Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Condemned birth

According to Islamic law, the slave could be freed by his master; the non-believer could become a believer by choice and thus end his inferiority. Only the woman is doomed to remain what she is. Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book is a stark reminder to this fact, write Prafull Goradia and KR Phanda

The Caged Virgin, Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Simon & Schuster, £12.99

According to Islamic law and tradition, there were three groups of people who did not benefit from the general Muslim principle of legal and religious equality - the non-believers, slaves and women. The woman was obviously in one significant respect the worst placed of the three. The slave could be freed by his master; the non-believer could at any time become a believer by his own choice and thus end his inferiority. Only the woman was doomed for ever to remain what she was", wrote Professor Bernard Lewis.

Ms Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the author of The Caged Virgin, was born in Somalia and brought up as a Muslim. She was outraged by Islam's hostility towards women. At the age of 22, she was to be given in marriage. The marriage was to take place in Canada but she refused and escaped to the Netherlands. For 10 years, she highlighted the plight of Muslim women in the West. Eventually, she was elected as a Member of Dutch Parliament.

This book, by citing actual cases, proves that the woman in the Muslim world has no freedom of speech or action. Her status depends on the number of sons she has. And girls in due course become production plants for sons, says the author.

There are 17 chapters in the book that cover different aspects of Muslim women's life, including the recent phenomenon of Islamic terrorism. Chapters like "The Virgin's Cage" and "A Call for Clear Thinking" sum up the issues concerning the woman, Muslim fundamentalism, Muslim backwardness and the ways to overcome them. In regard to the problems affecting women. Ms Ali traces them to the household. She writes: "I now see how important upbringing is, not only because that is how one's life starts but also because in Islamic culture that is how the cage is built. Many Muslim girls are brought up according to the Quran and the example of Prophet Mohammed, to live subserviently and submissively. It is very difficult for them to liberate themselves from the cage when they are older" (p 31).

In a Muslim household, from a very young age, girls are surrounded by an atmosphere of mistrust. They learn early that they are untrustworthy beings who constitute a danger for the clan. Something in them drives men crazy. A saying attributed to Mohammed was: " I have not left any calamity more detrimental to mankind than women" (Dictionary of Islam, Sir Thomas Patrick Hughes).

In Islam, sexual morality in respect of women has been elevated to the status of a dogma. Basing on what the author has seen in parts of Africa, she says, "For many Muslims, this morality expresses itself through an obsession with chastity? This is achieved by confining the women to domestic work indoors, to keep men and women in separate quarters and by adopting the most extreme method of female circumcision. The process involves cutting away the girl's clitoris, the outer and inner labia, as well as the scraping of the walls of the vagina and then binding together of legs so that the walls of the vagina can grow together (p 29). This practice amounts to child abuse and Islamic countries have not yet taken any effective steps to stop it. There is a strict taboo in Muslim families on discussing birth control, abortion and sexual violence.

The Arab Human Development Report prepared by the United Nations points out that in respect of marriage, divorce, inheritance and adultery, women are at an extreme disadvantage. Provision of education, particularly modern education for girls, would go a long way in removing many of the disabilities from which Muslim women suffer today.

In so far as the phenomenon of Islamist terrorism is concerned, the author is of the view that it has not suddenly appeared. Its breeding grounds are the madarsas where hatred against non-Muslims is instilled into young minds. The terrorists seek to impose their way of life on non-Muslims as well as the members of their own community.

In this context Ms Ali writes, "The central figure in this struggle is not bin Laden or Khomeini, or Hassan al Banna or Sayyid Qutb, but Mohammed. A pre-medieval figure to whom these four men look for guidance. Mohammed and his teachings offer a fundamental challenge to the West. Faithful Muslims believe that they must emulate this great man, in principle and practical matters under all circumstances."

The author adds, "Mohammed built the House of Islam using military tactics, that included mass killing, torture and indiscriminate destruction. This may be embarrassing, even painful, for moderate Muslims to admit and to consider but it is a historical fact... In their thinking about radical terrorism, most politicians, journalists, intellectuals, and other commentators have avoided the core issue of debate, which is Mohammed's example" (P 172-73).

The literalist followers of Islam blame others, particularly the Christian West, for the backwardness of Muslim communities. Therefore, they suggest that by going back to pristine Islam, all problems confronting the ummah would disappear. The Western scholars of Islam with impeccable credentials, however, are of the view that the decline of Islamic societies could be traced to their refusal to set up democratic institutions, safeguard the right of the individual and restore the dignity and equality of woman. This essentially is a choice between taqlid and ijtihad. Let the ummah decide.

Apart from this, Muslim intellectuals are practicing double standards. As a minority in non-Islamic countries, they ask for all rights and privileges which are not even available to the majority community. They completely forget that even the basic right to live honourably are not available to non-Muslims in Islamic countries. If this dichotomy in treatment is to disappear, non-Muslim countries should inform the Islamic Governments that their minority would be treated the same way as the non-Muslim minority is treated in an Islamic country.

The UN must put a stop to this crime being perpetrated on minorities in Muslim countries.


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