|Women are being abused, even mutilated in the name of Islam|
In April 1991, a 22-year-old Saudi woman arrived at
Initially, the woman's request was rejected. Canadian officials were apparently reluctant to believe that women in
Following an outcry,
As Islamic fundamentalists seize the social agenda of one country after another, women have been the greatest sufferers. By selectively interpreting the Koran, Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) and Shariah (a code of religious law), regimes in certain Muslim countries have severely restricted the rights of women. Many have legalised polygamy and repudiation - whereby a man divorces his wife simply by announcing, "I divorce you." At the same time they have denied women the right to divorce, child custody and community property.
Under the banner of Islam, (although it is not Islamic in origin) female circumcision, more accurately defined at female genital mutilation (F.G.M.) has flourished in many countries. Algerian Marie-Aimee Helie-Lucas, founder of the French-based advocacy group Women Living Under Islamic Laws, likens the past decade for Muslim women to the Dark Ages. She rattles off some of the most heinous developments regarding women in the Muslim world:
In certain parts of the Muslim world, "honor killings" - in wish a father kills a wife or daughter believed to have dishonoured a family - are not uncommon.
"Search for Identity." The issue is not Islam - the world's fastest growing religion - but extremist fundamentalism, which uses Islam as a billy club. "In Islam, the communion is direct between God and the individual," says Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan. "But throughout the Muslim world, you have clerics saying that Muslims don't know what's good for them. They say a woman has to look down at the floor. But the Prophet said the best veils is the veil in the eyes."
According to Fatima Mernissi, a Koranic scholar and Moroccan sociologist specialising in women's issues and Islam, the Prophet Mohammed revolutionized life for women in the 7th century - granting them access to the mosque, full participation in public affairs and the right to inherit property. As for veiling, the Koran makes no requirement that women veil their faces, but suggests modesty for both men and women.
The success of fundamentalism, says Bhutto, is twofold. First, it springs from the "search for identity in an increasingly global village where all the messages from the Christian West. It is a reaction to preserve one's culture when other cultures have dominance." Second, she says, it was created to keep communists at bay. "Political parties largely banned," she says. "The mosque was allowed to become a place where people could gather, and the clerics became very powerful. They started a new doctrine, where they knew what was best for everybody else."
"Islamic fundamentalism is a political movement, not a religious movement," Helie-Lucas declares. "It's the extreme right wing using religion as a cover. It is the fascism of today."
Last May, the World Health Organisation adopted a resolution sponsored by several African countries calling for the elimination of female genital mutilation, which is performed on an estimated two million children each year, ranging in age from infancy to adolescence.
Although F.G.M. is practised in both Islamic and non-Islamic cultures, many African Muslim communities that do perform the procedure cite religion as a reason. F.G.M. takes one of the three forms. Sunna circumcision - the mildest form is the removal of all or part of the clitoris. Excision is the cutting away of the clitoris and all or part of the inner vaginal lips. Infibulation involves the removal of the clitoris, the inner vaginal lips and part of the outer vaginal lips, followed by the sewing together of the two sides of the vulva, leaving only a pea-size opening for urine and blood.
Because of the crude, unhygienic tools used by practitioners, it is not uncommon for a child to develop tetanus or septicemia. Many females who undergo the procedure develop secondary infections or painful, lifelong medical problems.
F.G.M. is practiced in more than 30 countries, primarily through the central belt of
Arrange Marriages. Catherine Hogan, who heads the Washington Metropolitan Alliance against Female Genital Mutilation, believes that F.G.M. is being performed in the
But not all American doctors, or even all feminists, stand united against the practice. A few argue that the decision to be re-sutured after pregnancy should be left to the woman herself.
"It doesn't matter that the patient wants it done," counters Dr. Joseph Tate, an
In the past decade, the West has been confronted with a series of unfamiliar legal, medical and ethical problems, says Ahmed Jamal, a
The film triggered public outrage, which stunned Mahmood. He believed that "he was a public servant of sorts, putting back together good Muslim families," says Jamal.
Scottish lawyer Cameron Fyfe represents Muslim clients forced into arranged marriages. In October 1992 he won an annulment for one woman on the ground that she had been forced into marriage when she was under the legal age.
The woman, who now lives with her three children in
Two years later, he moved his young family to
During the three years it took to win her case, the woman became the pariah of
Attempted Censorship. In the
The 1991 release of "Not Without My Daughter", a film based on the true story of an American woman's escape from her Iranian husband, occasioned chilling attempts at suppression. Movie theatres where the film played received threats. It is unclear whether such censorship is homegrown or orchestrated from abroad.
Most observers believe that fundamentalist extremists have found nesting sites throughout the country, and that they hide within unsuspecting Muslim communities. Meanwhile, the bewildered media, scrambling to be politically correct, have cranked out a plethora of feel-good features on Muslim culture. At the same time they erroneously imply that restrictions against women are part and parcel of Islamic law.
"We try to educate our own community about the true teachings of Islam," says Nahid Ansari, a board member of the Muslim Women's League and a member of the Islamic Centre of Southern California in
by Ann Louise Bardach