Sunday, October 29, 2006

Islam's gender crisis

From The Weekend Australian, 28oct06, by Deborah Hope ....

A LEADING Muslim cleric's recent sermon....blaming women for inviting rape through their choice of clothes and make-up, brings to a head in Australia the titanic collision between conservative Islam and modernity. Whether this collision can be reconciled is one of the key issues for the West today. The issue is far bigger than Australian Mufti Sheik Taj Din al-Halali's preoccupation with rapes cases involving Muslim men.

.....The immutable word of God, expressed through the Koran, is that "Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one superior to the other...Good women...are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them, forsake them in beds apart, and beat them. Then, if they obey you, take no further action against them." (Koran 4: 34).

.....For women reared in the secular West, these sentiments are deeply confronting....When it comes to fundamentalist Islam...a trail of violence against women can be sheeted home to twisted misinterpretations of centuries-old Islamic texts....

The silence of most Western feminists on the issue of Islam-sanctioned violence is one of the most shaming aspects of the present debate..... Hilali's comments demonstrate that as the violence comes closer to home, Western feminists' silence must become harder to maintain. Shock waves reportedly pulsed through Germany last year after the honour killings of eight young Turkish women. The women had reportedly refused the husbands their families had chosen for them or had sought sexual partners outside their religion. The scandal intensified after a school principal, shocked that his Turkish pupils insisted of one of the victims that "the whore got what she deserved", went to the national press.

Last year, Australians had a bitter taste of what shocked Germany when MSK, already serving time for gang-raping girls in Sydney, mounted the defence in a second case that his Muslim upbringing ...led him to believe he had the right to rape girls he considered promiscuous....A NSW Supreme Court judge rejected MSK's defence that his culture made him do it, but his father, a doctor, said after MSK's first conviction in 2003: "What do they expect to happen to them? Girls from Pakistan don't go out at night."

If they do, the results can be fatal. Honour killings in many parts of Pakistan are sanctioned by tribal and customary law. A woman who transgresses this code ... according to the expert evidence, "would be punished by being physically disfigured or killed by her father or brothers to retrieve family honour". Figures presented to Pakistan's Senate two years ago show the extent of violence in that country where 2774 women died in reported honour killings between 1998 and 2003.

Rape is even more common. In one of the most celebrated rape cases in recent years Mukhtaran Mai, a young illiterate peasant woman from the Punjab, was gang-raped in 2002 as punishment for the alleged sexual activity of her 12-year-old brother. Mai's case came to international attention after she took the step of taking her grievance to court. Pakistan's Hudood laws, introduced in 1980, make this nearly impossible. They mean that if a woman is raped a conviction requires four adult male witnesses or the rapist's confession. If sex is held to be consensual, the woman can be prosecuted for adultery and imprisoned or stoned to death. Plans to amend the Hudood laws to make it easier to punish rapists remain stalled in the Islamabad parliament because of opposition from ultra-conservative Islamic parties.

Born in Egypt in 1941, Hilali in the 1960s joined the Muslim Brotherhood, an extreme Islamist political organisation that claims to be non-violent but that has spawned terrorist groups such as al-Qa'ida through breakaway members. The possible influence of Sayyid Qutb, a Muslim Brotherhood member whose 1966 hanging and "strategic martyrdom" was central to the founding of modern Islamism, in fermenting the Australian Mufti's attitude to women cannot be ignored.....

....Despite the hatred of Western women clear in al-Hilali's comments, many scholars argue that Islam is compatible with Western ideologies, says the Australian National University's Amin Saikal, director of the Centre of Arab and Islamic Studies. "You can see a very liberal interpretation of Islam which justifies Western values and is compatible with Western ideologies," Saikal says. This must be the view of innumerable moderate Muslims who have protested against the Mufti's words.

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