#WomensDay: Muslim women and the war within, by Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu

Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu
Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu

Let me start by stating this clearly so as to block religious zealots, the so called “defenders of Islam” and spokespersons of the religion, from raining insults on this poor writer. While misogynists find a very conducive atmosphere to attack women by misquoting Koranic verses and authentic and unauthentic traditions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), their deliberate attempts to hijack the sacred sources have no relations in whatsoever way to the actual teaching of Islam.

Reading the history of Islam before the deterioration and contamination of its teachings in the hands of the “defenders of Islam”, you could see Islam as a religion that liberated women and helped them in removing the shackles of mental slavery. Read the story of Shaffa’u, that woman that was appointed as the leader of Hisbah by Umar bn Khattab. Are there remaining Shaffa’us today that can participate in political activities without them falling into the hands of ignorant “protectors of Islam”?

It is sad and unfortunate that the people supposed to work on the great achievements of the Holy Messenger (PBUH) in raising the status of women are working day and night, albeit unconsciously, in demolishing his legacies in the name of his religion. In the Jahiliyya period women used to be buried alive with sands, today they are buried with pseudo religious demagoguery.

However, don’t misquote me Ya Sheikh, I’m not saying that all Muslim men are on the same line, this is to avoid the grave mistake of generalisation. There are many Islamic thinkers, scholars and reformers who write to remove the veil created by our ignorant friends, as Abu Hamid Alghazali would call a fanatic lover of Islam with no knowledge of its deep philosophy, as stumbling block to the rights of women and their liberties. One of the greatest reformers of the contemporary Islamic world, Sheikh Rashid Ridha, wrote “Aljinsul Ladeef”, a beautiful Arabic volume on the rights of women in Islam. He revoked all the dogma surrounding the women in Islam. Another Islamic thinker known for his eloquence, Dr. Ali Shari’aty, wrote (?) “Fatima is Fatima” and explored the power of women in Islam by setting an example with the daughter of the Great Prophet of Islam (PBUH). Among the women, we have Fatima Mernissi, the author of “The Forgotten Queens of Islam”, who wrote many books that can be easily accessed or downloaded online.

As the former president of the United States, Barrack Obama, once said: ‘’A change is brought about because ordinary people do ordinary things.” Prophets with their revelations, philosophers with their reasonings and thinkers with their big brains bring change where there is stagnant flow of unfruitful ideas. A power of any critic is in his ability to speak of matters that are good and dangerous to the establishment of human dignity and equal rights. This egalitarian message of women’s rights may sound so foreign to many people among our “ignorant friends”, and they may think that it was imported from the West. This is one of the greatest enigmas of our times. Whatever you say someone will accuse you of working for the Jews. One day our ignorant friend will hit a rock and blame Israeli Jews. This is how we are. The masters of blames.

However, it is our duty to refresh the memories of our Muslim brethren. We love our Islamic North and the people within. It is out of love for the society that we want to criticise it so as to move to another level. To start criticising itself so as to see how wrongly it does things. When Plato was criticising his society he weighed it with the Egyptian civilisation and showed that his lovely Greek was not as civilised as the old Egypt, not even closer. He went on castigating his dear republic. Shall we stop criticising ourselves just because we want to feel happy? No! Let’s keep on criticising ourselves. Let the likes of Hajara Bukar, Rahma Abdulmajid and Fatima I Mukhtar, Muslim feminists, be in abundance. Nobody feels our pains. We feel the pain and we are to cure it. If we stop criticising ourselves we will move to nowhere. The basis of any meta-ideological struggle is in self-criticism.

We don’t care about the dangers of name-callings. Self-criticism is one of the main pushers of societal progress. Philosophers known for changing the course of history based their philosophy on criticising the societies they came from. Plato criticised Athens for educational degradation during the heydays of the intellectual Greek. One may wonder, with the pure rationalism the state enjoyed, what was it to be criticised? But greatest thinkers want to see perfections in everything. The chemical reactions in the billions of neurons within their brains are working to see wrong where common men see it right. Socrates, the teacher of Plato, moved his society forward by criticising the sophists and their sophistry. With the power of his dialogues, he changed the meaning of sophists from wise men to stupid ones. When Aristotle wanted to refute his teacher, Plato, he said: “Plato is dear to us and truth is dear to us, but the latter is dearer to us than out master.”

Above all, none, and I repeat, none of the societal movers we celebrate today was left scot free in his time. Ibn Rushd, one of the greatest Islamic philosophers and maliki jurist, was cursed by the old Islamic Spain and forced to exile after burning his books when he challenged the tyranny of the given. Contrary to the prevalent narration, the Sufi, sage and gnostic Abu Mansur Alhallaj was not killed for blasphemy; he was killed for political reason after he called for justice and equality. None of the game changers was spared. Gazzhali was called an atheist (“zindiq” not “mulhid”) despite his tremendous work on Islamic theology (see: “Lawaqihul Anwar, 1/22” by Abdulwahab As-sha’arany). Abu Hanifa was excommunicated (see: “Tarikh Baghdad, 15/524” by Khatib Albaghdady). Elkiyya Alharrasy was said to be sent by Jews to destabilise Islam (see: “Tabaqat Shafi’iyya, 7/232”). At the time of Imam Malik, people asked government to kill him for blasphemy (see: “Al-ilal, 1/539” by Ahmad bn Hanbal). Don’t talk about philosophers like Ibn Sina, Alkhawarizmy, Jabir bn Hayyan, etcetra! Ibn Khaldun is still considered by many as deviant and heretic.

We are living amidst the stakeholders of injustice. We practice many types of Islam(s), from political Islam, business Islam to spiritual Islam. Many of the religious leaders, especially in political and business Islam, have vested interests in the type of Islam they want us to follow. They silence the oppressed. They don’t want women to be educated so as not to revolt against the tyranny. Why do we find many Muslim men saying that women should not enjoy human rights? What are the meta-ideological grounds do they base their claims? They are simply betting on the ignorance of many Muslim women on the history of the past. As one Islamic feminist pointed, “they can never convince anyone with an elementary understanding of Islamic History”. Read the books of Islamic History by reputable Islamic scholars and historians such as Attabari, Ibn Hisham and Ibn Sa’ad. Go back to the books of Hadith, you will find that Muslim women at the time of the Prophet and his companions enjoyed rights far better than what our sisters and mothers enjoy today. They participated in politics and war (Read the history of Aisha). They used to be appointed as leaders at some places (Umar appointed woman as a market leader and head of hisbah). They used to participate in public prayers (Prophet warned that no woman should be denied access to a mosque). Ample historical evidences from the primary sources I mentioned above portray women in the Prophet’s time in Medina raising their heads from violence, slavery, coercion and injustice to claim their right to join, as members of Muslim society and equal participants, in the making of great and ideal society. Why do we want to silence a woman wailing from her inner self? Why do we hide behind religion to attack and oppress women? Muhammad Abduh and Jamaludden Afghani fought for the liberation of women suffering from the religious interpretations of misogynists.

I will bear it.  I know I will not be spared from that harsh comments of the “defenders of Islam” and “fighters for Islam” but with little or no knowledge of Islam from the primary sources. One of the worst argument techniques is calling-names (“mulhid”, “zindiq”, “kafir”, etc), ad hominem arguments and running away from refuting the focal point. There are billion reasons why I don’t want to engage with emotionally clouded minds with little or no knowledge of what “really” Islam is. Islam, according to these religious manipulators, is nothing beyond bushy beards, short trousers, extremism and excessive literalism. This is why they are busy slaughtering any ideology that deviate from their boyish interpretations.

You cannot talk on Women’s Right in Islam and go scot free. People are not reading and don’t want to read. They prefer to read secondary sources from uncountable websites online. I once posted on my Facebook account that: with free PDFs from various websites of “those concerned for the future of women in Islam” on the internet, one will not conduct a herculean task to download many volumes supporting misogyny and covering it with false traditions. With a data bundle of less than 100 naira (0.3 dollar) one can download “Kitab Ahkam Al-nisa” (Statutory Provisions Concerning Women) by Ibn Aljawzi. Some chapters in the book include: “The Benefits for the Women Who Opt for the Household”, “Evidence Proving that It Is Better for a Woman Not to See Men” and “Advise Women Against Going Out”. With these kinds of titles and subtitles, people could vividly see how participation of women in public prayers were stopped by those who fear them despite an authentic call from the prophet that no woman should be denied access to the mosque.

Muhammad Hassan Alqannuji in his “Husnl Uswa” came with his astonishing ignorance of sexology and women psychology and help of weak and fabricated traditions showed “women’s great sexual appetite” (p. 52) and “everything that was reported to us about women’s inability to reason, their lack of ability in all matters concerning religion” (p. 365) and he finally calculated “the number of women among the population of hell” (p. 331). The culture of misogyny is deeply rooted in the ideology of our ignorant friends who think, with their little or no knowledge of Islamic history, that advocating for women’s rights is about europeanising Islamic state of Northern Nigeria.

With few clicks that may take you to the social media accounts of the Muslim women you could understand the situation of average Muslim woman in contemporary Muslim world. There are cries from every angle that Muslim woman is battling to remove herself from tensions within and without. Internally, Muslim woman is crippled by the hard grips of pseudo religious demagogues, the people that Fatima Mernissi, a Moroccan Muslim thinker and feminist, called “misogynist mullahs”. Their struggle, especially on Twitter where they prefer to be anonymous, is in what the modern critics from within the religion call “gender jihad”. Externally, there are calls asking Muslim woman to remove the identity that clothed her image to join the movements of the so-called gender reformists like Irshad Manji and ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali who stubbornly misinterpret texts based on their own whims. This is at an international level.

Talking about women in Islam the first thing that should come to our mind is the number of views and perspectives that Muslims have on the roles and status of the women in the religion. As we all know, we don’t have one single sect or school of thought in Islam and this leads to the vast amount of interpretations we have within and without the religion. As we already know, Kor’an is a word of God and a message to human beings through Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to guide them on how to worship God and live to create an ideal state. However, interpretations play central role on the understanding of its message. Even among the states that claim to apply Islamic law we can vividly see different interpretations of Islam. A country like Saudi Arabia where clerics use religious texts to justify caging women in houses and covering them in niqabs and burqas is totally different from countries like Tunisia or Turkey where Muslim women have touch of liberalism and are free to move here and there without male guardian. This shows that we don’t have one single Islam. We don’t have Islamic States but Muslims State. The Islamic texts are interpreted by Muslims.

In the course of interpretation, we find different understandings. Kor’an does not contain any general statement about differences between men and women. It only shows different subordinations at different places. Mother, for example, is above her son and husband above his wife. There is no general statement that men are superior to women or vice versa. However, some parts of the Koran can be interpreted to show that woman with her characteristics of shyness, beauty, emotionality, cunningness and sensitivity should have different role to play in society. For example, in the time of the Prophet generally men were soldiers and women were cooks. This doesn’t mean that at all time and in all environments, women should be cooks and men soldiers, changes in traits may change their roles as the characteristics of women may change by changes of time and environment.

Furthermore, there is one thing that we all agree. There is a decline in the role of women in most Muslim societies. This is not to go with the popular western brouhaha that ignorantly castigate Islam as a misogynistic religion. Voluminous books of Islamic History by reputable Islamic scholars and historians such as Attabari, Ibn Hisham and Ibn Sa’ad show that women in the time of Prophet (PBUH) played big role in the making of Islamic state. Going back to the books of Hadith, we find Muslim women at the time of the Prophet and his companions enjoyed rights far better than what our sisters and mothers enjoy today. They participated in politics and war (Read the history of Aisha). They used to be appointed as representatives or leaders at some places (Umar bn Khattab appointed woman as a market leader and head of hisbah). They used to participate in public prayers (Prophet warned that no woman should be denied access to a mosque). Ample historical evidences from the primary sources I mentioned above portray women in the Prophet’s time in Medina raising their heads from violence, slavery, coercion and injustice to claim their right to join, as members of Muslim society and equal participants, in the making of great and ideal society.

In Nigeria, especially the northern part of it where there is large concentration of Muslims, there are few women that participate in the development of their society. Average Northern girl gets married in secondary school ages and most of the time family issues don’t take them far with their education. This and other issues hinder them from giving their own quota to the development of the North. The lack of fully participation of women in the economic activity, by not copying the likes of Mother of believers Khadija bnt Khuwaileed, helps in deteriorating the economy of the region. By accommodating them and giving them the basic necessities to help them voice out their concerns we can liberate a Muslim woman to be a great mother, sister and obedient wife.

Almost all the books, journals, articles and papers written on women in Islam by Muslim apologists emphasise the general egalitarian message of Kor’an and Sunnah by stating that men and women are equal servants of God. Although there are misinterpretations here and there by some pseudo-clerics who hijack local radio stations and use social media to disseminate some discriminatory messages against women by quoting weak and fabricated ahadiths, but no any Muslim no matter how misogynist he is ever said that women are not equal servants of God. However, the conflict is between the conservatives or traditionalists who use classical literature to give restrictions to where a woman can go and where not to go; and the modernists who believe that as time changes the understandings of religion and therefore the role of women in society should equally change.

The problems in the discourses are not about how Islam liberated women from the dusts of Jahiliyya more than any other civilisation, Semitic or non-Semitic religions in the thousands of years; but on how the adherents of the religion can help in pushing the flow of the Prophetic legacies of liberating women in a contemporary world. To traditionalists, Prophet (saw) opened and closed the gate. To modernists, Prophet was not the first to open the gate and he did not close it. The argument of the conservatives is that Prophet (saw) perfected Islam for us from religious point of view. To liberals Prophet was sent to go with ethics and set moral codes to the entire human beings up to the day of resurrection.

One thing you could witness if you are to conduct research on gender issues in Islam is the Muslim women themselves are not satisfied with two approaches of both traditionalists and the modernists but are yet to come out to speak for themselves. Only few of them, who most of the time prefer anonymity to avoid unnecessary allegations or excommunications (takfir), use social media to post what is on their minds and the roles they want to play in the society. The solution is in allowing the women to speak for themselves not someone to speak on behalf of them without fully understanding them. This will be the only way to allow the flow of understanding between clerics and the women themselves. A cleric should not always go back to the 11th century to take what he would apply in 21st century when there are women he can ask around him.

We all have a role to play in making Muslim woman successfully face contemporary challenges and achieve her future aspirations by educating her and empowering her economically so that she can fully participate and contribute to the development of Muslim society.

Follow me on twitter: @aliyussufiy