Women in Islam: An Inside Islam recap


Farah Pandith, a former radio guest on Inside Islam. Photo: www.state.gov

One of the most popular topics here on Inside Islam has been gender, primarily focusing on women. That’s no coincidence, given that Islam’s attitude towards women is generally portrayed in Western media as retrograde and repressive.

And there’s certainly plenty to criticize. Over our four years, we have highlighted cases like that of Amina Filali, a Moroccan girl who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, and Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned for adultery. We have also addressed issues such as domestic abuse and how key texts have been interpreted to discriminate against women, to ban women drivers, and to justify practices like child marriage.

But while our goal has never been to whitewash problematic issues, at the same time the standard mainstream rhetoric regarding Muslim women oversimplifies things and only further disempowers them. There has been a general inability to look beyond the veil when discussing Muslim women. Non-Muslim women or men who preach to Muslim women because they choose to cover their heads or accept certain circumstances tend to fall into the trap of portraying all Muslim women as a single entity without agency. They miss the movement within Islam itself to empower women.

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Women Driving and Voting in the Kingdom: Two Saudi Male Perspectives

Thousands of Saudi Arabian students are learning English in the U.S. under the King Abdullah Scholarship Program.

Sally Jolles is a PhD candidate in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is currently researching Saudi students living and studying in the United States. Jolles interviewed two Saudi men in their 20’s and 30’s studying English in Madison, Wisconsin, through the Saudi Arabian King Abdullah Scholarship Program. The following statements are unedited transcriptions from their recent conversation related to women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The names of the speakers have been changed at their request.

Sally: So, recently King Abdullah said that he was going to give women the right to vote and also to be on the Shura Council. What do you think about that? Continue reading

Is Voting Enough?

Many people associate Islam with Saudi Arabia, assuming that what happens in the Saudi Kingdom reflects the law and spirit of Islam. While it is true that the Arabian Peninsula is the birthplace of Islam, the Saudi Kingdom and its specific interpretation of Islam does not represent the faith more broadly. Continue reading

It’s Not The Law, But You Really Shouldn’t Drive, Miss

Saudi Citizen Manal al-Sharif Driving in Saudi Arabia

The western media seems to have a field day with reports of Muslim peoples’ and Islam’s “repression” of women. It’s often overstated or even completely fabricated, but some of Saudi Arabia’s cultural practices and laws are clear examples of plain and simple repression of women.

Although nowhere in the Qur’an does it speak of women’s being prevented from operating any sort of transportation, the Saudi Government has never allowed women to drive within the country. The mobility of women is strictly controlled and limited to specific public and private spaces, and the inability to drive is symbolic of this reality. It’s ironic that a woman may hire a taxi, driven by a male stranger, but is not able to drive herself. Continue reading

Sexual Extremes Lead to Confusion

Women in Saudi Arabian Mall

In the past two decades, a large number of wealthy and highly educated (mostly) males from Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, etc.) have attended top universities here in the U.S. Many of them leave a land where women are barred from driving, a special police force monitors dress behavior in malls, and literalist wahaabi Islam continues to flourish. When they arrive on university campuses here, many of these young men are overwhelmed by the high visibility and frequency of sex and drugs.
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Muslim-American Student Activism

Kylie Christianson, a Muslim-American student at the University of Wisconsin, protests in Madison, WI

Over 15,000 protesters marched on the Capitol in Madison,Wisconsin today, demanding state legislators to vote down recently proposed legislation termed radical by citizens and leaders of all political leanings. Among thousands of students and public and private employees were Muslim-Americans calling for lawmakers to vote against the bill.

Yesterday, among over 13,000 protesters congregating to protest the same legislation, Rashid Dar, President of the Muslim Student Association at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offered his own opinion of the situation. “I hesitate to tell people how to pick their politics, but in choosing our sides we would do well to consider who is working to bring the most overall benefit to society at large, and who is working to benefit a select, but influential, elite.”

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Saudis Missing Opportunity

King Abdullah Economic City

A recent New York Times story, “Laying Out Cities, Saudis See Window to Modernity,” is unsettling on a number of levels, including the Times’ implication that Saudis are not modern, among other ethnocentric commentary. However, what is most disturbing is the Saudi Government’s trajectory to, in many ways, integrate American suburban designs in its King Abdullah Economic City, a new 65 square-mile development at the edge of the Red Sea projected to be completed by 2012.

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The Hajj

Masjid Al-Haram and the Kaba during Hajj

Masjid Al-Haram and the Kaba during Hajj

This Thursday, November, 19th, on the next Inside Islam radio broadcast, the topic will be the hajj. Between November 25-30, one of the longest-lived religious rites in the world will take place. Every year, for well over 1400 years, millions of Muslims from around the world have flocked to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to fulfill the pilgrimage. The hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam, is a duty prescribed on every able and healthy Muslim to perform once in their life. This journey, while physically exerting, is described by many pilgrims as one they would like to repeat again in their lifetime. Continue reading

Saudi Cleric Calls for Reform

61345-004-1bae9c8dIslam, which comes from the same root as the word for peace, continues to be perceived as a religion that condones–even encourages–violence. It is also seen by many as a static and rigid faith with no room for discussion or change. Both of these assumptions, which stem from longstanding stereotypes of the Middle East and Islam, were reinforced with the terrorist actions on 9/11. What troubles me (and many others) about these assumptions is that–from my own understanding of the Prophet Muhammad–kindness and justice were central to dealing with others, whether Muslim or not. The Qur’an, considered by Muslims to be the literal word of God revealed to the Prophet, is replete with verses that instruct believers how to engage with the other with justice and fairness. While returning an unjust action against you is allowed (providing it is in the exact same measure), it is better in the eyes of God to forgive. How many times is this last message lost in all the noise around Islam? Continue reading

Poetry Festivals and TV Shows

The Dubai International Poetry Festival was held the first week of March as a way to open the eyes of the world to poetry and increase global interconnectedness. The festival is significant in a larger religious struggle against fundamentalism and cultural repression in the region as well. Poetry is part of a debate of whether the arts are permissible expressions of worship in Islam.

Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, has in fact a long and vibrant tradition of poetry, music, and dance. The sufi poet Rumi may sound familiar to foreign ears, for instance. For this reason, sufi tombs are often important cultural epicenters of Muslim communities and have become symbolic of a centuries-long conflict with fundamentalists who have literal understandings of the Koran and want to repress mystical traditions, sometimes violently.

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