Being a Pakistani Muslim feminist, I have no problems is discussing Muslim women and their sexuality, yet realistically speaking I am obstructed in doing so by standards and stereotypes that have set for “Muslim women.” My co-author for this series, the spirited British Pakistani Muslimah, Hajra Khan has covered the matters of being a practicing Muslim women in the west very well in part I, highly recommended for readers.
At length, she demystifies how western standards affect the Muslim women living in Europe and elsewhere white world where ludicrous groups like FEMEN decide to become dictatorial mouthpiece for the Muslim women. Previously I have written on this matter too and I like to call this the “Saving Muslim Women Syndrome” that 99 out of 100 westerners suffer from. Be it in their geographical setting or a so-called third world country like Pakistan, for instance take an example of myself. A while ago I gave a women rights and media reporting presentation to a group of foreign diplomats working in Islamabad; most of them were shocked out their core to face a confident Muslim woman in sneakers and jeans without any artifice of makeup so preferred by European professionals working in diplomatic and humanitarian sector. And let’s be frank, probably they expected a lady in hijab and oriental eye make, whereas I see no point in “I am high maintenance” when I work in human rights sector and a lot with grass-roots activism.
Having worked for more then 15 years with non-white colleagues, I have come to experience anger, disgust, resignation, humor and irony is their subtle and not so subtle expectations of how my sexuality should be as a Muslim woman. It’s a bizarre experience to hear western people tell me how oppressed I am for internally I know they have literally no idea what they are talking about. On the other hand, living inside a Muslim country and being a practicing Muslim woman is not a bed of roses either. I am not a hijab wearer myself; although I respect and support Muslimah sisters who actively choose it o express their Muslim women identities. But having said that I don’t agree and support hardliner religious bigots and their oppressive campaigns stating… better to wear hijab, it saves you from being raped.”
Believe it or not I have attended such public sermons events with mixed yet segregated audiences listen on as the revered cleric tells them things like… In Islam, women earn Allah’s grace by obeying their husbands, hence the messages is clear MEN RULE, women obey.
Moving forward to more disturbing analogies where clerics teach…. Women are fitna (chaos) therefore they need to be covered so the men aren’t distracted. Clearly men are ardent so their gaze on an unveiled woman is no different then a naked woman, therefore hijab is a must for all Muslim women.
It seems there is no end “to the list of dos” we have to follow as women of faith since that fateful apple theater in Heaven. Before Islam, Judaism and Christianity fueled the same war on women of faith and their bodies…with teachings like… Do you know that you are each an Eve? You are the Devil’s gateway. And so on and so forth.
Millions of Muslim sisters in Pakistan and the Muslim world continue to live under man-made laws that oppress their lives and their bodies in adverse ways. What are some of these ways? The control and violation of women’s sexuality can take forms like early/ forced marriages, honor crimes, stoning for adultery, guardianship, zina laws, marital rape and family concerns.
I will specifically remind readers that I have written on Pakistan’s Mukhtara Mai, Moroccan Amina Filali, Reyhaneh Jabbari, all these women are Islam’s greatest victims falling to man-made interpretations of zina (rape) that led their lives into complete mayhem. What are Zina Laws and how come they control sexuality in Muslim societies?
In this regard, I came across the work of Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini, an Iranian legal anthropologist specializing in Islamic law, gender and development; in her publication “In Control and Sexuality:The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts” she has focused on how Zina Laws are part of a broader legal scheme for controlling sexuality in Muslim societies. The research narrates, cases from five Muslim countries including Nigeria, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey.
Through case examination of these countries laws and their legal frame-work on rape, it has been illuminating to note that an important aspect of resistance to the (re)criminalization of zina is to make it obvious that such a legislative development does not occur in isolation – i.e. that there is a significant incidence of gender-discriminatory laws (whether or not religiously justified) in the respective legal system, all of which are demonstrably used to control women’s sexuality. Hence, the revival, often marketed as a ‘moral reform’ par excellence, is exposed as continuation (and an opportunistic ‘upgrade’) of an established legal mechanism constructed to provide its ‘managers’ with exceptional power over the general populace and, in particular, over women. Even in societies where zina is not explicitly criminalized by law, but instead regulated and ‘punished’ extra judicially, an analysis of the domestic legal system discloses that such social malpractice continues to be effectively condoned or even encouraged by certain laws for a considerably long time. This was the case in Turkey until recent criminal justice reforms.
Many Muslim feminists and reformers have time and again critiqued the legal frame-work on zina matters and how it deliberately allows men to hold power over women. Others have written extensively about how male notions of female sexuality lead to the creation of gender biased laws prevalent in modern day Muslim countries. Feminist scholars such as Fatima Mernissi and Amina Wadud point out that this male fear of ‘uncontrolled women’ stems from the time of the newly formed Muslim community, when men feared that the Prophet Muhammad was encouraging a women’s rebellion (nushuz) by stopping violence against women (Mernissi (1996). How is that for a reality check?
There is also a deep notion of taboo and stigma over discussing sexuality in most Muslim societies; it is quite common to see Muslim brothers young and old speaking on sexuality at public forums and penning literary publications. However the same societies don’t accept so easily Muslim women writers or speakers on the topic of sexuality. Still there is hope because many young Muslimah sisters have gone and broken the stereotypes and created alternative spaces for themselves to be heard both collectively and individually.
It is also interesting to note the stark difference between past and present day Islam, in the past, Quran and early Muslim scholars dealt with topics of sex and sexuality with an openness and positively. Where as today, in the back streets of hustling bustling city like Karachi, there are dawas and dars (religious lectures) promoting the need for male control of women’s sexuality, prohibiting birth control as western agendas and so on.
Lets face it, Muslim societies are highly patriarchal and have misused the religion throughout history to exert control over Muslim women sexualities. Last week, in a shalwar kameez (national dress) along with a chador I was riding in a public bus for office,soon a perverted took upon himself to touch my back twice. I and another young girl politely informed him against repeating it – while the bus passengers openly gaped and some angry ones told us in clear words how shameless and honor less we were to protest for it and be rude to a man. A man, oh really a man. Opps.. really I am sorry in my world men ARENT Gods and aren’t getting any Godly status either.