Women’s Sexuality in Islam
Islam represses women’s sexuality, right? Think again.
We all see Muslim women draped in head-to-toe burqas. Or read about 10-year-olds being married off to 50-year-old men. Or cringe at women being stoned for adultery. Or knifed to death by family members in “honor killings” for such crimes as fornication or being with a man without a chaperone – or for being raped. (The stain of sexual impurity must be removed from the family, it is thought.) In some parts of North Africa and the Middle East women’s genitals are ritually cut or removed in the name of Islam.
In such a world, whose sexuality wouldn’t be repressed?
But nothing you just read has anything to do with Islam. All of the above are cultural practices that are not approved in the Quran. Read the rest of this entry
The Islamic State Isn’t Islamic
The Islamic State is not Islamic.
Neither was Afghanistan under the Taliban, even though its leaders said they were striving to build, “the perfect Islamic state.”
Many will be surprised to learn that the Quran has very little sexism and gave women many rights that most women in the world did not enjoy in the 7th century, when the Quran was written.
In fact, most of the sexism you find in the Middle East comes from culture, not scripture.
The Quran gives women the right to: Read the rest of this entry
Early Islam Was Kind of Feminist
Ramadan 2014 is nearing its end, and in honor I am reblogging a piece by a Muslim feminist who talks of the strong feminist strain contained in the Quran.
Here is a link to a related piece that I wrote years ago (Early Islam’s Feminist Air). And here is another by one of my students (Women’s Sexuality in Islam).
Who created you from a single person
Created, of similar nature,
its mate and from them twain
scattered like seeds
countless men and women;–
through Whom ye demand
your mutual rights
And reverence the wombs that bore you,
for God ever watches over you. (Qur’an 4:1)
The work of Muslim feminists is revivalism rather than reform, because the Qur’an itself is not only egalitarian but decidedly anti-patriarchal, as is Islam as it was practiced by our Prophet, who was in many ways a feminist. Since the Qur’an was revealed to a patriarchy and has been interpreted mostly by adherents of patriarchy since its revelation, it is the readings of the Qur’an and the interpretations by patriarchal Muslims that appear to be oppressive–not the Qur’an itself, whose teachings are neither framed by nor concerned with patriarchy, as proven by its strongly egalitarian essence and…
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Selling Daughters into Slavery is “Baad”
The word itself suggests evil: baad, the practice of making daughters pay for others’ crimes. A young girl becomes a slave and target for the rage that one family feels toward another. In the end, greater wrongs are committed than the original crime.
Baad is practiced in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The most well-known case is Bibi Aisha whose disfigured face shocked the world on an August 2010 cover of Time.
Aisha had been forced to marry at age 13 in retaliation for her uncle’s crime. Read the rest of this entry
On Burqas and Being Subordinate
Last Halloween I saw a white teenage boy dressed as an Arab man. His friend wore a burqa — and a rope around (his/her?) neck, which the “Arab man” held as a leash. He kept pulling “her” around and shouting orders. I was shocked and wondered what their motive could be.
It got me thinking about women and rights.
I am a devout Muslim woman who wears hijab, a scarf to cover my hair.
Why do I do this? Because I am inferior and subordinate? Because it is my job to control men’s sexuality?
I grew up hearing that men are sexual predators who are incapable of looking at a woman who isn’t covered from head to toe without wanting to rape them, or “mentally rape” them.
But that’s not why I cover my hair.
In fact, while some say women must dress modestly to keep uncontrollable men from sinning, I don’t buy it.
Saudi Women Can Vote. West, Middle East Can Learn From Each Other
Saudi women got the right to vote and run in municipal elections this week. It’s a big step forward.
There are limitations. It’s hard to run for office when you can’t drive or show your face. Some fear political stalling. And men could keep their wives and daughters from voting. But the women are optimistic. Let’s hope for the best.
Interestingly, only about five years ago George W. Bush sent Karen Hughes to Saudi Arabia to express her hope that one day Saudi women would be able to vote and drive. She was surprised when many said they didn’t want to do either.
Past relations between Western and Middle Eastern feminists have sometimes been strained with Western feminists lecturing Middle Eastern women, and Middle Eastern women rejecting what they see as Western arrogance.
Yet the road to women’s rights presents plenty of opportunity for all of us to learn from one another.
There is plenty that Westerners could have, and may have, learned from our Arabian sisters and brothers in the early years of Islam. When we were in the Dark Ages.
Back in the 7th century the Koran gave women the right to work, own property and inherit, and provided protections from domestic violence. Women were also granted the right to give their consent to marry.
But lately Arab women have been taking some cues from us. Both the Arab Spring and Saudi women’s suffrage were inspired by Western democracies.
And perhaps now it is time for us to learn from them, again. The Arab Spring has inspired many Americans who wonder at our current state of democracy which is marked by legalized bribery (large campaign contributions) that make important matters like environmental sustainability and economic renewal political impossibilities.
Too often Western women think they have nothing to learn from their Middle Eastern sisters, while Middle Eastern women reject Western notions out of hand.
Perhaps we would do better to have dialogue and learn from each other.
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Did Women Create Burqa Culture?
In honor of implementation of the French “burqa ban,” and the brouhaha it is causing from Bill Maher to the New York Times, I repost the following:
The French “burqa ban” has got me thinking. Did women have equal power to create the burqa? And who benefits from this garment?
Some charge that rejecting the burqa comes from fear of the other, or ethnocentrism. I’m in sync with cultural relativism, so long as no one is being hurt. But buqas and “burqa cultures” don’t give women equal power. And women certainly did not have equal sway in creating the customs of these societies.
Think about the laws that exist in places where women are required to cover up in burqas, abayas, niqabs (facemasks) or various other veilings.
Is it likely that women decided that men could easily demand a divorce, but women could get one only with difficulty?
Is it likely that women created the notion that sharing a husband with other women might be fun?
Did women create the idea that an adulterous man be punished by burial up to his waist before being stoned, while a woman must be buried to her breasts – and one who escapes, escapes the stoning?
In these cultures, when a woman is raped it is her fault. She obviously let some hair fall from her covering, or she allowed an ankle to show. Everyone knows that no man could resist such things. Did women decide that women, and not men, are responsible for men’s sexuality?
Did women originate the notion that after rape, the victim must be killed to restore family honor?
Did women clamor for a burqa that limits their power and autonomy – keeping them from driving in Saudi Arabia and getting jobs that are far from home? Did women design this garment that prevents small pleasures like seeing clearly or feeling the sun and the wind?
And who benefits?
Men benefit from easily obtaining a divorce, but not allowing their wives the same privilege. Men benefit from the sexual variety of having many wives, while women are left to share one man. Men benefit by more easily escaping a stoning. And men can rape with impunity since women fear reporting sexual assault, lest their families kill them. Men gain power when women are incapable of getting jobs and income. How much easier is it to beat women for the infraction of straying outside the home, or letting a wrist show, when they are black or blue blobs, and not human beings?
It is common to make accusations of ethnocentrism when one culture rejects the practices of another. Often the fears are valid.
But if a powerful group creates a culture that benefits themselves to the detriment of others, the critique is not about ethnocentrism. It is about human rights.
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Beating Your Wife, Child OK in United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates’ High Court ruled a few weeks ago that men can beat their wives and children. Wives are always fair game, but children may only be beaten if they are young enough to be properly defenseless (only “young” children may be battered). Also, husbands and fathers must leave no visible mark. So keeping wives and daughters properly covered could come in handy.
Sharia law expert, Dr. Ahmed al Kubaisi, reasoned that wife beating is sometimes necessary to preserve family bonds, “If a wife committed something wrong, a husband can report her to police,” he explained. “But sometimes she does not do a serious thing or he does not want to let others know; when it is not good for the family. In this case, hitting is a better option.”
It’s all so clear to me now.
Except for the part about why men are qualified to discipline women. Is it that men are more wise and compassionate? And we know this because wife and child abuse come so easily to so many of our less evolved brethren? And why would God want anyone to beat anyone else?
Islamic scholars don’t all feel that beating women and children is consistent with Islam.
Islamic law scholar, Dr. Jamal Badawi, says the Quran seeks “the prohibition of any type of wife beating.” Lawyer and women’s rights activist, Summer Hathout, observed, “To those of us who know Islam and the Quran, violence against women is so antithetical to the teachings of Islam.” Islamic feminists note that the word in the Quran which is commonly translated as “beat” (daraba) can also be translated as “to go away.”
Basing prescriptions for battering women and children on religion, the word of God, seems odd. How is violence of any sort good for the soul?
Beating women. Killing women to preserve “honor.” Throwing stones at women in a stadium. A woman is hit by a large stone. She screams out in pain. And cheers rise up from the crowd. This is ennobling?
What happens to a person’s soul who behaves this way? Only dehumanization comes from this mindset and behavior.
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