Posted Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, at 8:00 AM
Photo by Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images.
As an Arab American woman raised in a conservative Muslim family, I would say that yes, Islam is a misogynistic religion.
The messages about gender that I received from my parents, extended family, family friends, religious teachers, and so on ranged from subtle to extreme. I was told, among other things, that:
- Women can't speak during prayer to correct an Imam (men can) because their voices are too "distracting." (This is based on the hadith, see "From Hadith – Regarding Concealment Of Voice During Prayer")
- Women should lower their eyes in the presence of men. (To be fair the stuff about lowering one's gaze is also directed toward men, not the other stuff though. This surah is significant in that it is often cited as evidence that hijab is a requirement of Islam, which is a subject of debate within the religion.)
- Women shouldn't wear tampons, to preserve their "purity." (No quotes from the Quran on this as tampons weren't around in those days, this is another topic of debate and from my understanding, people outside of Islam also debate the issue. So I have only anecdotal comments here in that every Muslim woman I've known has been told something to this effect, and on a personal level, when my mom discovered I was using tampons, she completely freaked out, started screaming, and threatened to take me to the doctor and have them check to see if my hymen was still intact, which seems to be not infrequent behavior—a Muslim friend of mine who was caught skipping class had her parents ask the doctor to check her hymen. But again, this is anecdotal, and I'm just mentioning this as a qualitative "data point," as it were.)
- There are passages in the Quran that advocate beating disobedient wives (see this paragraph"In fact, the word in the Quran in 4:34 used for "beat" is "idreb." It is a conjugate of the word "daraba" which primarily means "to beat, strike, to hit" - Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, page 538").
- Polygamy is legal and practiced in many Muslim countries and permitted by the Quran
... and so on and so forth. Honestly it would take me hours (and probably lots of therapy) to be able to cogently list all of the misogynistic aspects of this religion and the cultures that have flourished from it. Maybe some of the aforementioned things seem minor, but in my mind they're not negligible, and taken together, so many things have made me feel like my religion hated women.
It's ridiculous to me to hear qualifying statements that Islam is "paternalistic, but not misogynistic." Believe me, as a young woman growing up and struggling in Islam, there is little to no distinction between the two.
I'm not saying by any means that these characteristics are unique to Islam. But the question was not "Is Islam more misogynistic than other religions?" but rather "Is Islam misogynistic?"
Some people have mentioned that there is a distinction between culture and religion in Muslim countries. I would argue that that's not really true, at least not in the way that it is in the West. Islam is integrated into Arab cultures in a way that's probably unthinkable to many in Western countries. With the exception of the occasional very small Christian minority, virtually everyone in Arab countries is Muslim, and this basically dominates the culture. Public newscasters casually attribute occurrences to Allah without any controversy, domestic airlines recite surahs from the Quran over the intercom during flights, and so on.
Muslim countries touted as being more liberal, such as Turkey, are such because they are not as strictly and fanatically religious as countries like Saudi Arabia, where the laws and regulations are for the most part drawn from edicts in the Quran and where "religious police" (note that they aren't called the cultural police) patrol the streets, harassing women for showing their ankles, preventing women from driving, enforcing the laws that prevent women from working or travelling without permission from a male guardian, and oh, don't forget "beating young girls" to prevent them from escaping a fire because they weren't wearing proper religious dress.
I understand, respect, and appreciate people outside of Islam trying to be open-minded about this religion. But to be honest, sometimes it bothers me, and I think people can try too hard to be "politically correct," for lack of a better expression, about this topic and overlook the reality of life in Islam.
I'd like to reassert my argument that Muslim countries heralded as being more liberal are not following Islam as strictly. Any Muslim country that affords, for example, a woman's testimony in court the same worth as a man's testimony, is not actually following the Quran (one male witness equals two female witnesses). The same holds true for countries where polygamy is illegal, and in most cases for any Muslim who affords a female heir the same inheritance as a male heir.
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