Arguably, the greatest defect of Islam and one reason Muslims fell behind the West is the treatment of women. Repressive homes pave the way for repressive governments. A child growing up in a Muslim household where the mother has no rights, where she is downtrodden and subservient learns the preparation for a life of despotism and subservience. It prepares the way for an authoritarian society.
The blog discusses following:
1. Arab Revolutions
2. Jihadi AfPak Region�
3. Progressive Muslims of South Asia
4. Feminism and Fundamental Human Rights
5. References and notes
The Islamic Arab nations along Mediterranean and Red Seas, as well as the Gulf of Arabia are imploding as the educated and frustrated Muslim youth have found a voice through internet connectivity and social global networking. The youth in huge numbers are escaping clutches of politically motivated clerics, who along with reactionary fundamentalist Muslims (RFM) preach radical Islam in madressahs and at social gatherings mostly to congregations.
Populations of most Arab and Muslim states are more than 50% younger than age 30. Among youth unemployment rates of about 50% are normal. As the youth become internet connected and active in social networking, they are able to see why their lot compared to those in developed nations is unable to get a fair share of opportunities for upward mobility. The Arab Revolutions are by the youth asking for political change for better opportunities and upward mobility.
The autocrats and tyrants are doomed. What follows the demise of autocracies is not clear. Are radical clerics and RFM also doomed? Will it be democracy by progressive forces? Will it be some sort of open tolerant society, within their system, according to their traditions? Will a progressive military dictator like Mustafa Kamal Ataturk of Turkey (1881 – 1938) dominate the liberated nations? Will a clerical dictatorship or a theocracy surface as was the case following the 1979 Iranian revolution? Who knows?
In lands where political Islam prevailed from 13th to 21st centuries, the people were kept ignorant of the real Islam that offers a variety of options to follow. Masses remained totally dependant on the cleric, who could drive them in any direction he wanted or as instructed by his seniors and benefactor King, Zamindars – landlords, political opportunists, warlords, etc.
In the Middle East and North Africa starting December 18, 2010 a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests known as Arab Spring started in Egypt and Tunisia. At present a civil war is in progress in Libya and major protests have also been reported in Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Djibouti, Jordan, Syria, Oman and Yemen. Minor protests have erupted in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Western Sahara. The protestors use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to organize, communicate, and raise awareness against the establishment of authoritarian tyrants and dynastic rule.
A Sunni warlord family controlled Bahrain has 70% Shia population demanding end of sectarian discriminatory practices. Bahrain is now hiring retired Pakistani army officers at a monthly salary of less than $2,000 to control and quell the non-violent protesters demanding human rights and an end to the gender inequalities.
In spite of the state repression and internet censorship the protestors have continued with civil resistance in sustained campaigns involving strikes, demonstrations, marches and rallies. The Arab protestors are demanding political voice to usher in the change from autocratic political Islam to a new political order. The new political order presumably may offer masses opportunities and jobs in locally started industries linked to global supply chains for consumer products and a share in the national wealth that the Arab dynasties and their stooges in clergy, army and bureaucracy were exploiting for personal power and gains.
Jihadi AfPak region
In South Asia, many Arab lands of Middle East and Africa, and Islamic nations of Far East, and Central Asia, most Muslim clerics operating madrassahs and mosques are semi-literates and not sufficiently educated to consult Islamic scriptures – the Koran and the Sunnah – to know the actual Islamic position on different issues. Like all religious scriptures Islamic scriptures presents options from progressive liberal to radical conservative ideologies.
Clerics and RFM follow the interpretations given by a particular scholar or school. In South Asia, starting with the British Raj period (1857 -1947) some prominent Muslim schools included the Darul Uloom Deoband (1866 – present), Aligarh Muslim University (1875 to present) and Osmania University (1918 to present). Mostly, the interpretations are regarded as binding in nature.
The cleric’s backed jihad by Taliban and al Qaeda operatives in the AfPak region is taking a beating not only from allied forces stationed in Afghanistan but also sustained series of drone attacks carried out on both sides of the Duran Line. Pakistani army and ISI, its intelligence wing slowly but surely is being forced in self-interests to act against mid and upper level Taliban and al Qaeda operative and the RFM.
Extremist Islamists dominate Pakistan’s political problems. The army in 1971 was responsible for dismemberment of Pakistan and for aggravating ethnic subnationalism, regional tensions and inequalities. Prior to 1971 Pakistani army eliminated 3 million minorities – mostly Hindus and Christians – from East Pakistan. East Pakistanis revolted and the army was responsible for the dismemberment of Pakistan. Bangladesh was liberated from the clutches of the West Pakistan in 1971.
After the Dictator Ziaul Haq institutionalized the Islamization process (1980 to present) in the last 40 years politically Pakistan has been dominated by extremist Islamists or the RFM. Madrassahs teach reactionary fundamentalist theology and serves as fodder for jihadi recruits guided by college educated Islamists.
The number of RFM in Pakistan was less than 20% prior to 1970. The RFM called the Zia’s children in last 40 years have come of age and they account for more than 50% of Pakistanis. Pakistani army has employed Zia’s children in jihad not only in Afghanistan and against India but also let it spread to the West and US. Pakistani army and Zia’s children have eliminated iconic civilian leaders – Bhutto family, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and the minority’s Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian among many more. Dictator
Musharraf’s (2001 – 08) policies aggravated insurgency in tribal Pakistan. The alarmed army grudgingly, in calibrated actions, is eliminating some Islamist leaders of insurgency to deliver a strategic value. Zia’s children are delivering dividends for the army in more than one way.
The world has learned that the leaders of Islamists are from well-established families. Terrorist that destroyed the World Trade Center towers were college educated in the West. The notorious Pakistani accused of masterminding the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, is an engineer. The man accused of killing Daniel Pearl in Karachi, Omar Sheikh, studied at the prestigious London School of Economics. The madressah students who do become violent extremists are used as cannon fodder to serve objectives set by the university graduated Islamist leaders. Poverty is not and Islamic political ideology is responsible for jihadism.
Progressive Muslim of South Asia
The clerics and pseudo Muslim scholars were at the core of the movement for partitioning of India as they felt in Hindu majority democratic India their chances of ruling India were remote. The scholars and leaders who promoted partition were short sighted political opportunists, incapable of guiding masses to rise above tribal rivalries. They lacked faith in human decency associated with basic human rights and confidence to bring about social and cultural changes needed to transform attitudes and mindsets from tribal to urbane cultures.
With preference for political Islam Pakistanis are dominated by Zia’s children following Dictator Zia’s Islamization process (1980 to present). Much violated constitution of Pakistan declared it the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1973. The Objectives Resolution was passed in 1949 and incorporated in to the constitution in 1979. Step by step, the progressive liberal Islamic ideals used to justify the partition of British India by scholars such as Poet Mohammed Iqbal and Mohammed Ali Jinnah were marginalized with a result that Pakistan is now a state sponsor of jihadism.
Unlike Pakistan, Bangladesh is a constitutional republic – the People’s Republic of Bangladesh – and a secular Muslim nation as of 1991. Unlike in Pakistan, the state and religion are separated in Bangladesh.
Muslims of India generally are progressive. Muslims population is about 13% and Hindus dominate with an 80+% majority in India. In multiethnic India, Indians accommodate faith based differences for most part; ethnic violence by fundamentalist conservatives, both Hindus and Muslims is not unheard of but it is manageable. Empowered minorities and lower caste Hindus have used ethnic vote banks to elect their representatives in the government for a fair share of political power.
As the appeal of the RFM wanes, more and more secular and progressive voices are offering opinions why Muslims should adopt secular progressive political agenda. Most of the same progressive voices were silent for fear of being targeted by jihadis and terrorists for nearly 40 years (1980 – present) as the Zia’s children were being groomed and exploited by the politically motivated ruling BACWAS (bureaucrats, army, clerics, warlords and scholars) establishment of Pakistan.
The original Islamic tradition was against autocratic and irresponsible rule. A very strong tradition — generally progressive, both historical and legal, both practical and theoretical — of limited, controlled government existed during the four Caliphates – Muslim Empires – from 7th to 13th century. The progressive nature of Islamic rule dissipated after 13th century as RFM took control of ruling Islamic lands.
The progressives Muslims of South Asia have yet to gather courage to acknowledge that it may take several generations to undo the damage done by more than two generations of Zia’s children and the political Islam ideology of Pakistan. Unlike in India and Bangladesh, the progressives in the AfPak region are not organized as are the RFM and radical clerics.
A progressive Muslim of India, Mr. Asghar Ali Engineer in February 2011 addressed the AMAN (Asian Muslim Action Network) meeting in Thailand expressing his views on what makes a progressive Muslim by citing various quotes from Islamic scriptures. Mr Engineer stated, “A progressive Muslim’s actions are firmly grounded in the Koranic values of truth, justice, compassion, wisdom, and he or she does service to others rather than being served by others. A progressive Muslim does not believe in sectarian Islam (Sunni, Shia or Ismaili, Deobandi or Barelvi, Ahl-e-Hadith or Salafi streak), but rises above all these sects and gives importance to the Koran above everything else.”
Mr Engineer continued, quoting scriptures, covered many sensitive issues including sectarianism, importance of leaving ideological and theological issues to the judgment of Allah and why progressives should not try to be judgmental about anyone who differs with ones beliefs as sectarian-minded Muslims do. In my view, the judgmental call of Poet Iqbal (19th century) and Jinnah (20th century), among others, not only precipitated the partition of British India but also delivered a politically destabilized South Asia fractured by ethnic and tribal rivalries.
Contrary to prevailing policies of Pakistan, a progressive Muslim gives more importance to knowledge than his views and s/he is not given into personal prejudices. In progressive Islam knowledge has been equated with light and ignorance with darkness. A progressive Muslim not only learns in depth his religion but also tries to understand as objectively as possible the causes of differences between different religions while showing full respect to the beliefs of others.
A progressive Muslim celebrates pluralism, diversity and is free of gender and faith based bigotry. In today’s context, gender equality becomes a crucial test for a progressive Muslim. A progressive Muslim knows or should know that basic human rights are fundamental for eliminating gender and faith based bigotry preached by radical clerics.
Feminism and Fundamental Human Rights
Human rights for women simply mean to be fully treated as human, have the freedom to work, to make decisions about one’s life, to seek an education and to be safe to walk on the streets without male escort. Anything less is terrorism by any other name. The insanity that sends jihadis to rain hell on civilian victims is the same that stones women to death for failing to conform to primitive norms of behavior. Feminist on the streets of Arab and other Muslim nations are simply challenging and demanding basic human rights from their governments. Unlike the militant feminist of the West and America the Muslim feminists seek basic necessities of survival and decent life.
Arguably, the greatest defect of Islam and one reason Muslims fell behind the West is the treatment of women. Repressive homes pave the way for repressive governments. Growing up in a Muslim household where the mother has no rights, where she is downtrodden and subservient a child learns a life of despotism and subservience. It prepares the way for an authoritarian society and culture of promoting gender based bigotry.
Relative to developed nations feminism and human rights movement are dormant in the Islamic ideology dominated nation. The RFM clerics are responsible for perpetuating gender and faith based bigotry by exploiting blasphemy laws. For Muslims to be progressive feminism and human rights for citizens of all faiths have to be incorporated in to the political structure of political Islam.
In general, some Arab states where many women are better educated and relatively liberated – for example, Tunisia, Egypt, and Turkey – potentially can be constitutional democracies as nations. Where women are repressed and subjugated – for example, Libya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, etc – such Arab states are a collection of tribal societies under one authoritarian tribal warlord and chances are slim for these tribal warlords controlled societies coming together as a democracy.
In 21st century young Muslim are reaching their twenties with more achievements, more modern education, and, arguably, more ambition than their elders. Internet connectivity and social networking tools are empowering men and women with voices to demand social justice to share in global economic prosperity and national wealth being horded by autocratic rulers. Although they are not yet advocating end of gender and faith based discrimination it won’t be long once they realize that they can achieve economic growth and generate wealth using skilled based knowledge only by being a part of global supply-chain networks for consumer products.
The plight of women in Muslim countries is not only dire it’s central to global poverty and the war on terrorism. Jihadism is largely a male problem. This shouldn’t be a surprise, given that jihadis commit mass murder in pursuit of a virgin bonus in the afterlife.
Islamist extremism and oppression of women go hand in hand. While the correlation between poverty and terrorism is often overstated, the correlation between prosperity and women’s liberation is profound. Female education is tightly linked with GDP growth, lower birthrates and even higher agricultural yields.
As opposed to Islamists extremists:
1. Progressive Muslims know that female servitude was purely a feudal cultural creation; Islam opposes it and pronounces the doctrine of gender equality in clear terms (2:228). A progressive Muslim knows that certain Sharia provisions establishing male superiority were in response to the cultural needs of a patriarchal society rather than based on the Koran and Sunnah.
2. A progressive Muslim give importance to Koranic pronouncements in gender-related matters and not condone the feudal female servitude, considering such provisions of existing Sharia laws as eternal and unalterable.
3. A progressive Muslim, therefore, would strive to reconstruct Sharia laws today in order to accord rights to women which the Koran gives them. One believer cannot be superior to another believer.
4. Male superiority is a human construct and human construct cannot override divine injunctions. Also, physical differences, i.e. bearing children, etc. should not result in determining who is superior or inferior.
Feminism and human rights are also tightly linked with human freedom and decency, which is why progressive Muslims should know that no Islamic “spring” is possible without a feminist revolution. Many repugnant practices followed by oppressive RFM include:
1. Contrary to progressive liberal thoughts, many Islamist countries practice gender apartheid and countenance wife-beating, honor killings and female genital mutilation.
2. Islamist radicals have thrown acid in the faces of young girls for trying to go to school. Progressive Muslims have their work cut out to eradicate suppression of women.
3. In Turkey, long the crown jewel of secular, modern and moderate Islam, the murder rate of women has gone up 1,400 percent since the country lurched toward Islamism.
4. In Egypt, those who hoped for a secular and democratic revolution were dismayed by the army enforcing the “virginity tests” on female protesters taken from Tahrir Square.
5. Iranian prison guards rape female dissidents before executing them, lest their victims go to heaven as virgins. Iranian men get to avail themselves of temporary marriages, de facto legalizing the institutionalized slavery and rape of prepubescent girls. Iranian women are consigned to the backs of buses have to shroud their bodies from head to toe.
There are signs of hope as well. Many instances of admirable Islamic feminist achievements are documented in Wikipedia. Several feminist Muslim women are active in America.
In a widely circulating video, Veena Malik, a Pakistani model and actress, tears apart a smug Islamist mullah berating her for being “un-Islamic.” Not only does she stand up for a modern humane Islam that can tolerate women and “fun,” she tells the cleric, “I am angrier with you people than you are with me.”
Malik offers heroic moral clarity that should cheer anyone who has lamented the lack of moderate Muslims willing to condemn the extremists. Veena Malik’s actions are a reminder that the war for women’s equality is now a battle to be fought in regressive Islamic lands.
References and notes:
1. “Zia’s Children,” 0311 0317 2011 by Kishan Bhatia (1,263 words); http://www.indiacause.com/blog/2011/03/17/zias-children/
2. “A progressive Muslim,” 0401 2011 by Asghar Ali Engineer; http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/01/a-progressive-muslim.html and http://www.ummid.com/news/2011/April/02.04.2011/a_progressive_muslim.htm
3. “Asian Muslim Action Network Assembly calls for protecting diversity of cultures,” http://www.onepakistan.com/news/local/karachi/85648-asian-muslim-action-network-assembly-calls-for-protecting-diversity-of-cultures.html
4. “Islamic feminism,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_feminism
5. “The Tyrannies Are Doomed,” 0402 2011 by Bari Weiss, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703712504576234601480205330.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLE_Video_Top
• The West’s leading scholar of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, sees cause for optimism in the limited-government traditions of Arab and Muslim culture. But he says the U.S. should not push for quick, Western-style elections.
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