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True Muslim society protects women

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The news of the brutal murder of Sitara Achakzai, a female member of Kandahar's Provincial Council, earlier this month comes on the heel of the excruciating video of a young girl in Swat, Pakistan, being flogged by men in a public square for refusing to marry a man of her family's choice. There is other news of lashings, floggings, maimings and murder of Muslim women at the hands of Muslim men from every corner of the Muslim world and I, a Muslim woman, can only cringe and cry out to the Creator for mercy and justice. Why is this barbarity being inflicted on my sisters, oh Lord, and why are these perpetrators going unpunished?

The era in which female babies were buried alive in Arabia is called the age of ignorance (jahiliya) -- this is the era that Islam came to abolish, so it pains me to ask why we have returned to it. Can we blame this on war, poverty and foreign occupation? Can we really and truly look into the eyes of these women and offer such excuses for our inhumanity?

What is most disturbing is that these criminal behaviours are being cloaked in religious terms and there seems to be no credible voice challenging this gross violation of Islamic law and so these criminals continue to go about terrorizing with impunity. The continued silence of our scholars around the world is deafening and perplexing.

The history of Islam attests to the fact that when injustices and evil doings started to infest Muslim societies, it was the scholars, the keepers of wisdom, the guardians and trustees of shariah, that came out in droves to condemn, recapture and reform societies. They became mentors, role models and activists. Many were killed, imprisoned and exiled, but they persevered and brought about the cleansing that was necessary for social justice to prevail. Where are these holistic reformers today?

We know there are brave souls that have spoken up, like the imam who brought justice to Mukhtar Mai -- a Pakistani victim of gang rape -- or the hundreds who marched on the streets of Pakistan against the flogging in Swat. However, these will remain isolated events unless they can get leadership and support from people of knowledge who personify what they teach.

Unfortunately, today most Muslims, and especially women, are ill informed or have very rudimentary knowledge of their faith and can easily fall prey to spiritual parasites. These parasites need to be fumigated and our scholars alone can clean up this mess by challenging these warped understandings and interpretations. They must challenge these spiritual oppressors to public debates and defeat them in the public square to help release the hold these oppressors have on the innocent populace. Our sisters must believe that they are entitled to the same human rights as men. They must rise on the shoulders of our scholars, since there is nothing more empowering than the knowledge that one is in the right and that one's oppressors are ignorant and despised by Allah. "And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women" (Qur'an 2:228).

The decline of Muslim societies is closely connected to the decline of the rights, status and security of women. When our mothers are mistreated and we rationalize it, we give rise to a generation of traumatized children. When our sisters are unsafe at the hands of their brothers and the law looks the other way, we give rise to a warped pathology of gender apartheid. When our women are abused by their husbands and no one speaks up, we foster resentment against the faith.

"And as for the believers, both men and women, they are helping friends of each other, they enjoin the doing of what is good and just and forbid what is evil and unjust..." (Q 9-71). If there was ever a time for such a group of men and women to rise and reform and reclaim Muslim societies in the true spirit of Islamic justice and equity, it is now.

Perhaps some may consider me naïve to think that the sheer power of knowledge and the spoken and written word can turn the tide on this brazen attack on our sisters and keep us from drowning in their blood and their tears. I, however, rely only on the Creator for this inspiration for the first word revealed in the Qur'an was "Iqra" (Read). And this word changed the world, brought a society steeped in the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge. This word changed a society that dehumanized women to cherish women as mohshinas (fortress of goodness).

Surely the cries of these sisters should override any concerns we may have of the Islamophobes -- that if we speak up and expose our wounds they will vilify Islam. These hate mongers from within and without are but a distraction. Don't let them get in the way of what we need to do and that is to rid our societies, communities and nations of the cancer of misogyny -- the most hated form of discrimination in Islam.

Shahina Siddiqui of Winnipeg is president of the Islamic Social Services Association of Canada.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2009 A13

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