Friday, 6 September 2013

Modern Islam and Feminism

The following cartoon was shared recently on my Facebook newsfeed by some relatives and Islamic Facebook pages.

As you might be able to tell the cartoon has been heavily edited by someone.  Something from the calendar has been (quite badly) removed, the mother's breasts has been censored, the man is watching a blank TV and the writing in red (which reads "super mother!!!") is clearly an addition that the original cartoonist didn't include.

So, partially because I have a bit of free time this morning and partially because I was curious, I decided to search for the original image.  I quickly found the unedited version with a reverse image search on Google and also found out for what it's worth that the cartoon is originally from Morocco.

So what has been edited out by the Islamic page?  The woman's breast obviously, but more curiously the TV and calendar.  The TV says "International Women's Day" and the calendar says "8 March". why would the International Women's Day offend an Islamic page?  Well it could be because International Women's Day not only recognizes the hardship women go through, but is also a day to recognize the need for gender equality, the importance of women's suffrage movements and the lack of women's rights in the world and particularly in Third World countries.  Simply editing out any reference of the IWD had an effect that could be seen in the comments to the image.  All the comments ranged from "may god bless the hands of mothers" to "may god help mothers".  Support for mothers? Sure.  Support for women's rights and comments about patriarchy in the Arab world? Nothing.  The hardships faced by women shown in this cartoon is recognized by Arabs, but is seen as the natural order of things.  It's not seen as a problem that needs a solution, but rather an example why we should pat women on the head every now and then for slaving away within society. 

Yes, this is the predominant face of the so-called "moderate" Islam's change in attitude towards women.  Without changing anything in society, without advancing the legal, social and private rights of women, what Muslim leaders decided to do is recognize the hardships and praise women for persevering while promising them a lot of rewards in heaven (although the Islamic version of heaven is very male orientated with hardly any mention of women - but that's another story).  

I do need to add that it might not be completely fair to say there is no change in attitude towards women within the household, as there is always this:

This is Ahmad al Shugairi, described as a "Saudi media figure" on his Wikipedia page, he shows up a lot on Islamic TV programmes trying to give a modern face to Islam.  The quote above is an attempt at modernising Islam's view of women, but honestly is completely mind-boggling for me how this is supposed to be a positive quote.  If anything it shows that men should tolerate women (not respect, but tolerate them like a baggage you have no choice but to live with), and treat them like house pets (or as he says, children).  But unfortunately, a lot of Muslim girls fall for this nonsense and, not knowing what it really means to be free and treated as equals, they think this is an example of how Islam is pro-women.  That specific screenshot above is from my personal newfeed shared by a relative, but if you search the quote on the internet you will find thousands of Muslims (men and women) who think this attitude towards women is healthy.

Consider the Youtube comment below.  In red is a comment I made on a video where a hijabi vlogger is arguing how hiding herself behind a veil is somehow empowering to women. 

Her response (in green) is very telling.  She not only admits that Islam treats women like house pets, but is proud of the fact.  Is there any self respect here?  Not even an inkling.  This attitude is surprisingly common amongst Muslim girls who grew up with Western influences and are trying to associate Islam with a degree of feminism - and failing miserably.  Feminism and gender equality doesn't take you from being beaten with a stick and having your husband marrying three other women all the way to being treated as a retarded child that requires special care.  Feminism is about being equal with men and having the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities as men.

Which is why whenever you demand details on what the "modern" Muslim means when he or she talks about Islam giving women equal rights, you will most likely hear the discussion entering gender roles.  "Women and men are equal, but they each have a role to play", not surprisingly, the role women have to play is serving the men.  It reminds me alot of the anti-suffrage propaganda that existed before women won the right to vote in the West.  

Yes, women who leave their homes to have equal rights and opportunities as men will cause a disaster!  - or so a few people thought, and amongst whom are women even.  So it's not a uniquely Islamic thing to crush women's spirit so far that they will even defend their oppressors, but in the modern era of communication and with greater pressure from a dominating Western culture of freedom and equality, Islam is being pushed more and more into a corner and both Muslim men and Muslim women are scrambling for argument to defend their iron-age traditions.