On “Mid East Misogyny and the Plight of Muslim Women”

Ken Connor starts his essay, tantalizingly titled “Mid East Misogyny and the Plight of Muslim Women”, with a quote from Ayan Hirsi Ali – “[S]ome things must be said, and there are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice.” This quote is a reason I write this post.

I can understand Connor’s premise since it is in response to Ali’s insistence that the West must “deal honestly with the egregious human rights abuses that routinely occur in the Muslim world, particularly against women.” However, I don’t fully understand the steps he asserts the US should take:

  • Urging Mrs. Clinton, “an advocate for women’s rights in the most powerful diplomatic post on earth”, to campaign in favour of Saudi women to be allowed to drive
  • Asking feminists in the US to “take up the cause of Muslim women”
  • Saying that “the Church, which proclaims the sanctity and dignity of every human life, should be outraged about the plight of Muslim women in the Middle East… who yearn for the kind of freedom, grace, and redemption unique to Christianity”

Religion should be, but isn’t monolithic because the cultures that practice any religion are not monolithic. Thus, Islam is also not monolithic and there are several Muslim cultures. Hirsi Ali belonged to one such Muslim *culture* which happens to be a violent kind. Unfortunately if anyone takes her as a point of reference for Muslim women then Muslim women belonging to other Muslim cultures will seem unnaturally lucky.

Many Muslim women need help and we welcome help from anyone who is willing to offer it sincerely (not merely for the sake of our “redemption”), but help shouldn’t be based on ill-informed premise. Saudi government’s refusal to allow its women to drive has nothing to do with Islam. It is not “the Plight of Muslim Women.”  In the same country where in cities women can’t drive, there are *Muslim* women in rural areas who drive trucks!

It seems that Mr. Connor either doesn’t know about the existence of Muslim/Islamic feminists or has forgotten that most of the Third Wave “feminists in the United States” (like the feminists of the 60s and 70s) are secular and not Christian. The Second Wave of Feminism produced many, many feminists who rejected the belief that “freedom, grace, and redemption (are) unique to Christianity.” Unlike secular feminists Muslim and Islamic feminists have proven time and again that there is a strong possibility for women to remain within religious traditions and still take up feminist issues sincerely. Thus Muslim feminists are the best people to experience, understand and stand up for the rights of their sisters in faith who have been less fortunate in their culture.

Mr. Connor brings up two other “plights” of *Muslim* women besides not being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia (!): FGM and honour killing. Again, he misses the point that countries where FGM is practiced have both Muslims and Christians practicing it. It has nothing to do with either faith but is a *cultural* practice. Similarly, honour killing has never been an “Islamic” problem. It is a cultural offence that is associated with many different cultures both Muslim and non-Muslim.

I am a Muslim woman living in the Middle East and I can tell you that it is not true that all Muslim women are “divorced with impunity, routinely abused, killed for breaches of honor, beaten for being in the company of men who are not their husbands.” By saying this I don’t want to claim that Muslim women are never oppressed. I think it is very dangerous to claim that all Muslim women are happy bunnies and nothing bad happens in our societies, but such abuse is not “routine” and is certainly not part of the Islamic religion.

Islam is only fourteen centuries old. In the 15th Century most Christian women were in similar situations as some Muslim women of today. And when women played important roles in Medieval Christianity so do we today have several powerful Muslim scholars who are strong women. Islam has had a long list of strong and powerful women from Aisha Bint Abu Bakr to Benazir Bhutto and beyond who were/are also part of some type of Muslim culture.

I would have been unjust if I hadn’t pointed this out.

Thoughts?

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8 thoughts on “On “Mid East Misogyny and the Plight of Muslim Women”

  1. Panopticon says:

    Unfortunately, I feel Hirsi Ali’s encounter with mysoginy has ultimately hurt Islamic feminism more than it has done to bring awareness to it. Honestly, you can’t be more naive enough to write-off a dynamic collection of religious traditions as “misogynist” purely on one’s own experience. That, and she’s advocated what could politely be called fascism.

    In light of this, as much as we need more Muslim women to speak out against misogyny, we also can’t let one sole individual to speak for the entirety of Muslim women; there simply isn’t enough context given. Which is why it’s great to have sheikhs and (more importantly) sheikahs to utilize religious legitimacy in advocating the feminism that is intrinsic to Islam. Thankfully, that’s already present here. 🙂

    *comes out of the lurker closet*

    • Metis says:

      Welcome to Metis lurking Panopticon 🙂 and thank you for your comment.

      “Unfortunately, I feel Hirsi Ali’s encounter with mysoginy has ultimately hurt Islamic feminism more than it has done to bring awareness to it.”

      I agree with you. I sincerely feel sorry that Hirsi Ali had to go through all that pain and it is definitely misogynistic and evil. I wish there was some way to make her understand that she would have suffered even if her country, its people and the associated culture were not Muslim.

  2. susanne430 says:

    Maybe you should link Mr. Connor to this blog… 🙂 If people only hear the bad things about Islam oppressing women such as Ms. Ali’s experience and see reports about the Taliban’s mistreatment of women, they won’t know there are very happy Muslim women who are treated like princesses. They need to hear the other side to realize Muslim women are often extremely happy with their lives and don’t need rescuing at all. It’s too bad he thinks all (or most) Muslim women have had Ms. Ali’s experience when you are proof that this is not the norm!

    Too bad he hasn’t been introduced to Muslim Feminists! 🙂

    • Metis says:

      I assume he will receive traffic from this link and will eventually find out and in any case I’m not looking for a dialogue with him on this. He made his opinion known and I made mine. I do think that his complaints are sincere in that he really wants the American government and feminists to stand up for the rights of Muslim women but the stereotypical picture he paints of Muslim cultures in the Middle East are not true. Some Muslim women do need rescuing like I even said in the post but to insinuate that all Middle Eastern Muslim women are living with misogynistic and hateful men is offensive. I feel offended to read that as a daughter of a Muslim man and a woman married to a Muslim man.

      Just last week my husband and I gave shelter to a Catholic American friend who was beaten black and blue by her husband. I know that I would have been both hilarious and offensive simultaneously if I had based my opinion of Christian and American women on the experiences of this friend and written a similar essay on the “American misogyny and the plight of Christian women.” I couldn’t have been further from truth and American Christian women would have corrected my skewed beliefs.

  3. Sana says:

    I think when I read “most dangerous countries for women” list shared on Facebook, India was one of them, and I don’t get it why people don’t take into account the non Muslim women as well? They are sometimes much more oppressed than Muslim women,
    Muslim families won’t let their women work outside and be independent, but non Muslim women are worse, as they are required to work both in and out of the house to earn, with very little emotional support. I always think about them. That too is oppression. It’s very complicated most of the time. Honor killings are a cultural problem. Female infanticide, early marriages, the list goes on and on. Only education can eradicate , no religion.
    This was such a fair and honest post,
    Thanks.

    • Metis says:

      You have a very good point there, Sana. Ever since 9/11 the focus has been so much on Islam and Muslims that we only hear about the plight of Muslim women where as non-Muslim women are going through the same and sometimes even worse treatment that is overlooked. I wonder how they feel about this.

      Thanks for your comment!

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