Durrani, Anayat and Ely, Dina (compiled) - Islam in the United States - Suite101, 2004
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Of the plethora of negative imagery which has come to be associated with Islam after the September 11 attacks on the USA, one stands out starkly: Muslims and Islam are supposed to be abusive to their womenfolk. Females in Muslim countries are not allowed to vote and testify in court, if married, must veil themselves in public, can be divorced off-hand and unilaterally, cannot drive cars, inherit or own property, or express their sexuality and are subject to punishments more severe than males for the same offenses. The Muslims in the West (in the United states and Europe) are thought to be only marginally better disposed towards the weaker sex.
Are these facts or stereotypes?
The latter, asserts author Anayat Durrani - and only one of many. Muslims are demonized because they are different and because of widespread ignorance regarding their faith, culture, and social mores. Islamophobia is partly the fault of biased, rating-driven, or outright hostile reporting in the media. Why identify the religion of terrorists? - she demands to know.
Perhaps because most terrorists happen to be Muslims, is the reasonable answer. Facts - even unpleasant facts - are not stereotypes. This is the weakness of this fascinating, slender, collection of articles. It swings too wildly to the other side of the divide.
There is no question that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and kind and that their religion, Islam, is beautiful (I have grown up with Muslims as had my father, so I happen to know it first hand). True enough, only a deranged minority of fringe groups abuse Islam by associating it with militancy. But to say that all is well in the lands of Islam, that the faith requires no reform, that there is no justification to associating terrorism with it - is going way to far and counterfactual.
To its credit, the author does its best to shed light on facts obscured by the pro-Israeli and pro-Jewish bias of the American media. Jerusalem, for instance, is, indeed, a holy place to Muslims. It is not a mere self-serving claim to yet more territory, as most Americans and Israelis present it. Muslim rule was always far more benign than anything the Christians had to offer.
There are numerous positive Muslim role models, such as Muhammad Ali. Muslims were among the first pioneering settlers in the colonies that now make the East Coast of the United States. Today, they are among the best educated and earn more than the American national average. Mosques are multi-purpose communal as well as religious centers.
What about women? Not in this book. Curious, considering that both author and compiler are women. Suffice it to say that the picture is far more complicated than we are led to believe. In Muslim territories, women possess many rights that are glossed over in anti-Muslim tracts, such as Oriana Fallaci's abominable diatribes. Even the veil is not what it is made out to be. It actually serves to fend off male attentions and protect the married female in a patriarchal society.
This is not to justify the all-pervasive discrimination against women in the legal and political systems of Arab countries. But this backwardness is general - not misogynistic. In many predominantly Muslim countries, women have reached the post of Prime Minister and pinnacles of business, arts, sciences, and politics. That they failed to do so in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Iran has little to do with Islam and everything to do with venal and vile authoritarianism - an import from the West.
A good introductory text to an oft-misunderstood belief system and people.
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