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The Failure of the Modern-Muslim Woman


This Sunday I was taking part in a show on Iqra TV to discuss domestic violence in the Muslim community. The nature of the subject elicited a lot of female viewers to call and express their views – surprisingly male viewers stayed silent. The consensus that emerged from this much needed discussion was that domestic violence was un-Islamic and that Muslims had to do a lot more to address this subject instead of rendering it taboo. However, there was a grudging admission by some callers that there were cases where a woman ‘provoked’ the husband and according to these callers an ayah in the Quran stipulates that in such cases he has a ‘right’ to hit her. It took incredible self discipline to contain the seething rage that was building up inside of me as the show progressed. I am absolutely stunned and even disgusted that this sort of thinking exist and I was especially disappointed to hear it from women. 

Regarding the ayah they were referring to, recent studies by some scholars show that such interpretations of the ayah are flawed but conservative Muslims (who seem to think they hold exclusive rights when it comes interpreting the Quran) dismiss this work on various pretexts so as to not deal with it –  leading some women to wrongly believe violence against them is mandated in the Quran. What a fallacy.

When Islam is attacked in the media as being oppressive we roll out multiple hadiths and ayahs to show how egalitarian and progressive the religion is concerning equality between the sexes. Is this just mere lip service? Is it actually possible that we recite these hadiths and ayahs but we somehow fail to understand or believe them? If so, the joke is on the modern Muslim women who have failed to follow the example set by our illiterate Bedouin sisters in the 7th century. These women were not house bound but actively participated in politics, war, and governance and in learning the scripture.  They were scholars and hafiz who taught men and even issued fatwa’s that were binding – it’s hard to imagine such women cowering behind the fist of a man.

Where in the Muslim world is a woman able to teach a man today? Certainly not in the eastern states where they have been reduced to ghost-like shadows that are rarely seen or heard in public spaces. When we celebrate the early ummah it’s almost as if we are celebrating the early Muslim men. Where are the women? Why are we not learning and celebrating them? We know they were not only there but they made a difference. By allowing history to forget the examples they set we have allowed ourselves to be relegated into the position of second class citizens by misogynistic interpretations of the Quran.   We have allowed ourselves to be subjected to the worst kind of Zulm, whereby all the rights afforded to us by Allah have been systemically stolen from us over the decades.

A brief look at the way sharia law is being implemented by male jurist and judges in Muslim countries reveals its failure in providing gender justice. In 2006 al Shabaab in Somalia stoned to death a 13 year old girl raped by three armed men after finding her guilty of adultery in an Islamic Court – unfortunately this isn’t a one off case highlighting the miscarriage of justice by an extremist group, there are countless of similar cases in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Iran where women have been subjected to the worst kind of punishments by the very system that is supposed to protect them. Yet no one is questioning how halal any of this is. In fact speaking up against it will only earn a fatwa on your head if it is your misfortune to live in these so called Muslim states. 

As modern Muslim women we should not accept the status quo that is clearly not in favour of us. We should carry forward the legacy of early Muslim women and live out their examples. We need to stop clinging to the chains that bind us all the while never realizing that it is the Quran that is infallible, not the classical male interpreters. These males were/are a product of their societies and cultures – cultures that were and still remain deeply rooted in patriarchy. They are fallible human beings and questioning their interpretations is not haram, rather making their words sacred and above reproach is.

I applaud and defend Muslim women such as Asma Barlas, Leila Ahmed and Fatima Mernissi for challenging such interpretations of the Quran. Before we start preaching about the rights Islam has given us let us re-claim those rights first. Only then will our words will ring more true to non-Muslim ears. 

Recommended reading

Asma Barlas. ‘Believing Women in Islam – Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Quran.’ 

Leila Ahmed. ‘Women and Gender in Islam; Historical Roots of a Modern Debate’

Fatima Mernissi. ‘The Veil and Male Elite’

One Comment leave one →
  1. Alicia permalink
    01/01/2011 3:10 pm

    Real men don’t hit women

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

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