Hala dons a pink hijab for a date on Valentine's Day. Muslim women's attitudes about the appropriate amount of make-up to wear and the proper amount of hair to reveal vary widely.
By MATTHEW LEE
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration will endorse a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that then-President George W. Bush had refused to sign, The Associated Press has learned.
U.S. officials said Tuesday they had notified the declaration's French sponsors that the administration wants to be added as a supporter. The Bush administration was criticized in December when it was the only western government that refused to sign on.
The move was made after an interagency review of the Bush administration's position on the nonbinding document, which was signed by all 27 European Union members as well as Japan, Australia, Mexico and three dozen other countries, the officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Congress was still being notified of the decision. They said the administration had decided to sign the declaration to demonstrate that the United States supports human rights for all.
"The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world," said one official.
"As such, we join with the other supporters of this statement and we will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora," the official said.
The official added that the United States was concerned about "violence and human rights abuses against gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual individuals" and was also "troubled by the criminalization of sexual orientation in many countries."
"In the words of the United States Supreme Court, the right to be free from criminalization on the basis of sexual orientation 'has been accepted as an integral part of human freedom'," the official said.
Gay rights and other groups had criticized the Bush administration when it refused to sign the declaration when it was presented at the United Nations on Dec. 19. U.S. officials said then that the U.S. opposed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but that parts of the declaration raised legal questions that needed further review.
According to negotiators, the Bush team had concerns that those parts could commit the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In some states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military.
It was not immediately clear on Tuesday how the Obama administration had come to a different conclusion.
When it was voted on in December, 66 of the U.N.'s 192 member countries signed the declaration — which backers called a historic step to push the General Assembly to deal more forthrightly with anti-gay discrimination.
But 70 U.N. members outlaw homosexuality — and in several, homosexual acts can be punished by execution. More than 50 nations, including members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, opposed the declaration.
Some Islamic countries said at the time that protecting sexual orientation could lead to "the social normalization and possibly the legalization of deplorable acts" such as pedophilia and incest. The declaration was also opposed by the Vatican.
The role that women play in mosques varies substantially around the Muslim world. Visits to two mosques in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, show just how different women's experiences can be.
The al-Seddeeq mosque, in a prosperous suburb of Cairo, stands in front of a park - unusual enough in an overcrowded city lacking much green space.
The large mosque, built in the last 20 years, forms an impressive focal point in the local community.
But it also represents one potential vision of the future for Egypt's mosques - where women are heavily involved in increasing aspects of the mosque's activities.
As I step inside, I hear sounds I had not been expecting - the raucous shouts of children playing.
About 250 young boys are surrounded by paint, glue, paper and old egg boxes - making artwork from recycled materials.
Earlier in the day, they had been learning to recite the Koran, but by late afternoon it was time for a more hands-on task.
There is nothing unusual about mosques offering educational programmes. But at al-Seddeeq mosque, all of the educational work is run by women.
A new role
On the day I visit, 35 female volunteers are involved - and 2,000 local children are on a waiting list to join the programmes.
She is clear that women's role in the mosque will continue to develop, just as opportunities for women within Egyptian society also open up.
"Other things will be changed. Maybe we are going to have more work, more roles, in future," she tells me.
Would that mean, I asked her, that women might even fulfil some of the roles still only undertaken by men?
"Why not?" she answers. "Men are good - but also I think women can do what men do. Some roles, it's better for women than men."
But you do not have to travel far to find very different attitudes to women's involvement.
In a poorer part of Cairo, I am driven through crowded streets past several mosques.
Some of those we pass do not have any facilities for women to pray, let alone be involved in other activities.
But at one mosque, we meet Sabriah Ibrahim. She is the only woman involved with leadership - and in this poorer area, no local women are wealthy enough to be able to volunteer.
The mosque could hardly be more different from the gleaming marble structure of al-Seddeeq, in the more prosperous part of town.
Hemmed in by other buildings, it is a cramped building on a small site, with the men's prayer hall as the main focus.
There is one small office, which doubles up as an administrative base and the place from which clothing is distributed to those in need. But there is not the capacity to offer programmes like those that the al-Seddeeq mosque is able to offer to the hundreds of children in the area.
But perhaps the most striking contrast is in the role that women play in the life of the mosque.
"Most of the week, women don't come for prayer, they only come for the Friday prayer, or when there are lessons or certain activities," Sabriah Ibrahim says.
"But other than this, very few women come to the mosque, and most of them are older women."
The disparity between the two mosques I visited is striking.
In one, women play an active role and dream even of running those activities still the preserve of men - perhaps, one day, even leading prayers.
In the other, one sole woman tries to run women's activities, but in an area where there is little tradition of women being involved in their local mosque.
Some of the factors seem to be financial: Al-Seddeeq's volunteers are women who are wealthy enough to be able to choose to spend time at the mosque rather than needing to work; in the crowded streets of Old Cairo, few women have such an opportunity.
Later, I meet Dr Mohammed Abulaila, recently retired as head of Islamic Studies at Cairo's al-Azhar University.
He too believes that economic factors play a role in whether women attend mosques - put simply, poorer women are more likely to have to stay at home with their families.
But he stresses that Islam itself makes no distinction between men and women, when it comes to the importance of attending the mosque.
"Women, like men, are commanded to go the mosque," he tells me.
"There is no discrimination in Islam. Men are required to pray five times a day, and women as well."
The gap between Dr Abulaila's words and the reality for many women in Cairo is clear.
But religion is just one part of life where opportunities for women are changing dramatically.
In the city's mosques, that opening up of opportunity is happening at startlingly different rates.
Islam, like many other religions, is beginning to face questions about how long centuries of male dominance will continue.
By KATY POWNALL
The Associated Press
Saturday, March 7, 2009; 2:17 PM
BAUCHI, Nigeria -- With her golden dress shimmering in the sun and ornate henna tattoos covering her hands, Hauwa Idris is the picture of a radiant Nigerian bride. But her betrothal has hardly been typical: Both bride and groom are infected with the deadly AIDS virus and have been encouraged to wed by an unusual government program.
Bauchi State, in Nigeria's heavily Muslim north, has recently begun playing Cupid with its HIV sufferers, encouraging them to marry by offering counseling and cash toward their big day. The goal: to halt the spread of HIV in the non-infected population.
"We live in a polygamous society where divorce is common and condom use is low," says Yakubu Usman Abubakar, an official working with the Bauchi Action Committee on AIDS, which runs the program. "If we can stop those who have the disease spreading it to those who don't have the disease, then obviously it will come under control."
The plan had seen 93 "positive" couples married since its inception about two years ago. Idris, aged 32, and her beaming husband, 39-year-old Umar Ahmed, are couple No. 94.
"I'm very happy to see my wedding day," laughs Idris shyly. "I never expected I was going to marry because of my (HIV) status. But now I am happy and thank God that now we have a solution ... we can marry within ourselves."
Idris and Ahmed's eyes met across a crowded clinic waiting room as they queued to collect their anti-retroviral HIV therapy pills. They exchanged phone numbers and the courtship began.
Two months later, Ahmed asked Idris' parents for her hand in marriage. It was granted and a dowry of $68 agreed upon. As an incentive to carry it off, the Bauchi group contributed $225 toward the cost of the couple setting up home together, no small amount in a country where over half the population live on $1 a day.
The outreach program won't be formalized until 2009, and no budget figures exist yet. The state doesn't seek to introduce HIV-infected people, since that would entail revealing private medical data, but when officials hear of HIV lovers, they step in quickly to encourage a legal union.
Around 4 million of Nigeria's 140 million people are living with HIV _ the second largest HIV population in the world, according to Britain's foreign development agency. And although prevalence rates have dropped slightly in the past three years to around 4 percent, health experts warn the country still has a lot of work to do to bring the epidemic under control.
Bauchi is the only one of Nigeria's 36 states known to have such a program. In a society where HIV sufferers are stigmatized, these "positive marriages" provide more than just companionship.
"We have such a close bond," says Usman Ziko, 42, of his relationship with wife Hannah, 32. Money from the Bauchi plan allowed them to marry in October, after an 18-month courtship that began in the corridors of the clinic.
"It was a flamboyant affair," Hannah recalls of the wedding with a smile. "Lots of people and dancing and we snapped pictures to remember the day."
"When I first found out I was positive I thought it was the end of the world," explains Ziko. "I was depressed and became isolated from my friends. Now I have a partner who understands everything. We share our problems, remind each other to take medicine and are free with each other."
Bala Garba, a 40-year-old soldier, married Rabi Ibrahim, a 24-year-old teacher, with assistance from the plan after they met at their clinic.
"Making this marriage will make our lives easier and help us to keep the secret (of our HIV positive status)," Garba explains. "It is normal to be married in our society. This keeps people from thinking there is anything abnormal about us."
The pair have just had their first baby _ a little boy named Musa.
With assistance from the Bauchi Action Committee on AIDS, the couple received treatment and advice to help prevent Rabi from passing the virus to her baby, although the child is still too young to be tested. According to health workers, they have every chance of having a healthy child. "He is a strong boy and he's growing fast," laughs Garba, visibly delighted.
Ziko and Hannah, following strict advice and recommendations from the organization, have also conceived.
"I'm so excited to be a mother," says Hannah, now three months pregnant. "I have been eating a special diet and having medical checkups. I never imagined I could live such a normal life."
Not everyone is so encouraged, however. Some health experts have criticized the plan, saying that if HIV positive couples are encouraged to have babies, more children will end up orphaned.
According to the United Nations, Nigeria had 1.2 million AIDS orphans in 2007. While some may be adopted by relatives or find care with charitable or church organizations, many will end up on the streets begging and taking care of their siblings. Bauchi's health officials remain convinced of the plan's benefits, however.
They point out that in Nigeria, life expectancy is just 48 years in any case.
"Here you can't assume that someone with HIV will die sooner than someone else," says Abubakar, of the Bauchi program. "Especially if they are taking care of themselves, receiving good advice and proper medication."
Ziko certainly has no intention of leaving his unborn child to fend for itself.
"It's the start of a fresh, new and happy life," he beams. "I plan to live another 50 years."
Morocco owes its image of a modern Muslim nation to Sufism, a spiritual and tolerant Islamic tradition that goes back to the first generations of Muslims and has sustained the religious, social and cultural cohesion of Moroccan society for centuries. Sufism provides answers to some of the most complex issues in the contemporary Muslim world, where youth comprise the majority of the population.
Most Moroccans, young or old, practice one form of Sufism or another. As a deep component of the Moroccan identity, Sufism absorbs all members of society, regardless of age, gender, social status or political orientation.
Moroccan youth are increasingly drawn to Sufism because of its tolerance, its fluid interpretation of the Qur'an, its rejection of fanaticism and its embrace of modernity. Young men and women find in the Sufi principles of "beauty" and "humanity" a balanced lifestyle that allows them to enjoy arts, music and love without having to abandon their spiritual and religious obligations.
Sufi orders exist throughout Morocco. They organize regular gatherings to pray, chant and debate timely topics of social and political importance, ranging from the protection of the environment and social charity to the war on drugs and the threat of terrorism.
Moreover, Sufi gatherings inspire young people to engage in interfaith dialogue, highlighting the universal values Islam shares with Christianity and Judaism - such as the pursuit of happiness, love of one's family, tolerance of racial and religious differences, and the promotion of peace.
Combined, Sufi seminars, chants and trances provide millions of Moroccans with a social medium where the fusion of the sacred and the secular, the soul and the body, and the local and the universal is both possible and enjoyable.
I recently asked Ahmed Kostas, an expert on Sufism and director at the Moroccan Ministry of Religious Affairs in Rabat, why this old spiritual tradition is so popular among modern youth.
"Progress and change," he noted, "are basic tenets of Sufi philosophy."
Sufis distance themselves from fundamentalists, whose vision of Islam is a strict and Utopian emulation of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, by placing great emphasis on the community's adaptation to the concerns and priorities of modern times. Sufis neither condemn unveiled women nor censure modern means of entertainment. For them, the difference between virtue and vice is determined on the basis of intent, not appearances.
Sufism is so diffuse in Moroccan culture that its role cannot be properly understood if reduced to a sect or shrine; it pervades even those musical trends labeled as "modern" or "Western." Rai, as well as Moroccan versions of hip hop and rap, may seem too earthly or too sensual to be associated with Sufism, yet they draw on Sufi poetry to sing the primordial essence of the human body, the virtues of simplicity, and the healing gifts of Sufi saints, such as Sidi Abderrahman Majdub, Sidi Ahmed Tijani, and Sidi Boumediene-spiritual masters revered by their peers and disciples for having attained spiritual union with God during their earthly lives.
The impact of Sufism on youth culture is more explicit in the lyrics of the urban band Nass Al Ghiwan and the Saharan Gnawa musicians. These two groups have profoundly shaped Moroccan popular music since the 1970s. Ghiwan songs, informed by the hippie style of bands like the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, inspire many listeners to a physical response called shatha, a Sufi word that Moroccans use for modern dance.
Gnawa musicians, the descendants of African slaves brought to Morocco between the 12th and 17th centuries, produce a similar effect. Their music is a mix of religious lyrics deeply rooted in the oral tradition of sub-Saharan Africa and melancholic melodies reminiscent of American jazz and blues. The Gnawa performance centers on a spinning body and a high-pitched voice, rhyming poetic verses with Sufi chants in Arabic such as "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his Messenger." These same words are terrifying when they come from the mouth of the terrorist, but lift the soul when they are sung by pious Muslims, Gnawa and other Sufi-inspired musicians.
Even Fnaire, the most recent hip hop band from Marrakech, identifies itself as a blend of Moroccan Sufi tradition and American rap.
In addition to Moroccans, thousands of young men and women from Europe, America and Africa flock to sacred music festivals organized every summer by Sufi movements throughout Morocco, to sing and celebrate their enthusiasm for life and their commitment to the universal values of peace. The scene at these festivals completely refutes the kind of image that extremists seek to convey to Muslim youth.
It is this fusion of Sufism and modernity that produces a unique aesthetic experience, which is attractive to Moroccan youth who reject extremism and uphold values of a shared humanity.
Mokhtar Ghambou is professor of Postcolonial Studies at Yale University. He is also the founder and president of the American Moroccan Institute (AMI). This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
The brutal and gruesome murder of Aasiya Zubair Hassan has prompted a great deal of soul searching in the Muslim community. National organizations, the local community, imams, Muslim social workers, activists and writers have all agonized over how the community did not do enough to protect Aasiya, despite evidence that her husband, the man charged with killing her, was known to be violent. They have called for imams to preach against domestic violence as against the standards of Islam, and for communities to stand in solidarity with Muslim women who complain of abuse, rather than counseling patience or questioning if there is anything they might have done to cause the abuse, or that they could change in order to avert future abuse.
To be sure, domestic violence is indeed against the teachings of Islam, and murder of family members is especially repugnant. The Qur'an teaches that men should remain with their wives in kindness, or separate from their wives with kindness, and specifically that they should not stay with their wives in order to do harm to them (2:229, 2:231). It offers a vision of spousal equality when it prescribes a decision making process within the family of mutual consultation (2:233), and labels both husband and wife with the term "zauj" (4:1 and others) and describes them as protecting garments for one another (2:187).
Physical and/or emotional abuse has no place in this vision of marriage. Indeed, when women came to the Prophet complaining of their husband's treatment, the Prophet admonished the men saying that those who treated their families poorly were not among the best of men. Mu'awiyah al-Qushayri, one of the companions of the Prophet, reports "I went to the Apostle of Allah and asked him, 'What do you say about our wives?' He replied, 'Feed them with the food you eat, clothe them as you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them." (Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 11, the Book of Marriage, Number 2139)
Clearly, this understanding of Islam leaves no room for men domineering themselves over women, or for physical or emotional abuse within the family,
And yet, if all the soul searching the Muslim community has done these past few weeks is to have any effect, we must acknowledge that there are problematical verses in the Qur'an and there are certain hadith which must be countered. Unfortunately, the calls for the Muslim community to openly stand up against domestic violence, have been silent with regards to the parts of our scriptural heritage that have been and continue to be used to justify all sorts of barbarous treatment of women.
It is fact, nonetheless, that the Qur'an and hadith have been used to foster a culture of patriarchy so absolute that many Muslim men perceive it as their right to expect abject obedience from their wives. Some imams and scholars go so far as to say that it is a husband's duty to hit his wife if she errs, discussing at length the limits to such hitting: It must be done in such as way as to leave no mark, they say. It cannot be on the face or other sensitive areas, It should be done lightly, using a small stick, with little force. Others discuss the provocations that could merit such physical punishment -- ranging from those who say it is only in the case of adultery or flagrant breaking of marital vows, to those who say it can be for any sort of spiritual lapse, to those who allow it in any kind of open disobedience to the husband's wishes.
It should be acknowledged that none of these imams or scholars are advocating domestic violence as we think of it -- a man hitting his wife in rage, hurling abuse verbally and physically at her. Rather they are predicating a calm scenario, one in which the man first admonishes his wife about her lapses, then spends a few nights away from her bed, then finally resorts to a calm, reasoned, and limited physical punishment. Unfortunately, the effect of such pronouncements is that many men feel justified in their physical abuse, pointing to the fact that imams say it is ok to hit one's wife, while ignoring all the other limitations placed upon that hitting. Worse, they feel entitled and empowered by the patriarchal norms these imams and scholars preach, seeing themselves as the kings of their home, rather than as domestic partners as the Qur'an teaches and the Prophet modeled for them.
The fulcrum of this patriarchal interpretation is verse 4:34. Translations vary wildly, ranging from those defining men the the defenders of women to those who render it as men being in charge of women. (The Arabic word, qawamun, comes from a root which means to stand up, thus men are called to stand up for women.) The verse goes on to say that devout women protect that which Allah would have them protect in their husbands absences. Again, the interpretations vary wildly -- from those who read it quite literally, describing pious women as devoted to Allah, to those who take it mean women should be devoutly obedient to their husbands. It continues, saying that if men fear "nushuz" (understood variously as openly rebellion, adultery, spiritual negligence, or wifely disobedience), they should admonish their wives and then separate from them in sleeping arangements. And then the third phase -- the word used is "daraba."
Daraba is used for many, many things in the Qur'an, from sexual intercourse to parting company, from metaphorically striking a parable to physically striking a person or thing. The vast majority of commentators, have understood the meaning of 4:34 to mean hitting. Modern interpreters such as Ahmed Ali and Laleh Bakhtiar , have made a case that this interpretation is wrong.
Bakhtiar's argument is particularly strong. She described her approach to this verse in a lecture I attended two years ago. She told the audience that she went to many, many scholars and asked them, "Did the Prophet ever hit his wives?" To which all them replied, "No, he never hit his wives." This is directly supported by a hadith narrated by his wife Aishah, who reported "The Messenger of Allah never struck a servant of his with his hand, nor did he ever hit a woman. He never hit anything with his hand, except for when he was fighting a battle in the cause of Allah." Bakhtiar then asked the scholars, "And the Prophet always obeyed Allah, correct?" To which the answer was an emphatic "Yes, the Prophet was the embodiment of the Qur'an."
"Then, how," she asked, "do you explain that when he had problems with his wives, he admonished them, he refrained from sleeping with them for a month, but he never went to the third step and hit them? Was he being disobedient to Allah, or have we misunderstood verse 4:34?" To which, she says, the scholars had no answer.
Her answer is that we have misunderstood 4:34, and that we have to look at what the Prophet actually did after that month's separation -- which was to offer his wives the choice of divorcing him or remaining with him while resolving to avoid the behaviors he found so objectionable. While, she translates "daraba" as "to go away from them," (which is the most common usage of the term in the Qur'an), it seems that it might be better rendered as "to strike a bargain with them."
In either case, Muslim feminists often point to the fact that classical commentary also ignores a verse in the same chapter (4:128), which tells women if they fear "nushuz" from their husbands that they are free to reconcile -- presumably by admonishing and sending him to sleep on the couch for a week as described a few verses earlier when advising men what to do when they feared "nushuz" from their spouses -- or to seek divorce, which is either the third step in the process if you believe "daraba" means to go away from, or a final, fourth step after physically punishing him, if you believe daraba does indeed mean to hit.
Sadly, modern translators of the Qur'an infect the Qur'an with their own patriarchal assumptions, translating "nushuz" when it refers to women as "ill-will, "disloyalty and ill-conduct" or "rebellion" while translating it as "ill-treatment" or "cruelty or desertion" when it refers to men's behavior.
Again, we see the Qur'an setting up a parity between the spouses, each of whom has the right to a process of dealing with "Nushuz" on the part of their spouse, however one understands the meaning of "nushuz", and however one understands that process. But this parity has been completely ignored in classical commentary, and in modern Muslim culture.
Indeed, the overwhelmingly accepted interpretation of verse 4:34 posits men as being in charge of women to the extent that they become father figures, with the unilateral right to correct their wives as though those wives were children.
For any anti-domestic violence agenda within the Muslim community to be effective, we must come to term with this verse. We must be very clear that it can in no way be used to justify domestic abuse, and that it does not mandate the abject subjugation of women within the marital relationship. We must be firm that even under the most patriarchal interpretations, it does not give men the right to terrorize women, to harm them physically or emotionally, and to seek to dominate and control their lives.
Even more, it is time for the Muslim community globally to reassess the widespread belief that Islam mandates patriarchy. As a feminist and a Muslim, I believe that the Qur'an and hadith give us ample material to establish egalitarian families and societies. To do so, we will have to prefer hadith which establish the equality of all humankind and which show the Prophet living as a partner to his wives not a lord or boss over other other hadith which which subjugate women to men, much as advocates of patriarchy prefer the hadith which support patriarchy over those which support egalitarianism.
We will have to prefer interpretations of 4:34 that currently only a minority support, rejecting the notion of physical punishment for anyone, just as the Prophet rejected physical punishment. We must understand men as "qawamun" of women in light of verses that say, "The believers, men and women, are protectors of one another" (9:71). We must take 4:34 and 4:128 taken together, as echoing that sentiment, setting out how husbands and wives each can cope with a problematic spouse. We can no longer afford to look at 4:34 in isolation, as establishing the hegemony of men over women.
Similarly, we must look at verse 2:228 in it's entirety, rather than isolating the final line as though it gives men more rights than women. 2:228 begins: "Women who are divorced shall wait, keeping themselves apart three monthly courses. And it is not lawful for them that they should conceal that which Allah hath created in their wombs if they are believers in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands would do better to take them back if they (the women) desire a reconciliation." (Note: The form of "they desire" makes it clear that the party desiring the reconciliation is the women, not the men.)
It then proceeds with some very dense language. Literally it says, "For them the like of that which is over them, and men have a degree over them." Again, the form of "them" is the feminine plural, making it clear that for women are the same things that are against women. This has been translated in various manners, but the most popular is "And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree of advantage over them."
This verse, then, commands women who are divorcing or being divorced that they should ascertain whether they are pregnant, and admonishes men to defer to women if the women wish reconciliation in light of the fact that they are pregnant, telling the men in no uncertain terms that women have as many rights as the men do, though men do have a degree (of flexibility, of advantage, of ease) over women in that they do not have to wait three months to remarry, and they are in an easier situation, as they do not face the physical, emotional and economic challenges of being pregnant and divorced.
Many have used this verse to shore up patriarchal notions, reading it to mean that men's rights are above women's rights universally and unequivocally. It is easy to read the verse that way, especially if the last line is taken out of context.
It is also easy to read in ways that are not patriarchal. Men's degree over women can readily be seen as 1) women having to wait three months before remarrying, a waiting period that men are not subject to since they do not get pregnant, and 2) women facing a more difficult situation regarding divorce because they also face physical, emotional and economic difficulties men do not face if they happen to be pregnant at the time the divorce is happening.
In fact, the verse is admonishing men to remember women's rights at a time when marital discord is likely to make men neglect those rights.
Like verse 4:34, verse 2:228 has been used to promote the notion of men's dominance over women. These patriarchal formulations contribute to a cultural atmosphere that enables domestic violence.
Domestic violence activists have long insisted that domestic violence is not about out-of-control anger, it is about controlling the life of one's spouse. They point to the fact that abusers such as Aasiya's husband, Muzzammil Hassan, do not lash out at, say, an employee who misses a deadline; they are able to control to whom and at what times they exercise violence. They usually hit women in places where bruises and cuts will not be visible, further evidence that it is not a matter of losing control, but of calculated intent to dominate, harm and manipulate a specific individual. Another example is that even in the middle of beating up their wife, if the phone rings, or police come to the door, the abuser is able to shut down his supposed rage, appearing and sounding calm and reasonable.
When religion is used to support notions that men are entitled to rule over women, we are only encouraging domestic violence.That is not to say that religion causes the violence; nor that Muslim abusers quote scripture as they lash out at their spouses; nor even feel justified by that scripture to commit the violence they do. It is quite clear that beating up one's wife, or hurling invectives at her, has no place in Islam; that even those who advocate a man's unilateral right to physically punish his wife do not enivision domestic violence, but a reasoned, calm, and limited response to severe provocation.
Rather, religion and cultural norms contribute to the abuser's feelings of manly entitlement. His expectations of being the boss of the home are validated and reinforced.
American Muslims are coming to grips with the fact that we have often turned a blind eye to violence in the home. Our leaders have come to understand when violence is ignored, or worse, when women are counseled to be patient, or asked what they have done to provoke such violence, they are complicit in the crime. That they have created a culture in which domestic violence carries no stigma, and thus abusers feel free to do as they like.
What we have not yet addressed, is how mainstream interpretations of Islam also contribute to an atmosphere where domestic violence can flourish.
The harsh reality is that even in cultures where domestic violence is soundly condemned, where abusers face stiff criminal sentences, domestic violence persists. Nearly 1200 American women lost their lives at the hands of a husband, boyfriend, or ex last year, according to the Center for Disease Control, and domestic violence is a problem in nearly 30% of all marriages.
Thus, we cannot expect to eradicate domestic violence among Muslims. But we can take strong and principled stands against patriarchal interpretations that enable abusers, and we can take concrete and significant action against abusers. I can only hope that the horrible death of Aasiya Hassan acts as a catalyst for much needed change.
"On Faith" panelist Pamela K. Taylor is co-founder of Muslims for Progressive Values and director of the Islamic Writers Alliance. She is a member of the national board of advisors to the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and served as co-chair of the Progressive Muslim Union for two years. Taylor is a strong supporter of the woman imam movement, which seeks the full participation of Muslim women in every aspect of life, including the pulpit. In July 2005, she became the first woman in centuries to officiate Friday prayers in a mosque when the United Muslim Association of Toronto and the Muslim Canadian Congress invited her to serve as guest imam. (This event followed a number of services, sermons and prayer sessions led by women held in private venues because no mosque agreed to host them.) In February 2006, when the former Grand Mufti of Marseilles visited Toronto, he requested that Taylor lead him in congregational prayer as an unequivocal demonstration of his support for female imams. Taylor has also been active in interfaith dialogue for 20 years, both in local initiatives and speaking at numerous conferences, universities, and churches. She received her MTS from Harvard Divinity School, and writes regularly on spiritual matters and the Islamic faith. She has essays in Nurturing Child and Adolescent Spirituality: Perspectives from the World's Religious Traditions (2006) and the forthcoming The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics (2007). She has written hundreds of articles and opinion pieces for newspapers, magazines, and journals, and is an award winning poet.