I share here my response to an article titled "Woman: The Plague of the West," by Abu Osama. The introduction of the article reads:
This short work has been compiled to expose the fallacy of the Western nations and the culture and civilisation they profess to believe in and live by. Its aim is to educate those in the Muslim world the true picture of life in the Western countries with a view to demolish the myth that the west has the solution to all the world’s problems. Rather the West is the cause and source of all the worlds’ problems!” Abu Osama's thesis is that the Shari'a is the only solution to the problems of the west, where women are“ sexually denigrated, alcoholic and drug dependent, abused, attacked and raped" and "constant thoughts of suicide and self harm, deeply depressed, pandering after equality such is the nature of the liberated Western woman!
I have been unable to find the original article, but it is available on many Muslim forums and social networks, including Facebook.
My response is as follows.
Anyone who claims that the women in her/his part of the world are treated better than elsewhere is lying both to her/himself and to the rest of the world. This article is the same way. It wants to claim that the western woman is oppressed while the eastern woman is not. First of all, what is the east and the west -- and can a woman be both western and Muslim? Second, how does it define liberation and oppression? Has it ever occurred to us that, just as we can’t say that all Muslim women are oppressed, we can’t say that all Western women are oppressed? Has it ever occurred to us that, just as we can’t let the actions of a few Muslims justify our conclusion of the entire Muslim world, we can’t let the same happen with the west?
Let us not forget that all women are not the same and they don't wish to be the same. Why should the eastern woman be compared to the western woman, then? Who is anyone to decide how women should be treated? Let the women speak for themselves, will ya? And not just a few of them but a lot of them.
Also, when one wishes to talk about women, one must first talk to them. One needs to know what the western woman feels before one goes around writing about her, just like one needs to know what the eastern and Muslim woman feels before one talks about her. Another thing that should be kept in mind when “researching” people’s lives is this: no one represents anyone. We can’t see women on tv and say, “See? See? We told you the western woman is oppressed!” -- just as we cannot look at the way the media portrays women in the east or the Muslim woman, such that many westerners believe that’s how the reality is for all eastern/Muslim women.
Just as we Muslim women wish not to be misrepresented by others, so the western woman, too, does not want to be misrepresented.
What we need, needless for me to say, is a dialogue in which we sit down with each other and tell each other, "Stop talking about my part of the world. If I can't talk about your part of the world, what right do you have talking about mine? If I'm not allowed to make judgments about your treatments, why are you making judgments about mine?"
My comments about some specific points of the article are as follows.
The Western countries pride themselves with achievements for women’s liberation and deliverance from subjugation, or so we are told.
And the author disagrees with this? Let us compare the ratio of literate women in the west versus in the east. Education is liberation.
Islam has given women the right to education, but is this just in theory or in practice as well? Whose fault is that? (Some) Muslims', right? Most rights that Muslims believe God has given women in Islam are observed more in the west than in the east -- examples include: education, work, the right to marry someone of her choice, the right to divorce, the right to custody for her children, and so on.
Western women are described as liberated, independent and equal, an ideal to be chased by every non-western nation as being at the peak of civilisation.
Clearly, the author of this article needs to study what women in the west say and believe. Many agree agree that the west does not treat women the way it should, and they also agree that women are treated no better in other countries. This is the reality. The west might want to claim that its women are treated better, but the east makes similar claims about its women.
Following are some ways women are mistreated in the east (note that I'm not saying in Islam necessarily; I am talking about practices here):
- forced marriages
- marital rape
- wife-beating (and there's no group of people I can think of that doesn't have this as a plague to worry about)
- honor killing (it is getting less common, though)
- stoning to death females only (as uncommon as it might be, it occurs nonetheless)
- no right to divorce when the woman wants/needs it desperately but the husband can divorce her at his convenience and pleasure by simply saying, "talaaq" three times.
Now, wife-beating occurs everywhere. But the problem is that in the Muslim world, many Muslims justify it using Quranic verses (e.g., verse 4:34) and hadiths that talk about the dominance of husband over his wife. No, there is more to these verses and hadiths than what we have made them to be, but the fact remains that many Muslims justify wife-beating using Islam.
In the west, on the other hand, a woman may file claims against her husband for abusing her. She may not always succeed or may not always get justice, but the fact that there are support groups to help her out – counseling, sheltering, government support, etc. – is enough to console her and to assure her that she has resources to turn to in such unfortunate cases.
What happens to Muslim women in the east when they are abused? What happens to them when they are divorced? What happens to them when they are widowed? I do not claim to know everything, or even a lot, about the lives of women in all Muslim countries. But it would be very interesting to conduct some studies on women's support groups in those countries, attempting to observe the responses that these groups receive for supporting women and investigating how they are funded.
Despite what the media wishes to portray the Western Women as, the reality is that Western nations are in no position to lecture about women’s rights.
Neither the western woman nor the eastern woman is in any position to lecture about women’s rights. Neither are men who have not thoroughly investigated the treatment of women in the society on which he speaks.
Women were only until recently officially considered to be second class citizensand have still not gained the position they sought.
Yes. Can we claim that Muslim women are first-class citizens in their countries? Do we have a right to claim that? If the argument is that Islam has given women the rights that women in the west have been fighting for, the response should be: So what? They have the rights in theory, but what about in practice? Moreover, if that is the argument indeed, then what about Western law dictates that women be treated the way they are in reality?
Only recently did women in the Muslim world started getting the education that Islam guaranteed them over 1400 years ago. Islam gave women the rights to vote 1400 years ago, but when did Muslim countries actually enforce this right? The earliest date Muslim women were allowed to vote in practice was 1918 -- in Azerbaijan; the latest is 2006, the UAE. One wonders why it was enforced over 1400 years after the right was given.
When they try to “have fun” and go on a night out, one in three can expect sexual assault, a quarter would have property stolen and 10% would have been physically assaulted.
This is true, yes (although I would expect some source to verify this). But who pride themselves in this? And who said such does not occur in Muslim countries? Again, why are we comparing Islam (a theory) and the west (a reality)? Why are we comparing the treatment of women according to a religion, not in practice at all, and the treatment of women in practice in a certain part of the world?
It is not unusual for them to be sexually abused or raped.
Yes. And most rape AND abuse cases are reported – unlike in the east, where they’re often not reported, often because of the family's honor.
They are beaten, stolen from and sometimes murdered.
And they’re not beaten, stolen from, and murdered in the east? What? We have ample evidence that they are constantly beaten and even murdered.
At the same time, the average salary for women is still below that for men and men still occupy most of the top jobs.
This is one of the only inequalities in the west—no wait, in the U.S -- and many women's rights groups are working to change it.
Meanwhile, the porn industry has burgeoned becoming one of the biggest media forms in the world, primarily financed by Western men. A study carried out by the National Council for Civil Liberties showed that 38% of men use their power and position at work to rape women. A Retook survey found that 88% of respondents had experienced sexual harassment at work. In the UK, 86% of managers and 66% of employers had experienced such problems.
So far in this article, I’m noting that they’re telling us that women in the west are oppressed just because of how they are sexually abused. I completely agree that this is oppression – but this is not all there is to oppression. And I’m still not convinced that women in the east are any better. In fact, the article never talks about women in the east. Why?
The situation of the woman is the West is so liberating that they 21 percent suffer from major depression with depressed women outnumbering men by over 2 to 14.
I was going to mention this same thing (depression) about non-western women. It is a fact that women in the west have a high rate of depression, but that’s not to mean that women in the east don’t. People in industrialized nations are more likely to know what depression is AND to report their depression AND to get counseling/clinical help for it. Most countries in the east are not industrialized, so it makes sense why we’d be told that their women have “less” depression. I don’t believe it, personally, because I know tons of Muslim women who have depression—mostly because of husbands abusing them.
I once wrote something called "Are ‘Islam’ and ‘the west’ Mutually Exclusive?" In other words, are “Islam” and “the west” a good dichotomy? Can an Islamic person ever be western? Can a westerner or westernized individual ever be Islamic? Because we always seem to say “in the west ..., but in Islam…” Why do we say this when “Islam” is a theory (as explained above, Muslim women are rarely granted the rights Islam has given them) while the west is an actual reality? That is to say, when we say, "in Islam," does that actually mean "theoretically, according to how things should be, ..." or does it mean "in Muslim societies, in practice, regardless of how things should be ..."?