In “Islamic feminists stir the pot in Far East” from the Toronto Star (thanks to Skeetstreet), Haroon Siddiqui “speaks to religious scholar who blames Muslims, not Islam, for gender inequity.”
Musdah Mulia is the scholar in question:
She wears the hijab but says it’s not Islamically mandatory, a position augmented by a big majority of Muslim women in Indonesia, indeed around the world, who don’t don it and feel no less Muslim.
“Asma, daughter of AbuBakr, entered upon the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) wearing thin clothes. The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) turned his attention from her. He said: O Asma’, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands.” — Sunan Abu Dawud, book 32, no. 4092.
She wants polygamy banned, and also “contract marriages,” which give a religious patina to short-term relationships that, inevitably, involve poor women.
“Marry women of your choice, two or three or four…” — Qur’an 4:3
She says men needn’t be the legal guardians of women over 21.
“Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other…” — Qur’an 4:34
And that’s not all.
She wants the marriageable age of women to be on par with men – in the case of Indonesia, 19, rather than 16, for girls.
She challenges the rule against women marrying non-Muslims.
Musdah Mulia is no Westernized secular feminist. She is an Islamic scholar, with a PhD from the Institute of Islamic Studies here.
She teaches there part-time but her day job is director of research at the ministry of religious affairs, from where she needles the government. When her bosses issued a white paper last year updating religious laws, she wrote a 170-page critique that annoyed them and the conservatives.
But, this being Indonesia, she still has her job and is in increasing demand as a speaker.
And Mulia came from a strict background (Islamic tolerance alert here):
Mulia, a granddaughter of a cleric, went to an Islamic boarding school and grew up in a strict environment: “I could not laugh hard. My parents did not allow me to befriend non-Muslims. If I did, they ordered me to shower afterwards,” she has said.
But then, as Siddiqi takes pains to emphasize, she traveled to “other Muslim nations” and realized that:
“…Islam had many faces. It opened my eyes. Some of what my grandfather and the ulema (clerics) had taught me was right but the rest was myth.”
So what led to her transformation? It turns out that her parents, her grandfather, the clerics, had Islam all wrong, and she, Mulia, had gotten hold of the real Islam:
The more she studied Islam, the more she found it modern and radical. It had liberated women 1,400 years ago, well ahead of the West.
So the hijab, the burka, the chador, the polygamy, the divorce that the man achieves by uttering a phrase three times, the unequal inheritance laws, the inability of women in many Muslim countries to leave the house without a male relative as escort, the ban in some Muslim countries on women even driving — all this is now inexplicable to her, given that Islam “had liberated women 1,400 years ago, well ahead of the West.”
The claim that Muhammad actually improved the lot of women is curious. It is based, apparently, on the supposedly terrible position of women in pagan Arab society. But did those conditions really improve with the coming of Islam? Even Aisha, Muhammad’s beloved child bride, said: “I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women” (Bukhari, vol. 7, book 72, no. 715).
So many fighters for women’s rights in Islam end up like this. They cannot admit to others, and they seem not to be able to dare to admit to themselves, that Islam itself contains the texts that are responsible for the continuing mistreatment of women: not only in the Qur’an, but in the “authentic” Hadith, and in the records of Muhammad’s treatment of and attitude toward women in the Sira.
I wish Mulia well. But despite her attempt, and that of Siddiqui to support her, how can she really help if she insists on ignoring the passages I have quoted above and many others? These are not being misinterpreted, unless millions of Muslims are doing the misinterpretation. They are properly reflected in the difficult position of women throughout Muslim lands — a position that is difficult to the precise extent that any country’s legal system approximates the theoretical ideal of the Sharia. Look at Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan. It is only in those Muslim countries that are the least Muslim, either because they have managed to constrain Islam from within (Turkey, Tunisia) or because Islam has been constrained by outside powers (the Soviet campaign against all religions, including Islam, that changed the Central Asian Republics), that women have had a chance for a more decent existence.
Yet Mulia insists that “gender inequity emanates not from Islam but from Muslims and their cultural traditions and interpretations.”
But she does not ask, much less answer, what exactly molds Muslims, in every respect, if it is not Islam? What molds the “cultural traditions and interpretations” of Muslims if it isn’t “Islam”?
Beyond the basics of faith, Mulia says, most laws affecting women are man-made. “None of it came as a fax from heaven.”
But those who legislate in Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Sudan, and Pakistan think that they are following a mandate from heaven. For what after all is the Qur’an itself, in the Islamic view, if not a “fax from Heaven”?
This is the kind of article that, while it seems to be on the side of the angels, helps promote confusion about Islam, by offering a worshipful account of someone who may be brave, but whose every remark reflects considerable mental confusion. A little less sentiment is in order. Ibn Warraq put it well: “There are moderate Muslims, but Islam itself is not moderate.” Too many Muslim reformers think they must defend Islam at all costs, whatever mental contortions they have to perform in order to do so. It is only “bad Muslims” who are responsible. Yet “bad Muslims” seem to be those who most fervently accept, in every area of life, the actual teachings of Islam. The more relaxed and unobservant the Believer, the better his treatment of women.
That is something that even Ms. Mulia cannot hide from forever.