Women in Islam and Somali culture
Somali traditional culture is entirely Islamic-based culture that blends nomadic pastoral traditions and norms with Islamic teaching. The shape of the culture is affected by the interaction between these two factors.
The place of women in an Islamic society is determined by the Koran (Qur’an) the tradition of the Prophet Mohammed (PUB), and the interpretations of Islamic law and traditions influenced by social customs and practices. Islam establishes complete and genuine equality between man and woman. This is a fact readily acknowledged by everyone who knows Islam well and understands Islamic law as outlined in God’s book, the Qur’an, and in the sayings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Islam asserts the equality of men and women in their creation. The Qur’an states that God has created all mankind from a single soul; and from it He created its mate, and from the two of them He spread abroad so many men and women. [4:1] He also says: Mankind, We have created you all out of a male and a female.
Through the revelation of the Koran and the Sunnah of the Prophet Mohammed (PUB), Islam liberated women from unacceptable conditions that prevailed in the tribal society of pre-Islamic Arabia.
Among the rights granted to women by Islam were the rights to life and education as well as the right to inherit, manage and maintain property.
Interpretations and the application of women’s rights under Islam are profoundly affected by social and economic factors. Social practices, customary laws, poverty, war and illiteracy often subvert the status of women. Thus, women’s rights in Somali society are generally affected by the prevailing political and socio-economic conditions.
The advent of urbanization, particularly after the end of World War II, incorporated increasing numbers of Somalis into the livestock trade and exports, with the two sectors becoming the basis of wider commercial activities within the urban economy. Opportunities for women in both the livestock trade and the new urban commercial activities were very limited. However, the increased level of urbanisation created the conditions for improved women’s participation in the informal sectors of the urban economy and limited but significant progress in girls’ education. These changes did not immediately result in an overall improvement in the lives of Somali women, but built the foundation for greater acceptance and gradual access of women into public life, through education and employment during the nine years of civilian rule after independence.
During the military regime of the 1970s and 1980s, women’s public participation broadened. Female school enrolment and job opportunities increased and women were able to hold positions in the army and civilian government institutions.
Today, women play a significant role in nation building efforts. This has increased the conflict between the traditional roles of women and the real demands of today’s daily life in post war Somali society on the one hand and their expectations and opportunities on the other. The conflict between the role they are expected to play, and that which they seek and in reality perform, can only be reconciled through the elimination of the discrimination against women. Seeking to achieve this will in turn strengthen the effectiveness of their participation in the ongoing reconstruction efforts.
In the Somali culture, a woman lives with her family of origin but is expected to leave it and join her husband upon marriage. However, as a wife, she is not fully incorporated into the lineage or the “dia-paying group” of her husband because under the Somali system wives retain the ties of their lineage of birth. This situation throws ambiguity over women’s real group identity and allegiance.
Somali women have the best dressing code that is in line with the sharia teachings. The most common pairing in Somalia is the Hijab ( jilbab ) with a long dress. The jilbab is a long head covering which covers the arms, back and chest. If a hijab is worn, it is often with an abaya. Even female children are made to wear these coverings. Niqabs aren’t worn as commonly as the jilbab. But if it worn at all, it is usually seen it as the highest modesty in the Somali community