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Durrani, Anayat and Ely, Dina (compiled) - Islam in the United States - Suite101, 2004

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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The following comments are for "Islam in the United States"
by samvak

An excellent, well-written and logical article that combats one of our society's greatest ills. Due to the fact that we are a melting pot, we tend to group people based on any number of variables...and usually it is done to highlight negative characteristics that are either real or imagined.

Thanks for taking the time to counter our inappropriate use of these stereotypes.


( Posted by: Pythagoras [Member] On: June 22, 2005 )

I often have trouble with your essays because of the subjectivity contained within and the general lack of context in which you make your points, leaving me with more than a few answers.

This is an awkward subject but stereotypes? I think that may be somewhat of a harsh term in many respects to what you described.

'Mass' thinking about the treatment of women in Muslim countries comesfrom a real concern at how women are abused and treated in these nations. It is a valid concern and I don't think it should be labeled as a stereotype, that helps no-one.

Swinging from one extreme to the other never has.

I would say that what you highlighted is ignorance of the Muslim religion and ethnicity, not stereotypes. Stereotypes come from an entirely different place in terms of social interaction and an attempt to generalise. These views on Muslim nations and ethnicity don't, I believe, come from an attempt to generalise, it comes from 'half-knowledge'. Stereotypes come from characterisations and more of a complete ignorance. Am I making sense?

The Western world is aware of these things that DO occur in Muslim cultures, however, to merely label them as stereotypes is quite frankly more dangerous.

Thanks to globalisation we are beginning to understand that what we consider to be justice is culturally bias, there is no wrong or right answer, only differing ideologies.

And about the head dress worn, when my family lived in the Middle East, there were more sexual overtures to showing a female ankle than the face, hence my grandmother and aunt having to were knee high socks whenever they went out but nothing else.

The subtleties really do matter in this issue, and I think there are too many generalisations made in this essay, making it to me, more misleading and dangerous, than the concern of the Western world of the treatment of Muslim women.

I hope this makes sense.

Alex :-)

( Posted by: londongrey [Member] On: June 23, 2005 )

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