C'mon Inner Peace… I Don't Have All Damn Day
Britt, April 20, 2017
A paper written for the University of South Florida
Women of Modern Islam
Much can be said about the religion of Islam, but typically you don’t hear about the many peaceful, positive or progressive aspects it has to offer, especially when it comes to women.
Ingrained into a universal psyche are the images of fully covered women; oppressed and enslaved, destined for a life of servitude and misery. But, could it be possible that propaganda has filled our news channels and only bits and pieces of the Islamic culture have shown through?
One doesn’t need to look much further than to read anything about one superstar of Islam, Malala Yousafzai. Born in northern Pakistan and named after a Pashtun heroine, her future could have been glum. But, being raised by a progressive father she conquered the stereotypes to become a worldwide hero and education advocate, according to the Malala Fund organization.
In 2009 Malala started a blog under a fake name about her fears of the Taliban closing her father’s school which secretly educated girls in a remote area of Pakistan. Women and girls were not allowed to study or even go shopping under the Taliban, so her father and Malala frequently received death threats. But this didn’t stop Malala from reporting the truth.
Pakistan awarded Malala their first ever National Youth Peace Prize IN 2011, and she was awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize, by Desmond Tutu in that same year. Because of her recognition, the Taliban wanted her dead.
Although the Taliban is an extreme version of Islam, glimpses of compassion and humanity will always shine through. According to her website, Malala was shot by the Taliban and left in critical condition, but the murder attempt only woke up an entire nation. “The Taliban’s attempt to kill Malala received worldwide condemnation and led to protests across Pakistan. In the weeks after the attack, over 2 million people signed a right to education petition, and the National Assembly swiftly ratified Pakistan’s first Right To Free and Compulsory Education Bill.” By 2014 Malala received the Nobel Peace Prize and donated all of her prize money to the creation of a girls school in Pakistan.
Western society tends to think of Islamic nations as backwards and stuck in the stone age, especially when it comes to women. But, in 1988 a women named Benazir Bhutto became the Prime Minister of Pakistan; the first female Prime Minister of any Muslim nation, a feat even the United States has yet to accomplish.
Born in Karachi, Pakistan, and educated at Harvard University, Bhutto lived many years in exile only to be assassinated in 2007. According to Biography.com, “Hundreds of thousands of mourners paid last respects to former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on December 28, 2007, as she was buried at her family’s mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, the southern province of Sindh. She was buried alongside her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s first popularly elected prime minister who was executed by hanging. Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, her three children and her sister, Sanam, attended the burial. Following Bhutto’s death, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announced three days of mourning.”
Several Muslim women have been leaders of their respective nations, such as Megawati Sukarnoputr, the president of Indonesia from 2001 to 2004. Sheikh Hasina & Khaleda Zia were female Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, and even Turkey had a female Prime Minister, Tansu Çiller from 1993 to 1996.
If Islam was so oppressive, how is it these women were put in charge of entire Muslim majority nations decades before the United States? According to Islamic.org, “a truly Islamic society women have the following rights in Islam:
It seems with these basic rights afforded to women, they have the capacity to live fruitful and free lives just as any western woman would be given by birth. Can it be then, that possibly portions of Islam have been hijacked and morphed into these radical ideologies? Of course, there are extremes in every religion, and unfortunately Islam has taken center stage in recent times.
CNN’s Anthony Bourdain explains how the extremism we perceive to be reality may not always be the case. He arrived in Iran and was shocked to see that everything he was led to believe, was not exactly true.
His international docu-series travelled to the Muslim country delivering an expose which is both eye opening and heartwarming.
“Iranians, we take you you into our house, and we take you into our hearts… and all of that, that’s where we are extreme. You know, we are extremists in so many ways.” says Nazi La, a female Iranian art gallery owner, and host to Bourdain while visiting Iran.
The episode goes on to highlight the falsehoods the west broadcasts about the country with Bourdain saying, Iran is “neither East nor West” but “far exceeded his expectations.” He helps dilute this false perception by showing how modern Muslims really live in a society the west has deemed extreme and oppressive. In some cases this may be true, but one should not make such judgements until a view of the whole picture is given, and Iran is one such example.
Women in Iran can be highly educated, cosmopolitan and cultured. But, recent protest of their government’s law forcing them to wear the hijab, has gained international attention.
An exiled Iranian female journalist, Masih Alinejad, created a movement called “My Stealthy Freedom.” The protest which started on Facebook, soon created quite a stir. The World Post says, “Through her Facebook community, My Stealthy Freedom, Alinejad has been encouraging Iranian women to post photos of themselves without the mandatory hijab, or veil, to protest the restrictive policies of the Islamic government. Since she started the page in May 2014, it has garnered over 897,000 likes. She’s been admiringly profiled in Vogue and fêted by the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. But at the same time, she’s been slandered by Iranian domestic media, leaving her in the unique bind of being a powerful voice for Iranian women while being unable to set foot on Iranian soil.” Sadly, Iranians were not always forced to live by such strict Islamic laws, but the tides may change once again with such advocacy.
Even Saudi Arabia seems to be going through some sort of growth in the expansion of women’s rights. In a recent documentary about Saudi Arabia’s first female politicians, “Ladies First: Saudi Arabia’s first candidates,” Mona El-Naggar and Adam Bolt, follow the story of this historic 2015 voting cycle where women can not only vote, but even become politicians. A country where women are still not allowed to drive, the filmmakers follow Fedya, a woman running for Riyadh city council on her way to receive her campaign licence, being driven by her son who had to take the day off of work to chauffeur her around.
According to Al Jazeera news, the 2015 election rendered, “At least 18 women elected to municipal councils in Saudi Arabia’s first poll open to female voters and candidates.” They claim, those elected were “women who won hail from vastly different parts of the country, ranging from Saudi Arabia’s largest city to a small village near Islam’s holiest site.” Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal said, “The international media sometimes has narrow views; they only report the bad stories.” With all this change in the air, the Arab Spring seems to have sprung yet another facet within its population of modern, globally accessible women.
Noha Ragab says in his article The Record Set Straight: Women in Islam have rights, “the status of women in Islam is one of the most extremely misunderstood and incorrectly portrayed things in western society.” He states examples from the Qur’an where Islam gives equal rights to women, maybe even more so than Christianity. “The concept of gender equality in Islam is stressed by the non-superiority of either sex over the other. It came at a time when it was necessary to elevate the demeaned status of women and grant them rights equal to those of men. The equality of women in Islam is evident by the unprecedented legal rights given to them under a monotheistic religion as defined in the Quran. As one of many examples, consider the rights of women in marriage and divorce. Both men and women have equal rights to contract a marriage as well as to dissolve it. The precondition of marriage is merely the mutual agreement by both parties. And unlike Christianity, a woman in Islam can divorce her husband at any time if she feels that she has been dealt with unjustly or even if she is just unhappy with her spouse since marriage is based upon mutual responsibilities toward each other. Islam has also ensured the woman’s right to remarry pending a three month refrainment period.”
Ragab also argues that “much of the practices and laws in “Islamic” countries have deviated from or are totally unrelated to the origins of Islam. Instead many of these practices are based on cultural or traditional customs which have been injected into these societies.” He gives the example of Saudi Arabian women not being allowed to drive, “This rule, in a country which is supposed to derive its law from Islamic legislation, is completely an invention of the Saudi monarchy. This horrific rule as well as a host of others are residues of old pre-Islamic tribal traditions where women were not entitled to the same rights as men.”
It seems that much of the Qur’an’s text have been either misinterpreted by radicals or convoluted to fit the narrative one wishes to portray. In a 1984 article written by Dr. Ahmad Shafaat titled When the Wife is Unhappy with her Husband, he recants, “Qur’an 4:34 (Surah Nisa, aya’t 4) gives some guidance as to how to deal with marriage difficulties when husbands feel that their wives are being deliberately nasty to them. The Holy Qur’an also gives guidance for cases when it is the wife who thinks that she is being mistreated and feels unhappy about it.
In this connection it must, first of all, be clearly understood by all Muslims that the Holy Qur’an unequivocally prohibits keeping women in wedlock against their will. In Surah al-Baqarah, verse 231, it is said:
“And do not retain them (i.e. women) in wedlock against their will in order to hurt them. He who does such a thing indeed sins against himself. And do not take the signs of God lightly…”
And in Surah an-Nisa verse 19 we read:
“O YOU who have attained to faith! It is not lawful for you to [try to] become heirs of your wives [by holding onto them] against their will.”
These verses appear in some particular contexts but they clearly contain the principle (also found in Hadith) that women can be brought into the marriage relationship and kept in that relationship only if they want to do so.”
So where does all this negative propaganda originate from if the Qur’an touts equality and respect for women? Annemarie Schimmel’s article, Islam-: An Introduction, p.65, SUNY Press, 1992 claims, “In the earliest centuries of Islam, the position of women was not bad at all. Only over the course of centuries was she increasingly confined to the house and was forced to veil herself. The Quran and Muhammad’s example were more favorable to the security and status of women than history and later Muslim practice might suggest. For example, the Qur’an does not require women to wear veils; rather, it was a social habit picked up with the expansion of Islam.”
The vision of repressed Muslim women appears to have been a more recent evolution of Islam, where patriarchal societies have enforced these beliefs on entire cultures. Also, the values of the west may have been interpreted as oppression, but this is not necessarily the case. Perception is the key to understanding the divide. A muslim women may feel respected and valued for wearing a hijab, when a western woman sees the covering as repressive. One such meme shows a western women wearing a bikini and a muslim woman feeling bad for her because she is forced to live in a male dominated society where women feel the need to show off their bodies for male attention. Again, perception is key.
“Benazir Bhutto.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 2 Apr. 2014, http://www.biography.com/people/benazir-bhutto-9211744. Accessed 17 Apr. 2017. http://www.biography.com/people/benazir-bhutto-9211744
“10 Badass Female Muslim Leaders You Should Know.” Brown Girl Magazine, 18 June 2015, http://www.browngirlmagazine.com/2015/06/10-badass-female-muslim-leaders-you-should-know/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017. http://www.browngirlmagazine.com/2015/06/10-badass-female-muslim-leaders-you-should-know/
Bourdain, Anthony. “Https://Www.youtube.com/Watch?v=6uyeU7Tm7Cw Https://Www.youtube.com/Watch?v=Qxx.” Pastebin, CNN, pastebin.com/DNKNGtdi. Accessed 25 Apr. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysYGCtGYGdc
Varagur, Krithika. “Here’s How Iranian Women Are Protesting Forced Hijab.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 12 Nov. 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/masih-alinejad-iran-hijab_us_5632406ce4b00aa54a4d0a40. Accessed 20 Apr. 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/masih-alinejad-iran-hijab_us_5632406ce4b00aa54a4d0a40
“My Stealthy Freedom آزادی یواشکی زنان در ایران.” هیچ حقی بدون عمل کردن و گام برداشتن به… – My Stealthy Freedom آزادی یواشکی زنان در ایران | Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/StealthyFreedom/photos/pb.858832800797482.-2207520000.1446135399./1229019193778839/?type. Accessed 20 Apr. 2017.
“Saudi Arabia Elects Its First Female Politicians.” Al Jazeera English, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/12/women-win-seats-landmark-saudi-arabia-elections-151213054750832.html. Accessed 22 Apr. 2017.
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