March 8, 2007
International Women's Day:
As women globally celebrate International Women's Day today and rejoice in the strides they've taken in leadership, technology, education and employment, where do we stand as Muslim women?
Here in Canada? Last week a TV station invited me for an interview about Muslim relations with other faiths. The researcher asked me “are you a practicing i.e. authentic Muslim?” This is the first time my “authenticity” as a Muslim has been questioned.
This doesn’t surprise me. Today Muslim women have to prove their authenticity. The way we dress, the way we choose to practice our faith, our leadership and our daring to be different - all this is under attack by extremists who want to tell us how to be Muslim according to their interpretations, warped as they may be.
I’m especially concerned about Pakistan where radicalism and fanaticism is on the rise. With easy access to killing machines, women’s lives are in danger. On February 20, Social Welfare Minister, 37 year old Zile Huma Usman, mother of two was shot and killed in broad daylight in Gujranwala, Pakistan. Her killer (who had a track record of killing other women) said he was waging a war against ‘anti-Islamic forces’ and ‘immoral women’. He didn’t believe that women should be Ministers and considered Usman’s Pakistani dress and covered head were not ‘authentic Islamic dress”.
Most of us are in shock at the attack, but more so at the Pakistani law enforcement agencies and leaders, who act as though nothing has happened. Earlier when Mukhtara Mai was gang raped, one leader is reported to have insinuated that women get raped for visas to go abroad.
Atiya Ahsan, a member of Canadian Council of Muslim women, who had met Ms. Usman, is appalled and disturbed by the turn of events against women.
"Unfortunately, Muslim governments, 'mullahs' and influential ignorant community members have allowed seriously erroneous views to be treated as 'valid and acceptable' in the last 20 years” she says. “..we have reason to be both disgusted and fearful of things getting worse if unchecked”
The ‘erroneous view’ is the idea that a Muslim woman’s authenticity is now determined by her way of dress or a head covering. The hijab has become a political tool which is used against women who chose not to wear one. The danger in Pakistan is that illiterate zealots take it upon themselves to physically harm women who don’t appear as ‘good Muslims’.
This ideology is fanned by the wave of ‘Arabization’ that has invaded my homeland. Pakistani women have adopted Arab-style clothing and Arab names. Some even say that unless you speak Arabic, you can’t be a good Muslim. Hello? Where does this leave the majority of Muslims in the world who are non-Arabs?
In Canada last week there was a furor because 11 year old Asmahan Mansour was banned from playing soccer wearing her hijab. It’s not religiously incumbent on an 11-year old to wear hijab. If she believes that a hijab is her religious obligation, playing soccer isn’t. Rules and safety are important. The hijab shouldn’t be used as a negotiating tool by either side.
It’s sad that we spend valuable time and resources debating dress codes, when there are more urgent issues facing Muslim women. Among these are a deficit of freedom, a deficit of women’s empowerment and a deficit of education.
Ironically the very faith that came as a savior
for women 1400 years ago, giving women rights to voting and inheritance and
putting a stop to female infanticide, is being used to bar women today from
progress, leadership and education. It’s as though women are being buried alive
again… into a deep dark pit of ignorance so they can’t reclaim their God-given
MCC grieves the loss of our sons and daughters in Afghanistan, who died serving Canada in the line of duty. We offer our condolences to the families of the dead soldiers and hope to see all our troops back home safely.
The MCC asks that you give till it hurts to organizations like the IDRF
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