OPINION: With an increasing focus being placed on the “oppressed Muslim woman”, western media has called into question the very fabric of Muslim society, by terming Islam as backward. Muslims are now forced to analyse whether their practices and beliefs are purely religious or religion infused with culture. A debate has thus ensued about the status of women across the Muslim world, especially in countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, where a strict interpretation of Islam is practiced.
Women in these countries are relegated to a private sphere of existence, where their lives seem to be entirely controlled by their male-relatives or husbands. Western feminist have expressed alarm at the seeming content of these women, and relative acceptance of their life as second class citizens. Some have interpreted this behaviour as a case of Stockholm syndrome. However, Muslim feminist Mona Eltahawy says this acceptance correlates to the acceptance of the premise that Islam sees females as inferior to males.
She further adds that many men and women are too afraid to analyse this premise, in fear of being labelled an apostate or being blasphemous. According to Eltahawy the acceptance of the belief that men are superior, is essentially also an acceptance that God is misogynistic. Scholars have termed such rhetoric by feminists blasphemous. By this same logic, isn’t the acceptance that God would be content to decree part of his creation inferior, also blasphemous? Especially when considering that God is described in the Holy Qu’ran as “Just”, Loving”and a “Protector and Friend”.
All over the world, including in western countries, women experience oppression. This oppression manifests itself in many different forms. It ranges from political and economic, where men are still predominantly seen as the best at handling these issues. To social, where women are continuously objectified and dehumanised in the porn and film industry.
Amongst Muslims this is usually where the conversation ends. In fear of being labelled blasphemous, age old practices in the Muslim world are not called into question. Female genital mutilation, virginity tests and government laws making spousal abuse acceptable are readily accepted as part of Islam, and therefore go unquestioned by men and women alike. Many scholars have however, condemned this narrow interpretation of Islam, and encouraged watasiyyah – the middle and moderate path.
With a litany of abuses being committed in the name of Islam, the non-Muslim world has found it very difficult to disseminate between Islamic practices and cultural norms. For Muslims who seek to follow the true path of their Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, this differentiation seems tough as well.
Making matters worse, the World Economic Forum recently released the Global Gender Gap report. In this report, Muslim countries fared the worse. Many find themselves at the bottom. Saudi Arabia is currently ranked 131 and Yemen is in last place at 135, out of 135 countries.
It is easy to see why the lowest ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate. Placing women at a distinct disadvantage, and making them completely dependent on their husbands and families. Even if these women stayed home to take care of their children, one needs to question how effective they will be as a mother, especially if they are not able to assist their children in reading or writing, be it in secular education or Islamic education.
Female education however is not an issue in Saudi Arabia. While Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses, their lives are still entirely controlled by men. Women are not allowed to vote, drive or travel unaccompanied by a male relative. This oppression was incensed in 2002 when a fire broke out in a school in the Holy city of Mecca. The “morality police” refused to allow some of the girls to escape the burning building. The reason given was that these girls were not wearing headscarves. Fifteen children subsequently died.
So what is to be done about it?
The general picture that is painted by the media about Islam is biased and unsubstantiated. The impression that some Muslims give to the world is often not a true reflection of the religion. Islam, as revealed to Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, seeked to elevate the status of women. Women in 14th century Arabia could not inherit and were considered the complete property of their husbands. Islam liberated women out of this oppression.
In comparison, the western world which only gave women the right to vote in the 19th Century, whereas Islam guaranteed this right 5 centuries earlier, has caught up and have become exceedingly critical of Islamic practices, and thus placed the“female issue” on the world stage. Rightly guided scholars, who reside all over the Muslim world, need to address this issue. They need to better educate communities and disseminate between cultural practices that infuse religion, and religious practices that infuse culture. Muslims, male and female, need to resist cultural relativism and reclaim their lives by searching for the truth, and accepting the understanding that Islam has multiple schools of thought, none of which are considered explicitly right or explicitly wrong.
It is important to remember that oppression isn’t always physical, and it isn’t defined by a piece of material. It is a mind-set and a sickening of the heart. Oppression grows in societies that are crumbling, because its members have lost sight of the true purpose of their existence. Many countries across the Arab world have risen up against dictators which oppress the masses. While the political revolutions succeeded in removing dictators like Mubarak, we need to question if these revolutions also toppled the Mubaraks latent in our minds as well as our bedrooms.
— Yasmin Mogahed. (via girlinthegreenhijab)