The Muslim world needs a ‘women’s uprising’

While the rest of the world enters a new year, the Arab world is stuck in some archaic ways of … Continued

While the rest of the world enters a new year, the Arab world is stuck in some archaic ways of the past and needs to change.

Just a couple of weeks ago, as most of the nation spent time preparing for the holidays, doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland were busy performing another surgery on the face of Aesha Mohammadzai, the young Afghan girl whose iconic image appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 2010. The surgery lasted over nine hours, and was the fourth surgery she has underwent in hopes of reconstructing her nose. At the tender age of 12, her father sold her to a Taliban fighter. Married at age 14, she was a servant for her in-laws, who kept her in an outbuilding with their animals. After a failed escape attempt, she was returned to her husband, who, along with his brother, took her to the mountains, cut off her nose and ears, and left her for dead.

Stereotypes can be frustrating, especially when they imply that your ancestral homeland is barbaric, that its culture is archaic, and that its associated religion is oppressive. They are even more frustrating when consistently perpetuated—so much so that the stereotype begins to look less like a generalization and more like an observation. In the “Arab” or “Muslim” world this seems to be exactly what’s happening. As the rest of the world evolves, grows, and progresses, this world is—in many respects—stunted. In South Asia, stories like Aesha’s are way too common. Well documented in the award-winning film Saving Face, women in the region are often victims of domestic abuse involving acid violence, leaving them with near-permanent facial disfigurement. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive and may be refused service at restaurants if not accompanied by a male guardian. And a recent Saudi government program has been put in place that notifies men via text message when their wives or daughters attempt to leave the country. The laws of the region find equally antiquated punishments: they range from laws allowing stoning for adultery in Iran, to lashings for being outside the home without a male guardian in the Swat region of Northwest Pakistan.

Even in Western societies, this backwards thinking has left its mark—albeit on a significantly smaller scale. I’ve seen girls from South Asian or Arab families living in Western countries who are given significantly less freedom than their male siblings, and frequently are told that marriage is more important than becoming financially independent. And while they are afforded substantially more educational opportunities than their old-world contemporaries, social pressures can limit the range of professional fields they may wish to enter. These outmoded mentalities reach beyond just gender roles, with many communities suffering from a sort of “ethnic monolithism” where differences in nationality, regional identity, or religious sect, serve as fault lines for socializing. Not to mention the cultural enigmas that are interracial marriage and homosexuality.

This lack of progress in the Arab world on these issues isn’t due to political powerlessness. Its people have demonstrated the ability through the Arab Uprisings to overthrow authoritarian rule, protest mockery and disrespect of their faith, and defend the sovereignty of its nations when they believe imperial encroachment is looming. And in the West, organized efforts to combat anti-Muslim sentiment, for example, are abundant. But when it comes to issues of women’s rights and ethnic tolerance among our own, the response (if there is one at all) is not nearly as strong. The reaction to domestic abuse or sectarian violence ought to be as passionate as efforts to fight religious discrimination. The solution requires not only repeal of dated laws, but also a change in attitude and priorities. When a few cartoons of the prophet Muhammad appear in a Danish newspaper, the Arab world is in uproar. Yet when tangible harm is done to their own people by their own people we don’t see nearly the same knee-jerk response. Arabs and Muslim in the Western world need to be more active as well. There’s no shortage of organizations designed to protect civil liberties of the minority groups that originate from the region, but where are the organizations designed to identify and facilitate change of the oppressive practices found throughout the Arab world?

Girls like Aesha can’t merely be unfortunate cases of violence, I believe we are seeing part of a profoundly troubling trend. These cases have to be a wake up call for change. The Western world is convinced we are an out-of-date people with a cruel culture and a repressive religion—and if we sit back and do nothing, they will be right.

Khurram Dara is the author of
“The Crescent Directive.”
Follow him on Twitter @KhurramDara.

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  • tony55398

    So, how does this depict Islam?

  • WmarkW

    Hey, On Faith:

    When did you start carrying Muslim columnists I completely agree with?

  • Kingofkings1

    The author is completely off the mark. In his bid to pacify his benefactors, the author just can’t get enough venom against the antagonists of this storyline, which is so typical of the “inside view offered to the outsider”, such as Jasser, Manji and Sultan. He jumps from topic to topic, which are extremely complex in and of themselves. He doesn’t appreciate the role of culture in current practice in the Islamic world – which is the reason we extremely varied practices in the Islamic world on many topics, including that of the treatment of women. Moroccan islam is different from Central African Islam, which is different from Turkish islam, which is different from Islam of Central Saudi, which is different from Indian islam, and which is yet different from Russian Islam. The American islam is something we are familiar with and we can feel smug that we are teaching them something, but it also has to do with islam adjusting to the culture it is in

  • It wasn’t me

    What Muslim world needs is to take power from Imams and “thinkers” who still live in stone age

    Shameful that once progressive religion was dragged back to dark ages by men and their desires and fears.

  • It wasn’t me

    Take Christian right and their views or certain parts of Jewish community ,give them power to force their views of the world onto majority and you have exactly same thing that you have with Islam..lot of nutters hiding behind religion.

  • Secular1

    KoK1, why am I not surprised with your comments. Are the practices of islam in all the countries that markedly different from each other with regards to their treatment of women, apostates, minorities, pagans, or LGBT. Please cite the practices in each of those countries say on any one of teh topics I offered. Let’s see how different are they. Also lets compile all the verses, from your beloved koran, on each of teh topics i mention and compare the practices against the verses in koran. You don’t have to tell us what teh results of your analysis are, you just do it for your own benefaction. It will be definitely an eye popping experience for you.

  • Secular1

    Congratulations Mr. Dara that is a dramatic departure from all the rationalizations that are the usual fodder, about islam in this column. I wish I can read more such articles, penned by folks who are born of muslim parents. I have already seen one comment by a detractor, but would like toread comments championing your position from other fellow adherents and apostates.

    HIP HIP HOORAY!!!!!!!!

  • khurramdara

    KingofKings: I agree with you that most, if not all of this is culture–in fact, I have often said that Muslims from one country are vastly different from those of another country. My point with this article was to highlight the fact that, for whatever reason (most likely cultural), there are a number of terrible, dated practices that go on. And these things tend to perpetuate stereotypes about Islam–that I believe are untrue. But if we don’t change these things, not only will groups like women continue to get marginalized within our community, the image of Islam will continue to be defined by these horrible, cultural norms.

  • Kingofkings1

    Mr. Dara, Thanks for the clarification. Perhaps putting such clarification in the future esays would be helpful – so that instead of “fixing islam”, we can spend our energy where it’s really needed, i.e. identifying cultural practices that need to be critically examined.

  • HipHopHijabis

    It seems important to recognise the difference between culture and religion, and to emphasise that this ‘women’s uprising’ has already started, so that people know who to support instead of just who to be upset with. Otherwise there is a risk of simply reinforcing the stereotypes and fuelling Islamophobia.

    There is a growing movement of Muslim feminists and activists working in this area. Hip Hop Hijabis is a documentary following two Muslim converts who promote women’s rights through music. You can watch the trailer and donate towards the production on sponsume.

  • Abey

    The overreaching will for change of the Muslim women’s status should be principally carried out by women. When men call for the improvement of women status, their most outspoken critics are women. When once I enquired of one woman to explain her passionate assault on me for standing up for women’s rights, she retorted that my aim was not to benefit women but to criticise her religion. This is an implicit admission that it is their religion which is the culprit and not “culture” as many claim.

  • Abey

    Off course different societies have variant cultural practices, but these are marginal . The core conduct is fixed by a set of documents which Muslims believe came out of the mouth of the Creator. The wedding ceremony maybe different for an Afghani and an Egyptian, yet both can have up to four wives and both can divorce one or all by uttering the clause”I divorce you”.

  • Kingofkings1

    I love how the author of this statement is able to take one incident involving possibly an individual with borderline intelligence and arrive at the conclusion that the religion is the culprit instead of culture. The author deserves an honorary PhD (from the Nincompoop University)

  • longjohns

    Easy to blame this on whatever but as long as people still believe in that Judeo/Christian/Muslim G_d, there will be no progress. The whole idea is that barbarous acts are enshrined in the Bible including being stoned to death for not just for adultery but premarital sex, gay behavior, being not of God’s chosen people, being a woman etc… Remember, we still celebrate Passover or terrorism by killing innocent children.

  • Ani Zonneveld

    Khurram, as a progressive Muslim organization that started out in the U.S. we are advocating for a change in the interpretation of Islam, to an Islam that is inclusive and egalitarian, addressing precisely the issues you raised. Good news is that it is catching on overseas. Writing about it is easy but doing the work especially in a hostile environment is the hard part. We’ve been doing this work for 6 years now. The problem with most Muslims is that they talk a lot about the need for change but not very good at putting money where their mouth is. If you want to see change as you advocate here then participate. Please follow us on Twitter @MPVUSA and check out our trailer

  • Kingofkings1

    If you want to talk about debasement of women,
    It is better to take a recent incident in Delhi where 6 men thought they had a right to copulate with a lady who was with another man – and that they can go as far as killing the lady for it.
    At the other end of the world, you can talk about debasement of women by having them play the role of cheerleaders in skimpy clothes for everyone to oogle over, or the fact that a woman still cannot be considered a serious contender for the highest political office in USA, but it has already been done in Bangladesh

  • Kingofkings1

    Progress is the Civilization and it was created by Jewish people and Christians,not anyone else.
    With the above statement, you’ve earned yourself an entry into your choice of a mental health facility.

    FYI, christians and jews have contributed the most progress in the fields of killing, stealing, and torture. Still going strong

  • Abey

    The irony of it all is that women pass on to their daughters and grandaughters the culture of female subserviance to males.Women have their reason for doing this. They say that sons would provide for them in their old age but daughters do not,since they would be under the authority of their stranger husbands. A social security and retirement programs would very much eliminate this dependency. Maybe then sons and daughters would be valued equally by their parents and their worth to society be based on their contributions to the welfare of society. That would then also disprove any of their Muslim scriptural claims to the opposite.

  • Abey

    Christians have contributed ALL the progress in ALL the fields of human endeavor. It is true that some individuals who label themselves as Christiand do kill , but mostly in self dedence, and not in the name of their religion. Islam is the only so-called religion that expanded throughut the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe by violence which they label “FOUTUHAT” or openings. These “Openings” were carried out in the name of their religion by massacres, lootings, and enslavement of the people of those regions.

  • longjohns

    Abey. Christians have contributed All the progress???

    All of modern science was built on al-gebra. You might look up why it is called that. You probably don’t know about the Crusades.

    You might also enjoy this quote from Adolf Hitler

    “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before in the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice…. And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people…. When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom to-day this poor people is plundered and exploited.
    -Adolf Hitler, in his speech in Munich on 12 April 1922”

  • wp202

    (((The problem with most Muslims is that they talk a lot about the need for change)))
    The problem with most Muslims is they don’t get it that the only valid change is to dump islam and embrace humanity.