Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Activity 2: Where Are the Women?

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Familiarize yourself with the opinions expressed in Handouts 2 and 3.
  • Copy Handout 2 for participants in Group 1 and copy Handout 3 for participants in Group 2.

Description of Activity

Participants discuss relationship between women's status as affirmed in the Qur'an and the treatment of women in contemporary Islamic countries.

Ask if youth have impressions of what life is like for women in contemporary Islamic societies. Share that in some Islamic nations and communities, women’s lives are restricted in ways that do not apply to men. For example, girls and women may have limited or no access to education or professional jobs; a woman may need approval from her father or husband to take a job; women are not allowed to go out in public without a male relative or guardian; when outside of the home, women must be covered completely in loose-fitting clothing (in some places, the hair must be covered; in other places, garments such as a burka must cover a woman from head to toe, with only hands and eyes allowed to show). In 2015, an Iranian female soccer star was unable to play in international competition because her husband refused to allow her to travel to Malaysia. A husband can be flogged for being unfaithful to his wife, but a wife can be stoned to death for being unfaithful to her husband. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to travel without permission of a male guardian. Until recently, Saudi Arabia prohibited women from driving; however, at this writing (2018) a change in law is under consideration which would permit some women to drive.

Explain, in these words or your own:

Many religious leaders in Muslim countries assert that religious laws, known as Sharia, are based entirely on the Qur'an and the teachings and life of Muhammad. However, there is disagreement about this among Muslims. Many faithful Muslim women and men believe Muhammad taught equality between the genders, and that current Sharia laws do not support that equality and are not true expressions of Islam.

Muhammad's teachings and laws regarding women were an improvement over societal standards of the time. For example, the Qur'an instructed that, when a parent died, girl children should inherit half what their brother(s) inherited. This seems unfair until we know that before that time, girls frequently inherited nothing at all. It was expected that men would support a household, while women would be supported by a man.

Tell the group that hijab—particularly, the robes and headpiece that cover everything but face and hands and sometimes include a veil to cover the face—has often been viewed both inside and outside Islam as a symbol of oppression. However, some Muslim women think opposition to hijab comes from ignorance. Share these words from another female Muslim blogger, Tayseir Mahmoud Shabadul Haq (at (April 10, 2010):

I don't dress this way, act this way, and talk this way because I'm forced to. I am who I am today of my own free will and as a result of the decisions I've made throughout my life with the guidance of my Lord. I cover the beauty He has blessed me with, as He has blessed every woman, so that you may see beyond the physical.

Ask participants to count off, saying "1" and "2" every other person. Ask all the Ones to form one group, and all the Twos to form another. Move youth between groups if necessary to achieve gender diversity in each group. Say:

We are going to have a debate. This is to be a civil debate, with no yelling and no name calling. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying; make sure you really hear them, just as you want to be truly heard.

Group 1 will take the position that Muslim women are equal and equally valued; Group 2 will take the position that Muslim women are not equal and are not equally valued. Your objective is not to convince the other group of your opinion, but to understand the opposing viewpoint and to be fully understood.

Give the members of Group 1 Handout 2, Position – Muslim Women Are Equal. Give the members of Group 2 Handout 3, Position – Muslim Women Are Not Equal. Then, give these instructions:

You will have five minutes to review your position, discuss your talking points with your group members, and choose speakers for your group. Ideally, everyone will speak, but this is not absolutely required. Each group will start by stating your basic position, then supporting that position with a few major points. There will be a time limit of two minutes for this opening statement. The other group will then do the same: state their basic position and support it with a few major points with a time limit of two minutes. Then we will have open debate, alternating speakers between the two groups. After the opening statements, comments are limited to thirty seconds. I (the group facilitator) will moderate. I will limit or end the participation of anyone who violates the debate rules or our group covenant. Any participant may call for the moderator to act, but I encourage you to also monitor yourselves and one another. If necessary, you may kindly remind one another to be respectful.

Allow groups to meet for five minutes. Then, re-gather everyone. Have Group 1 present first. Continue the debate until six minutes are remaining for this activity. Invite each group to make a final, 30-second comment.

Invite participants to draw conclusions. Was either side more persuasive than the other? Did both sides have legitimate points? Was it interesting to be in the position of arguing a position they did not believe in, if that was the case?

If you have a few minutes more, invite the youth to compare the story of Khadijah with the story of Mary, mother of Jesus, regarded by many as the most important woman in Christianity. Guide the group to compare how the two women are represented in their respective faiths, using these questions:

  • Compare their ages. (Khadijah a mature woman; Mary a young adult, possibly a teenager)
  • What were their characters like? (Khadijah was strong, stubborn, energetic; Mary was humble and quiet)
  • What were their standings in society? (Khadijah was rich and powerful; Mary was poor)
  • Do these differences mean anything? Do they affect your opinion of all women, or just those individual women?

To conclude the activity, share with the group this quote from American convert to Islam, Yahya M:

At the beginning, Islam was the most revolutionary liberalization of women's rights the civilized world has ever seen. But afterwards Muslims became ignorant of this and now Muslim countries are the scene of some of the worst abuses of women's rights.


  • What do you think now about the status of women in Islam? In predominantly Muslim countries or communities?
  • If someone is Muslim, does that mean you can assume what the person thinks of the role of women in their society? Replace "Muslim" with any other group: Can you tell, from someone's religion, their understanding of equality between the sexes? On women's rights?

Thank the youth for their thoughtful contributions.