Women Victims of Islam
Due to the sensitivity of this subject I will start by making a distinction between Islam and Muslims. Islam can be described as a civilization, as a source of spiritual guidance, as a way of life and so on. Most of all Islam is a moral framework, and central to this moral frame is the decree that a believer or follower submit his will to Allah. How this submission should be practiced is worked out in the Qur’an and hadith.
A Muslim is any one – regardless of race or sex – who subscribes to or testifies to believing, among other things, that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet. Besides accepting god as Allah, and his prophet, a Muslim also believes in a host of other things like the existence of angels, a hereafter with a range of different heavens and hells, more prophets, and the view that the world will come to an end as predicted in the holy Qur’an.
Islam as compiled in the Qur’an and Hadith could be viewed as static. The way Muslims believe or practice their religion is dynamic. The individual Muslim can choose to change. As humans they are endowed with reason and, if free, Muslims can, as Christians and Jews have done in the past and still do, progress by means of critical self-reflection. I regularly criticize Islam and especially the treatment of women as prescribed in the Qur’ an and Hadith. By doing that I have annoyed many Muslims, some of whom actually want to hurt me. Despite this, rejecting some of the teachings in Islam is not the same as rejecting Muslims. Muslims deserve to be and should be viewed in Europe and elsewhere like all other humans. What I ask is not to fear Muslims or persecute them for their beliefs. What I expect – both from Muslims and their non-Muslim supporters – is to have the opportunity to think, publish my ideas and engage in societal discussion about Islam as a moral framework without having to fear for my life.
Having said that, I would like to defend the proposition that in Islam women are subordinate to men. The sexual morality propagated in Islam leads, when put into practice, to cruel violations of the rights of women and girls. By making a statement like this one I know that I am inviting disagreement. I am most interested in the arguments of my critics. Let me demonstrate this inequality. According to Islamic teachings in the Qur’an and hadith: Muslim men are free to go where they want while most Muslim women are confined to their houses. Muslim men do not need permission to leave the house; women do. Muslim men are not obligated to veil their beauty but Muslim women must. A man may divorce his wife as easily as repeating the words “I divorce you” three times in the presence of two witnesses. A woman who wants to leave her husband must prove at least that he does not meet her material needs. She must prove that he is impotent. She must prove that he cannot make her pregnant. She must have the approval of her wali (or guardian). A man may inherit twice as much as a woman. His testimony in matters of conflict is worth twice hers. Just in case there is a hereafter, women know from the prophet that their sort is over-represented in hell, while men can look forward to 72 virgins and companionship with their men folk. It is demanded in the Qur’an that a woman obeys her husband indefinitely. For the man conforming to the wishes of his wife is an option. A man may have sexual intercourse with his wife when and how he wants. Her refusal will invite the curses of angels and the wrath of her husband. If a man rejects his wife in bed the angels are silent and her disappointment may lead her husband to think that she is in the grip of the devil, who fills her with uncontrollable desires. Even though a man may marry four wives provided he promises to treat them equally, a woman has the right to only one man. And even this right is limited by the fact that she cannot do so without permission from her guardian (father, brother, or paternal uncle).
Some of the Muslims who disagree with me say that I am confused by the way Islam is practiced in war-torn and backward Somalia, my country of birth. According to them I should look at the way millions of Muslims practice their religions in more peaceful and modern countries.
I acknowledge that there are indeed areas in the world such as the large cities of Indonesia (the world’s largest Muslim country), Turkey, and some North African countries where Islam has somehow found a compromise with modernity. I also recognize that there are thousands of Muslims who treat men and women, boys and girls in an equal manner. However I invite those who disagree with my statement on inequality between the sexes in Islam to compare the consistence between the teachings in the Quran and hadith and real life circumstances in the majority nations with large Islamic populations and especially those whose state of affairs are regulated according to the model of the prophet Muhammad.
Is one who takes note of the daily suffering endured by girls and women in Saudi Arabia and Iran (two countries based on the sharia) deranged and traumatized? Or is the reality of the Sharia difficult to endure when enforced by those who will tolerate no criticism of Islam?
Is the high rate of illiteracy among girls and women in the UNDP report on Human Development in 22 Arab-Islamic countries an outcome of the lowly position women and girls are accorded in their religion and culture, or is the report only meant to defame and insult the countries researched?
Why are Muslim girls and women over-represented in the shelters of the abused and the crisis houses for teenagers who run away from home? Is it a coincidence, or is the strict virginity required in Islam a possible explanation of why these girls are haunted by their families: their fathers, brothers and husbands, the very people who should be protecting them from external harm?
In order to reject the statement that women are subordinate to men in Islam, my opponents will have to answer disturbing questions like these honestly.
An argument often heard in defence of Islam is that the cruel treatment of Muslim women is not so much the outcome of the Qur’ an and hadith as God originally meant them to be, as a narrow and opportunistic abuse of these holy sources by men in patriarchal societies. This argument is not convincing because Islam was founded by a man in a patriarchal society. Islam is a tribal religion, founded under tribal conditions and a moral framework whereby those virtues held high in the Arab tribe are made divine. I do not intend to deny that the prophet Muhammad may have improved the position of women in the 7th century AD. For example he contributed to abolishing the custom of burying girls alive at the age of 7 and the right of men to marry as many wives as they wished. But let’s not forget that while these improvements may have seemed revolutionary 14 hundred years ago, now they are horribly outdated.
Continual reference to the improvements made so long ago does not make the current suffering of women abused in the name of Allah more bearable. All it does is divert the attention from the inhuman treatment of Muslim girls and women today and the fear they live in.
That, among other reasons, is why it is so important to take a moral stand against those teachings and practices in Islam that degrade women to a species between human and animal. For those Muslims who agree with me, and for those Europeans who do not wish to look away, taking this moral attitude means that we should take action. Debate with Muslims living in Europe, and through words and pictures challenge the sexual morality in Islam held by so many European Muslims; Provide protection from honour killing for Muslim women who are on the run. Introduce a control system as an instrument to eradicate female genital mutilation. (There is controversy on whether this is Islamic. It is remarkable however that many Muslim countries practice FGM. Indonesia, is an example of a country where FGM came with the Muslim missionaries). Interfere through the schools and day care centres with the way Muslims in Europe start their families and bring up their children. Stop financing faith based schools.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Dutch Member of Parliament and author of the film ‘Submission.’