The willingness to accept spoon-fed versions of the truth has limited the role of women in Islam, writes Haji Mohamed Dawjee.
The other day I found myself overcome with quiet anger in a mosque during the marital ceremony of my best friend. She was introduced as the daughter of a man who was merely her guardian, when in fact she was raised by a woman, her mother, who was in attendance – but not acknowledged.
In the debate about Islam and the sexes, it has often been my experience that these matters hardly ever take place between the sexes.
It’s usually the males of a community who spew forth their abundant opinions, formulate them into rules, and these are accepted as the norm – as in the example above.
Just to be clear, no one in that Sufiesque mosque was a member of Boko Haram or al-Qaeda.
But it does not take a militant Islamist to evade questions about even the slightest injustices to women.
Once upon an interlude between races and cultures, I happened on another male’s opinion, this time a white one.
“Islam is always protected; no one is allowed to say anything about Muslims.”
His statement was loaded with discrimination, but I have to say, as a woman who grew up in a predominantly Islamic society, there is some truth in that statement.
Muslims themselves are taught from a very young age not to question texts and Islamic laws.
This serves little constructive purpose.
What hope is there of any sense of social progress when, even as an educated woman, I find my views opposed or ignored in these contexts?
Perhaps the life and times of the Qur’an were applicable back then, but even so they are misunderstood. Perhaps Qur’anic verse needs to be separated from historical fact.
The willingness to accept spoon-fed versions of the truth and the role historical narratives play in these versions has, I feel, limited the role of women in Islam.
The religion itself would be questionable, in my opinion, were it not for the well-documented role the Prophet Muhammad’s first wife Khadija played in accepting his vision, and her confidence in him to lead his people at the time.
In her book After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam, Lesley Hazleton highlights the role of women in Islam as dictated by politics and circumstances in a post-Muhammad civil war – a war between one of the prophet’s more “controversial” wives, Aisha, and his son in-law, Ali.
Aisha rode horses and camels. She fought battles. She wielded a sword. To all intents and purposes, she was the Game of Thrones Daenerys Targaryen of the Islamic world of the mid-600s AD.
Hazleton mentions the Battle of the Camel, in which Aisha (Sunni) rallied her troops against those of Ali (Shia) with hair-raising shrieks, until the very last of her own troops lay butchered at her feet. (Aisha lost the battle and was captured by Ali’s troops. She was later pardoned.)
Aisha’s role in the Sunni-Shia split is pivotal to women in Islam and politics. Sunni Muslims see Aisha as one of the first women leaders in Islam and respect her status.
Shia Muslims, naturally, view her with scorn.
Some scholars have even gone so far as to avoid mentioning the Battle of the Camel, removing references to it in texts, to avoid instilling a warrior disposition in young girls who carry the same name. After all, who needs women who are warriors – whether in the literal or metaphorical sense ?
Still, if you replace Aisha’s right to fight with the 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls’ right to education, then it’s easy to see that, to control them, you must oppress them.
Obviously, nothing is more scary than an empowered woman – whether it’s to sword-swinging Arabs in 656 AD or machine-gun-brandishing militants in 2014.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is the Mail & Guardian‘s social media editor. Follow her on Twitter @Sage_Of_Absurd.