Tuesday, October 18, 2005

REFLECTION: Woman in Chains ,,,

Let’s be honest. Let’s not kid ourselves. Something is rotten in the state of Islam.

Over 50% of our 1.2 billion-strong faith-community are women. Yet the sad reality is that Muslim women are in chains.

Go to any Muslim-majority country. Go to any Muslim community anywhere across the world. You will see the Muslim woman in chains.

Some chains are made of metal. Some of culture. Some of prejudice and misogyny disguised as religion.

You don’t believe me? You think I am making this up? Then answer these questions.

When a family is shamed, why is she and not her male partner the one killed as part of some strategy to retain the family’s honour? Why do the village elders keep sentencing her and not him to be gang-raped? Why do they throw acid in her face when she dares work as a sex worker, but not in the faces of her clients?

Why is it ok for him to have girlfriends but fatal for her to have boyfriends? Why is she regarded as loose if she proposes to marry him and not vice versa? Why do they always forbid her from the mosque but never him?

Double-standards everywhere. And often expressed and enforced using violence.

Violence against women is endemic internationally. It is believed one in three women across the world experience physical or sexual violence at some stage of their lives. Almost all experience emotional violence.

But in the Muslim world and in Muslim communities, the figures are even higher. And the attitudes are indicative of the figures.

When a Sydney Sheik stood up and said women who dress a certain way were “eligible for rape”, many rushed to defend him. When the writer stuck his neck out and urged Muslims to condemn the sheik’s words in an op-ed piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, many condemned the writer as a traitor to his community.

Now, in Sydney, a lawyer defending three Muslim boys convicted of rape has asked the judge to take account “cultural factors” in considering the length of their jail sentence.

The sub-continental Muslim culture of the defendants, the lawyer argues, condones sexual violence against women.

That same culture makes a big deal about Sania Mirza’s tennis skirt, though ignores the tight cricket trousers of Irfan Pathan.

We are a faith-community suffering from multiple personality disorder. We apply one standard to the male side of our personality, and another to our female side. And we impose our double standards under the garb of tradition or sharia.

We speak of reviving the age of Muslim glory, when Muslims were the most civilised nation on earth. But what characterised that civilisation?

Firstly, women played an equal role in developing, teaching and transmitting religious sciences as men. Imam Shafei had some 40 teachers who were women. The Qarawiyin University in Morocco was founded by two women. Today, how many women scholars do you see writing about religious and cultural issues? How many Shaykhas and Maulanis are there?

Secondly, Muslims regarded the honour of a woman as sacred. There is the story of one Muslim woman who was kidnapped by the Byzantine empire. The Caliph in Baghdad wrote a letter threatening to send an army whose length stretched from Baghdad to Constantinople.

Today, Muslim Presidents and Kings and Generals do nothing to help women being mistreated and held in captivity in their own countries. Without international pressure, one wonders whether General Musharraf would have allowed Mukhtar Mai liberty within her own homeland.

Perhaps the most obvious example of our double standards is in our domestic relations. Many Muslim men regularly beat their wives. Unlike their non-Muslim brothers, Muslim men don’t require excessive alcohol or narcotics in their system to beat their wives.

There are few laws in Muslim countries protecting women from domestic violence. Worse still, those responsible for enforcing the law – police and the judiciary – are open to bribery by the usually wealthier male perpetrators.

Today, in 21st century Australia, Muslim women are subjected to domestic violence regularly. So often have I seen the names of the Prophet, his family members and companions listed as defendants in domestic violence cases in Local Courts across Sydney.

What makes the problem worse is that imams rarely mention the problem to their (mostly male) congregation. Muslim and ethnic language newspapers commonly read by Muslims rarely mention the issue. It is as if we are pretending the problem just doesn’t exist. Or worse still, it’s as if it isn’t even a problem.

Organisations like the Muslim Women’s Association are tackling the problem at the grassroots. Instead of being supported in their efforts, Muslim women’s groups struggle for community funding and survive on what little they can obtain from governments.

The Prophet Muhammad asked us to honour the wombs that carried us. On November 25, I’ll be celebrating my mother’s birthday. It will also be White Ribbon Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I will be joined by prominent men (including at least 2 Muslim men) as Ambassadors for White Ribbon Day. And what will we be campaigning about?
Violence against women is a men’s issue. Men need to take responsibility for the violence that men perpetrate on their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. It is only when men take on the issue as a men’s issue that change can be effected.

This year, for the first time, Australian Muslim men are coming forward to take control of this issue. Muslim men are standing up and being counted. Muslim men are declaring that violence against women isn’t something we can be silent about any longer.

Because if we stay silent, we might as well be lending a hand to the perpetrators of violence.

Today it may be a stranger. Tomorrow, it could be our mother, our sister, our daughter. Paradise can be found under the feat of mothers. Yet millions of Muslim mothers and sisters and daughters are living in hell on this earth.

I urge all Muslim men, in Australia and across the world, to agitate, activate and educate on the issue of violence against women. We all must take a stand. Wearing a white Ribbon on November 25 is one small step. But unless we take the first step, we won’t reach the stage of perfection. And what is that stage?

It has been partially defined for us the following words of our Prophet. “The best of you is he who is best to his wife.”

The author is a Sydney lawyer and Ambassador for the 2005 White Ribbon Day.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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2 comments:

Bob King. said...

Selah. Amen. Blogrolled.

Respect to the Irf ! said...

I am in !

time for us to stand as Muslim men against this scourge of unIslamic violence.

That "shaykh" and those "boys" need to be put in a cell with a very horny inmate, then we will
see if they can "take it like a man."