Tag Archives: afghanistan

Does Modern Feminism Have Room for Muslim Women? Make Way for Reema the Riveter.

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The feminist movement doesn’t have a very large place for Muslim feminists, and with feminism being as diverse as they come, attitudes towards Muslim women vary from open and accepting to a very arrogant, pittying rejection.

We’ve Got a Long Way to Go, Baby.

Feminism was originally and has traditionally been by, for, and of middle-class white women.  Bell Hooks discusses it in her free pdf, Feminism Is For Everybody.  She explains how feminism has had to struggle and adjust to include women of non-white races and their unique struggles into the feminist movement.  The same struggle, I think, is going on right now as the wider feminist community decides if we’re really welcome here.  Not only is race/ethnicity an issue here, but culture and religion.  It’s complicated, and it’s not going to resolve itself overnight.  Still, there are some attitudes that are certainly outdated and need to get with the times.

The debate about hijab has been a heated one in feminist circles.  While some may observe that it’s a little bit ridiculous for nonMuslim women to form opinions on how Muslim women dress, it still happens.  In the west, as Muslims, we’re still largely defined by our clothing, like it or not.  For hijabis, the judgment is immediate.  The moment they see us.  Before they hear our voices or opinions, before they have a chance to get to know us, they see this foreign, seemingly cumbersome cultural “veil”, and decisions are made by them about us: your entire life revolves around your religion.  If you’re not married, you live at home.  You are conservative, and often, you judge everyone else’s clothing choices.  For nonhijabis, when they “find out” you’re Muslim, the fact that you’re not wearing hijab brings on an entirely new set of judgments.  You’re not that practicing, you’re very liberal, you resent “back home” culture, etc.

It’s a difficult situation for us Muslim women to be in.  You cannot win for losing.  You’re either pious and untouchable, or secular and “loose”.  No middle ground.  It’s the case of “virgin or whore” on a whole new level; and it’s inescapable.

In relation to feminism, it’s worse.  If you’re a feminist, or are familiar with the feminist movement and its many (and often diametrically opposed) opinion-factions, you’ll understand the complexity that arises from any controversial topic, and we’re one of them.

To some feminists, womens’ personal choice is paramount.  It is the quintessence of feminism, the backbone of the movement.  It super-cedes everything else.  To other feminists, womens’ liberation is more important than womens’ choice.  The two may not seem to be particularly opposed, but they are.

For a feminist that values choice above everything else (I’ll use the term choice feminists, though keep in mind it’s a bit of a simplistic term), topics like the issue of pornography are very clear cut.  If a woman chooses to engage in porn, it’s fine.  Obviously, if she’s coerced or forced, the choice feminist is against it.  For a (what I’ll term for the purpose of this article) liberation feminist, pornography becomes more complex.  To some, it’s seen as an empowering experience, a way to take control of ones sexuality in the way one likes.  The liberating potential of porn becomes the topic of discussion more so than “well, she chose it so it’s fine”.  To others, porn is a demeaning, disgusting thing and no woman should ever take part in it.  That a woman may make the choice to participate is hardly a concern, often the reasons a woman may choose it are discredited or analyzed.  There is no way, to these feminists, that pornography is acceptable, and the women who partake in it simply aren’t liberated.  They can’t be.
That is not to say, of course, that choice isn’t a factor for all “liberation feminists”.

The issue of porn is one that is heated and lengthy, read any feminist message board or  facebook page and you’ll see it immediately. Muslim women are fast becoming the “new porn” topic.

Why Hijab Has Become the Feminist Issue of Note

The Muslim world has long been under scrutiny for its, let’s just say, lax attitude towards women’s rights.   In Pakistan, women are attacked with acid for refusing marriage proposals (though the practice has recently become illegal).  In Saudi Arabia, women still cannot drive, or travel without the accompaniment or at least written permission of a male relative.  In Afghanistan, women are forced into Burqas, full cloaks that cover the entire body including the eyes, and in some cases are fitted with blinders (like horses wear) so that their husband or father can see exactly where she’s looking.  Just in case she checks out another man’s ankles.  These countries have had centuries-long issues with treating women like humans, issues that extend into history far before Islam.  They are, to say the least, deep seeded parts of the culture.  Many misogynist men, women, and even scholars, use their religion in an attempt to normalize oppression and quell protest.  In many cases, it works.  In many cultures and countries, women are prevented from receiving not only basic education, but religious education as well.  They have no opportunity to question what they are told.  It is like Middle-Ages Europe, you’re forced to rely on your religious “superiors” to tell you what you must and must not do.  If you object, hell fire is your obvious destination.

These practices are opposed by most Muslims – if they identify as feminists or not.  The vast majority of us will tell you that they are a clear bastardization of our beloved religion and way of life.  Islam loves, honors, and respects women, we’ll say.  We may reference the countless female scholars who have shaped modern Islamic jurisprudence discourse, or the heroines in Islamic history who have been warriors, leaders, teachers, professors, and scholars.   We may suggest you learn a little more about Khadija Bint Khuwaylid, the wife of the Prophet, who could be classed as nothing less than a fierce, intelligent, loyal and independent woman.  We offer you these examples of women of old who inspire us and have shaped how we see our world.

But they are not alive today.  If they were, they’d weep for us.

They never would accept that Muslim women be treated like cattle, they would, no doubt, remind us all that Islam was, at its very core, a liberation movement.  It came to free women from the oppressive culture of the Arabian Peninsula – and indeed the world.  Regardless, many of these practices survive in Muslim communities today.

Feminism has, of course, noticed this, and has, of course, gotten angry.  It’s become a hot topic because here, in the Western feminist sphere of discussion, like in the hills of Afghanistan, our religion and our cultures have become melded.  There is no concept of the distinction.  They have become the same.

That most of us would tell you “they are NOT the same!” makes little difference.  You see a woman forced to veil in Somalia and a woman veiled in New York, and you cannot fathom that their lives have nothing to do with one another.  You don’t realize that while the Somali woman may not have a choice, the girl in New York probably does.  You lump us all together, good intention-ed but naive.

More than Just a Poly-Cotton Blend – Hijab, Identity and Piety

For many Muslim women, hijab is a symbol of freedom.  Freedom from being objectified, judged based on our bodies (will they listen to me when my boobs are so perky/saggy/big/small?), and vanity.  For a lot of us, we not only enjoy the ease of throwing on hijab (if I had a nickel for every woman who told me she “envied” how quickly I can get ready in the morning), we enjoy the control over what parts of us are seen.  We determine it, not society around us.  It’s liberating.

For many Muslim women, hijab is an expression of piety and relationship with God.  It’s a spiritual journey to the decision to wear hijab, something done only for their God, no one else.  For these women, their spiritual identity is very closely linked to their hijab.  It is not only a clothing accessory, it’s their identity.  A part of themselves, a connection directly to their Creator.  Criticism of hijab is not only a disagreement with their dress code, it takes issue with their very core being.

It’s more complex than many Western feminists understand.  To be honest, we don’t expect you to.  The problem, however, lies in the judgmental ethnocentric ideals that are pushed down our throats.

Ethnocentric Feminism: Pity Their Way to Liberation

What I earlier referred to as “choice feminists” usually don’t get particularly involved in this topic.  “If a woman wants to dress that way, she should, but no one should be forced” is the summed-up-stance.  Like the porn debate, though, “liberation feminists” have, in my experience, tended to be divided into two categories.

Some “liberation feminists” argue that, as I touched on earlier, hijab is a liberating and freeing choice to many women.  It has its value and place in Muslim society and in these womens’ lives.  As long as women are choosing it of their own free will, it’s a positive, empowering, and beautiful thing.

Others argue that hijab, as it’s used to control and oppress women in other parts of the world, is at its very nature oppressive and controlling.  Women cannot, they claim, choose it of their own free will because it is in essence a symbol of coercion, fear, control.

The problem with this idea is that it’s entirely ethnocentric.  A western feminist may have no idea why a woman from Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, or Yemen may want to wear hijab.  There’s nothing within her own culture or belief paradigm that can compare, it’s foreign, and in her mind, associated with oppression.  Obviously, then, it is bad.  It’s not western, it’s not something that “we”, independent, intelligent, educated feminists in the West, do.  Thus, independent, intelligent, educated women don’t choose to wear it.  Anyone who does, obviously, is none of those things.  She cannot be.  She’s not like me.

The West has long viewed “foreigners” as stupid, less evolved, backwards, oppressed, poor, and uneducated.  They wear funny clothes, eat food that we only eat on a night out as a “cultural experience”, talk in weird languages and in fact some of them incorporate sounds we’ve never heard before.  Some of them can’t speak English, or do so poorly or with a thick accent.  The West views these people as almost child-like, less intelligent beings that need us, the civilized West, to help them along in their quest for modernity.  It’s the White Savior Complex at its most systemic.  It’s not always about skin color, but culturism isn’t something that even feminism has managed to escape from.

To many feminists seeing a woman  in niqaab (a face veil) or even hijab, pity is what they feel.  Poor, sad, oppressed little girl.  She cannot even dress herself, her dad, husband, brother, or uncle chooses her clothes for her.  She’s pathetic, probably uneducated, and more than likely has been beaten in her life time.  She’s passive, mousey, shy, introverted, and stupid.  She’s no woman, she’s the intellectual equivalent of an abused child.  Pity her.  Pity the sad foreign girl.  No woman would choose that.

What they’re forgetting is that we’re not like that.  Most of us, indeed, especially in modern countries, aren’t like that.  We’re doctors, teachers, professors, lawyers, manual workers, chefs, surgeons, nurses, seamstresses, and homemakers.  Just like you.  We struggle with overcoming cultural expectations and oppression, just like you.  We struggle with fitting in to a society that doesn’t really know where it wants us to fit – in the kitchen, or is it comfortable with us on the front lines?  Especially for us in Western countries, it’s a struggle.  A struggle nonMuslim feminists won’t ever understand.  Because they can’t.  But they don’t need to.

We can choose.  We can think.  We can feel.  We can make decisions for ourselves.  If we find hijab liberating, we’ll wear it.  If we feel it is an important part of our religious identity and that it brings us closer to God (even if you don’t believe in one), we’ll wear it.  Don’t assume that your culture knows how to liberate women better than us.  Feminism in the West has had a long struggle, and still has a long way to go.  Muslim feminists are facing the same struggles, and we’ll do it our way, sensitive to our cultures and spirituality, and it may look quite a bit different from the Western feminist movements.  It’s no worse.  It’s no better.  But it’s our movement to make, they’re our bodies to clothe.  If Western feminists want to be involved, it should be in a role of support and attempted understanding, not of ethnocentric arrogance.  We do not need a schoolmaster to come teach us how it’s done.

Muslim women are fighting for change and equality in their own ways, ways which are appropriate within their own cultural and spiritual contexts, ways that differ from the feminist movements in the West. You’re not going to see women in Saudi Arabia burning their bras in public, but you do see them driving cars in protests. Our feminism is no less valid than western feminism. It just looks a little different.

Sahar Gul – Returned to In-Laws After Escape

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Afghan child bride had escaped torturers but was sent back

article by the Guardian

A 15-year-old Afghan girl who was nearly tortured to death by her husband and his family attempted to escape her attackers more than four months ago but was sent back home by local authorities, it has emerged.

Sahar Gul, a child-bride married off to a soldier called Gulam Sakhi who then tried to force her into prostitution, is being treated for horrific injuries in a hospital in Kabul after she was rescued last week.

During her ordeal several of her fingernails were ripped out with pliers and one of her ears was badly burned by an iron. Her husband is now on the run, and her mother-in-law and sister-in-law have been arrested.

Her case has caused uproar in Afghanistan and Hamid Karzai, the country’s president, has vowed that those responsible will be punished.

But disturbing new details about how the local community and authorities responded to her abuse has highlighted the ambivalence many Afghans have over how far women should be able to exercise the most basic legal rights.

“She ran away to her neighbour’s house and told them that her husband was trying to make her become a prostitute,” said local community leader Ziaulhaq. ” ‘If you are a Muslim, you must tell the government what is happening to me,’ she told them.”

The locals said they did take the case to the authorities. When the police arrived Sahar’s mother-in-law tried to fight them off, screaming all the while that her son had “bought” the girl who therefore had to do what she was told.

She appeared to be alluding to the dowry paid by Sakhi’s family, a sum thought to be around £2,700.

Locals say the family simply promised to stop hurting her. Ziaulhaq also alleged that bribes were paid to government officials to hush up the affair.

Although she emphatically denied money was paid, Rahima Zarifi, the women’s affairs chief in Baghlan province, said she could not remember the details of the case, or why Gul was sent back home.

The abuse resumed and continued for months until a male relative visited. When he found the girl, who had been starved in a locked basement for weeks, Gul was almost unable to speak.

Fauzia Kufi, an MP who campaigns on women’s issues, said that even then local authorities attempted to resolve the abuse through “traditional means. Basically they wanted the relative to sit down with his sister’s abusers and work out an agreement,” she said.

Kufi also claims there was strong pressure not to publicise the case.

“Many people don’t take these sorts of crimes seriously and don’t think it should be reported,” she said.

“Even the local authorities have blamed the department for women’s affairs for not trying to solve it locally between families in the traditional way.”

Horrific abuse of women is still common in Afghanistan, particularly against brides who can be regarded as chattels by their husbands or are exchanged between families in order to resolve feuds.

The government is frequently unwilling to enforce laws it has often been forced to pass by the country’s international backers, and the writ of the state often does not run in areas far away from urban centres.

However, the case of Gul was not in the remote countryside but in Puli Khumri, an important, mid-sized town which boasts one of the country’s few factories. Kufi also claimed that local sources told her that Sakhi, despite having a warrant out for his arrest, returned briefly to his home on Sunday night and that locals did not inform the police.

The claim is strongly denied by community leaders who say they were appalled by the crimes of the family and never attempted a low-key, traditional mediation between the parties.

Abdullah Fahim, a senior adviser to the minister of public health, said the case was part of the “bitter reality” of Afghanistan.

“We have several cases like this, especially in remote parts of the country where there is not a strong attitude to women’s rights,” he said.

He added that the ministry had dedicated a team of psychiatrists to the girl: “Her physical wounds are getting better day by day, but we are very concerned about her mental condition because she has been tortured for a long period of time.”

The law on the elimination of violence against women was passed more than two years ago and criminalised many abuses for the first time, including domestic violence and child marriage.

But a recent UN report found only a small percentage of reported crimes against women are pursued by the Afghan government.

Between March 2010 and March 2011, prosecutors opened 594 investigations involving crimes under the law – just 26% of the incidents registered by the Afghan human rights commission.

Sahar Gul

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Normally when I read articles and news stories about abuse of Muslim women I provide the article here (with full credit and reference to the original).  However this story was too much for me not to write about it directly.

15 year old Sahar Gul was found by Afghan police earlier this week in a windowless room.  She’d endured months of physical and psychological abuse at the hand of her husband and in-laws.  Her mother-in-law pulled her nails out, she said.

According to some unconfirmed reports, this was her punishment for refusing to partake in prostitution.

If you can stomach it, read the full story.

This child endured more than many of us will have to face in a nightmare, only she’ll never wake up.  This will haunt her for the rest of her life, for better or worse it’s shaped her.  The amazing strength it took her to survive isn’t found in many.

Her abusers, inshaAllah, will pay for what they’ve done.  I’m ashamed not only to recognize this was done by Muslims but human beings.  It’s hard for us to fathom what it would take for four people to do this to this little girl.  My heart goes out to her.

It pains me to have to say this, but please realize, this is not Islam.  This is a messed up Afghan family.  Messed up American families have done the same.  That they are Muslims did not effect their decisions to torture this girl.  If it had, they would not have treated her so abhorrently.  I wish this innocent child was given her rights in Islam.

The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam said: ‘None but a noble man treats women in an honourable manner, and none but an ignorant treats women disgracefully.’ (Sunan At-Tirmidhi)

Selling Out the Ummah for a Jar of Sunnah Honey – Western Islam at it’s Finest (?)

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What state are we in when instead of discussing the injustices in the world, and in fact our own communities, we talk about the lengths of beards and the benefits of honey?  When the war in Afghanistan began my local masjid spoke about how good it is to shake hands and offer a smile.  The only time masaajid seem to speak about injustice is when fundraising – seeing as tears open wallets quite successfully.

While the Palestinian people endure displacement, state-sponsored terrorism, humiliation, and occupation on a daily basis we are more concerned with the fact that the lines aren’t straight for salah.  While the Iraqis are being raped and brutally murdered by United States Military officials who are then left unpunished, we neglect to mention it in favor of the permissiblity of dying one’s hair black.

Some Muslim women are being beaten and tortured by their own husbands but we refuse to talk about it for fear of making Islam look bad.  We don’t have programs, hotlines, meetings, halaqas, or support groups for battered and abused women and children, but we have them for singles looking to get married.  You can call your imam up at midnight to offer him money but you cannot call him at any time to get advice on how to cope with your childhood sexual abuse.

Where are our priorities as an Ummah?  We have so much suffering brought on to us by outside and inside forces, where is the struggle?

By Ninja Girl Power