Discussion regarding the rights and freedom of women
In the article, “Women’s Rights: Two Extremes“, you wrote that western women expose parts of their bodies to ‘satisfy the lust of men’. And that they should be taught the concept of ‘restricted freedom’ and not be driven by this ‘maddening propaganda’ for it diminishes the respect of women in society. You and the Swedish priestess also wrote that prostitution and propaganda will not be practiced in a society even in secret if it is legally restricted.
First of all, I completely agree that the exploitation of women by the electronic and print media does indeed reduce women’s chances of gaining respect in society. However, at least in Western society, women enjoy their basic human rights which Afghani women are brutally denied alongwith South Asian and Middle Eastern women. And the two cannot be compared on any account. Even in our so-called pious Muslim societies, women are exploited by the media, there is much prostitution, so it would be wrong to highlight only the ‘low moral standards’ western women in this regard. And they are much better off than us, for their women are at least not suppressed in other spheres of life. But we on the other hand, have both problems.
There is so much prostitution in Afghanistan as a result of women being forced out of their jobs by the Taliban. There is so much in Pakistan. And I would rather not talk about the corrupt Saudis at this point. About women dressing scantily to ‘satisfy the lust of men’. Don’t you think then, that it is as much the moral inferiority of men as much as it of women? If men do have that perversion and lust in them, then it is wrong to conveniently blame women for their immoral behaviour. Why didn’t you write that men should also be taught to respect women as their fellow beings, and not simply view them as objects of desire? Why didn’t you also state that men are also morally lacking for their perversion? Islam is not a gender biased religion and if you do not see both points of view, and conveniently ignore one, then you are doing an injustice as being a Muslim preacher. You should not give incomplete points of view to your readers and students for they too will think of Islam as a religion for men. And then your purpose will be a self-defeating one, for you will be dissuading many who would be repulsed by such a shallow interpretation of our great religion.
The analogy of the burglary and traffic laws with that of prostitution seems rather pointless to me. Even in Pakistan, prostitution is banned. But the maulvis, the police and every member of society knows exaclty where it goes on. The society may outwardly reject it for Pakistanis are a bunch of hypocrites. They act pious and holy, go to mosques and pray, but at night, it’s no secret that many of them visit the back of the Badshahi Masjid. And the growing prosperity of their profession and the fact that they have spread to and acquired houses in posh areas of defence and gulberg obviously means that they have a market for their profession in these localities.
Where is our morality then? It is barred by law, but it still goes on in secret. And that doesn’t make us any more moral than our western counterparts. They just do the same in the open. In fact, again, we are worse off: we have double the amount of their sins, for we not only immoral, but because we pretend not to be, we are hypocrites too.
Western society is much better than our own for all their immorality, they value the virtues of honesty, truthfulness, work ethics, helpfulness, etc. Something we would never be able to achieve no matter how Islamic we get. We’ll probably just transform into rigid Islamic extremists, pounce on our women every time they try to acquire their rights., and confine them in burqas. Not much sense in pursuing such an end. Women out of purdah are not morally inferior women. In Islam, everything is judged by intention. So maybe we should look at ourselves before jumping to reprimand others.
The following are some of my observations on the comments you have made in your message. If we are to achieve a meaningful dialogue, I would suggest that we should better focus our attention on one issue at a time. Otherwise, the discussion gets scattered.
The purpose of mentioning the analogy of traffic laws to elucidate Islam’s standpoint on man-woman relationships was to show through a similar example the fact that essentially the same principle is being applied in both cases even though one of them is being acknowledged as desirable while the other is described as over-restrictive. The judgement on whether an analogy is good or not should be based purely on the fact whether it helps in bringing about the relationship that the two situations share with each other and whether the situations are essentially similar. Let’s have a look at the analogy once again.
There are two evils which all decent societies should seek to avoid: deaths and injuries due to accidents and zina (fornicaton and adultery). The Western society has realised that the former evil is really serious and something should be done about it. On realising that there is a serious threat to life of the people on the roads given the fact that there are a large number of vehicles plying on them, they came to the conclusion that there ought to be some restrictions imposed on the movement of these vehicles if the evil of accidents is to be minimized. The result of this realisation can be seen in the form of traffic laws that describe in considerable details what kind of behavior is desirable on the roads. These laws are fairly restrictive: speed limits, traffic lights, use of indicators, fitness test of vehicles before bringing them on roads, brakes to be in order, tyres to be at least of a minimum thickness, lights to be in order, seat belts to be properly fastened by the passengers etc. All these restrictions are religiously followed in the West without many people complaining that they have restricted their freedom. The reason is they know that although restrictions cause some discomfort, everyone realises that they are necessary if accidents are to be avoided. The fact of the matter is that frequency of accidents has actually been brought down dramatically because of the imposition of stringent traffic laws.
In our country, on the contrary, although traffic laws are in place, they are by and large flouted by a vast majority of drivers. In fact, many people neither know nor care to know what these laws are. The result is that the frequency of accidents and the resultant injuries and deaths on the roads is far greater than what is experienced in the West.
Islam has imposed certain restrictions on the free intermingling of the opposite sexes and has desired a certain dress code to be observed by both genders, apart from other reasons, to get rid of the evil of zina. These restrictions are a subject of ridicule in the Western society and the western-minded Eastern society as well. The result is that zina is taking place in these societies at a colossal frequency. One the other hand, wherever these restrictions are honoured, the frequency of zina is extremely low. The lesson one learns is that it is not possibile to fight against human nature. The only way out, therefore, is to follow the instructions of the Creator of that nature Who has required us to follow the principle of “better be careful than sorry” in the case of a man-woman relationship. In other words, the same principle of prevention that has done wonders in reducing accidents in the West seems to be at the heart of the Islamic restrictions on free intermingling of genders to avoid zina.
My own understanding is that the movement of women’s rights that has influenced many women of our times is a reactionary movement. It is a movement that started as a reaction to the appalling conditions many women of the world were going through because they belonged to a different gender from men. The problem with reactionary movements is that they take you away from one evil to throw you into another, in many cases, a bigger one. Because reactionary movements are primarily emotional in nature, they don’t take into account the realities of life and, as a result, they prevail for a short while, take their tolls, and then disappear. Socialism is another example of a similar movement. It emerged as a reaction to the evils of capitalism and because it had an emotional appeal, it was able to influence many people of the world. However, despite the fact it was able to get the opportunity to get implemented in a number of countries of the world, because the basic idea was divorced from the realities of life, it took its toll and passed away. It is understandable for those who have no better alternatives to the current problems to get influenced by such reactionary movements; however, for Muslims to be influenced by such movements when they have a solution from their Creator, even though at the moment in theory only, is, to say the least, disappointing.
What seems to be a strange phenomenon in the West is the fact that despite the strong Western propaganda against Islamic teachings on women, more Western women are converting to Islam than men. On tracing the reasons behind this phenomenon, one finds that behind the smokescreen of propaganda of freedom that women have been given in the West, there is increasing realisation amongst many women there that they have gained this freedom at a huge cost of their sense of security and peace of mind. The statistics of broken families are growing at an alarming pace. The reasons for this state of affairs are not quite difficult to trace. If you allow unbridled freedom to men and women to intermingle at all levels, there is going to be increasing propensity amongst individuals of both categories to make swift changes of loyalties. Sticking to the same partners over long periods of marital association would come under serious challenge, and even minor domestic disputes, which are quite frequent in a normal, healthy domestic life, can trigger a move towards the next match. Women, generally speaking, are more adversely affected by this tendency, and, therefore, the more mature amongst them show a liking for a society which values permanent family bonds. (Also see the article “A Statistical Analysis of the Impact of Feminist Movement in the United States of America” )
The suggestion that men should mind their own business even if women are out in the streets with objectionable dresses (if any) is not quite as easy to follow as some women feel it is. Forgive me for the analogy if you don’t like it, but sometimes I feel that it is not very different from expecting people to keep doing their normal business despite the fact that there is good knowledge that there are bacterial germs in the surroundings. Why should a health-loving population be expected to put up with that kind of environment? Obviously, the answer is that they should not. Likewise, why should a decency-loving population be required to put up with a situation where indecency is being openly advertised with impunity? The only difference between the two examples is that whereas in the one case the damage to the population is physical, in the other case it is moral. There is no doubt about the fact that obscenity is contagious. It has a tendency to spread swiftly. Generally speaking, man has a weak nature in this regard. That’s why the Creator of that nature has given us injunctions that take care of that weakness.
One of the reasons why complete freedom is considered by some people to be preferable over restrictions despite the fact that the evils of freedom are quite apparent is that such people become insensitive to the evil effects of freedom. That is especially true in the case of moral issues. For instance, the modern tendency amongst most families to live independently without the elders may seem a good idea to those who are insensitive to the plight of the older generation, although the fact is that the psychological aspects of their suffering because of their isolation from their children are so serious that the physical advantages that the recent changes in lifestyles have brought about can in no way be presented to justify that tragedy. Likewise, it is an extremely insensitive observation that even if women are being made objects of sensual gratification for men in the West, they are still better off than those women who, they believe, are being confined to the four walls of their homes in Afghanistan. I would repeat what I had written earlier that, even if we accept for the sake of discussion that the Afghani women are being forcibly confined to their homes, I am not too sure as to which of the two conditions of women is a greater tragedy: confinement or open advertisement of scarcely clad women?
Finally, I would like to point out that it is not fair on Islamic teachings to judge about their results from the performance of the present-day Muslim societies. These societies are not properly Islamic. Wherever they are following Islam even in parts, they are most certainly showing results. However, unfortunately we don’t have a living example of a model Islamic society to show and therefore many people make an erroneous comparison between the present-day Western society and the Muslim countries of the world to decide whether the modern ways are better than the Islamic ways.