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Women Vs Islam: When Will the West Assume its Moral Obligation?

Susanne Reyto



Published: January 14, 2008


I recently attended a Women’s Conference in Paris dedicated to the plight of women in Muslim communities throughout the world. The women's concerns addressed issues both in the home and in their respective communities. One of the highlights of the conference was the recent sentencing of a 19-year-old Saudi female victim of gang rape who initially was ordered to undergo 90 lashes for "being in the car of an unrelated male at the time of the rape," and then shockingly sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail for telling her story to the news media.

Women of all ages participated, all of them seeking advice with regard to their struggles against discrimination and the confrontations within their personal lives as well as within their communities. Another key issue was the question of whether to remain observant and wear a hijab (head scarf) or become modern and secular. Not wearing the head scarf represents a great step toward resistance of oppression and a vehicle for liberation. It is a symbol of rejection of archaic Islam and its treatment of women as second class citizens. Unfortunately, the non-Western Muslim women speaker's messages were diverse and seriously misleading, which confused and disappointed attendees who were looking for answers and solutions.

One panel consisted of a Syrian-American, a Moroccan-Italian, an Iranian, a Pakistani, all of whom were Muslim, additionally there was one Christian woman from Italy who represented the political position in the European Union. The differences between the Muslim women were dictated more by where they currently live than by their backgrounds. The two women who live in the West felt free to express themselves, but those who lived in Islamic countries were unable to be forthcoming for fear of retributions, including death, even while visiting another country. Unfortunately, this contradiction also represents the state of the world, symptomatic of totalitarian regimes.

It is quite possible that the women’s basic beliefs and understanding may not have been far apart, but their knowledge and practice of Islam varied greatly as did their views on life in general. Another major difference that must not be overlooked--living in Arab Muslim countries as opposed to non-Arab Muslim countries. Iran is a non-Arab country, yet it is one of the predominant leaders in the oppression of women.

Islam is an Arabic religion, the Koran is written in Arabic, and translation into any other language is strictly forbidden. In the Arab world, Islam is taught as it was conceived 1400 years ago. In the non-Arab Muslim countries, only translations of the meaning of the Koran are used, not literal translations. These interpretations vary greatly. For example, the Arabic version of the Koran contains a directive to “kill” the infidel after he rejects an invitation to convert, but the common translation is to “fight.” Fight and kill are not synonymous. Radical Islamists believe in martyrdom; they value death while the West values life. Belief dictates behavior and the absence of moderate voices and their cry for modernity is a global tragedy. Silence is a sign of tolerance or passive support which only fuels the mission of the militant Islamists, who represent a threat to Western Civilization in its entirety.

Unfortunately, only a few women are willing or brave enough to express their concerns publicly. Wafa Sultan, the Syrian-American member of the Paris panel, is one who speaks out in an effort to enlighten people. Her passionate presentation described her personal experiences; she shared her knowledge of the Koran with its messages of radicalism and hatred with regard to women’s issues in addition to concerns over the state of the world. She urged us to recognize what will happen if we don't fight the fanatics. She has often been called an extremist, to which she responds: “I speak Arabic, I know the real Islam, and I lived it. I was taught from an early age, I understand it and I want everybody to know it.” We must listen and learn from her! We can only fight the radicals if we are well informed. We will not be able to defend our freedoms, lifestyles and religion if we do not know our enemy. We must respect the religion of Islam, but reject its political ideology.

In contrast to Wafa Sultan’s strong message, the Pakistani panelist unfortunately presented examples of appeasement and peace out of fear, even while visiting another country. Despite her powerful position as a Minister of Tourism, she was not free to express herself, because a few weeks earlier, a fatwa--a religious edict--was issued against her. Her crime was that after participating in a charity parachute jump in France raising funds for Pakistani earthquake victims; she was photographed hugging her instructor. According to Pakistani clerics, she committed a ‘great sin,’ an ‘illegitimate and forbidden act,’ and when she tried to explain it; she was forced to resign from the Government. For fear of death, she could not tell the truth, but we know that the oppression and submission of women in Pakistan, and within the Islamic world is undeniable. The lack of public outcry emboldens the Islamists.

In a recent interview on Good Morning America, Jordanian Queen Ranya said, “All mothers love and protect their children, and their sorrow is the same all over the world.” This is a politically correct response from a worldly, sophisticated woman, however we know that her statement is not shared by all mothers. Mothers of suicide bombers are proud of their children’s actions; they express love for their children quite differently from mothers in the West. Before we can effect change, we must be honest and realistic. Unfortunately, the Queen’s response conceals the truth. In Arab countries children learn hatred and the militant version of Islam from an early age, and continue to hear the same message repeated daily in the Mosques. It is Muslim women who must speak out against the radicals; their silence and denial only serves to perpetuate the cycle of hatred and violence.

We know that international pressure works in some cases. It was solely due to international pressure that British teacher, Gillian Gibbons' conviction under Sudan's Sharia law, which shocked Britons and Westerners alike, was safely released. Hard-line Muslim clerics in Sudan accused her of intentionally seeking to insult Islam's Prophet Muhammad, and the case angered some Sudanese, sparking a protest where demonstrators called for her execution. Unfortunately, in other cases there is no international outcry or mainstream media reports of atrocities perpetrated upon women in the Arab world.

Most recently was the December, 2007 case of Nazia, a 17 year-old girl living in Afghanistan, whose 40 year-old husband shaved her head, cut off her ears, and nose and damaged her teeth on the first day of Eid al Adha, an Islamic ritual of sacrifice. The abused and frightened woman lying on her hospital bed explained that her husband had suspicions about her behavior. She added ’I swore to him many times that I was faithful to him but he did not believed. He used to beat me. A few days before Eid, he shaved my head and beat me severely. On the first day of the Eid, he cut my ears, then my nose, then damaged my teeth and beat me until my hands and legs were broken. 'I was second wife of Mumtaz. The first wife was already killed by him' she added with a flow of tears from her eyes. Where is the international outrage over the horrific and barbaric treatment of Nazia?

In the majority of Islamic countries women are considered second class citizens; they are forced to wear oppressive clothing, are forbidden to appear in public with unrelated males, cannot go shopping without a male relative, and in many cases have been stoned to death in order to restore the honor of the family following a rape or perceived insult to the family honor.

In December 2007, a top Muslim cleric in Iran declared that women in Iran who do not wear the hijab or Muslim headscarf, should die. "Women who do not respect the hijab and their husbands deserve to die," said Hassani, who leads Friday prayers in the city of Urumieh, in Iranian Azerbaijan. "I do not understand how these women who do not respect the hijab, 28 years after the birth of the Islamic Republic, are still alive," he said. "These women and their husbands and their fathers must die," said Hassani, who is the representative of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei in eastern Azerbaijan. Many women in Iran believe that his statements and the recent arrests could ignite a renewed crackdown on women who do not respect the Islamic dress code in Iran. Thousands of women in Iran have already been warned this year for their "un-Islamic dress" such as wearing tight, short coats and skimpy head scarves.

Sadly, we don't see headlines about the father who recently murdered his 16-year-old daughter for her refusal to wear a hijab. The death of Aqsa Parvez at the age of 16 is just a tip of the iceberg in Canada, where multiculturalism through adherence of backward cultures and religious beliefs come before women’s and children’s rights; where cultural ghettoes have become an ideal haven to crush any desire in women to be free. This happened in Ontario, Canada, not in the Middle East. We haven't heard much about the tragedy in Texas last week either. An angry father killed his two teenage daughters because he was ashamed of how his daughters were behaving. They were bringing shame to Islam and his family honor by wearing Western clothing and going out with non Muslim boys. Again, this incident happened in Texas and not in the Middle East.

It is believed, there are 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide and the fanatics are only about 5-12%. While this is a small percentage, actually it is a huge number, anywhere from 60 to 120 million people. This will increase at a fast pace because their birthrate is far greater than that of the Western world.

Secular, or moderate Muslim countries, like Pakistan, where women were once able to succeed in all aspects of life including becoming a Prime Minister, have recently become more religious and fanatical as witnessed by the recent assassination of Bhutto.

Wake up America and the West! We must not give up our freedoms and be dominated by an oppressive Islamic political ideology. Our responsibility is to take notice of the inciting Imams and Muslim leaders, and take steps to stop their spread of hatred and violence toward women, and civilized society in general. We must take action, immediately. This must be understood by all freedom-loving people, as well as our government officials. Their pronouncements are not idle words. Their intentions are clear and specific, and must not be ignored. Denial is not an option.

# # Contributing Editor Susanne M. Reyto is a speaker and award winning author of “Pursuit of Freedom: A True Story of the Enduring Power of Hope and Dreams.” Her horrific personal experiences of surviving Communism in Hungary energize her mission. Her website is

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