Fighting for Muslim women’s rights
|Some of the world’s leading Islamic feminists have been gathered in Barcelona for the third International Congress on Islamic Feminism, to discuss the issues women face in the Muslim world.
Some of the women taking part in the conference explained the problems in their home countries, and where they hoped to make progress.
ASMA BARLAS, Author, Pakistan
Religions always come into cultures, they don’t come into abstract and pure spaces. Islam came into a very patriarchal, tribal and misogynistic culture. One of the deepest damages to Islam has been its reduction to “Arabisation”.
I’m not going to say that the Arabs are particularly misogynistic in a way that nobody else is, but I do think there are very particular traits and attitudes towards women that have crept into Islam.
I have a friend who has been studying the interface between what he calls the Persian models and the Arabist models of Islam in the subcontinent and surprise, surprise: the Arabist models are misogynistic, authoritarian, unitarian and the Persian models are much more plural and tolerant.
This is a fight on two fronts – on the one hand we are struggling against the kinds of oppression dominant in Muslim patriarch societies and, on the other, Western perceptions of Islam as necessarily monolithic, and confusing the ideals of Islam with the reality of Muslim lives.
If we read the Koran as a totality rather than pulling out random verses or half a line, that opens all kinds of possibilities for sexual equality.
RAFIAH AL-TALEI, journalist, Oman
Oman is relatively liberal, women are free to choose what to wear, and can choose their jobs and education. And the law does not require us to wear any particular form of clothing. But there are strong social and cultural factors – coming from the fact that we are in Arabia – that limit women.
As a journalist, it has not been hard for me to work among men, but it has been hard for some of my colleagues whose families told them this was not “appropriate” work for them.
The biggest difficulties are the social and cultural factors, and some aspects of law. For example, women who marry a foreigner cannot pass on their nationality to their children, whereas men in that situation can.
Religion is not an issue in our struggle, although there are problems with family law about divorce and marriage status. Omani laws are based on sharia law. Sharia is fair, but it is the wrong interpretations that are the problem. Male judges often don’t understand the principal goals of sharia. We feel the law is fair, but ends up being unfair for women because of how judges interpret it.
Cultural and social factors often get mixed up with religion. Educated women can be more empowered and separate the two, but many don’t dare challenge the conventions.
NORANI OTHMAN, Scholar-activist, Malaysia
I don’t think it is any more difficult to be an Islamic feminist than a non-Muslim, or secular feminist.
Feminists in general have to face up to political and cultural obstacles, to achieve our objectives of women’s rights. Even Western feminists have had a similar history – having to engage with certain religious beliefs not conducive to gender equality.
Perhaps the only distinctive difference peculiar to Muslim feminists is that we are caught in the cross-currents of modernisation and a changing society, due to a modern economy on the one hand and the global resurgence of political Islam on the other.
Political Islam wants to impose a world view about the gender order that is not consistent with the realities and the lived experiences of Muslim men and women in contemporary society.
There is a difference between South East Asian Muslim countries and the ones in the Middle East – culturally we are less patriarchal, we can always respond to our detractors by pointing out we don’t have the cultural practices that they do.
Our detractors would hurl empty accusations at us – calling us Western, secular or anti-Islamic.
Our arguments are rooted within Islam – we want renewal and transformation within the Islamic framework. They don’t like that.
We have a holistic approach, seeking gender equality within the Islamic framework, supported by constitutional guarantees. We see that these are not inconsistent with the message of the Koran, particularly during its formative stages. We have to understand the history and cultural context and extract the principle that will be applicable in modern times.
SITI MUSDAH MULIA, Academic, Indonesia
In my experience, I find that it is very difficult to make Indonesian Muslim women aware that politics is their right.
In Indonesian society, politics is always conceived as cruel and dirty, so not many women want to get involved, they think it is just for men.
We try to make women understand that politics is one of our duties and rights and they can become involved without losing their femininity.
Personally, I’m non-partisan, I’m not linked to one political party because, in Indonesia, the political parties often discriminate against women.
I struggle from outside the political sphere to make it women-friendly, to reform political parties and the political system.
One day, I hope to be involved more directly, if the system becomes more women-friendly. We have passed a law about affirmative action and achieving 30% female representation, but we won’t see if it is implemented until after 2009 elections. We are waiting.
In Indonesia, some groups support us, but some radical groups oppose what we are trying to achieve. They accuse me, accuse feminist Muslims, of being infidels, of wanting to damage Islamic affairs.
According to their Islamic understanding, women should be confined to the home, and the domestic sphere alone.
AMINA WADUD, Academic, United States
There are many more conversations going on today between different interpretations of Islam. Some interpretations are very narrow, some are more broad, principled, ethically-based.
Unless we have sufficient knowledge about Islam, we cannot bring about reform of Islam. I am not talking about re-interpretation, I am talking more about gender-inclusive interpretation.
We have a lot of information about men’s interpretations of Islam, and of what it means to be a woman in Islam. We don’t have equal amounts of information about what women say it means to be a good woman in Islam.
Now it’s time for men to be active listeners, and after listening, to be active participants in bringing about reform.
There is a tendency to say that it is Islam that prohibits women from driving a car, for example, when women drive cars all over the world except in one country. So then you know it is not Islam. Islam has much more flexibility, but patriarchy tends to have the same objective, and that is to limit our ability to understand ourselves as Muslims.
I have always defined myself as pro-faith and pro-feminism.
I do not wish to sacrifice my faith for anybody’s conception of feminism, nor do I sacrifice the struggle and actions for full equality of women, Muslim and non-Muslim women, for any religion. Islamic feminism is not an either/or, you can be Muslim and feminist and strive for women’s rights and not call yourself a feminist.
FATIMA KHAFAJI, Consultant, Egypt
In Egypt, Islamic feminism is a way for women activists to reach a large number of ordinary women in the villages and in urban low-income areas, using a framework of Islam. So there would be a reference to Islam when talking about women’s rights. Experience has shown that that is an easy way to get women to accept what you’re saying.
Not many women get information about women’s rights easily, so you have to counter what has been fed to them, to both men and women, from the strict, conventional, religious people who have more access to women.
They have their own idea of women’s rights in Islam – that is, patriarchal, still limiting opportunities for women. But women have been receiving this concept for ages, through the radio, TV, mosques, so the challenge is how to give them another view, of enlightened Islam, that talks about changing gender roles. It’s not an easy job.
Historically, in Egypt in the feminist movement, there have been both Muslim and Christian women. It has never been a problem. Unfortunately nowadays, it has become a problem. Religious discrimination has been dividing people very much. We have to think carefully about how to supersede the differences.
With family law, we’re aiming to change the philosophy of the law itself. Traditional family law puts women down. I can see this whole notion of “women do not have control over their bodies” in so many laws, in the penal code and family law. For example, sexual harassment is happening because men think the control of women’s bodies is a matter for them. Even the decision whether to have children is the decision of men. This whole notion has to be changed in a dramatic way if we are really going to talk about women’s rights in Egypt.
1. Explain the reasons why you have chosen your particular programe of study and how this knowledge will enable you to serve yourself and the community?
I take Government and International Studies as my major accidentally, it was interesting that when I saw this major, I felt driven to choose it. Of three years struggling with National College Entrance Exam, I had been losing something vital to me—that is ambition. In retrospect, my several years of education as a obedient followers had turned me from a maximizer to a satisfier, from a kid welcoming challenges and changes to a quasi—sophisticated—adult harboring the opinion that “ come on, things might be worse, and enjoy what you have”. But the world there is not the one purely for our joy, and what is more important, the world is there to expecting change and improvement.
When studying in the quiet campus, I cheated myself that the world was tranquil and everyone else was happy. However, I could never lie to myself when I am obliged to browse the news everyday and shocked by starvation in Africa, by war and severe conflicts in Al—Qaeda, by retired Americans’ helplessly asking “Need I still work to survive?” in the Financial Tsunami. I even lost my chance to defend mainland China in front of those who misunderstand and blame my motherland when I found I myself did not know fully about my country. Pure patriotism won’t work in this place at this time. I have to be equipped by some certain authoritative and strong knowledge.
I could not exaggerate the impact of Government and International Studies. At least I know there is room to change to improve; at least I am lucky to be informed that there are approaches to understand the world and discover the problems; at least courage comes back to me to help me to do some mission impossible; at least I am brave enough to apply this hot scholarship in the name of an ordinary student who possesses the lost-and-found ambition and who never lose the desire to help others.
The GIS program is helping me substantially, and is on the way to serving the community. Why? Serving the community is not merely a warm heart and a waste of few hours in an orphanage doing nothing valuable but smiling to the poor kids and confirming that there are people who need our help. Ideal though, I would like to be more than that and be different. Nurses are indispensable, but what if there are no doctors, the sick would suffer till death with white angels surrounding them and comforting them. The world is not short of warm-hearted angels, but moral masters, i.e. moral leaders.
Ironically, I take Moral Leadership to avoid being amoral as a politician student. Clearly enough, leadership is a value-laden power and relationship between leaders and follower who want real changes based on mutual purposes and goals. Leaders can not avoid personal cost and social cost, in most cases, too harsh for common people to burden. Gandhi cost his elder son, and Mandela cost 27 years life in prison. I keep asking myself what if you have to pay for your ambition, would you stand out and fight till the last minute? In the past I definitely answered “no, since I have responsibility for myself”, and now my response is “probably. Social and personal cost makes one’s life meaningful, but I might not be capable and persistent enough because of many factors such as lack of knowledge and fund( I do not want my parents pay for my ambition and decision)”, I can foresee I am destined to say “ of course” in the future with my crystal ball of “ political crystal” and “ rays of light called morality”.
这本小册子是二十世纪中国著名作家散文经典系列中的一本，据编辑的讲法，是献二十世纪的百花缤纷的散文给二十一世纪的读者。清欢是一篇散文的名字，把这个名字拿来当作全书的名字，有些片面。不是每篇文章都清清静静，也有牵肠挂肚撕心裂肺的对于故乡的思念，也有近乎于唠叨与迂腐的母亲对宝贝儿子的爱，更有近乎疯狂的对于食物的执著追求的雅士。我更倾向红尘中的独处 独处中的环抱。“在红尘中要有独处的心，独处时要有人群的拥抱。 ”这是林清玄在修炼之后写下的。进出自由，来去潇洒，不走极端，自身修炼又不失社会的融入。
the private life of Chairman Mao–the inside story of the man who made modern China, is the most shocking ever book i have read. the author Dr.Li Zhisui, Mao’s personal physician as well as Mao’s confidant and constant companion ,served Mao for 22 years. in this book there are many extrodinary details of Mao’s private life–as the introduction described–” Mao’s enormous sexual appetites, the luxury and corruption of his imperial court, i try to find a balance point between the content of the book and my own impression of Chairman Mao. but i faied. it seems that what the author, Dr.Li Zhisui, described in his book ” The private life of Chairman Mao– the inside story of the man who made modern China” , was true but too true to believe, at least i can not accept the ugly side of Mao as Li illustrated in the book from my consientious. i feel like being persuaded by Dr. Li, who is Mao’s personal physician for 22 years, is kind of betrayal to what i have learn about Mao about China, and a kind of betrayal to our savior, Chairman Mao. but anyway i have to accept some truth and have a more objective idea of Mao Zedong.
i find an interesting phenomenon about the cover of the books about Mao Zedong. covers of those which praise Mao Zedong show either a smiling Mao or a young Mao who looks wise and nice. while covers of those which criticize Mao as a dictator or reveal his private life and ugly side show a myserious Mao, even though a smiling face, it looks as if something is hidden behind the hostile smile.
the tools of those critics include Mao’s deviation and the extraordinary details of Mao’s private life, which is the main content of this book. it is much easier for peopel to have a bad impression of Mao Zedong. just think about how many innocent people starved to death in the Great Leap Forward; how many people suffered tremendous injustice and humiliation in the craze of Cultural Revolution. and what is worse, once you suddenly know Mao’s enormous sexual appetites, the luxury and corruption of his compound, which was just like a palace, you could not help hating him and feeling sorry that you have been cheated for so many years by this greatest ever lier, which is exactly the purpose of the book.
actually, Mao did not cheat us on purpose, rather, he hid something from the public. he lived in a compound where is the best protected place on earth (as Dr.Li said in the book), with armed bodygurads and external guards everywhere. his life was a mystery to the public until Dr. Li, who served Mao as a confidant and constant companion published the book and we had a chance to cast a look at Mao’s daily life and cultivate our hatred of Mao.
start from his luxirous life. after his death, his old and worn clothes are exhibited on the musuem to show how frugal our Chairman was in his life. this is only the appearance, and showy stuff. with this misleading information that Mao leads a simple and frugal life, how could i believe that the food in Mao’s table has been analyzed through two laboratories–one to analyze the freshness and nutrition value; while the other is intended for test for poison. then the food was delieverd to a food-tasting service, to make sure it was delicious enough to serve Mao. the system and procudures were not merely for Mao. but also for high ranking leaders, which cost a big fortune and a big burden for the newly-established country with miserable economy. if we can bear the luxurous life Mao conducted, if we bear the “good” example he set for the top leader in central government and provinces, then we can not bear Mao’s educating the youths they should “chi ku” , which means to suffer hardship, then we can not bear that the still existing food system and the recent contaminated milk scandle. i do not mean that the leaders, who had made enormous contributions to our country, are not qualified to enjoy the life, and everybody has the rights to pursue an ideal and comfortable life. not only do leaders have, but also the multitude. multitude give up their rights nature had presented them to the newly built government not because the government is born excellent, but the government will lead them to the greatest pleasure of the greates people. utilitarianism, which i dont recognize it as a real morality. ironically, after i realize the food system of the top leaders, i find the utilitarian is absolutely a morailty, even a virtue. at least they consider the greatest amount of people, the balance of pain and pleasure. Mao and his high-ranking collegues seemed to put themselves at two high a place that they dont regard themselves as ordinary people and did not want to live the same way as many others did. it was a seperation from the mass, which was conflicting with the policy to unite the mass in United Front. sometimes hardships unite people together instead of in peaceful times. and other reason why i can not tolerate the privilege of the senior officials has something to do with the milk scandle–a hot issue today. Milik scandle makes me feel humiliated and i could not even have any excuses to persuade others to forgive the Chinese government, as i always try. the more i dig in the reason, the more shameful i feel. nowadays, the senior officials still have their own food system, which is different from the civilians. one company called Sanyuan has no scandle in this issue. why? because Sanyuan offers milk to senior officials in central government. the government is never innocent. instead, she knows everything, so she is responsible for everything that is offtrack. i am confused that when some leader of the party says: youths are the hope of our future and we depend on you. what if so many infants dont even have a chance to grow up to be a youth because of tainted milk? yes, i believe Mao, as well, would feel sorry for these innocent babies. his concern about only himself and significant leaders disgusted me and make me doubt whether he really meaned that ” youth is the sun in 0800 or 0900 oclock”, to him, Youths was only a means rather an ends. it was kind of immoral. you might argue that in the Culture Revolution, he supported youths and had hope in the youths, but as long as he found the youths were feuding and factionalized, which was beneficial to him at all, what he did was not help and correct them, but turn the focus on workers. was it so called ” care for youths”? i dont think so.
not to mention ” care for youths”, he paid little attention to his own children. the reason is simple, he had too many children to rear, and besides he had too little time and energy to take care of them.
what about ” care for his close comrades”? obviously it could not be any care for his comrades, especially those who were at odds with him. indeed, Mao advocated yanan, Long March spirit, which sounds full of love for people and others, which were intended to unite everyone and serve the people heart and soul. they were so ideal and abstract that it could not be carried out and stayed only as spirit without any constructive meaning in action. why Dr.Li knowed so much about Mao. because Mao had few friend, that is to say, he hardly had any one to trust. especially in his later years, he was too suspious that he kept thinking someone was going to poison him and kept moving from one place to another. when Mao suffered insomnia, he called Dr. Li no matter how late it was and chatted with him, generating information from Dr.Li as well as inputting ideological information to Dr. Li. there was no respect for the comrade, not to mention love. what i think is funny is that Dr.Li became Mao’s physician was just like a joke, and nobody asked whether Dr.Li was willing to serve Mao. of course at that time ,everyone could not wait to do something for their beloved Mao, but from today’s perspective, it is rather a deprivation than a gift. talking about deprivation, i think abut Liu Shaoqi , the second only to Mao for a long period in China. he was close comarade of Mao Zedong, or he had not promoted to such a senior place. however, when Liu Shaoqi was humiliated by the Gang of Four at the age of nealy 70, Mao did not take any actions. Mao’s action really mattered, since he could save many his young women( his sexual companions) and even saved Dr.Li even though Dr.Li had a “bad” background and was the target the Gang of Four(Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife, even set a trap for Dr.Li, but she could do nothing if Mao was determined to protect Dr.Li). with his influence and pressure on the Gang of Four. if he decided to help his comrade, Liu had not had such a tragic ending of his life.
when i finished the book, i sadly find myself have almost the same idea with westerns do of Mao Zedong. a dictator, a cunning man without love, a man whoes sexual appetite was enormous, and a man who never kept his promises. if i have an excuse for Mao’s cruality, that is the theory of Machiavelli, he mentioned in the book of the ” Prince”, that for a newly built princedom, violence can be used , but only for once. that is to say ,for the stability of the newly built princedom, we can kill those who might topple down the government. But only once. count how many times Mao used violence. radical land reform, anti-rightist, cultural revolution, and in many cases, those who died in these movement, still greatly respected Mao before death. many people died out of despair. Dr. Li might put it best: under the KMT, no matter how bad things got, it was always possible to run away. under the Communists, there was no where to go. there was hope, and there was disappoinment, but there was a kind of stubborness that China’s Communist Party could lead a good life for people, and the ideological belief imprinted in people’s mind at that time. people have nowhere to turn to for help. i still remember clearly that in the book, Dr. Li mentioned when Mao wrote a note to a factory, how people responded. ” mao’s note was postd on the bulletin board in the factory courtyard, where everyone came and look. then the factory leaders took a photograph of the note and had it enlarged to hundreds of times its original size. the inscription was as big as a wall. the enlarged photo was hung at the entrance to the factory for everyone to see whenever they arrived for work.” i still remember that when Mao presented mangoes to workers to gain their support, the workers regard the mango as divine, and queue to have a look at it until it was rotten. and the leader in the factory peeled the mango and took the fresh part to boil mango water and distributed to the workers , before they drink the mango water, they even had a ceremony. sounds silly to me. but it happened at that time!
indeed peopel at that time needed a spiritual support. no matter whether the one they love really love them. Mao was just right there, guided people and worshipped by people.maybe he even neednt to love people at all. anyway, people loved him.
i wake up, from the fantasy dream that Chairman Mao is a perfect person without defects. and also i wake up, from the nightmare that dictator Mao was an evil whose private life was totally a mess. my alarm oclock is the facts and some philosophors’ explanation of a leader, especially a political leader.