Sharia laws dictate everything in the world of Islam. They tell people what they’re allowed to do and what they’re forbidden from doing. The set of rules and regulations was formulated in the 6th and 7th centuries in a world much different from that of today. Yet in over 1,000 years, not a single law has been questioned or changed. Additionally, Arab Muslims are encouraged to self-police each other – even between family members – handing down personal punishments when loved ones act, speak, or even dress inappropriately. The most obvious and outward symbol of sharia is the burqa.
The Quran tells both genders to ‘avert’ their eyes and dress ‘modestly.’ However, it doesn’t mention the specifics behind what exactly signifies a modest wardrobe, leaving each individual Arab subculture to make it up as they go. Depending on the country, the laws regarding this modest ‘covering’ vary from requiring women to wear a simple headscarf, called a hijab, to being completely veiled from head to toe whenever outside their home. In Saudi Arabia, they have to even cover their eyes.
Jen, my wife, wore a hijab whenever she wanted to visit a mosque. She told me that she experienced an instant feeling of shame as soon as she was out on the streets. She felt her eyes being tugged toward the ground. One the one occasion, she inadvertently made eye contact with a man in a park. He subsequently harassed her for an hour, repeating the word ‘sex’ over and over. She just didn’t realize what smiling and being a friendly American would mean in this culture of women’s oppression. In hindsight, I feel like she was lucky he didn’t try to abduct or rape her. I shudder at the thought.
From country to country, even from city to city, the percentage of women who feel the need to cover changes. But if women choose to wear one (or are forced to), they always wear it. Always. They never take it off in public, even to go swimming! In Tunisia and Turkiye, for example, the larger cities are swarming with uncovered women in Western style clothing. Travel to the smaller desert villages and you won’t see any women uncovered. And in conservative nations like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Afghanistan, women aren’t allowed to be uncovered – it’s illegal and punishable by lashings and beatings.
It’s all because of sharia, a system of rules that allows for husbands to beat their wives (providing they don’t draw blood or hit them in the face, marking up their beauty).
One of the most amazing developments of Western civilization has been the separation of church and state and the idea of freedom of religion. However, in the Arab world, church and state are the same exact thing. They’re not even two different things intertwined – they’re identical. Muslims believe that the word of God passed down through the prophet Mohammad is immutable (unchanging), and therefore any progress in culture or society would be moving backwards. These Arab men want to turn back the hands of time to the days of their prophet: the dark ages of a misogynistic and patriarchal tribal lifestyle, because well, those were the good ole’ days!
Religious leaders, imams, and political leaders have become the same people. They instill strict adherence to the words of the Islamic texts and across the Arab world, previously European-based laws have been replaced by sharia with increasing regularity. In the Old Testament, a reader might find references to archaic corporal punishments such as crucifixion and stoning. However, Judaism and Christianity have advanced far beyond the use of those primitive and barbaric penalties. Modern day Islam still allows those punishments to exist, and what’s worse, to be carried out by civilians.
Sharia law needs to become obsolete if Islam and the Arab community expect to peacefully join the rest of the civilization in the 21st century. Without reform of their way of life, Islam will continue to back pedal into the dark ages. There is a global conflict happening right now. The only answer for Arabs is reform. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the oppressors always lose, sooner or later. The end is inevitable – one way or another.
In much the same way that sharia has stifled the development of the Arab world, their tribal mindset has done the same thing. I find it intriguing as I’ve learned how Muslims view their societal roles, specifically (but not limited to) gender roles. Women cook and clean and raise kids. Men work (sometimes). One can see this in many non-Muslim countries and even in conservative Christian households in America. But that’s not the truly interesting part.
Muslims marry and have children for no other reason than because it’s their religious and cultural obligation to do so. I’m sure there are exceptions, and I’m not saying that Arabs don’t love their children in the ways that they understand the concept of love. But it’s not the same as it is in the West.
Arabs are taught that marriage and parenthood are synonymous – one always follows the other, and often immediately. I’ve been told that a new bride will get pregnant within the first few months of marriage. Jen has been yelled at by older women and strangers in conversation, who are confused that we’ve been married for years and have yet to conceive children. It’s unheard of in their society, and in many cases the wives are scorned with rumors of being barren.
Additionally, Muslims don’t usually marry because of love (though this is beginning to change with the younger generations – and there have always been exceptions). Men and women are so segregated in youth, that there is no commingling. Men aren’t taught to enjoy the company of women, and vice versa. They serve a specific role. Men hang out with each other. Women are the same. They simply don’t mix. Once, Jen went to an engagement party, where the women got up to dance and uncover after all the men had left the room; they wouldn’t dance at all until only females remained.
Muslims don’t appear to marry for love. They don’t appear to have children out of a love or desire to raise them and spend time together. Families don’t often spend any time together at all! Fathers are borderline negligent when it comes to child-rearing, especially with infants and toddlers. They have a role. Mothers have a role. Even sons and daughters have their own specific roles to play. I’ve spoken to working Muslim women, who after a long day at the office, are expected to return home to do all of the housework: cooking, cleaning, laundry, and child-rearing.
And those are the women married to the more liberally-minded Muslim men, who allow them to keep their jobs after the wedding. Some men refuse to let their women work or their daughters attend school. Education for Arab girls is typically nothing more than what a mother and grandmother can teach her about keeping a home. Have you heard of Malala? She is a young Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner that was shot in the face for standing up for her right to an education. She had the support of her father, who worked in school administration and operated his own institute. But Malala’s father is the exception and not the rule.
Under sharia law and within the confines of Arab culture, 50% of the Muslim population is denied basic human rights. When that happens, it’s impossible for a society to flourish and thrive. The Arab world needs more Malalas, and more men like her father. Few Muslim girls are as fortunate as Malala, spending their lives in oppression, isolation, and a veritable prison.
Muslims account for 20% of earth’s population, and sure, not all women are mistreated or stuck in horrible situations. But enough are that the religion needs to begin seriously questioning itself and reevaluating its priorities. One life is far more important than a centuries old set of laws and rules. Islam needs to modernize. The Arab world is no longer tribal-based. So why continue to operate as such?
For a world plagued by terrorists and jihadists, killing in the name of Allah, change cannot come soon enough. The West and Western Muslims need to work together to change the conversation. We must challenge the archaic ideas presented in the Quran, the hadith, and sharia laws. Only then can true progress take place and peace fill the void left behind by suicide bombers.
Until Next Time…