After the recent massacre in Orlando, I suggested that Muslim communities in the West should be confronted and obliged to tell us what exactly they believe is in the Koran. I wanted to know what they think about homosexuals; whether or not they should be thrown from high buildings or stoned to death? I would also like to know what the consensus is about women. The news from Pakistan on this matter is not good.
It’s all about interpretation, of course, but about women the Koran says:
“Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because Allah has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.” — Qur’an 4:34
Muhammad “struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you?” — Aisha (Sahih Muslim 2127)
In May, The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) in Islamabad proposed its own ‘Women’s Protection Bill.’ Rather like the Committee for Public Safety during the French Revolution, the title entirely belies the meaning. The protection bill recommended ‘a light beating’ for wives who disobey or fail to please their husbands.
The twenty member CII is a constitutional body which gives recommendations to the Pakistani parliament regarding Islamic laws. The bill was drafted after the CII rejected Punjab’s controversial Protection of Women against Violence Act (PPWA) passed in 2015, terming it ‘un-Islamic.’
The CII has proposed that a husband should be allowed to ‘lightly’ beat his wife if she defies his commands and refuses to dress as he wishes, turns down demands for sex without any religious excuse or does not take bath after intercourse or menstrual periods. Also that a beating is also permissible if a woman does not wear the hijab; interacts with strangers; speaks loud enough that she can easily be heard by strangers; and provides monetary support to people without taking consent of her spouse.
Talkative, generous women who like to show their faces in public are in serious trouble. But who is right, was the PPWA ‘un-Islamic?’ No one on the right or the left in Pakistan or in the UK has so far discussed these issues or opposed this new Bill.
The 163-page document, heavy enough to use as a good instrument of correction, also proposes several specific restrictions on women which will affect Muslim women in the UK: it suggests a ban on co-education after primary education, on women interacting with males and making recreational visits without a chaperone. It says female nurses should not be allowed to take care of male patients, and recommends that women should be banned from appearing in adverts.
It does strangely offer support to women who are not Muslim. The bill suggests that anyone who tries to force women to marry by threatening them with the Koran should be sent to prison for ten years. While the woman will not be murdered if she reverts to her previous faith. Liberal plurality at last!
All this medieval drivel is a threat to the three million Muslims living in the UK, and so to all of us packed so tightly around them. Nearly forty per cent of British Muslims come from Pakistan and their community is one of the poorest and least educated, looking backwards to the homeland for instruction.
The effects are obvious, on education for girls and the growth of extremism. David Cameron recently called on Muslim women to help the fight against extremism by learning English, while Theresa May is setting up an independent review of Islamic courts to try to ameliorate the discrimination of the Sharia code against women. It’s pretty obvious that these governmental gestures are going to be hopeless against the vicious ideology currently being pumped out of Pakistan.
UK Pakistani women have little hope for a brighter future, at least without the help and support of the wider community. After forty years of feminism it might be thought that they would be well supported by other women in the UK. I have looked up leading British feminist Polly Toynbee, currently commentating again with all her might on current events, to see what she has written about this latest outrageous injunction.
In 2004 she wrote that we should be able to criticise Islam without being called racist. In May 2014 she followed up with a piece about the Muslim Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham. But she tends to favour secular education and is worried about any religion being imposed on children. I searched for her comments on the latest news about men being permitted, even advised to beat their wives. Her response is 0.
Then I looked up BBC Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 for their response, expecting a discussion, an invitation to the Islamic Council of Great Britain, or to the CEMB, Council of ex-Muslims of Great Britain, a feisty group trying to fight for secular values for Muslims of both sexes. There was no such feature, not a mention.
This silence from the Left and feminist, LGBT groups and all the rest who care so much about equality and human rights, seems to be that Muslims are victims and as such they cannot be judged for any of their actions no matter how extreme. Rather in the way in the 1980s, it was said that because of ‘institutional racism’ only white people could be racist.
US feminist and psychotherapist Phyllis Chesler writing in the New York Post last year, diagnosed a kind of rampant feminist cowardice. She sees the feminists around her as largely spoiled, middle-class white girls unaccustomed to concepts like accountability or responsibility. They’ve never needed to summon up real courage. Others have questioned what feminists are really afraid of. Typically they are left wing, educated women who view white men, apart from Jeremy Corbyn, as their most dangerous enemy, taking their jobs, patronising them, dominating the highest offices of state. Yet they remain silent about Islamist barbarians such as ISIS.
Feminists strongly criticise Christianity and Judaism, but they’re strangely reluctant to oppose Islam for fear of being called racist, although Islam is not a race. They are now more concerned with racism than sexism, or anything else. Anti-racism is the new unifying faith. Western imperialism, colonialism and capitalism and the history of slavery are all part of this narrative which feeds their sense of certainty about who they are and secures their own sense of virtue.
Of course there is also the simpler conclusion that they are afraid if they criticise Islam they will end up dead. Radical Islam is their notion of patriarchy made real: radical Islam is misogyny personified, too terrible to really consider. It is tempting to compare these posturing, posing silent sisters with our recent ancestors, people of my great grandmother’s generation; Florence Nightingale took on the War Office and the whole top brass of the British Army. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson the first woman doctor, suffered the ridicule and contempt of her fellow students. Respectable, genteel Mrs Pankhurst endured the rigours of an Edwardian prison and force feeding, which broke her health.
They had guts and a true belief in their own abilities. More importantly, they were not selfish individualists, they knew what all women were entitled to and were going to fight fearlessly, generously and inclusively to get justice for themselves and others. They’d be astonished to see women in the UK, in our local communities, oppressed on the word of foreign men, without a word of opposition or a single token of resistance.