Monday 6 October 2014

The most common myths about Muslim women and why they’re wrong

 Randa Abdel-Fatah and Anne Azza-Aly on the Q&A panel.

Myth: Muslim women are inferior to men
Growing up as an Alawite Muslim, I certainly felt my brothers were given preferential treatment. However, I also recall that the reasons (or excuses), given by my parents were more related to status and reputation than religion, including the all-too familiar refrain,But we can’t let you go out! What will people say?  
There is a fine line between culture and religion. My friend Sofia, a university lecturer, says that religion is culture, and that regarding it as a separate phenomenon only obscures the reality - that human societies shape and modify religion according to their own peculiarities and practices (which is indeed what we are seeing with modern terrorist groups).
But that doesn’t change the fact that the often-abhorrent treatment of women in Muslim societies is largely at odds both with Islamic history and with what is written in the Quran. Whilst I view Islam through a secular rather than spiritual lens, for Randa, every day is “a struggle to reconcile my deep conviction in, and devotion to, the Islamic faith with the sickening reports of abuses of many women in the name of Islam.”
However, she adds, “Not for a moment do I think that the oppression and brutality directed against women stem from sincerely held religious beliefs. Whether it is targeting girls who seek an education in Afghanistan or treating women like second-class citizens in Saudi Arabia, the fact is that the oppression of women is essentially about coveting power and dominating women.”
For all their differences, the underpinnings of both Muslim and western societies are fundamentally the same, for each is built on the shaky foundation of patriarchy. As much as we like to blame religion for much of the world’s ills, the truth is, much of what we recognise as religious oppression is actually cultural misogyny.
On that note, I’ll leave the last word to Randa, who calls for, “A kind of radical surgery in Muslim countries in order to remove the festering, diseased pustule of patriarchy that attempts to define one half of society as walking sex organs…This would entail promoting theologically grounded arguments that would empower women to make dignified choices based on their own religious tradition.”

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