Faisal Tannir explores the false perceptions regarding women and Islam.
As an Arab living abroad I find myself separated from the bubble of cultural non-ignorance in which I grew up. When I think of the blend of cultures in Abu Dhabi, the phrase ‘Peaceful Coexistence’ comes to mind – sandwiched between the traditional and the modern-liberal are the general population, happy to respect other cultures even if they do not fully understand them.
The general trend in the city is not to involve yourself too much in foreign cultures, most probably a result of the years of internal conflict that has plagued this beautiful area; people find themselves absentmindedly ignorant of other cultures.
There are multiple running jokes in the Arab world about people we meet in other countries asking if we ride camels to our tent-based school, however, in some places, people’s entire perceptions of a region is based on extremism that is broadcasted on the ‘News’ and Sex And The City 2. To be honest I’m not sure which one is worse.
Though it feels more like an interview than a conversation, talking to people about home is normally rather enjoyable, the wonder in their eye as they learn about a place they know nothing about causes a child-like curiosity in most despite their age, and soon enough more questions are asked.
It’s not long before some people, usually by way of an incomplete sentence and an awkward hand-gesture, infer the question of whether or not my mother ‘covers’, as somehow this tells them about me or my heritage. For the record she chooses not to. This is met with genuine surprise and a follow-up question that sometimes shake my belief in humanity, mostly once again based around Sex and The City 2’s (which was filmed in Morocco) representation of Abu Dhabi.
This got me thinking about how people who don’t know Arab-Islamic culture, and there is a point to be made that Arab does not mean Muslim, think of women and how they are treated because of Islam. Islamic women are often perceived as oppressed, exploited and subjugated, that they are treated as subhuman in a patriarchal misogynistic society, and in too many truly unfortunate cases they are, this is because of the society they are in, the ramifications of a tribal mentality, a lack of education and unaided poverty – it is not the teaching of Islam.
Religion, like all things, is open to interpretation. Personally, I do not think any religion is perfect, and that it is more of a guideline to living a good life. I am also very afraid of the power organised religion wields. However, my personal views are irrelevant.
“Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence”
Above is a quote from the Bible (I Timothy 2:11-14). I use this not as an attack on Christianity but as a means of showing how anyone can quote a text, but that does not accurately display the intention of the religion.
Take for example the idea of that a Muslim man may have multiple wives, this was not done as a way of allowing men to marry anyone they wanted, but to allow men to take care of women who could not take care of themselves (common in such a traditional society). If a women was widowed and had no means of income she could marry a man so that he could take care of her.
Half of what a man earns, his wife is entitled to, however none of what a woman earns is her husband entitled to.
When asked by a neighbour who is most important after God the Prophet replied “Your mother”
‘Then who?’ Came the reply
‘After my mother?’
A good way of summarising the difference between religion and culture is a quote from a somewhat unexpected source:
“Islam is perfect but Muslims are not.” – Lupe Fiasco
The Islamic world is nowhere near perfect, and in some cases the treatment of women is appalling, but the way to address this isn’t to attack a religion, it is to attack the social issues that breed misogyny, not just in the Arab world, but everywhere.
A side-note on perceptions
There is a group of like minded individuals who admittedly are striving to bring down the current American government, they have traditional conservatives ideals, believe that war and weapons are the answer to most questions, believe their religion is superior and the final word on everything and will do everything they can to achieve their goals regardless of how many they hurt, they are funded by private businessmen who do everything they can to further this cause without being associated with it.
You would be forgiven for incorrectly assuming that this group is a terrorist organisation such as Al Qaeda. They are the Tea-Party, a group of American far-right republicans and they almost won their American Presidential election through Mitt Romney less than five months ago.
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