Blog Archive

Blog Archive – July, 2006

At last: Muslim women having our say.

July 11, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Is it possible? Has the western media really begun to listen to Muslim women? A series of recent articles under the banner ‘Half The World’  in the Guardian (UK) features stories about Muslim women and interviews, including one with Noble laureate Shirin Ebadi, with people from Afghanistan to Somalia.

From these reports, we hear about the high percentage of Saudi women engaged in business, of women taking the leadership in Somalia’s call for peace. (In 1988, on my first visit to Kuwait, I myself learned how active Kuwait women were in the nation’s commerce, with many top Kuwait companies run by women. But publication of my report, and doubtless others like it, was sidelined by the 1990 war and the focus of Kuwaiti women’s right to vote.) The Nation magazine is now featuring reviews of books by mainly Muslim women and the reviewer is the insightful Moroccan (American Muslim) writer, Lalia Lalami (morrishgirl.com).

Writings by Muslim women about our achievements escaped western feminists and scholars for many years. The number of Muslim women heads of state also escaped notice. Women singled out in the past were the complainers, the victims who appealed for assistance in fighting injustices in their society. And of course, there was the veil, burqua, and chador to claw at. For so long, and it probably hasn’t ended, what examples western writers highlighted showed abuse and inequality rather than the pride, achievement and intelligence. That abuse, as presented through western writers, must stem from Islam. Our women became a powerful stick with which to attack Islam, reaching its apex with horrifying accounts of the treatment of Afghan women at the hands of the Taliban. Never mind their suffering during the wars leading up to the Taliban’s ascendancy. No cries rose on behalf of Muslim women in the horrifying years of Russian occupation.Shirin Ebadi’s is receiving more attention today with the publication of her new book, Iran Awakening. There, she reiterates what the Egyptian activist, Nawal el-Saadawi has been arguing for many years, namely that women’s adversary is patriarchy, not Islamic teachings and values. And that is a universal opponent. Will the message finally get through?

For many years, Muslims could not write positively of their lives and cultures without becoming defensive of Islam. Our work went unpublished, or it was marginalized. Non-Muslims, especially feminists and anti-Arab advocates could get advance further by rushing to the defense of abused Muslim sisters. That would keep them in the leadership of the worldwide struggle for equality. Meanwhile anti-Arab advocates could add Islam to the reasons for their difficulties with Arabs and accept repeated Middle East political crises as acceptable.

For decades, Muslim lawyers and writers have been working hard to challenge patriarchal interpretations of Islam and the Hadiths, accounts of the life of the Prophet Mohammed from which many Muslim values derive.

Their scholarship was unmatched even though it did not reach into the lectures of Friday prayers across the world. The excellent work of sociologist Fatima Mernissi is followed by that of many other scholars, Asma Afsaruddin, Amina Wudud, Azizah Al-Hibri, Rafia Hassan. All are working in the USA. And the list is growing.

Scholarship by and about Muslim women is augmented and complemented with collections of creative and critical work. Shattering Stereotypes edited by Fawzia Afzal Khan is a fine collection; another is Islam Out Loud, edited by Abdul Ghafur. Azizah, a magazine for “contemporary Muslim women,” edited by Tayyibah Taylor is another example of a lively forum, run by Muslim woman, where one can read critical and reflective essays about everything that concerns them from gay relationships to where women pray in the mosque.

It doesn’t matter that these books are not best sellers listed by a major newspaper. They represent an enormous body of thinking, and the thoughts of millions of women, Muslim women. It is long past time for us to tell our own worlds.

Am I giving the western press undue praise for a few recent features by our members? Yes, I think we need years to see if any really change is underway. Meanwhile take note of our women who are writing. Support them. Write any parallel experience you have. Show yourselves.

[ At last: Muslim women having our say. ]


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