot of tourists who are visiting the Country will try and sneak a picture or a video of a covered Muslim Woman. They'll be discreet about it, but they'll do it. I don't know what is it, either it is the fascination or the mystery, but I find it absolutely disgusting. If someone does not want a picture taken, why take it? In times like these, I find it convenient to cover my face with the Hijab and I find other Women doing the same.
Secondly, a lot of Muslim Men, who still have some gheerah in them, will not want the pictures of their Wives or Sisters to be on someones Video Camera.
However, just because Muslim Women do not appear on the front page of the newspaper or do not make the headlines, does not mean that we are not successful or accomplished. I know Sisters who wear the full face veil and are in the Medical field. Or Sisters who have top posts in firms.
But, unlike their Non-Muslim counterparts, Muslim Women have a different concept of being successful. Everything is not about making a career or making money. Being successful in this World, does not mean that you automatically become successful in the hereafter. A Mu'min will always think about the akhira - the hereafter. A Woman who encourages her sons for Jihad, helps in the battlefield by giving water to the Mujahideen and teaches Ilm will be considered more successful then a Woman who runs a company in the eyes of Allah subhanna wa ta'ala.
Now, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with the latter, but just that the Western perspective of being successful is different to the Muslim perspective of being successful. A lot of Women will combine the two and there isn't anything wrong with that. We now have practicing Muslim Women who are involved in a lot of different fields, Alhamdulilah but if the time comes that she has to make a choice between her religion or her career, a lot of Muslim Women will choose their religion. Islam is something that cannot be compromised. And that is something a lot of people don't understand.
Allah Subhanna wa ta'ala says in the Qur'an:
Whoever desires the quick-passing (transitory enjoyment of this world), We readily grant him what We will for whom We like. Then, afterwards, We have appointed for him Hell, he will burn therein disgraced and rejected, - (far away from Allâh's Mercy). (18)
And whoever desires the Hereafter and strives for it, with the necessary effort due for it (i.e. do righteous deeds of Allâh's Obedience) while he is a believer (in the Oneness of Allâh— Islâmic Monotheism), then such are the ones whose striving shall be appreciated, (thanked and rewarded by Allâh). (19)
Al Israa - The Holy Qur'an
Another reason why Muslim Women will refuse to be in the spotlight is because, in Islam, your work should be done for the sake of Allah subhanna wa ta'ala and not because you want fame or want to show off in this World. Muslims should seek the praise and pleasure of Allah subhanna wa ta'ala, regardless of whatever work he or she does.
From the Amir al-Muminin Abu Hafs 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, radiya'llahu 'anhu, that he said, "I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, saying, 'Actions are only by intentions, and every man has only that which he intended...
And Allah subhanna wa ta'ala says in the Qur'an:
So woe unto those performers of Salât (prayers) (hypocrites), (4) Those who delay their Salât (prayer from their stated fixed times), (5) Those who do good deeds only to be seen (of men), (6) And prevent Al-Mâ'ûn (small kindnesses like salt, sugar, water). (7)
Al Maun - The Holy Qur'an
Lastly, Muslim Women have been Scholars, Doctors, Nurses and Business Women since the time of the Prophet Sallalahu alayhi wasallam. Long before our Non-Muslim Western counterparts were granted the same rights and freedom that were granted to us by Islam.
Khadijah bint Khawaylid radi allahu anha, the Wife of the Prophet sallalahu alayhi wasallam was a successful tradeswoman in her time. Infact, it was she whom the Prophet sallalahu alayhi wasallam worked under at first.
Hafsah bint Umar ibn Al-Khattab radi allahu anha, an offspring of the Mujahideen was an excellent writer and orator.
Ayesha bint Abu bakr radi allahu anha is one of the seven from whom thousands of Ahadith have been narrated. During the caliphate of the four Caliphs, her judical degree or verdict was accepted. And she had immense knowledge and mastery over the laws of Inheritance.
Umm Salamah bint Aby Umayyah radi allahu anha was considered a Mujahida because she participated in many battles during the time of the Prophet sallalahu alayhi wasallam. She was with the Prophet sallalahu alayhi wasallam during the battles of Bani Mustalaq, Taif, Khayber, Hunain and conquest of Mecca. She too was a Scholar of Islam law of fostering relations through divorce and suckling. She was unequaled in her mastery of language.
And these are only a few examples. A lot of Muslim Women in the past have been renown for their knowledge of ahadith and have stayed as Scholars of Ahadith. They were involved in Industry, trade and commerce even during the time of the Prophet sallalahu alayhi wasallam.
Just recently, I was watching a documentary on Hizbullah, and I was fascinated by the fact that the backbone of Hizbullah were Women. They stored the documents, they stitched the clothes, they ran the organisation, they gave the soldiers support and they organised everything.
Saying that Muslim Women are backwards and unaccomplished is an ill-conceived and absurd notion which needs to be cleared.
Assalāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāhi Wabarakath,