Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post by Saadia Faruqi. Saadia is an interfaith activist, blogger for Tikkun Daily and The Islamic Monthly, and a speaker on American Muslim issues. She lives in Houston, Texas and is currently writing a collection of short stories set in Pakistan. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi
Women’s History Month
Women’s History Month is usually a time to celebrate the achievements and struggles of women in the world. As a tribute to this important period, I had planned to write a series of book reviews about Strong and Faithful Muslimahs, with the first one about RAWA already posted last week. But two news items this week prompted me to take a very different approach to Muslim Women’s History.
In early March Alanoud Alfayez, the ex-wife of King Saud, revealed that the king’s four daughters were being held in Saudi Arabia against their will. In a complaint to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, she alleged that her daughters were “imprisoned, held against their will, cut off from the world.” As a daughter and mother, this complaint shocked me deeply. Despite the horrifically notorious human rights record of the Kingdom, one expects that daughters at least will be well-taken care of by their parents. Has the birthplace of Islam forgotten the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, when he abolished female infanticide? These Muslim men may not be killing their newborn daughters, but by jailing them in their homes, forcing them to conform to a dress code and forbidding them to drive, they are smothering and imprisoning them all the way into adulthood.
Abu Eesa Niamatullah, a Misogynist?
The second news item that caught the western Muslim world by storm this week was British scholar Abu Eesa Niamatullah of the famed Al-Maghrib institute, who allowed his allegedly humorous misogyny to show for a split second on Twitter and Facebook. Abu Eesa’s tirade against women in general and feminists in particular made both genders sit up and take notice, and not in a good way. For many, it was a wake-up call: Muslim women need men to support them in their struggles for fairness, justice and equality not just in the religious sphere but in every aspect of life. A group cannot receive their due rights until at least one part of those who already enjoy their rights assist them in some way. This became the popular #MuslimMaleAllies Twitter conversation.
So here is a tribute to all those Muslim men who take stand for the women in their lives. As Muslims, we have the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who brought women out of the darkness they were in and awarded them unheard of rights and privileges. The men of Arabia were not happy then and some are still not pleased now with the freedoms women enjoy. We have only to see how women are treated in many Muslim countries, from fewer civil liberties to restrictions on education, from FGM to rape and murder, and we wonder at the lessons forgotten and ignored.
Yet the case is not hopeless. Taking a cue from our beloved Prophet, countless Muslim men cherish their baby daughters, not just providing them with care but showering them with love and attention, and praying for their happiness and success. Countless Muslim men become equal partners with their wives, and share their lives with them physically and emotionally, without a sense of superiority. Millions of men are proud when their female family members achieve recognition for their hard work and suffer with them when they feel injustice. From Saudi fathers and brothers who teach their women to drive despite the ban, from men who send their daughters to school in Northwest Pakistan despite the fear of the Taliban, we see millions of Muslim men choosing to love instead of oppress – the silent supporters of those we celebrate during Muslimah History Month.
Tribute To My Father
As I write these words, I am reminded of my own father who died last year, and this is my tribute to him as well. Living his life in illness and poverty, he remained undeniably proud of his three daughters. In all my years under his roof in a patriarchal Pakistani society, I never once heard him express any sorrow at the absence of sons, or treat us with anything but equality. He gave us an education that was truly beyond his means, and encouraged us to take up any profession we wanted. I often heard him tell others that his daughters were better than any of their sons, even when we were still in school. When other men were saving money for dowries, mine would be saving and borrowing for my next semester at business school. He once told me that if anyone asks you for a dowry tell them my father gave me something priceless: my education. When I wrote my first book he insisted I send him a copy; later my mother told me he would send it out to friends and relatives to read despite the fact that it was a very technical textbook. When he died I found it among the other cherished books on his shelf.
That my father was not a religious man made his stance even more incredible. With or without Islamic guidance, some men understand better than others that women are born equal and worthy of respect. Those of us who can recognize such men in our lives should count ourselves extremely lucky. I suspect that many Muslim women all across the world, who today have made a name for themselves in a number of fields, can similarly look behind them to see fathers or husbands supporting them silently, with silly little smiles of pride on their face.