Women and Islam

Women, Self-esteem and Islam

© Shutterstock

Professor Amtul Razzaq Carmichael, UK

Self-esteem, an important multidimensional notion, is determined by our perception about ourselves. Positive self-esteem encapsulates the optimistic dimension of our conviction that we possess inherent goodness and worthiness and others share this constructive view of our character and see us positively.[i] Research indicates a pervasive trend: women often report lower self-esteem compared to men across various cultural contexts. This discrepancy can significantly affect women’s sense of fulfilment, accomplishments and overall progress. [ii] [iii] [iv]

Islam asserts itself as a universal religion advocating for the rights and welfare of women. Does Islam offer any concepts and practical advice to modern women to promote their self-esteem? Does any of the teachings of Islam promote the  four fundamental components of self-esteem; namely fostering self-confidence, nurturing a strong sense of identity, cultivating a strong sense of belonging, and empowering women with a feeling of competence? [v]

In accordance with the prophecies given in the Holy Qur’an and mentioned by the Holy Prophet (sa), Allah the Exalted appointed Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) of Qadian as the reformer of the latter days. His mission was to revive the teachings of Islam and explain their wisdom to the modern world. After the demise of the Promised Messiah (as) this responsibility was shouldered by the Caliphs of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. In accordance with the teachings of Islam and regarding the welfare and development of women, the second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community set up the women’s organisation called Lajna ima’illah. This literally means “A community of women who dedicate themselves to the service of God” in 1922. The objective of Lajna ima’illah was to promote women’s personal, education and spiritual wellbeing. His Holiness consistently used his addresses, sermons, and speeches to actively reinforce self-esteem among women. Through unwavering dedication, His Holiness inspired confidence by highlighting the inherent worth of women.

Fostering self-confidence
Self-confidence is the foundation of self-esteem. Hazrat Musleh Mau’ud (ra) worked tirelessly to promote self-confidence in women.  His Holiness explained that men and women are equal in the sight of God. God created both men and women as equal counterparts and provided guiding principles for each to attain excellence, prosperity and spiritual merit. His Holiness would repeatedly tell women that God has given them the same potential to progress as men. If men can excel in their comprehension and cognition of God, then women can do this too. He tirelessly encouraged women to recognise their true capabilities, stressing that if men can be responsible for the guidance and reformation of this world, then women can reach this status too.[vi]

Embracing the adage “Knowledge is power,” His Holiness fervently advocated for the advancement of worldly and spiritual education among women. He emphasized that by excellence in educational attainment, women can significantly enhance their sense of self-worth. His Holiness guided women to understand that through a profound comprehension of their faith, they can truly embody its principles. By ranking their faith above all else and acting upon its teachings, women can genuinely attain heights of spirituality and ascend to a truly elevated status.[vii] This cultivates the ability to engage in positive actions, behave in a manner pleasing to God, and refrain from causing harm to others. As a result, it promotes self-confidence, ultimately enhancing self-esteem.

Nurturing a strong sense of identity
Identity forms the bedrock of self-awareness, defining how we perceive ourselves. Identity is the way we know ourselves. To promote self-esteem in women, His Holiness repeatedly stressed upon women that their real success lies in truly knowing their high status. His Holiness, in his efforts to foster self-esteem among women, consistently emphasised that by truly understanding and adopting their significant roles, women can cultivate a heightened sense of self-esteem, propelling them towards excellence and success. His Holiness explained to women that by focusing on attaining true objectives of worship likes Salat, Fasting, Zakat and Hajj, women can attain the high status of God-fearing righteousness.[viii]

Cultivating a strong sense of belonging
A sense of belonging is pivotal in shaping our self-esteem, providing a framework for understanding and connecting with like-minded individuals. His Holiness, in guiding women towards a genuine self-esteem rooted in self-worth, imparted the wisdom that fostering love and compassion between ourselves is the key. With remarkable sagacity, His Holiness encouraged women to actively promote a culture of sisterhood. His Holiness gave the practical advice that if someone makes a negative comment about somebody else then find the courage to stop them and say please don’t tell us about anyone else’s weakness. His Holiness advised against perpetuating negativity, emphasizing the importance of avoiding the spread of harmful remarks to prevent conflicts.[ix] The practical tip of His Holiness was that if you happen to listen to someone speaking negatively about others, never spread this further. This will enable women to forsake the social evils of jealousy, meanness and falsehood, that are so damaging to self-esteem. His Holiness advised that women can fortify their self-esteem by demonstrating resilience and patience when faced with harsh words, choosing to ignore negativity and cultivating a mindset focused on personal growth and positivity. His Holiness urged women to underscore the principles of respect, love, compassion, and kindness in their gatherings to cultivate a sense of belonging and understanding.

Feeling of competence
A sense of competence, stemming from experiences of success, overcoming challenges, and staying motivated, instils a profound feeling of worth and pride. His Holiness elucidated the true and high status of women as given by Islam so that they could play their role in the development of society in an excellent manner. His Holiness worked tirelessly for women to understand their rights, responsibilities and duties. Central to promoting self-esteem among women was His Holiness’s strong emphasis on effective communication. His Holiness strongly emphasised the power of communication and the importance of a high strong voice to promote self-esteem amongst women. He underscored the importance of cultivating a powerful and assertive voice, free from hesitation or weakness. According to His Holiness, an Ahmadi woman’s voice should exude gallantry, passion, and strength. It should resonate with power, majesty, and evoke a sense of awe, embodying the essence of their elevated status in society. [x]

Thus, His Holiness provided the guiding lights for women to enhance their personal, professional and social lives. Hazrat Musleh Mau’ud (ra) aimed at instilling a sense of empowerment in women and encouraged them to recognise their strengths and foster a deep-seated belief in their own value and potential, the perfect ingredients for a positive self-esteem. His Holiness reinforced and promoted the positive self-image of women that Islam gives.

About the Author: Professor Amtul Razzaq Carmichael MD, M Ed, FRCS (Gen Surg.), MBBS, is a consultant. She qualified in 1987 with gold medals for academic Excellence and undertook her surgical training at major teaching hospitals in London, Edinburgh and Philadelphia. She has authored many articles for major peer-reviewed scientific journals. She is a senior member of The Review of Religions Editorial Board as well as the Assistant Manager.

[i] https://opentextbc.ca/socialpsychology/chapter/the-feeling-self-self-esteem/#:~:text=One%20common%20explicit%20self-report%20measure%20of

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Sprecher, S., Brooks, J. E., & Avogo, W. (2013). Self-esteem among young adults: Differences and similarities based on gender, race, and cohort (1990–2012). Sex Roles69(5-6), 264-275.

[iv] https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/tips-and-support/raise-low-self-esteem/

[v] https://teljeunes.com/en/youths/mental-health/self-esteem/what-is-self-esteem#:~:text=4%20components%20that%20define%20self-esteem%201%20Self-confidence%20This,succeed%20and%20fail%2C%20and%20learn%20new%20things.%20

[vi] Alfazl 23/7/1915

[vii] Alfazl 27/10/1917

[viii] Alfazl 27/10/1917

[ix] Alfazl 12/4/2020

[x] Alfzal 2/7/1926