Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Gender Jihad

Sorry folks! Been kinda philosophical lately or rather I've always been like that ^_^. I've been reading a travel literature by Maliha Masood called Zaatar Days, Henna Nights. She is born in Pakistan but has lived in the States when she was about 8 year old. This is a book about her journey into seeking her inner self, her connection with her muslim faith and lots of other interesting stories. I recommend this book to anyone who loves to travel and also is a good read on Islam. There has been so many misconception about Islam. Being a Buddhist, I strongly feel that it is our right to seek the truth and not take what is given to you as a total answer.

Here is an excerpt on her conversations with two elderly women she met in Egypt:

Dina spent ten years in Europe teaching Arabic. She loved the openness and curiousity of her students, but she was also dismayed at their one-sided opinions about Muslim world, particularly when it came to gender issues.

"But why should I be surprised?" she scoffed. "Look at what they are learning from the Western media. One day it's honor killings, the next day, wife beatings. I'm not saying these stories are not true. But my students think it is the fault of Islam. They think Islam is anti-woman. And the mass media make it worse. They don't pay attention to the cutural, social and political dimensions that distort religious interpretations. It is so much easier to simply blame Islam."

"But this is what we must challenge. We must show that Islam honors women. Remember what the Prophet said. Paradise lies at the feet of mothers. We have to rediscover and relearn what our religion says. We must use this knowledge as a source of strength and power."

(Maliha) It occured to me just how odd (sad) it was that the very religion credited for empowering women had also developed a reputation for shackling them.

"You are right," I said. "But how can Muslim women seek justice through Islam when Islam is used by some to silence their voices?"

(Asma) "My dear girl, God has given each of us the means to use our intellect to promote justice and compassion. Islam is our conscience. But we have deviated from its ideals."

Asma's convictions were based in the Quran, the primary source of Islamic principles and conduct. Now if every individual (Muslim and non-Muslim) on earth thought the same way as Asma, there would be no disagreement in Islam's attitude regarding women. But the question of who will interpret the Quran and in what context is crucial. It cuts across one of Islam's most divisive debates - official, literalist readings versus inwardly drawn interpretations of the scriptures. Depending on one's viewpoint, Quranic versus can be perceived as restrictive or derogative (in relation to women) or liberating and respectful toward women's honor and dignity.

Asma took out one of her thick books and mentioned that as early as 7th century, Muslim women had the rights to inherit, own property, choose their husbands, and even to divorce. Dina said that when a Muslim woman marries, she retains her maiden name, and that according to Islamic law, a married working woman is entitled to keep all her earnings to herself. It is obligatory only for the husband to be the breadwinner. The wife gets to take it easier! I was confused. Surely something went horribly wrong when women's progressive status in Islam gradually eroded in practice.

Read the book to find out more about her adventure.

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