Women have had a rough go of it for pretty much the entire duration of human civilization. Images of Neanderthals clubbing women over the head to drag them back to their caves for the purpose of consummation have become caricatures. But most jokes are rooted in truth. The role women have been given in history is no different.
Arab culture is stagnant, as I surmised in the first installment of this article. Because of that lack of progress, women’s liberation, which gradually came to the West over a period of a century and culminated in the gender equality legislation in the United States in the 1960s and 70s, is nonexistent from North Africa to the Far East. Not that America is perfect – far from it. Women in the West still have a long way to go for true equality. However, after living in the Old World for the past five years, I can confidently say that America is leading the charge and treating our women far, far better than the rest of 21st century civilization. That isn’t as evident anywhere than it is when looking at the Arab world.
The first thing one must realize when critically observing Arab culture is that there are different branches and ways of thinking in both Islam as a religion as well as the various nations that make up Arab society. Liberal countries like Turkiye and Tunisia have given women the right to walk around without covering, the right to work and drive, and even legally divorce their husbands. It’s a much different picture in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other more conservative Islamic nations, where women cannot drive, divorce, or even walk around in public without a male family member or husband as an escort (in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they can’t even show their faces through their full-body burqas). Not all Arabs are the same. Not all Muslims follow the rules of their religion the same way. There is a schism in Islam much the same way there is in Christianity between all the various denominations of Protestantism.
The bottom line behind the way women are treated in Arab culture has less to do with Islam as a religion though and much more to do with the primitive tribal societies that have flourished in this part of the world for over 1,000 years. Women, like livestock, are commodities to be bought, traded, sold, and ordered around at the whim of the men in their lives: husbands, fathers, brothers, and even sons. In a warring, tribal culture that values the ability to fight and defend the family unit, men are more valuable than women, whose only recognized contribution to the family is the ability to make more babies. Within that context, Mohammad created Islam; there are a few key verses in the Islamic holy book, the Quran, that literally devalue women as a gender.
“Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property. So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded.” (Quran 4:34)
“Your wives are as a tilth [cultivated land] unto you; so approach your tilth when and how ye will.” (Quran 2:223)
“And enjoin believing women to cast down their looks and guard their private parts and not reveal their adornment except that which is revealed of itself, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their husbands, or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or of their own sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or the sons of their brothers, or the sons of their sisters, or the women with whom they associate, or those that are in their bondage, or the male attendants in their service free of sexual interest, or boys that are yet unaware of illicit matters pertaining to women.” (Quran 24:31)
Men are more important than women. It says so right there. But did those words come from God? It’s more believable that the ideas found in the dark ages holy book came from the founder’s desire to appeal to his audience. He wanted the pagan tribes on the Arabian Peninsula, who were already mistreating their women – to jump on board his monotheistic bandwagon. So he tailored the message so that the majority of Arab men would fight for him in his quest for power (Constantine did much the same thing when he changed early Christianity so that the pagans in his Roman Empire would adopt the infant religion).
It’s been suggested by Western liberals that Muslim men have been misreading the Quran. I whole-heartily disagree. They aren’t misreading the words in their holy book when it comes to Sharia law and the role of women; what they are doing is taking the entire thing as literally as it can possibly be taken. It is that unwillingness to adapt and reinterpret the intention behind their prophet’s words that is keeping the Arab world in the ancient past, and giving modern day Muslims justification for continued abuse and maltreatment of women.
Sons have always been more desirable than daughters in the Arab world (similarly to India and other poor, undeveloped nations), and they’re doted upon by their mothers and grandmothers. The young men aren’t expected to do any household chores. They can’t cook or clean. They can’t take care of themselves at all from the time they’re born until they’re adults (eventually they trade their mothers and sisters for wives). Polygamy is legal in many Arab nations, allowing Muslim men to father a dozen or more children through multiple wives (preferably sons, but if they get stuck with girls, fathers will simply marry them off as young as the hadith allows).
Why would men take multiple wives? So they can have sex whenever they want with younger and prettier women. Point of fact: many (not all) Muslim men seem to be 12-year-old boys trapped in men’s bodies. It’s the worst form of arrested development.
Once, in Turkiye, a visiting neighbor tried to force me out of my own kitchen so that his wife could do our dishes instead of me. He couldn’t fathom a world where men cook and clean. And he was on the more liberal side as far as Muslims go: his wife didn’t cover, and they both drank alcohol.
Do you play cards? Of course you do. In the West, the highest value face card is the king, followed by the queen and then the jack after. However, in Tunisia and other Arab countries, the jack has a higher value than the queen. It seems trivial, but it’s illustrative of a culture that has completely devalued women.
There are horror stories as well as humorous anecdotes. Two teenage Saudi boys traveled to Egypt and while they were there, they paid a poor mother the equivalent of $15.00 USD for a couple hours with her 8-year-old daughter. The two boys repeatedly raped the young girl while she screamed her head off. READ THIS! The Saudi Arabian brand of Islam is called Wahhabism, and considers women to be slaves to men (it’s atrocious in every aspect). Those boys said the young girls are the ‘best.’ Yuck…
The Saudi royal family (among others) hires teenage girls from the Philippines and Thailand as “housekeepers” for their palaces. There are recruiting companies in these countries who knowingly bring innocent girls into the lion’s den, where – in addition to their housework – they are expected to be sexually available to every man of the palace, every single night.
The epidemic of child brides is rampant from Morocco to Indonesia, as Muslim men accept younger and younger wives (because Mohammad married a 7-year-old girl as one of his four wives – he consummated the marriage when she turned 9, it must be acceptable for the rest of the Muslim men to do it too). In Yemen, 10-year-old Najood Ali was married to a thirty-something man, who raped her every night of their marriage (some grooms are as old as 65 or 70). One day Ali took a taxi downtown and demanded a divorce. When the court asked her why, she said, “I hate the nights.”
When girls and women don’t behave the way the men in their lives deem appropriate – ideas taken from sharia law (strict adherence to a literal translation of Islam as found in the hadith and the Quran) – they can be punished in a variety of ways. There is a punishment called, “The Woman’s Room,” where a girl under suspicion of sexual misconduct (not even proven, just suspected) can be locked away in a sound-proof room without windows, and no hope of escape. She lives out the rest of her days in this prison: no friends, no bathing, no going to the bathroom (except for a hole in the floor); she can literally never leave until she dies. And the term ‘misconduct’ is vague and open to interpretation. The girl could have glanced at a man (like one girl whose mother threw acid in her face as a particularly harsh form of punishment) or chatted with a boy on social media to warrant such a heinous reaction from her family.
And if the “Woman’s Room” weren’t punishment enough, Arab men can steal the lives of the women in their families in the form of honor killings if it’s believed that she brought shame to the family unit in some way. Girls can be stoned to death, drowned in the family pool, or stabbed or shot by younger brothers for dishonoring the men with actions or even the mere rumor of sexual activity (and this doesn’t only happen in Saudi Arabia; there are documented cases in the United States and Canada as well). Fathers and brothers feel no regret for the lives they take and admit to doing it again if a lowly female brought disgrace to their family.
It’s the worst kind of repression and oppression. Men have a fear of their own sexuality, and are never taught to control their own urges and hormones; instead, Arab culture – and thus Islam – blames women for the sins, and potential sins, of the men. When a woman is raped, she is at fault, and usually punished. In some countries, rapists can get away with their crime by marrying their victims. In one case, a 16-year-old rape victim committed suicide after the courts ordered her to marry her attacker.
What can be done to help these women? Islam is in desperate need of a reformation, similar to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. The problems with the Arab world cannot be fought with strength of arms. It is a war of ideas. We, in the West, need to change those ideas. And we need to start with the strict interpretation of sharia law and how those laws affect the way the Muslim community treats women as well as non-Muslims across the globe.
To be Concluded…