The mainstream media loves to fight for the rights of Muslim women. While numerous girls and women in the secular world rally round the Twitter and Instagram hashtag of #Freethenipple, the poor, oppressed Muslim women are backwards enough to be covering their bodies in public. These backward views must, of course, be caused by the fact that the Muslim world is so hell-bent against allowing girls and women to have an education, so we are told. A horrific but isolated incident has been doing the rounds as of late, of three Afghan girls who were physically attacked on their way to school. This makes me worry about the safety of our girls, but of course, the mainstream media has taken this incident and angled it to suggest that Afghanistan, being full of Islamic fundamentalists, does not allow girls to be educated. This is utterly untrue, and in my latest article for the Afghan Online Press, I examine the reality of the situation, while looking at the mainstream agenda to tell the Western world that Muslim girls are not being allowed an education - Yamin Zakaria
As if the current climate of political Islamophobia were not enough, who should jump into the fold but Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the ex-Muslim whose claim to fame is her delight in slandering her former religion. She was recently on the BBC, making absurd suggestions such as: Muslims may follow Islam if they just stop enjoining the good, forbidding the evil and following the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), a man described as "one of the world's greatest leaders" by Muslim and non-Muslim historians and commentators. Having turned against Islam, Ali believes herself to be an advocate of Muslim women's rights, (just like the biggotted Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, subject of yesterday's article) but in taking on this role, is she victimising swathes of women? This article from the 2014 archives of The Feminist Wire is holds good today as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, like a broken record, repeats her unwanted messages. Remember to Like, Tweet and share this article to spread the truth about the hate preacher whom the mainstream media still believes is a spokesperson for Islam - Yamin Zakaria and the Team @ Radical Views.
In April (2014), Brandeis University announced that it had reversed its decision to award Ayaan Hirsi Ali an honorary degree following grassroots organizing by students and alumni who condemned Hirsi Ali’s hate speech against Muslims. According to the Brandeis Muslim Students Association, "There is a fine line between freedom of speech and hate speech. Hirsi Ali has shamelessly passed this boundary as her remarks no longer regard her experiences, but rather condemn an entire religion and other minorities as a result of her prejudices and biases. Instead of encouraging respectful discussions and debates, she insites and supports insensitivity and irresponsibility by abusing freedom of speech as a way to justify her hate speech."
But even as Brandeis admitted that Hirsi Ali’s past statements “are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” they still described her as an “advocate for women’s rights.” Coverage of the controversy that followed Brandeis’ decision likewise presented Hirsi Ali as a “feminist,” a “women’s rights advocate,” and a “vocal critic of women’s oppression.” Even progressive commentators have called her a “fierce advocate for the rights of women, particularly Muslim women.”
In these narratives, Hirsi Ali’s reputation as a feminist works as a kind of progressive redemption – the “silver lining” balancing her other reputation as a bigot. But in the eyes of many Muslim women, who are constantly battling the double-edged sword of Islamophobia and misogyny, Hirsi Ali’s intervention into the cause of women’s rights, and the public approbation of said intervention, renders her even more dangerous.
The concern is not over Hirsi Ali’s chosen subject matter – hardly anyone is claiming that misogyny is absent in Muslim majority countries – but how an American audience will interpret what she is saying and apply it to the already pernicious debate around Muslims in the United States. Considering the tendency for right-wing Islamophobes to co-opt “women’s rights” to justify their anti-Muslim bigotry, as well as Hirsi Ali’s own history of promulgating such bigotry, the concern is that her intervention into the issue of gender equality in Muslim societies will strengthen racism rather than weaken sexism.
Hirsi Ali is one extreme of an oppressive “double-bind” facing Muslim women’s rights defenders. When Muslim women challenge gender injustices in their communities, their struggles are often hijacked by Western Islamophobes to bolster the racist claim that Muslims are uniquely or particularly misogynistic. On the other hand, when Muslim women speak out against this Islamophobia and racism, they are accused of apologizing for Muslim fundamentalists, something we have seen quite starkly in the Hirsi Ali/Brandeis controversy. For instance, Jonathan Tobin at Commentary magazine dismissed criticisms of Hirsi Ali as a “refusal of the West to confront the truth about Islamism” while Zev Chafets at Foxnews.com said that Hirsi Ali was a victim of “honor killing” at the hands of Brandeis University because she “dared to criticize Islam and Muslim behavior in the same way other religions and other human behaviors get criticized in an open society.”
The stereotype that Islam justifies violence against women, or that Muslims uniquely hate women, is unfounded, dangerous, and brings devastating effects to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. At the same time, no community is immune from gender discrimination and oppression. Muslims, like everyone else, experience gender injustice. And, like many other forms of injustice, this sexism is justified in the name of “religion,” “culture,” or “tradition” by patriarchal spokespeople who take advantage of their power positions to promulgate right-wing religious interpretations. When Muslim women challenge these patriarchal interpretations, they are regularly accused by members of the Muslim Right (and even some American leftists) of betraying their culture, religion, and nation in the name of their “imperialist oppressors.” What is clear is that both right-wing fundamentalists and right-wing Islamophobes work under a common MO: manipulate women’s bodies to consolidate political gain.
The more Ayaan Hirsi Ali becomes the “face” of Muslim women’s oppression and resistance, the tighter this bind becomes. Contrary to the accusations of right-wing pundits who cast her as the victim of “censorship,” Hirsi Ali enjoys many opportunities to disseminate her views, from memoirs to TV appearances, and Brandeis itself has extended an invitation for Hirsi Ali to speak on campus. Not only aremany deserving voices drowned out by the mainstream media’s preference for Hirsi Ali, but also her monopolization of the discourse works to reinforce the dubious association between feminism and imperialism. This association alienates many Muslim women who are rightfully frustrated at having their experience manipulated in this way, and it leaves Muslim women’s rights defenders more vulnerable to accusations of “imperialism” by the Muslim right.
Worst of all, the double-bind made worse by Hirsi Ali encourages Muslim women to stay silent on the issue of gendered violence in their communities, lest their words be “recruited” by right-wing xenophobes. It is this aspect of the double-bind that is the most pernicious, as it is based on a conversational shift from the dangers of bigots using feminism, to the dangers of feminism as it could be used by bigots.
The difference is subtle but it has profound implications. When any discussion over gender justice in Muslim societies presents the threat of being co-opted by Islamophobes, the temptation to avoid the discussion altogether becomes disturbingly strong. As a feminist from a Muslim background, I myself struggle with this discursive temptation every day. Instead of condemning the co-optation of feminism by deplorable ideologies such as racism and colonialism, the double-bind tempts me into condemning otherwise admirable values such as gender justice simply because there is the possibility they could be co-opted by deplorable people.
To be clear: There are plenty of great reasons to reject Hirsi Ali for an honorary degree besides the fact that she represents one extreme of the double-bind. Contrary to the claims by right-wing pundits, Hirsi Ali was rejected for an honorary degree at Brandeis University because she espouses deplorable positions, not because she’s a “critic of Islam.” And we need not invalidate or belittle her personal experience with gender violence to find her political positions and actions deplorable.
Take, for instance, her bigotry (She calls Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death” and called Islamophobia a “myth”); or her militarism (“we are at war with Islam” and must “crush” the enemy with force); of course, her paranoia and fear-mongering (“there is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West”) is also illustrate of her unworthiness. There is also her hypocrisy (she’s a self-purported advocate for free speech but advocates the abolition of Muslim schools, saying “All Muslim schools. Close them down.”) And her apologetic stance towards right-wing terrorism, extremism, and fascism (she said Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik’s views were “censored” and that “he had no other choice but to use violence”) is yet another indicator of her views and politics.
These are the legitimate grounds upholding the reversal of Hirsi Ali’s honorary degree, not airing our dirty laundry. The real issue in the Brandeis debate is (or should be) her and not how people might interpret her.
Crucially, critics of Hirsi Ali should avoid the urge to overcompensate in their critique of colonial feminism by generalizing from the sins of Hirsi Ali to local women’s rights movements in the Muslim world. A number of Muslim women’s rights activists and scholars raise this concern, warning Western-based feminists that, in their laudable mission to dismantle the kind of colonial feminism espoused by Hirsi Ali, they often (unintentionally) mischaracterize sexual politics in Muslim contexts,bolster local conservatism, or belittle local women’s rights defenders working in Muslim contexts. Critics of Hirsi Ali can undermine genuine anti-racist feminists working in Muslim contexts when they reduce said feminists to their orientalist “recruitability,” that is, their potential to be hijacked by Western imperialism, regardless of how nuanced their analysis or how vigilant their strategies against the dangers of colonial co-optation.
Given that Western imperialism has done a very good job at co-opting things over the last couple hundred years or so, this leaves very little room to discuss violence against women in Muslim contexts legitimately, if legitimacy is based on the litmus test of recruitability. So for those of us who insist on an open discussion of violence against women in Muslim contexts, the knee-jerk reaction to reject all calls for women’s rights on the grounds that they could be co-opted is not an ethically viable one. And yet, we must figure out how to have this conversation in a way that does not undermine our shared struggle against bigotry and that is simultaneous, compatible, and integrated with a discussion of Islamophobia.
Surely one step is to acknowledge the conundrum in the first place. We need to bring the double-bind to the fore, to expose how it operates to silence women who are concerned by both bigotry and sexism. Only then will we figure out how to dismantle it. But regardless of how we end up escaping the bind, one thing is clear: Ayaan Hirsi Ali won’t get us there.
This article was originally posted at: http://thefeministwire.com/2014/05/ayaan-hirsi-ali/
Here we are, on the last day of International Women's Month, and while women of all nations, religions and backgrounds have been celebrated, women's rights in Islam continue to be questioned. This, along with other forms of inequality will always come under scrutiny until our greater social paradigm changes to promotes the respect and equal treatment of all human citizens as well as other living beings. (We haven't hit upon animal rights as of yet in Radical Views but those on our team who like their cosmetic products certainly believe in taking the corporations to task over this.) This is by no means the final article that will be posted on women's rights, particularly as this is such a challenging topic in our current age. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has used International Women's month to repeat her usual, illogical and one-sided stance on the veil and I really feel that an alternative viewpoint is required. My words may not fit The Guardian's agenda, but I am free to express them here as well as in the books that I hope to publish in the somewhat near future. According to Emma Watson, this makes me quite the feminist, while Yasmin Alibhai-Brown would surely disagree. Either way, I set up Radical Views with an educational slant, to get you to think outside of the box designed by mainstream publications. I hope you that appreciate my response to Ms Alibhai-Brown, and if you do then please Like, Tweet and share my article - Yamin Zakaria.
Does the veil1 really pose a danger to our society? It intrigues me as to why a mere garment stirs up so much debate in some circles. I have never witnessed threatening and rowdy behaviour from the intoxicant-free Muslim women wearing the veil in the street. They tend to be placid, usually minding their own business. In contrast, when I see a group of young women dressed in leather, with spiked hair, body pierced with metal objects and some parts covered in tattoos, behaving without inhibition, perhaps under the influence of intoxicants somewhat concerning. While I believe that they, like any other citizen, should be free to dress as they choose, I recognise that many of us find the dress codes of skinheads, punks and heavy metal gangs intimidating, because they have a historical reputation for disorderliness. Although nowadays they are mostly quite civilised and dress like this only for effect, the behaviour of these groups during the decades of severe racial violence means that their outward appearance has these direct and sometimes memorable associations. Due to recent media representation of the age-old veil on the other hand, women who wear it are often targeted with violence because of their dress.
A version of the Muslim veil is also worn by Christian Nuns, some orthodox Jews and others around the world, but it seems the danger only lurks from the veils of Muslim women according to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s recent article Muslim Women, Take off your Veils that was published in the Guardian newspaper. Why the need to comment on this topic? More to the point, why are newspapers giving up valuable space to promote such materials? One would have thought feminists like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown would be focused on serious issues like security, health, and education for women, rather than what they choose to wear.
Fair enough, free speech reigns here, which means that she is entitled to voice her opinion, and I wonder in the spirit of free speech, if the Guardian newspaper would be brave enough to publish a similar article from a veiled Muslim woman, asking Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to embrace Islam and wear the veil.
Her argument is clear but incomplete, because she fails to answer the obvious question that follows. What should replace the veil? Some will idiotically cite that the removal of the veil means freedom of choice. However, it is by the same freedom that these Muslim women chose to wear the veil in the liberal West, where Sharia Law is not enforced. Thus, the liberal argument comes down to this: wear anything you like, except the veil. So women, feel free to dress up like a man, or in a short and sexy skirt, or cover your body with metal objects and tattoos identifying with urban tribes. Anything but this lethal item - the veil.
I am sure if Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was told that she should really cover up, she would not hesitate to cite that her freedom was at stake and that we should not impose our views upon her. Similarly she should learn to respect the freedom of these Muslim women in the West, who have chosen to cover up, instead of being a hypocrite and imposing her views on them.
Then she goes on to state the absurd point that the veil sexualises the woman, because she is forced to conceal her hair and body. Any rational thinker would ask whether the same argument then applied to any part of the body being covered. Then is she advocating nudity? If not, where does she draw the line? Moreover, it’s perplexing to see how covering up in a veil equates to sexualisation, while revealing or accentuating body parts does not. Indeed, numerous feminists have opposed the scantily dress worn by models, pop stars and movie stars using the argument that women are being over-sexualised.
This sort of article underlines the same mindset of trying to save the oppressive Muslim women but the mission seems to have no bearing on the actual Muslim women themselves. What this short-sighted pundit fails to recognise is that despite the pervasive anti-Islamic propaganda, plenty of non-Muslim and Muslim women have embraced the veil. The choice to wear the veil does not generate fear. Nor does it over-sexualise. Rather it brings out irrational indignation from closet Islamophobes, racists, and ignorant pundits, and it is they, not those who exert, and respect, freedom of choice, who should come under scrutiny.
 The veil for Muslim women can be classed into three categories; the most common is the Hijab and Jilbab, which exposes the face and the hands. Then comes the Niqab, which covers everything except the eyes and the last category is the Burka which covers the woman completely. The vast majority of the Scholars do not accept the Niqab and the Burka as mandatory.
International women’s month is ending and we find ourselves in the lead-up to the UK General Election. The regular visitors among you will have noticed Radical Views taking self-proclaimed “Feminist” Theresa May to task for chasing potential Conservative voters through Islamophobic fearmongering. This is nothing new. Throughout her career, May has talked about Islam as a problem, particularly for women. Yesterday’s article, "The Interfaith Jihad Against Evil" by Reverend Frank Gelli, on the other hand, suggests that it is not religion, but simply the choice to follow the Devil himself, that is creating disharmony. And what is the reality? Does Islam really oppress women and promote patriarchy? We are posting this article today as a springboard into the deeper question of what Islam, rather than Theresa May, teaches about gender relations. This is most certainly an informative piece so remember to Like, Tweet and share – Yamin Zakaria and the Team @ Radical Views
“She made me do it!” shouted Adam as he looked God’s way, while pointing at Eve, his female companion in the Garden of Eden. And indeed, if the collection of children’s Bible stories that was being read out to us in the junior school assembly was to be believed, the genesis of humanity was all one big blame game started by Eve, who was such a character as to have colluded with Satan himself to bring about the fall of man with one single bite.
The primary school that I attended in the ‘90s was not religious. In fact, pupils were from a reasonable mix of religious and racial backgrounds, but most of the teachers were old-style Christians, firmly believing in the Bible as the word of God and passing on those beliefs to us in an easy-to-digest format. What with the Quran having no such simplified English edition at the time, this was my first conscious introduction as to why we humans had been forced into this terrible plane of existence.
The only thing that led me to question it was that disruptive influence, the television, upon which I had watched Oliver Twist. The film accurately depicted the scene where Mr Bumble the beadle attempts to blame his wife for stealing Oliver’s mother’s jewellery. Mr Brownlow, the solicitor to whom he is speaking, responds by saying to Mr Bumble, “indeed, you are the more guilty of the two, in the eye of the law; for the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction.” (To which Mr Bumble replies with that famous phrase, "the law is an ass" although this does not change his unfortunate situation.)
With my child’s knowledge, this was curious to me. I understood that Dickens’ era took the Bible very seriously, and I had just been taught that Eve had the power to lead men by the nose, even if it meant bringing humans to oblivion. But in the “real” world that Dickens described, it was the opposite, with the man, rather than the woman, being at fault. Had I not watched this film, I may have left primary school with the understanding that we women were a difficult species, but given the circumstances, I thought that humanity was problematic in its own way and that it was typically the case that men and women were competitors, and that this had to somehow stop for all the issues in the world to be resolved.
Having grown up with no technicoloured children’s adaptation of the Islamic story of the Prophet Adam and his wife, named in the Quran as Hawwa, it was only some years later that I learnt what was really said. Having been told time and time again by that same set who grew up with the Bible stories that society would treat me as lesser, and that I would come across “glass ceilings” simply because I was a woman, this was quite a breath of fresh air.
So, what does Islam’s rendition of the “Fall” of Man story teach about men, women and the dynamic between them?
First of all, Islam sets a very clear context regarding the creation of humanity. Allah (the Arabic word for the God of all monotheists) states to his angels, “Behold…I will create a vicegerent on Earth”, (Quran 2:30). [NB: many Quranic verses are extremely long and this quotation is one section of a particularly lengthy verse. Should you wish to do further research, please note, this translation comes from The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali.] Here we see the Quran clearly state that, prior to their creation, God had openly stated that the purpose of Adam and Hawwa was not to observe how long they could resist the temptation of eating a piece of fruit, thereby losing their home in Paradise. It was so that human beings could tend to our little blue planet, acting as God’s representatives upon it.
As in the Bible, the first humans in creation enjoyed a period of time in Heaven until the point at which “did Satan make them slip from the Garden and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been” (Quran 2:35). This is all that’s mentioned in the Quran about this. No gender issues, no blame, no childish finger pointing. Just a quick description of how Satan, the first enemy of God, caused humanity to exert its free will (by eating of the “forbidden” fruit).
In fact many commentators say that Adam and Hawwa followed Satan’s suggestion and ate the fruit because they were so pure and innocent that they did not realise one of God’s own creatures could lie to them, something that we can all relate to, seeing as we usually need to experience other people’s dishonesty a few times in order to develop our notions of trustworthiness.
As we have already learnt in the same chapter of the Quran, this “sin” was necessary for the execution of God’s greater plan. He had already decided that He would create humanity to rule upon the Earth, not in Heaven, and this was the means by which we free and wilful beings first got here.
As to the dynamic between Adam and Hawwa, or indeed man and woman in general, the Quran, in Chapter 7, Verse 189, has this to say: “It is He (Allah) who created you...and made his mate of like nature in order that he might dwell with her in love.” Although we seem to have made it somewhat complicated in our modern age, God, in the Quran, asks us to be good to one another and to treat one another as the earthly kings and queens that we are.
Yes, the practice of many modern Muslims fails in this respect, and I believe we must attribute this, in part, to its context, of the brutally aggressive colonisation that many in the Muslim world have suffered. However, Islam, and certainly the Islamic rendition of the story that we in the West believe is a root cause of patriarchy, provides a hugely differing narrative
So then, where does patriarchy come from? I will not pretend to identify its source, but perhaps this was the easiest way for Satan, whom we learn has followed us to Earth to trouble us until Doomsday, to pervert our position as Vicegerents. Regardless of motives, the first man to denigrate women had, himself, slipped from his noble position and, of course, mothers who believe that they are lesser will pass on this belief onto their children until they should choose to break the cycle.
As for patriarchy in the modern West, I believe it starts at school, maybe in the home for some. But independent of the Bible stories or any other religious references, it was at school where I learnt that my greatest value lay in my looks which would leave me worthless in old age, that my gender would either prevent or make it harder for me to succeed and excel in any field and that, after all of that, it was a superior thing to aspire to join the “world of men” rather than to settle for “mere” motherhood. These were not educated into us, and, indeed, I was not treated as lesser for being a girl, but again and again, such comments and references would pop up, often where conversations became more general, not because of the National Curriculum, but because of the social paradigm.
Fast-forward over a decade into adulthood and I see our “progressive” society, where women demand an end to gender inequality, desperately endorsing patriarchy at a time when women are at their most vulnerable and glorious, during childbirth. I was recently informed by a birth worker of a hospital in Scotland that had performed a forced, unnecessary episiotomy on a labouring woman without the use of anaesthetics, while in the “Bible-thumping” states of America where having a baby outside of the hospital environment is outlawed, childbirth, often at the hands of severely abusive male obstetricians, could, perhaps, be the title of a blockbuster-style horror movie.
This belief that birth is woman’s eternal punishment for Eve’s destruction of humanity is alien to Islam where original sin does not exist and where a mother, because of her pregnancy, birth and child-rearing, is a heroine in full bloom. In accordance with other ancient traditions, Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) stated that childbirth is the Jihad of woman. She is not passive, manipulated and left weakened by it. Rather, it is her initiation as a powerful warrior, and for this act, which she may perform many times, she receives a reward equal to that of a man who defends his fellow Muslims in battle.
In writing this, I acknowledge that I am a third generation British Muslim and so I am in a place of privilege. The first Muslim immigrants to the UK had a tough life. Britain saw divorces being caused due to the 2008 Financial Crisis and, well, these early Muslim families were often dirt poor with the husband, usually a physical labourer, being the sole breadwinner. So, you bet there were tensions between spouses. Couple this with the fact that every country has its own version of patriarchy and that they bought their own paradigm over here, and we can safely say that things still do not run smoothly in the Muslim community.
Unlike our parents and grandparents, we now live in an era of globalisation where doing whatever we want is easy. The “Ummah Wide” website recently published The 50 Most Innovative Global Muslim Startups 2015 showcasing entrepreneurial Muslim men and women who had become extremely successful, predominantly due to their leveraging of the Internet to access an online audience. Companies mentioned included MuslimGirl, which is described as follows: “Powerful content that changes the story about Muslim women. Read this publication for five minutes and whatever stereotypes you may have had about Muslim women will get permanently knocked out of your head.” So there you go, despite what mainstream information sources would have us believe, patriarchy is not a force in the lives of swathes of Muslim women.
Still, the paradigm of gender inequality harping back to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve remains embedded in Western consciousness, and I believe that, as a Muslim woman, to learn about Islam is to be removed from the fundamental basis of patriarchy in any culture. Islam has numerous historic examples of powerful women and as we are seeing, now is the perfect time for us to become strong, independent financial wizards just like Khadiha, Muhammad’s (PBUH) first wife. Those Western Muslims and non-Muslims who believe that Islam is an unenlightened religion must move beyond the Biblical paradigm and study the Quranic narrative of Adam and Hawwa, which is about the purpose and power of creation. It is in understanding our divine truth that we, men and women, may escape the limitations of human thought and the weight of a patriarchal society defined by “can’ts”, “shoudn’ts” and "mustn'ts" and become our greatest selves.
Three months ago, ISIS, the violent organisation claiming to spread Islamic rule in the Middle East was reported by various world news channels as having beheaded 150 women, many of them pregnant, in accordance with its own, unscholarly and rigid interpretation of certain parts of the Islamic penal code.
One month ago, the BBC publicly reported that Iraq’s women prisoners were typically “raped or threatened with sexual assault by security forces during their interrogation", while quoting a women’s prison employee as having said that "We expect that they've been raped by police on the way to the prison."
Just last Friday (March 20th, 2015), an angry mob in Kabul, Afghanistan, was witnessed as having stoned and beaten a woman before hurling her onto a riverbed and setting her body alight after she had “allegedly” burnt a copy of the Quran.
Should there have been solid evidence that the woman had indeed done this, Islamic ruling does not state that any violent punishment should be meted out, while actions such as burning the living body of any creature are explicitly forbidden. Indeed, according to Sharia law, nobody should pass legal judgements at all unless they are qualified with years of education in the legal field. Add to this the double irony that this incident occurred on a Friday, the Islamic day of prayer and contemplation, and, it seems, the Muslim world has lost its way.
While Western foreign policy, with its determination to mandate the carpet bombing of Muslim countries on its own whims, can be cited as the leading factor in much of the so-called “Terrorist” retaliation that is often reported by the media, Muslims need to ask what, exactly, they are doing to help themselves.The three incidents cited above are a far cry from the simple yet fundamental Islamic teaching that “Men and women are protectors of one another”, (Quran, 9:17).
Is Islam’s basic injunction that men and women should support and take care of, not resist or fight against one another, such a bitter pill for the Muslim world itself to swallow in this day and age? The sad answer is that yes, vast numbers of modern Muslims, followers of a religion that issues commands telling people to avoid harming even members of the plant world unnecessarily, have reached such a state of ignorance that they are unable to avoid harming their fellow human beings.
Enter actress Emma Watson, chosen on July 8th 2014 to become a UN Goodwill Ambassador and leader of the global HeForShe campaign for gender equality. March is International Women’s Month, and naturally, Watson made her contribution, with an extremely popular interview that was broadcast live on social media.
Watson’s London interview was predominantly focused on the inequality and unfairness that both men and women face in the West due to gender differences, despite the fact of the nation's progressive reputation. A range of topics relevant to the majority British audience were covered, from women being paid less in the workplace to the actual need to even recognise and acknowledge violence against men and boys.
However, HeForShe is a universal cause, and Watson reminded her audience of this by making a statement that was breathtakingly close to the Quranic injunction on male-female interaction: “It’s an equality club. It’s men coming in support of women and women coming in support of men.”
Watson, whom we must remember is attempting to promote her cause in the framework of a UN women’s rights faction, has come under criticism, with commenters saying both that she should stay in the kitchen and that, in reality, the campaign fails to address the oppression of men. Ironically, these criticisms bring us back to the cold fact that while men suffer in many respects, we have not yet moved beyond overall patriarchy and, globally, it is women who experience the harshest consequences of gender inequality. Rape and other forms of violence against women are by no means exclusive to the Muslim world, but the sad fact is that Islam provides a framework to protect against this, and it is simply not being adhered to by those who claim that they are imposing it.
In her official speech at the UN in 2014, Watson, in publicising HeForShe, reminded the world that the expectations that were put upon men were a contributory factor to the global situation for women. She stated that “Men don’t have the benefits of equality either. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are, and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.” While Islam does not address gender stereotyping in this direct manner, there are numerous pieces of historical evidence detailing the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) performing household chores such as taking out the garbage, making beds and sweeping floors, while women frequently took on leadership roles militarily, in the field of business (indeed, Muhammad’s (PBUH) first wife was one of Arabia’s most successful businesspeople), and in other professions requiring high levels of skill and scholarliness.
The Prophet, who Muslims believe is a role model to themselves, also focused on men treating women as equals, saying things such as "Whosoever has a daughter and he does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favour his son over her, Allah will enter him into Paradise" (Hadith – Ahmad). The burial of unwanted daughters in pre-Islamic Arabia can be equated to the modern practice of aborting girls prior to their birth, but the overall injunction is that girls and women must be valued and treated with kindness, respect and equality to their male counterparts. And right now, this is not being adhered to in the Islamic world.
It is both unfortunate and lucky that the HeForShe campaign is a global campaign addressing such issues as this modern day violence towards women. It is shocking that the once enlightened Muslim world is in need of such help with basic human relationships. However, we may be thankful that, unlike general women’s rights movements, HeForShe does not carry with it the resentment or the typical feminist stereotyping of Muslim women as being oppressed for their choice of dress, while conveniently ignoring the actual violence that is meted out to many of them.
Within the women’s rights framework that has been provided, Watson desires to create a space where men are not constrained in expressing themselves and gaining knowledge. In her International Women’s Day speech, she stated that “I really wanted to communicate that gender equality, historically, has been, predominantly a women’s movement for women, but I think the impact of gender inequality and how it’s actually been affecting men hasn’t really been addressed.” She followed this up by stating that she wished for open dialogue and understanding to be fostered as a way of changing mind-sets and, consequently, actions. HeForShe also wishes to acknowledge male problems while ensuring we realise that women are suffering so much more, and the campaign, which is publicly garnering support from men in Asia, Africa and the Middle East as well as the West will undoubtedly be a game-changer in the Islamic world.
Islam itself goes even further in promoting women’s rights, and history is peppered with examples. Economic equality is, for example, frequently addressed by Watson even though Islam provides women with economic supremacy, commanding not only that women receive fair incomes but that, unlike men, they should not be asked to share out or spend the money on anyone other than themselves. (If a woman spends money on others even out of necessity, it is considered an act of charity.) Education, also promoted by the HeForhe campaign, which assists in women’s entry to universities in countries where this is not a simple matter, is an Islamic injunction on both men and women and is not considered optional, and the violence against women that is a social and publicly accepted and engaged in norm in many Muslim countries is in fact outlawed.
The modern Muslim world at large appears to have forgotten its own Islamic concept of gender equality while also being faced with insults rather than assistance from mainstream, high profile feminists, and HeForShe steps neatly into the vacuum. Although it is secular, it upholds and promotes the wholly uncomplicated Islamic principle of civil, respectful and kind interaction between all human beings. Ever the idealist, Watson said, “My specific mandate is to advocate for women and girls” but that ALL inequality, from gender issues to xenophobia was “mutually enforcing” and that her true, personal desire was to somehow put a stop to all of these. History shows us again and again that once change is implemented, it works fast, but the long term challenge is in changing people’s mind-sets.
Watson has bravely taken on this role and changes, though small, are already being witnessed around the world. For example, a recent surge in male supporters in India, where the problems of violent rape have recently been publicised, has been reported this month via social media channels. As more men and women have this movement embedded in their consciousness, values, attitudes and behaviours will continue to change. Couple this with the drive for educational rights in the Muslim world and we’re onto a winner. Education opens us up to resources and knowledge that is Eastern and Western, traditional and unconventional, religious and secular.
As HeForShe increases its influence, particularly in the field of education, those in the Muslim world will be unable to view either women’s rights or the challenging of stereotypically aggressive male mannerisms as part of the alien West. Increased literacy, coupled with ease of access to information in the modern age, will eventually force these individuals to draw parallels between this valid, mass-scale gender equality movement and the teachings of Islam.
Watson reminds us that we should promote gender equality not due to external beliefs but “because it’s right,” although traditionally, many individuals have done the right thing for the love of God. In an environment where people are too often doing neither HeForShe is providing currently small but positive solutions and, for Muslims, the hope of a return to a peaceful, loving and progressive mainstream Islam as it had once been, and as it should be.
The 8th of March 2015 saw actors, politicians and the public join together in the celebration of International Women’s day. This grand, worldwide event was supposed to follow hot on the heels of the International Women of Courage Awards, scheduled to be presented by American First Lady Michele Obama on the 5th of March. While the event was cancelled this year due to inclement weather, Michele Obama did not fail to send a statement acknowledging the women who had been nominated due to a display of exceptional leadership in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, often at great risk to themselves.
Naturally, a number of nominees who were directly linked with women’s rights in their own countries won the accolade. Ms. May Sabe Phyu, Director of the Gender Equality Network of Burma and Ms. Nadia Sharmeen of Bangladesh who, as well as being a journalist, is a women’s rights activist, for instance, were two of this year’s winners. However, it was Afghanistan’s winner, Niloofar Rhmani, who captured the world’s attention. While Saudi Arabia, which recently employed a second female commercial pilot continues to ban women from driving cars, 21-year-old Rhmani put the former nation to shame by becoming Afghanistan’s first female fighter pilot.
‘Femicide’ – from Foemina, Latin for woman - concerns the direct, deliberate killing of women or girls. Here it means the illegal abortion of unborn females. Barbarous and wrong, surely? So a ban on sex-selective terminations is proposed. Chilling how other foeminae, the feminists, oppose it. Alice in Wonderland, topsy-turvy kind of world?
Aristotle speaks somewhere of barbarous cultures. His nasty example is that of folks who kill, roast and eat their own children. Liberal, ‘civilised’ democracies are not as bad as that. They do kill their unborn babies virtually on demand, however. Femicide is a new, sinister development. The British media tend to pin the guilt on immigrant parents, either on grounds of boy preference or lucre. They blab about daughters needing ‘more expensive dowries’. Actually for Muslims the dowry (Mahr in Arabic) is paid not by the woman to the man but by the man to the woman. So, there.
Abortion used to be a criminal offence or felony in Britain but in 1927 the law was watered down. Later David Steel, a Liberal MP, introduced the Abortion Act that in 1967 ‘liberalised’ the whole thing. Significantly, 40 years later the same fellow urged a ‘rethink’. Pity that in the interim more than 6.7 million unborn children have been ‘terminated’. I would not wish to be in Steel’s shoes on the dreadful Day of Judgment…
Christianity set its face against the killing of the unborn from the beginning. An early Church writing, the Didache or Teaching, speaks of two paths or Ways. The Way of Life and the Way of Death. The latter includes murder, adultery, fornication, immorality, lusts, abortion and infanticide. This healthy Teaching accuses the pagans of ‘making away with their infants, defacing God’s image and turning away from needy but oppressing the afflicted’. I trust the stern moralist would not approve of contemporary infamies like sex-selective abortion.
The priest is not a moral absolutist here. The Christian Church has not always taught that life begins at conception. It has graded the varying degree of guilt incurred by abortionists depending on the degree of development of the foetus. I accept there may be extreme and limiting cases when termination is necessary, i.e. when it poses a real, direct threat to the physical life of the mother. (The mental criterion has been so abused as to have become meaningless.) But that has no bearing on the ghastly idea of gender-selective killing.
The war on girls is not new. It was widely practiced in pre-Islamic, Bedouin Arabia. Burying baby girls alive was so prevalent that a famous verse of the Qur’an inveighs against it. ‘When the infant female, buried alive, is asked for what crime she was killed’ says Surah al-Takweer, ‘The Darkening’. The idea is that the murdered infant will be questioned about her murder. Something to make the murderer tremble with the enormity of his crime – and punishment. The awesome scenario of this Meccan chapter is indeed apocalyptic. It warns of Hell ‘made to burn fiercely’ and of Paradise ‘being brought near’. Huh!
Note that the Prophet of Islam had several daughters, of whom he was extremely fond. His favourite, Fatima, Ali’s wife’, is revered by all Muslims but especially by the Shia’. They consider her ‘the Mistress of the House’ from whose line sprang their Imams. Anyway, it is unthinkable, I submit, that Muhammad would have approved of any modern, high-tech version of girl-killing. An article in the New Statesman cites an ‘Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation’ opposed to a legal ban on aborting female foetuses. Funny kind of Muslims!
But why should some feminists be against British MP Fiona Bruce’s amendment that would make gender selection, i.e. killing of foeminae in the womb, illegal? Journalist Sarah Ditun manages surreally to blast ‘male violence’. She conjures up a hypothetical, bullying husband who ‘punches and kicks his wife until she submits to a termination.’ Appalling case but odd how other feminists take the opposite line. They object to the law because they fear instead that some caring fathers might object to abortion on grounds of femicide, killing their child because she is female. Can you blame them? It seems that, whatever they do, men are bound to be cast in the role of rapists, wife-beaters and beasts. Some sadly may be like that but…not quite all, insh’allah!
Ms Ditun waxes more and more droll, even absurd. She invokes feminist writer Mary Daly’s onslaught on ‘misogynist logic’. A reasoning that supposedly ‘casts the foetus as something like an astronaut and the pregnant woman as the inanimate craft designed to protect the inhabitant.’ Ya Allah! Flying foetuses? Women’s bodies as soulless crafts? A bit too much.
More soberly, I recall Archbishop Rowan Williams’ common sense pro-life argument. Many women accept that they should not smoke or drink to excess while pregnant. Presumably that implies that sensible mothers recognise that what they carry in the womb has some ethical status and deserve some protection. Rather unlike an alien, menacing astronaut!
Barbarism. Currently a voguish word. Often applied to the horrid customs of the Caliphate or Daiish gentlemen in the Levant. Fair enough. But… are you so sure that another set of barbarians, the girl-killers, have not penetrated the hallowed walls of liberal Europe?
Revd Frank Julian Gelli
From the northern UK cities of Bradford, Rochdale, and Manchester to the rural areas of Pakistan, the grisly issue of honour killing persists. This has recently surfaced in the media, with the savage killing of Farzana Parveen, a 25-year-old pregnant woman, literally bludgeoned to death with bricks and stones by family members, for having married the man she loved. It beggars belief, how anyone can do this to their own flesh and blood. What kind of values do these people carry? Whatever it is, I can see no reference in Islamic law, and the life of the Prophet (saw), to remotely endorse such barbarism and cruelty.
“One of the major arguments being lobbed around this week as to why Muslim women shouldn’t be wearing veils in public is because they are a symbol of male dominance in society. As if knicker skimming dresses aren’t? ... On the streets of our cities every night of the year there are girls in outfits created purely for the pleasure of men.” - Alison Phillips, Journalist
A woman’s right to choose is at the heart of feminism; also endorsed by the liberal ideology of ‘freedom’. So, they argue that Hijab or the Niqab should not be enforced in society, and it should be left to the prerogative of the individuals. But surely, the notion of choice also implies that women should not be forced to remove it either. Accordingly, I was expecting to hear feminist voices coming to the defence of the right to wear the Niqab, along with the bare-breasted women from ‘Femen’ running through the streets of London, waving their fists, demanding the same. A disclaimer, I used the term bare-breasted as an adjective, and this should not be taken as my personal desire to see these semi-nude women behaving like cavewomen; it’s not dignified for any woman or man to behave in this way, in my book.
The veil is a perfectly proper subject for debate in a liberal democracy – so long as Muslim women are not excluded
Should Britain follow France and Belgium in a general ban on wearing the full-face veil in public? Using threats and coercion to force a Muslim woman to adopt a full-face veil is already a criminal offence in the UK, and our schools, workplaces and courts already have wide powers to impose restrictions or bans if they deem it necessary – only yesterday a judge ruled that a defendant should remove her veil in the witness box. So those who have detailed knowledge of the facts on the ground are already able to balance the freedom of Muslim women with other important interests such as the education of children, workplace efficiency and fair trial.