By Nushin Arbabzadah
30 December 2011
For Muslim women worldwide, the 21st century is the age of progress and setbacks. The progress is made possible by women themselves; the setbacks are largely courtesy of some vocal clerics and self-appointed representatives, such as the terrorist group al-Qaida, both of whom often masquerade as the "saviours of the Ummah".
Call it masochism if you want, but recently I started to take an interest in what the self-appointed representatives of this religion, whose first believer was a woman, have to say about us, women. What I discovered was far from reassuring. Some imams and also militant terrorist groups, it appears, have taken an unhealthy interest in all things feminine.
This obsessive interest could be a clumsy, if not downright idiotic, reaction to the global push for women's rights, or it might simply be a reflection of such "representatives'" own bizarre mental universe. Either way, the result is humiliating for Muslim women who, after all, are the most pious and caring part of the community and as such deserve more respect.
The surreal nature of this state of affairs was summed up in an Iranian TV programme I watched during the celebration of a female saint's birthday. In a room crowded with women dressed in black chadors, I saw a bearded imam on the stage preaching through the microphone to the female congregation. He was telling the hundred or so female believers what it meant to be a Muslim woman, as if the women themselves were clueless about this particular matter.
Judging by the women's almost palpable concentration, they were deeply engrossed in the question, which was fair enough. But why listen to a man who, by virtue of his biological, social and cultural programming, was unable to know what it felt like to be a woman, let alone a Muslim woman – the innocent victims par excellence of this century's relentless clash of civilisations. The irony of the situation was missed by both the female congregation and, naturally, the imam himself. The bearded man finished the sermon with the words: "And that's what being a Muslim woman feels like." Seriously?
I, for one, would never dare to tell Muslim men what it feels like to be a man. The beards and the hairy chests are a mystery to me, as are the practice of circumcision and those notorious male hormones. Equally, I never understood the pull of global jihad that drove so many young men to my tragic Afghan homeland where they practised shooting in an already destroyed country. I don't know what's going on in their hot heads and they, in turn, don't know what it's like to be harassed despite wearing the Hijab on a hot summer's day in Kabul.
But the imams' assumption that they know women's nature better than the women themselves does not stop with such surreal sermons. Some months ago, an Afghan TV programme in all seriousness broadcast the deliberations of an imam about nail varnish. Once again, I found myself startled at this interest in female beauty products. I am a woman and do not remember a single conversation with my female friends, let alone male friends, that revolved around nail polish for more than two minutes. But this imam could talk about nail varnish with such ease that it could only imply either a great deal of prior contemplation, some self-experimentation or, alternatively, a thorough survey of women's feet. Needless to say, all three possibilities were equally alarming because they spoke of a mind preoccupied by frivolous and mundane matters that should have nothing to do with men of God.
This trivialisation of religion is not a joke. It's an insult to the dignity of Muslim women. There is more to Islam than vaginal vigilantism and the clerics and self-appointed terrorist "saviour groups" should be the first to know this much. After all, it is stated clearly in the Qur'an that women's mandate is necessary for the choice of political leadership. If the prophet himself respected women and saw them as equals, then why can't today's leaders, both the self-appointed and the legitimate ones, do the same?
Source: The Guardian