The supposedly inferior position and treatment of women in Islam is often used by Westerners to attack Islam. A recent poll of Muslim women reveals very different attitudes towards their own lives, Islam and the West. WASEEM SHEHZAD reports.
Of all the allegations hurled against Muslims and Islam, one of the most widespread is the alleged mistreatment of Muslim women. The common refrain is that Muslim women are oppressed because they are forced to wear hijab, and are not allowed to work outside the home or mix freely with men. Even a cursory glance at this litany of charges reveals that they relate to Western lifestyles and that the real purpose of the propaganda is to force Muslims, especially women, to adopt Western values and norms. Secular Muslim women have fallen for this line and happily parrot these silly allegations, all the while proclaiming that they have been "liberated" and are not like their domesticated, oppressed sisters because they go to clubs, drink alcohol and have boyfriends. Some even proclaim that they have found nirvana because they have had children out of wedlock and are living with their non-Muslim boyfriends, much like some of their sisters in the Christian and Jewish communities.
Given so much else that is wrong in Muslim societies, Muslims have not yet succeeded in refuting these allegations in a systematic manner, apart from stating that Muslim women are not oppressed and that their different role in society as outlined in the noble Qur'an does not mean that they are inferior or oppressed. The propaganda against Islam and Muslims over this issue is so strong that it has not been effectively challenged. Although Muslims have made little headway against non-Muslim opinion, the Gallup Organization, which conducts surveys to assess people's opinions, has found some startling facts, probably to its own chagrin. In a survey released by the organization on June 6 it reported that it has found that "Muslim women do not think they are conditioned to accept second-class status or view themselves as oppressed," according to Helena Andrews in the New York Times (June 8, 2006).
The Gallup survey also demolished some other cherished Western myths. Expecting that the hijab and burqa (the garment worn by some Muslim women to cover their body and face) would be the number-one villain with Muslim women, the survey asked what they resented most about their own societies. This was a loaded question, intended to elicit a negative response about Muslim societies that would confirm Western prejudices, but "a majority of Muslim women polled said that a lack of unity among Muslim nations, violent extremism, and political and economic corruption were their main concerns," according to the New York Times. Westerners have spent a lifetime trying to "liberate" Muslim women from "oppression" or, as the writer Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak put it so succinctly in Can the Subaltern speak?: "White men saving brown women from brown men". Equally revealing is the Muslim women's response to another Western obsession, namely sex. A clear majority of Muslim women do not see this as a priority because there are other pressing issues in their lives; they regard "sexual equality" as a Western concern. The most frequent response to the question, "What do you admire least about the West?" was the general perception of moral decay, promiscuity and pornography that pollsters called the "Hollywood image", which is regarded as degrading to women. This was not bearded Muslim men but Muslim women speaking to women pollsters.
The poll was conducted in 2005 by interviewing, face-to-face, 8,000 women in eight predominantly Muslim countries including Pakistan, Lebanon, Egypt and Morocco, none of them ruled by "Muslim fundamentalists". An overwhelming majority of those polled in each country cited "attachment to moral and spiritual values" as the best aspect of their own society. Similarly, a majority of respondents do not think adopting Western values would help the Muslim world's political and economic progress. In Pakistan, 53 percent of the women polled said attachment to their religious beliefs was their country's most admirable trait; in Egypt this percentage was up to 59 percent.
The survey, "What Women Want: Listening to the Voices of Muslim Women," is a part of the Gallup World Poll, which plans to survey 95 percent of the earth's population during the century. In Western mythology, Muslim women are projected as victims of vicious Muslim men, a myth that is also peddled by secularised Muslim women to curry favour with their Western masters. This line is particularly popular with Western-backed non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that have infested Muslim societies in recent years. Their lack of grassroot support has been exposed, for instance, in Afghanistan, where hundreds of NGOs have set up offices ostensibly to help liberate Afghan women from oppression. Since the removal of the Taliban from political power, the plight of Afghan women has worsened; greater numbers are being killed; incidents of rape (unheard of during Taliban rule) have increased, and the abduction and rape of young children has escalated alarmingly. The presence of thousands of Western troops has helped to corrupt and pollute this most traditional society.
In Pakistan, another favourite target of the West's ‘liberating' "theology of sexuality", the NGOs have repeatedly been exposed as fronts for Western propaganda and promiscuous behaviour. Even in their professed area of work, such as helping villagers and other poor people, they have been found wanting. Last October, when the devastating earthquake struckKashmir and Northern Pakistan, Western-backed NGOs that had collected hundreds of thousands of dollars, ostensibly to help the mountain people, were nowhere to be seen. It was the much-maligned bearded Muslim men who were at the scene long before the constipated government machinery moved. While the government and the Pakistan army made pathetic excuses about their lack of action, ordinary people, most of them poor, reached the affected areas on their own and busied themselves in rescue work.
Perhaps, before white men continue their crusade to rescue poor brown women from "oppressive" brown men, they should listen to the voices of real Muslim women, not those who apply heavy makeup, flirt and speak with an affected British accent. The West has a tendency to hear only what it wants to hear, not the truth that is often at variance with its own preconceived notions. Muslim women will not take the West seriously at any level while Westerners carry on not listening.