The Islamic Garden
Standing up for their rights
This article was first published in the Mercury newspaper, Durban, South Africa. Naseema Mall, a free lance journalist in South Africa, responded to this article.
It's the smell I remember. Shahnaz's face - what was left of it - reeked of a day-old barbecue, left out in the rain. Her flesh was a mess of charred meat: her skin, the soft flesh of her cheeks, and the bones beneath had been burned away. Her nose was gone. Her lips hung down over her chin like melted wax. Her left eyelid couldn't close, so it watered all the time in an endless stream of tears. Shahnaz - who was 21 years old - had been punished by having acid thrown in her face. Her crime was to be a Muslim woman who wanted to be treated as equal to a man.
Shahnaz loved education - especially science and poetry. But when she got married - at the insistence of her family - her husband ordered her to stop schooling and start breeding.
"You are a woman, that is your only job," he said. But she refused. She wanted to work for herself and enrich her mind. So she kept going to school, despite his beatings and ragings and threats. So one day her husband and his brothers carefully gathered up battery acid, pinned her down and hurled it into her face.
She ended up in
the Acid Survivors' Foundation in
the director of the foundation, explains: "From the late
1980s, women were increasingly getting jobs in
It is just one
tactic in a global war to keep Muslim women at heel. In
It is only in
our open societies that the freedom of Muslim women is slowly
being born. Last week, Amina Wadud became the first woman to lead
Muslims in prayer. All over Europe and the
Yet our support for these Muslim women fighting to be free is hobbled - both when it comes to ordinary people and when it comes to governments. Many of us feel awkward talking about the rights of Muslim women because we have overdosed on multiculturalism.
nervously: Isn't it just their culture that women are treated
differently? Isn't it a form of cultural imperialism to condemn these
The only rational response is to ask: whose culture do you want to
here? Shahnaz's culture, or her husband's? The culture of the little
learning in a
are equally hobbled from supporting Muslim women - for a
very different reason. They claim to oppose the Taliban or the Iranian
because they abuse women. But when it comes to
You can glimpse
the answer by looking at the little-told story of the
administration panicked. In the bargaining that followed, the
So how do we practically side with Muslim women like Shahnaz and the tens of millions like her? Any answer has to involve three steps.
First: no more bogus "respect" for fundamentalism within open societies. If you literally follow an ancient holy text - whether it's the Quran, the Bible or the Torah - you will hold disgusting views about women and you should expect to have them criticised and mocked. By raising critical questions, we help the women inside Islam who are trying to turn the ugliest passages into metaphorical steam.
Second: kick the oil addiction. Until we do that, we will only ever see Muslim societies through the bottom of an oil barrel.
Third: once we're no longer junkies, we can pressure our governments to create a programme of real economic empowerment for Muslim women.
My friend Irshad
Manji, the Muslim feminist, has called for the EU and US to
fund a big programme of microcredits - small, no-interest loans - for
women across the
The battle for equal rights for Muslim women is the great civil rights cause of our time. Do we want to sit it out, or do we want to stand between Shahnaz and her acid-wielding husband and say: "Enough!" - The Independent
Read response to this article written by Muslim woman: Don't confuse Islam with crude cultures