Patriarchy is the worst hijacker of Islam, right up there with terrorism. And to think that a simple partition in a woman’s anatomy could be the real or imagined basis for horrific acts of violence is difficult to accept.
The Muslim male’s obsession with virginity, and by extrapolation chastity, plays out in conflict at the domestic level where fathers and brothers apply a standard to women that is flagrantly dichotomous. Muslim societies completely accept a young man dating, drinking and engaging in premarital sex. Some families just look the other way, in others it is open and accepted.
In the days of old chaste women were sequestered from prying male eyes. And now the tacit order remains in effect: female virginity can be proven and so it must be protected at all costs. Current day England is not free from honor killings or threats toward women. Afshan Azad a 22-year old actress in the Harry Potter movies has been assaulted and threatened by her brother and father in disapproval of her Hindu boyfriend.
Jamal Badawi in his book Gender Equity in Islam shatters patriarchal models as well as the propaganda that Muslim women are inferior to men. Most of all the distinction between equality and equity is brilliant.
Twenty years ago a young man in Pakistan was dining a young, brilliant corporate executive. Excitedly my mother persuaded him to propose to her. “No, no Auntie, one does not marry women like her, one just has fun with them” was the decimating answer.
This shameless patriarchy and double standard have become part of the genetic complement of the Muslim male. Contrary to Islamophobic hysteria, the only two points in which men and women are set apart, in Islam, is in the man being the head of the household and inheritance laws. The analogy of having only one CEO applies in terms of the head of the household issue. This is also part of the other Abrahamic faiths. Women in Islam inherit less than men as women are not required to share their earnings or wealth and when they become orphans, divorcees or widows they are deemed the financial responsibilities of first degree male relatives. If males do not fulfill their role here, it is their greed and irresponsibility; Islam cannot be bashed.
Spiritually men and women are treated as total equals and many a verse in the Quran addresses “the believing men and the believing women, the Muslim men and the Muslim women”. Men may not have physical proof of virginity but premarital sex and adultery carry the same punitive damages in the eyes of God, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator. That the reprehensible Hudood Ordinance and the deep corruption in Pakistan allow the man to go scot-free is an essay for another day.
Women outnumber men in Pakistan and somehow the number of marriageable Muslim women in North America also appears to outnumber male counterparts. This has served to strengthen patriarchy and deep hypocrisy in Muslim households. Men, even if they are drunks and nincompoops have a pick of the crème de la crème, while girls may have to weigh their options: go with a loser or witness the maddening inexorable ticking of the biological clock.
A strong premise in Islam is that of niyyah or intention. The reason for a Muslim man to sport a beard or a woman to wear the hijab may not be entirely a strong personal inclination toward Islam; it may well be multi-factorial.
But men seem to have this distorted sense that hijab equals holy. Some savvy families have latched on to the concept of market economics; knowing that the demand for hijab wearing girls seems higher attempts are made to increase market value by adorning the hijab. “I had to kick out my hijabi roommate because she wanted to bring her boyfriend to sleep over every third night when I was on call” said a disgusted young physician, adding that the hijab served as a great cover for the deep affectionate impressions he left on her neck.
Another manifestation of market economics melding with entrenched societal tradition is the effort to regain what has been lost. While the furious kill the one that stains their honor, other parents take no chances in ensuring that the necessary stain does occur on the wedding night and their daughter is not sent packing for promiscuity. Plastic surgeons in Egypt and Europe have been doing hymen reconstructions for young Muslim women for a while now.
Jamal Badawi repeatedly challenges Islamophobes to show to him which chapter or verse in the Quran speaks of 72 virgins promised in heaven for violent jihad. And yet out of context and weak Hadiths superimposed on tales of Western hegemony and imperialism are continually used to brainwash teenagers to make an explosive exit taking many with them.
And fair is fair. Deeply conservative and sexually uninitiated men wishing to marry their own kind should have every right to. But households where sons can come home at any hour, alcohol and drug use is no issue, premarital sex is considered grooming but daughters are monitored and cloistered, the expectation to marry a virgin half the man’s age is beyond reprehensible.
The most vital piece is educational and economic empowerment of women. Women must stop this cycle of abuse that they perpetuate against their own gender. The birth of a son is hailed and he is given preference in food, education and favors. These same women become economically and psychologically insecure mothers-in-law and generate horrific abuse toward the poor woman that sonny boy gets married to. And that daughter-in-law, herself marginally educated and disfavored, does the same to her daughters. And the cycle of abuse and disempowerment goes on.
“Say to the believing men and women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty” says Surah Nur (24:30, 24:31). Note that the exhortation is to both men and women-not to women alone.
Testosterone-infused patriarchs have knowingly and unconsciously vilified Islam and misinterpreted it to satisfy their virginity-obsessed lusts. To save family units, and indeed the world, a strong swift swipe must be made against the steel-webs of the mind. Either we accept promiscuity in our wives, daughters and daughters-in-law or work toward the simple standard of gender equity, spiritual and physical modesty. Either way, what’s good for the goose must be good for the gander.
Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org