Lately I have been pondering what life must be like for a Muslim female living in the Middle East, or a Middle Eastern Muslim female who have moved to the West. The obstacles they face, a double-edged sword, as they have to contend with a largely male-dominated society, while they are often seen as weak and submissive in the eyes of their Western sisters, intrigue me.
It seems to me that many Western women find is reprehensible that Muslim women continue to live in conditions that are thought to largely prevent them from having independence and identity. I tend to believe that this is not necessarily the case. Unquestionably, there are many women who suffer greatly in the Middle Eastern cultures. There are, however, also many Muslim women, who find comfort, peace, and solace in their religion and cultural traditions.
There are many common misconceptions about Islam. A few examples would be: ‘Islam is a religion of the sword’ (Not true. In fact, not once does the Qu’ran ever mention the word sword). ‘Islam forces women to be covered from head to toe’. (Also not true. The veil, or body-coverings, is a cultural phenomenon. The Qu’ran, just like the Christian Bible does, however, asks that women adorn themselves modestly). ‘Islam is fundamentally intolerant’ (Also not true. The Qu’ran bears witness to the love, compassion, and the tolerance, that Allah asks humankind to have for one other.
I am intrigued by how little understanding that many Western women seem to have about Islam. Most Western women have access to media, literature, and education. There is simply no excuse for the fact that many Westerners speak out against a religious tradition that they have voluntarily chosen to stay ignorant about. One can argue, perhaps that there is something fundamentally un-virtuous about a person who has freedom of knowledge but fails to attain it.
Western feminists who are judging the lives of Middle Eastern females are doing so, out of the assumption that having ‘total freedom’ is the right way; the notion that the conditions of life that Western women enjoy should also be available to the Middle Eastern women. This opinion assumes that Western woman enjoys a better way of living than does the Middle Eastern woman, while ignoring the obvious problem that the reality of life in the Middle East will never culturally pair with the Western. This ethnocentric view is at best disrespectful, at worst downright racist.
The solution has to begin with the acknowledgement that there is, perhaps, no absolute truth when it comes to negotiating the optimal reality for a female, be it in the east or the west. The reuniting of women could begin with rejoicing in the commonality of gender, but it should not end in the attempt to share common features of culture. Rather it should celebrate the diversity in beliefs and the core strength that the knowledge of these brings to the feminine reality. It is united, they say, that we stay strong. It is in understanding, I think, that we stay together!
– Linda Harris