[Note from Robert Spencer: Introducing Rebecca Bynum, who has been a huge help to me for several months now as the Jihad Watch news editor. The comments in this piece are hers, and she will be posting other articles from time to time. Welcome, Rebecca!]
The jihadist publication Jihad Unspun has published a highly tendentious article about women, Islam, and the West by Yamin Zakaria, a gentleman living in the UK who also writes frequently for Al-Jazeera:
Like secularism, capitalism and democracy, women’s rights also flows from the West to the rest. The various tentacles of the UN are dedicated to propagating women’s rights as universal values. It seems odd that universal values would require external effort to cajole nations into compliance! The issue (women’s rights) is predominantly raised to attack Islam and Muslims, even though it may be more applicable to other religions and cultures that indicate the ulterior motive behind the issue is one of making political gains against adversaries not the welfare of womankind.
It seems odd to us as well that Muslim countries must be cajoled into accepting a baseline morality the rest of us take to be self-evident. Women’s rights rest upon such solid moral ground that it seems incomprehensible to us that Muslim countries should persist for centuries in attitudes and practices that the West left behind a millennium or so ago. The fact that you ascribe “ulterior motives” for our desire to see universal standards of justice met seems to be just another in the long line of conspiracy theories emanating so regularly from Islamist sources.
In response to the attack, the Muslims in general have responded in a defensive mode; arguing that the women in Islam do have rights that are comparable to secular societies, which is an admission of defeat as secular values are made the real arbiter. Consequentially, this has helped to foster an apologetic mindset whereby there is a continuous apology for Islam by reinterpreting its laws and values to meet the standards set by the secular movements. In the name of Ijtehad (Scholarly exertion to interpret Islamic texts and deduce laws) and various other pretexts, even the established Sharia rules are being slowly rendered subjective and moulded to meet secular standards.
So, let me just get this straight, Yamin. You don’t think that any compromise on the issue is warranted, and rather than allowing “secular values” to be the arbiter, you would rather see the suffering of women continue in Islam, or deny the suffering exists. Allowing any relaxation of Islamic principles and attitudes toward women would, in your mind, be some kind of “defeat?”
Listed below are some of the points frequently raised by the western intelligentsia to undermine the Islamic laws and values pertaining to women while promoting the alternative “woman’s rights”. It also gives us a glimpse of the real politics behind these rights.
The Islamic Veil (Hijab) or the Bikini?
The firepower of the west was going to be a liberating force for the women in Afghanistan, post 9/11, but the honourable women of Afghanistan did not strip their veils for the miniskirt. So, in an attempt to kick-start the process of ‘liberation’ a US based Afghani woman was paraded semi-nude in a beauty contest. Eventually, a Hollywood blockbuster would follow where the all American hero would seduce a Muslim woman out of the burqah into an adulterous relationship symbolising her ‘liberation’!
What is the underlying principle here? If stripping your clothes off to appeal to the male gender is a symbol of liberation, then the lap dancers, strippers, porn actresses and the likes must epitomise the concept of a liberated woman. Accordingly, if the US forces managed to replace the Mosques in Kabul with strip joints, lap dancers and brothels entertaining their soldiers that would have symbolised ‘liberation’ of the Afghan women….
Oh come off it, Yamin. This is a spurious argument and you know it. The issue of women’s rights in no wise has ever come down to something this superficial, but if the hijab and burqa are not symbols of oppression, what is? Forced conformity of this type cannot be construed as simply reflecting “modesty.” The hijab and burqa erase the outward perception of the individuality of women. Therefore they symbolize the erasure of their individuality under the Islamic system.
Polygamy or Sexual Freedom (Promiscuity)?
Polygamous relationships pre-dates Islam, it existed in Judeo-Christian traditions and most other religions. Therefore, why target Islam specifically on this issue of polygamy? I do find it astonishingly hypocritical for the West to incessantly argue against polygamy when one would be hard pressed to find a virtuous monogamous man amongst them! Do they seriously think that the upright ‘monogamous’ West is on some sort of moral crusade confronting the ‘depraved’ polygamous Islam? In reality, even from high school or earlier, the competition is fierce amongst boys to capture many virgins as possible in the West…
Another totally spurious argument, Yamin. A man’s choice is not now, nor ever has been, between polygamy and promiscuity! By equating the two, you are making an entirely specious claim. The western ideal of monogamous marriage between two equal partners is in no wise invalidated simply because some western men are sexually aggressive when they are young. Despite superficial appearances to the contrary, western civilization normally teaches human beings to curb their lower appetites and to subject their lower natures to the direction of their higher spiritual ideals. Monogamous marriage is the very basis of our civilization.
The power of propaganda is so immense that many of the Muslim apologists have started to deny the existence of a restricted practice of polygamy in Sharia laws. A classic and idiotic argument to deny Polygamy is made when they say “Islam has obliged you to give equal treatment to all your wives and since this is not possible, a task beyond human capacity, hence, Polygamy is only a theoretical possibility”. I do not understand why God would permit Polygamy if it is beyond the ability of the male gender! Why GOD would pronounce such meaningless statements? I guess you have to have the ‘wisdom’ of the apologists to understand such pronouncements or neo-Ijtehad.
Good point, Yamin, we’ve been wondering about this aspect of your belief system ourselves…
Freedom of Choice and Enforcement?
Muslim women are denied a choice under the Islamic laws while the emancipated Western women have endless choices being free. But what are those choices and what is the implication for the society if the individuals are given those choices. Choice is not intrinsically a virtue; it can bring chaos, and if incorrect choices, are made than it causes more harm than good. As an example, from an Islamic perspective the huge flesh industry of porn and prostitution is viewed as exploitation and degradation of women. The West would reply by stating that those women decided of their own free will to pursue a career in that industry. There is no doubt woman’s flesh sells, it makes money like any another commodity in the free market economy….
Yep, that old free will thing will get people into all kinds of mischief, so what? Free will is a gift from God. Let me repeat that, we believe free will is a gift from God. We deplore pornography as vile and degrading the same as you do, but we deal with these issues with reasoned arguments and appeals to the higher natures of those who are misguided, not by enforcing social conformity upon all. Freedom includes the right to be wrong.
In any case, no society endorses absolute freedom of choice. Every society enforces certain laws and values to maintain order and stability. The restrictions applied to Muslim women are equally applicable to Muslim men, as the laws regulate the behaviour of both the male and female. If you separate the female from the male, the male too is separated from the female. But no one is interested the restriction on male because the real focus is on the access to Muslim women, removing the traditional barriers. Why, because we know flesh sells!
Yamin, you’ve really gone too far this time. Nobody, even the most deluded among you, could possibly think the reason for Western concern for Muslim women is that we’re all sitting here thinking how we’d like to exploit them. The fact that you would even consider making such an allegation speaks volumes about your mindset.
Gender Equality or Gender Harmony?
Gender Equality is a one-dimensional view focusing primarily on the relationship between two adult peers engaged in a marital relationship. What role does it play between father and daughter, mother and son, uncle and niece, grandfather and granddaughter relationships? Furthermore, why is the standard of equality measured by referring to the male gender as the base line? Consequentially, women are increasingly pushed to imitate men in every sphere to symbolise emancipation and equality. Surely this is the biggest insult to womanhood as it assumes her to be unequal until she does what men do!
No, Yamin, the biggest “insult to womanhood” is the idea that she should be restricted in her own individuality in the 21st Century by the attitudes and assumptions of a single Bedouin warlord in the 7th Century.
Also are there any limits of gender equality? Should the gender differences become totally immaterial in determining the laws and values? If so, the long term implications would be that the concept of moms and dads, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives etc. lose any meaning. Similarly, the distinction between homosexual and heterosexual relationship would also vanish. In the name of gender equality should we reach a point where the only distinction remaining would be the bodily organs? And is it for the advocates of gender equality to clarify the limits to which this should be allowed and pursued?
In a previous article I cited evidences from the three Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) highlighting the absence of ‘gender equality’ as espoused by the current secular trends. Also, I elaborated and provided corroborative evidences from history and human nature confirming the fallacy of gender equality. Throughout human history, the two genders have generally functioned to complement each other particularly in a husband and wife relationship as opposed to acting as adversaries competing in every sphere. Islam in line human nature espouses for the harmony between two genders and not a full scale war.
Oh please, Yasim. Once again you are grasping at straws to make this argument. Western women are not all trying to be just like men in every respect. Western women have struggled for, and won, equal treatment under the law. That is what we want for our Muslim sisters as well, but by your own argument, this cannot come about so long as Islamic law remains in effect, either as legal statutes or social custom.
Who Are The Chivalrous Knights Of Woman’s Rights?
Apart from the idea of woman’s rights, it is important to get glimpse of those, in particular the male gender, on how to uphold such lofty values. Men in the West are caught in between by a culture that constantly agitates their sexual instincts and also demands ‘respect’ for women by complying with the codes of being politically correct. Nominal respect shown by the men is due to the fear of being subjected to the laws of sexual harassment and thus being politically correct is simply pretentious….
Good Heavens, could you have any less faith in your fellow man? Do you imagine all human beings are as cynical as you yourself appear to be? Again, just because some fall short of the ideal, this does not mean the ideal itself is undesirable.
If there was genuine enthusiasm towards woman’s rights in general, then all women would be treated with respect. An elderly woman in the West is rarely treated with respect as a motherly figure but often a subject to mocking, the familiar term of the old bag, witch etc. Because her youth has passed, she is no longer a valuable commodity in the free market and quarantined into old peoples home.
Now you just seem sad and ridiculous, Yamin. Is this life just some theoretical construct in which you make the most outrageous claims possible so you get the most attention? Or do you really think all human beings are motivated by their absolute basest instincts?
Genuine respect is fostered by an environment where the two sexes relate to each other by values that are not driven by their carnal desires and whims. In a permissive culture one loses real respect for women; the loss of sense of shame and modesty and the notion of honour of a woman becomes meaningless. Sexual crimes are viewed as trivial, which is why lenient punishment is dispensed for it, where as in Islam the punishment is most severe as the crime is recognised as severe, because Islam places value on the honour of a woman!
Uh huh. Islam places such a high “value on the honour of a woman,” they can’t even outlaw wife-beating and child marriages in Chad! Women living under Islam today are routinely forced into marriage at extremely young ages, (as early as age 9 since that was the example of the Prophet), must accept the most insane restrictions on their freedom of movement, expression and association, and must also accept her husband’s taking of “additional” wives and mistresses, (again according to the example of the Prophet). If these are good practices, beneficial to society, it escapes me to see how.
The old clichÃ©, judge them by their fruits, shows that ‘liberated’ societies with emancipated women and men have not attained greater levels of happiness and stability. In fact the social trend shows the reverse, breakdown in family life, soaring divorce rates, increasing dependencies on drugs. Rape, domestic violence and all sorts of social crimes are constantly on the increase….
Yamin, “judge them by their fruits” is not an old cliche, it comes from a parable of Jesus in which he asked, “Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the corrupt tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a corrupt tree bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7:16)
We would humbly ask the same question concerning Islam: if its fruits are what we see in the treatment of women and non-Muslims by Muslims, how good can the tree be? Our society is certainly imperfect, but at least it can adapt to the changing needs of people in the modern era: the West has abandoned many despicable practices of the past, such as polygamy and slavery. Can Islam make the same claim?
What Islam Says
The Islamic perspective is clear: women are not equal to men and men are not equal to women. Neither party are inferior or superior to each other. Their positions are defined with a set of rights and responsibilities. A husband may have rights over his wife but the husband is subordinate to his mother. Similarly, a mother may have rights over her son, but she is in turn subordinate to her father. The relationships between the two genders are complex and multifaceted. It is the Islamic laws that shape the relationship in terms of designating rights and obligations between the two genders at various positions.
It is only rational and consistent to protect the rights of everyone including women by invoking the Islamic laws instead of resorting to secular arguments that are rooted in feminism. If secular values are the criteria then it makes little sense to interpret Islam to fit into the secular garb but far greater sense to simply abandon it. Why go for secular compatible Islam instead of pure secularism? It simply makes no sense. Unfortunately there are even feminists in Hijab along with their male apologists in leash are using Islamic texts to promote non-Islamic ideas like woman’s rights, gender equality as Islamic, wittingly or unwittingly. If a man or a woman has been denied their rights we invoke the Islamic laws not some arbitrary foreign principle like woman’s rights or men’s rights.
Is the principle of gender equality simply arbitrary? Is it not rooted in firmer moral ground than that? Christianity teaches us the essential equality of souls (cf. Galatians 3:28). This is ultimately the basis upon which our forefathers proclaimed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Thus, consensual government and equality under the law are our ideal standards. We don’t claim perfection in their application. Is it not Islam that contains the really arbitrary rules, as based on the very human whims of Muhammad? Of course, in the Islamic world many believe that his human whims were expressions of the will of God. Yet many also bear witness that they know this is not true by calling for “humane” modifications of Sharia law. How can God’s law be inhumane — unless it is not really God’s law at all?
Had Islam and Muslim men been oppressive to women, the feminist movement would have arisen from within the Islamic societies as opposed to being imported wholesale from the west. The origin of such movements perhaps reflects where the real oppression of women exists! No one can explain why Islam supposedly anti-Woman stance continues to attract more women than men. Both ration and Islamic texts dictates that “women’s rights” has no place in Islam, those who speak in its name have the worst track record in violating the rights of womankind and it is a political tool employed selectively against its opponents.
Oh that is a howler, Yamin. Are you really meaning to make the assertion “Muslim men have [not] been oppressive to women?” And the proof is that women have not risen up? That’s like saying a jail is not a jail if nobody escapes. Muslim men kill Muslim women for disobedience all the time, even in Europe and Britain. Muslim women are simply intimidated into silent obedience. If you don’t believe that, take a stroll through the pages of Jihad Watch sometime.
You have no moral argument against the Western concept of equal rights here at all, but you may certainly be correct in your assertion that the concept of “women’s rights” has no place in Islam. For this we are sorry.