By Reina Faraj
(Translated from Arabic by Ghulam Rasool, New Age Islam)
Salafists’ misogynist discourses are on the rise in the wake of the political changes going on in the Arab countries. In fact, they drive their exclusionary vision from the male-biased Fiqh (jurisprudence) established by their imams.
The Salafist ideology seeks to isolate women from public life and restrict their role to the family matters. It considers women to be a bone of contention depriving them of all political rights including the right to vote. As far women’s right to hold public office, it is deemed unacceptable in Salafists’ ideology because they endorse the concept of “stewardship” over the concept of the state. Today’s Salafists hold basic premises that seek to impose restrictions on the full citizenship of women.
One of the pioneers of Salafism and the 14th century jurist Ibn-e- Taymiyyah is the biggest example of how Salafis tend to victimize and marginalize women. He has left his influence on the present day Salafists. Expressing his views about various issues related to women, such as alimony, menstruation, prayer and dowry, he was so greatly worried about the growing influence of women in his time that he decreed whoever obeys women destroys his country. Another Salafi Sheik Ibn-e Uthaymeen quotes a similar statement made by Sheik Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab (1703–1791) from his book “Kitab al-Tauheed”. He writes interpreting a Qaul (statement) of the pioneer of Wahabism, Sheik Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab as follows: “Some people use the term Syeda [feminine of Sayed meaning: mister] when referring to a woman. For instance, they say that some things are specific to men and other things to Syedas. But this is a distortion of the reality because only a man is deemed a Sayed. Because the Prophet said, “The women are your helpers,” which means that they are captives and the prophet also said that a man is the ‘‘shepherd of his family and responsible for his flock.’’ So the singular form should be imra’a [woman] and the plural form should be nisa’ (women) because only a man is a Syed and women are men’s captives. So calling a woman Sayeda is a distortion of reality.”
Of Late, during the Arab Spring movements, today’s Salafists went beyond the early Salafists’ misogynist teachings. They tried hard to marginalize women socially and politically. To further this nefarious end, Some Salafi Muftis like the Egyptian Salafi sheikh Abu Islam issued strange Fatwas justifying the rape of the women in Tahrir Square under the pretext that it was punishment for their unveiling themselves. Another Salafist cleric Abu Ishak al-Hawini went to the extent of likening a woman’s face to her genitals, in his bid to impose on women the Niqab [full face veil]. In fact, these Salafists consider women to be nothing short of sex objects that are a permanent threat to society in their view.
But the question arises: does this Salafist discourse reflect the growing female public presence? And why can’t the Salafists put up with women’s changing role in society?
It is pretty self-evident that the Salafist ideology is not an Islamic ideology prevailing in the Arab world, although it controls many satellite channels that shape their followers’ minds. We cannot forget the Islamic interpretive battles that were fought by Islamic revivalists such as Imam Muhammad Abduhu, Rifa’a Rafi al-Tahtawi, Tahir al-Haddad and other Muslim reformists.
Muslim women played a great part throughout the Islamic history and never lived in complete isolation. If we trace back the forgotten Islamic history, we will find that women had pivotal roles to play in various fields, including religious knowledge. A female Muslim jurist Fatima al-Samarqandi, who lived in Aleppo in the second century AH, studied the Islamic Hanafi fiqh (jurisprudence) from her father and memorized all the Hadiths that her father had collected. They issued religious rulings and edicts together.
If we go much deeper in Islamic history, we will come across many more enlightened Muslim ladies. Women who lived in the 16th century had great deal of knowledge about Islamic law. One of them reached even the rank of Faqeeha (Islamic jurist). Similarly, the Sufi woman of Damascus Aisha al-Ba’oniyyah bint Yusuf (d. 1516) went to Cairo, where she got permission to issue jurisprudential opinions and teach. Another female scholar Hajima bint Hayyi al-Awsabiyyah (d. 701) was considered to be one of the most important jurists in Damascus. She taught many men and won the trust of Caliph Abdul Malik bin Marwan, whom she regularly met in a mosque of Damascus. (Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures: Methodologies, Paradigms and Sources, Brill Academic 2003)
Despite such historical evidences confirming the role of women as Islamic scholars, jurists, mystics and rulers, Salafis seem to be hell bent on their male-biased doctrine, simply ignoring the fact that women’s conditions have changed. They are turning more and more towards their patriarchal jurisprudence in a bid to control women, perhaps because they threaten their masculinity. It is not easy for the Salafists to change their ideology. Because they are obsessed with the supposed sedition present within the female body and seek to reduce and control it by issuing Fatwas.
The remarkable thing in the Egyptian Salafist scene following the January 2011 revolution was a controversy over the running of veiled women for parliament. Some Salafist parties nominated women on their electoral lists based on a fatwa issued by Yasser Burhami, the head of Salafists in Alexandria. He stated in his fatwa that: “Even though nominating women is an evil, but it is less harmful than allowing into parliament those who want to change Article 2 of the constitution, especially now when the election law requires every electoral list to include at least one woman.” He added saying, “In principle, this is not allowed. But Fatwas in our times are not absolute. We have said that it is not forbidden for Islamist parties, including the Al-Nour party, to nominate women with a view to prevent the evil of leaving parliament for liberals and secularists, who will make a constitution that would fight Islam, restrict the Islamic Dawah work, and even stop it and punish people for it.”
Being extremely obsessed with women, Salafists are trying hard to keep them away from public arena because women have been increasingly active and engaged in the Arab revolutions, especially in the revolts of Egypt and Tunisia. It is this “phobia” against active women that pushes Salafists to tighten their control over them by misusing the Islamic terms of Halal and Haram (permissible and forbidden). It is worth mentioning that most Fatwas issued in Arab countries are directly related to women’s body, something that constitutes fertile ground for Salafist imagination.
The Salafists’ doctrine is quite antithetical to the notion of equality enunciated in the Holy Quran. They have gone away far from the objectives of Islamic religious texts and are clashing with the enlightened reformist jurisprudence regarding women. Their “Bedouin Islam,” as described by Sheikh Mohammed al-Ghazali, is incapable to deal with historical transformations because it is occupied by an exclusionary ideology.