Islamic spokesmen in the West routinely claim that non-Muslims are only suspicious of Muslim intentions out of “ignorance” of the true, peaceful Islam. This, of course, goes hand-in-hand with the idea that it is not Muslims, but non-Muslims (like Geert Wilders in Fitna), who are responsible for linking Islam with violence. This approach deftly shifts the focus away from acts of violence committed by Muslims in the name of Islam, and onto the alleged “Islamophobes” who are supposedly victimizing Muslims by connecting Islam with violence.
An example of this came Friday in The Ranger Online, a publication of San Antonio College and Alamo Community College. An article entitled “Islam teaches respect for women” by Martin R. Herrera reported on a lecture series held on women in the Islamic world:
Meneses and the other two women on the panel, Aurora Deiri and Narjis Pierre, acknowledged conditions for women vary from country to country but they stem largely from the culture that existed prior to Islam’s spread throughout the world and the nuances of varied interpretations of the theology.
Deiri likened it to the subtleties of the many Christian faiths that exist today.
Except for extreme instances of disparity, which Meneses said is becoming more rare, Islam has pushed women’s rights sooner and more significantly than Christianity. “If you ask me if there is any feminism in the Muslim world I say ... it is in the Muslim world,” Pierre said.
It is difficult for the Western world to see this, Deiri said, because there is very limited understanding of the Islamic religion.
This ignorance causes people to misinterpret some of the external practices of Muslims that Westerners often cite as oppressive, she said, such as the wearing of head scarves by women.
When asked how Christianity and Islam can be so far apart today when they have so much they share in common ancestry, Deiri replied, “In some instances, ignorance allows you to retain power.”
So any oppression of women in the Islamic world is simply a remnant of pre-Islamic culture, and Islam has been better for women than Christianity. It is doubtful that Deiri mentioned any of this:
Rather than regarding women as human beings equal to men, the Qur’an likens a woman to a field (tilth), to be used by a man as he wills: “Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) so go to your tilth as ye will” (2:223).
The Qur’an also declares that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man: “Get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her” (2:282).
It allows men to marry up to four wives, and have sex with slave girls also: “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice” (4:3).
It rules that a son’s inheritance should be twice the size of that of a daughter: “Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females” (4:11).
Worst of all, the Qur’an tells husbands to beat their disobedient wives: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them” (4:34).
None of that is cultural; nor is it an historical artifact. To take the case of wife-beating, for example, the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences has determined that over ninety percent of Pakistani wives have been struck, beaten, or abused sexually — for offenses on the order of cooking an unsatisfactory meal. Others were punished for failing to give birth to a male child. In Spring 2005, when the East African nation of Chad tried to institute a new family law that would outlaw wife beating, Muslim clerics led resistance to the measure as un-Islamic.
Do things like this happen, as the panelists above said, because of pre-Islamic cultural hangovers? No, they happen because Islamic clerics worldwide have spoken approvingly of wife-beating. In 1984, Sheikh Yousef Qaradhawi, who is one of the most respected and influential Islamic clerics in the world, wrote: “If the husband senses that feelings of disobedience and rebelliousness are rising against him in his wife, he should try his best to rectify her attitude by kind words, gentle persuasion, and reasoning with her. If this is not helpful, he should sleep apart from her, trying to awaken her agreeable feminine nature so that serenity may be restored, and she may respond to him in a harmonious fashion. If this approach fails, it is permissible for him to beat her lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive parts.” Even the prominent American Muslim leader Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), has said that “in some cases a husband may use some light disciplinary action in order to correct the moral infraction of his wife,” and has explicitly invoked Islam in support of this view: “The Koran is very clear on this issue.”
Reporting on this, or on how women still suffer from these and other Islamic teachings, a matter of “ignorance.” In fact, paradoxically enough, it is Deiri and others like her who are spreading genuine ignorance by ignoring, denying, and downplaying all this. And indeed, ignorance allows one to retain power -- in light of that precise and apposite statement, it is important to ask: to what end is Deiri retailing these half-truths and distortions? What power are people who do this trying to retain? Will not the only ones who benefit from this ignorance be those who are oppressing women in the Islamic world?
It is a mystery as to why Deiri would possibly want to help them – the Stockholm Syndrome comes to mind, but perhaps this is simply a matter of religious loyalty. If so, it is misplaced: the situation of women in Islam will not improve until Muslim women are willing to dare to speak about their plight, rather than to gloss over it and hope no one will notice. Perhaps in this they can follow the example of Muhammad’s wife Aisha, who once admonished him: “I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women.”
That’s the first step toward ending that suffering.