To The Muslim Woman’s Voice:
India’s largest minority population
lives in poverty and socio-economic exclusion even after 62 years of
Independence. Muslims live in ghettos across the country with a
persistent feeling of fear and insecurity.....Read
Listening to the
radio one day, I was shocked to hear the Office of the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on widespread
occurrence of rape in Afghanistan. As a Muslim who knows that the
core of her religion is about justice and mercy, I asked myself how
the perpetrators of these acts could have strayed so far from the
Muslim faith and from basic humane principles.
The idea that
mercy, compassion and justice are the cornerstones of Islam and that
that includes the way women are to be treated has been too often
forgotten here. Sadly, specific verses have been misinterpreted as
condoning control over women-or even violence.
The Qur'an spells
out how men and women are meant to relate to each other, "The
Believers, men and women, are helpers, supporters, friends,
protectors, of one another" (Qur'an 9:71). Yet certain verses
continue to be misused in support of unequal treatment of women,
such as: "Your women are as a tilth [land] for you (to cultivate) so
go to your tilth as when or how you will" (Qur'an 2: 223). This
verse is misinterpreted by some as giving license to men over
To understand what is actually at the
core of this verse, I talked to Dr. Maher Hathout, Senior Advisor at
the Muslim Public Affairs Council and a noted expert on Islam. "It's
a shame and a travesty that that verse is interpreted and used in
ways that are opposite to what it means," he told me. "The verse
means that intimate relations with one's spouse should be consensual
and produce good things-whether it be in offspring or emotional
Why then is there such disagreement
about the meaning of this verse and others like it? Dr. Hathout
explains: "social factors were taken into consideration when the
texts were being translated. It's about how one chooses to interpret
an existing word that has multiple shades of meaning. In societies
where it was acceptable to treat women poorly, the meanings that
suited them were the ones they adopted, even when other meanings
were possible. [However, today] we must seek different meanings and
understand the text in a different way."
When dealing with verses that have
frequently been misinterpreted with regards to the treatment of
women, "we must understand the Qur'an with the actions of the
Prophet Muhammad as context. And we should remember that he never
raised his hand to anyone, let alone his wives," says Dr. Hathout.
Instances of violence against women in
Muslim homes and in Muslim societies are borne from a lack of
knowledge of the faith or an intentional disregard of the basic
teachings of Islam-respect and compassion, justice and mercy. What
we must do is look back at these core tenets and recognise that
these principles apply as much to women as they do to men.
Every day, mainstream Muslims struggle
against stereotypes and misperceptions of Islam, especially those
perpetrated by the tiny minority of extremists who have twisted
aspects of the faith for their own purposes-whether they are bombers
who attack innocent civilians or family members who use violence
against those in their own homes.
However, a sea change in mentality
often begins with just one strong voice. If the voice is local, even
better. The local women-led organisation Revolutionary Association
of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) is just one of them. Its leaders
risk their lives each day to help the women in Afghanistan speak out
against domestic violence.
The more mainstream Muslim men and
women speak out against violence against women and remind people
that Islam and the Qur'an advocate justice and mercy, the sooner we
can correct the misguided interpretations of our holy book.
The world is changing at a faster rate
than ever before. The information age has ensured that hideous deeds
will no longer remain hidden and gives those who speak out a wider
platform from which to be heard. Uphill as this battle is, if there
is a time for hope, it is now.
Naazish YarKhan is
a writer, editor, public speaker and NPR commentator.
This article is
part of a series on the myth that Islam is inherently violent
written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).