"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Calling out Islam on behalf of women

By way of summary, in the last chapter of Nine Parts of Desire, Geraldine Brooks writes:

At some point every religion, especially one that purports to encompass a complete way of life and system of government, has to be called to account for the kind of life it offers the people in the lands where it predominates.

It becomes insufficient to look at Islam on paper, or Islam in history, and dwell on the inarguable improvements it brought to women's lives in the seventh century.  Today, the much more urgent and relevant task is to examine the way the faith has proved such fertile ground for almost every antiwomen custom it encountered in its great march out of Arabia.  When it found veils and seclusion in Persia, it absorbed them; when it found genital mutilations in Egypt, it absorbed them; when it found societies in which women had never had a voice in public affairs, its own traditions of lively women's participation withered.

The author does admit there are exceptions citing Muslims being "appalled by the [Indian] practice of sati, in which widows, on a husband's death, would burn themselves alive on his funeral pyre." And also I remember Islam did away with Arabia's own custom of getting rid of baby girls.  So there is that.

Ms. Brooks also talked about a "mental test" she gave herself whenever she wondered if such things - like the universality of human rights - were even our fight. Should we care what happens to women in other parts of the world as long as we are treated fine in our own countries?  I thought this particular substitution worth sharing.

Say a country, a close Western ally and trading partner, had a population half white, half black. The whites had complete control of the blacks.  They could beat them if they disobeyed. They deprived them of the right to leave the house without permission; to walk unmolested without wearing the official segregating dress; to hold any decent job in the government, or to work at all without the permission of the white in control of them. Would there have been uproar in our countries by now?  Would we have imposed trade sanctions and subjected this country to international opprobrium?  You bet.  Yet countries such as Saudi Arabia, which deprive half their population of these most basic rights, have been subjected to none of these things.

*sigh* What we overlook and accept for the love of oil! 

Do you think the author's assessment here is fair?  Do you tend to agree with what she wrote or would you challenge her conclusions?  In what ways do you agree?   In which ways to you disagree?

Do you believe we should speak out on behalf of people around the world even though it may not be our battle to fight?  Or should we mind our own business because change needs to come from within?


quotes from pages 217 and 222


Amber said...

I think I'm going to have to add this book to my wish list.

I tend to agree with her here.

It's one thing for people to choose to live under certain restrictions - whether that's interaction with members of the opposite sex, clothes, not eating certain things, not working in certain fields - because they believe that it is what God wants or even just that they believe it is better for them for whatever reason. It's another for there to be no choice in the matter at all. I'm sure that many of the women in Saudi or any other country, hell, even in the States there are women who live under similar restrictions (though here it's not mandated by the law of the country) do believe that they are doing what God wants them to do. But in countries like Saudi where there is no choice, how many of them don't believe and are forced to do so anyway? People who have no choice but to stay and live and suffer under restrictions that they don't believe to be from God or for the good of anyone?

I think that we have to speak out, even when it doesn't seem to be 'our fight'. The world isn't as big as it used to be. Ideologies get imported and exported all the time. Can you guarantee that if we ignore some oppressive ideology because it's over there and 'not our problem' that it won't become our problem eventually? No. And more than that, human suffering is our problem, no matter where in the world it is happening. Should we not send aide after a disaster because it happened in another country?

Now, does that mean that we go into countries where we don't believe that they're treating all their citizens with equal rights, spank them and tell them to do it our way because we know better? No. History has shown us how badly that works out in the end. And it makes us just as bad as the oppressors in the first place. It has to be a slower thing - the offering and display of other ways of running a country. Offering aide (in whatever form is best suited) to people inside the country who are trying to reform their own people and nations. Because change does have to come from within but that doesn't mean that we sit back and ignore the struggle and maybe watch something good get crushed because it wasn't our problem.

Sarah said...

It's a really tricky question. Would western pressure on this issue actually do any good? It's hard to see that it would.

I thought your first quote was really interesting... I wonder why Islam absorbed all those things along its way?

Lat said...

Perhaps it's not Islam that absorbs but Muslims made Islam absorbed them,wherever the calling goes.As long as the essential message to them is not tempered with,then the rest is fine.Just my thoughts.

Some nations have more prestige than others to offer not just aid but to give advice and sanctions against seeming notorious countries.USA,being the superpower has that prestige and power.Furthermore being a close ally of KSA makes it more important that some action be done towards human rights abuses.But so far of what I've read,USA picks and chooses what she needs and not involve herself in any tricky business that might endanger her opportunities and presence in the region.The same attittude was also undertaken in Afghanistan.

This is a change in the ways other superpowers or rather empires of the previous eras worked.

Suroor said...

I recently read somewhere that a religion is exactly how it is practiced. That would be really troubling for Islam today.

I think US is choosing to ignore a lot. There is KSA and there is also Israel.

Did Islam absorb all that or did Muslims absorb it? But then if we are to accept that religion is how it is practiced then we can say Islam absorbed it.

What do you think of the book?

Susanne said...

That's it: Amber for President!

I enjoyed your comment - thank you!!

Susanne said...

Sarah,maybe "Islam" didn't absorb it, but men did because they liked keeping women down? I don't know. I wasn't sure if I agreed with her. It seems though as she said if Islam is a way of life, it should trump the "bad" cultural practices and it did sometimes (no more death to infant girls), but then it allowed other things.

Maybe Muhammad's tendency to compromise on some issues set a precedent for this. Remember he allowed the people to still worship in Mecca, at the Kaaba and kept many preIslamic religious customs. Maybe with hopes to appeal to his people and draw them into the fold.

Maybe Islam tries to appeal to the different cultures and allows them to keep some of their practices. It's an interesting topic to think about anyway.

Susanne said...

Lat, I really enjoyed your comment.This intrigued me:

"This is a change in the ways other superpowers or rather empires of the previous eras worked."

Can you explain or give more details? Perty please! :)

Susanne said...


"I recently read somewhere that a religion is exactly how it is practiced. That would be really troubling for Islam today."

And for Christianity as well. Do most who call themselves Christians really act like Jesus did? Maybe dropping religion for an honest-to-goodness,living, growing *relationship* is the key! Religion seems to absorb too much cultural baggage!

"I think US is choosing to ignore a lot. There is KSA and there is also Israel."

For sure!

"What do you think of the book?"

I liked it because I learned about some Muslim women in politics, sports, belly dancing and other interesting topics. I enjoyed seeing the Muslim women through this Australian journalists' eyes. It's more favorable of Muslim women, I think, but it calls out men and some aspects of Islam that she finds repulsive as a feminist. I think the whole men-wanting-their-God-given-rights-to-beat-their-wives thing makes us all have sour tastes in our mouths.

Don't people usually consider it cowardly to beat those weaker than they? So I don't see how permission to hit your wife (who is generally physically smaller) shows forth men's bravery. It reduces them to bullies...cowards. "Oh,look at me! I hit a woman! I am so brave and big!"

And really the punishment about withholding sex from women and Muhammad doing this to his own wives...is God really on the woman's side here? Most people would admit men want sex more than women so isn't this a punishment for the men, in reality? :D I guess this is why having four wives and slaves for sex is a good thing.

Those are just some things that came to mind as I was reading and thinking of certain domestic subjects related to Islam.

Amber said...

That's it: Amber for President!

*lol* Trust me, you do not want me anywhere near nuclear launch codes when I get pissed!

'I'm sorry, you don't want to give me all the tea in China?

'LAUNCH EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!!!' *smashes big flashing red button*

Susanne said...

:-D You are so funny! Life would be exciting with you as President! :D

bigstick said...

Humanity often times cannot turns it's back to humanity. This situation is like the body. You must to do right by it from both the inside and the outside to keep it in good working order or to make a significant change. Knowledge, challenge, humanity, and compassion is on their side. The writing is already on the wall and the dam is cracked in many places. It is only a matter of time.

Susanne said...

It'll be exciting to see then! :)