Photo Credit: International Society for Human Rights
Be it for the culture or the religious beliefs that place women in an unequal status to men, Middle East is a geography where women are continuously oppressed both within the family and under the governmental rules. How come this is still possible in 2014? Why aren’t women in the Middle East fighting for their rights? Well, there is a big answer to this question: their denial of education, especially in Islamic regimes.
In countries that are ruled by the Sharia law, not only women are required to wear the niqab, which normally should be a choice of the wearer, but also they are banned from driving, traveling or undergoing certain medical procedures without a male guardian’s permission. Depending on the guardian, they might need permission even regarding their education, which is a most fundamental right. Many women in the Middle East are raised to be housewives, and their standing in this matter or their choice is disregarded. Families in the Middle East generally consider girls as their stairway to heaven or highway to hell. Their fear from that point seems to make them blind to the girl herself and her choices.
The countries ruled by Sharia law especially, such as Saudi Arabia, stands as a clear example of this understanding. The actions of the guardian men are mostly justified by the religion itself, therefore the women who raise their voices to stop this can be named as infidels. Although many families in the Middle East now allow and support their daughters’ right to education and not deny their right to be an individual with their own choices and lives, there is still a lot of work to be done. Putting the women who wear the hijab due to their belief aside, some women still feel the need to wear it as a protective barrier from the “sexually hungry” men, or for the acceptance of society- not for the respectable cause of religion. With all these issues at hand, it is no surprise that these women find it hard to object to this oppression.
To make matters worse, many believers in Islam, accept that men and women are not equal. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkish Republic, which is actually a secular country, pointed out in one of his speeches that “Women are women, men are men. Is it possible for them to be equal? They complement each other”. When we read the story of the Genesis, the Qu’ran in Sura 2:21-22 openly says that the first woman, Havva (Eve), was created from one of the ribs of Adem (Adam). How can a being supposedly created from another be equal to the one that it was created from? That is a big question for Islam, and many believers and scholars try to explain that with different readings and different translations. However, The Qu’ran itself has an answer to this question in Sura 2:228; “Wives have the same rights as the husbands have on them in accordance with the generally known principles.
Of course, men are a degree above them in status.” Sura 4:34 also says that “Men are managers of the affairs of women because Allah has made the one superior to the other.” Therefore, many people teach that, according to The Qu’ran, women and men are not equal. Under these circumstances, it seems natural for women believers to obey to as what we Westerners see as oppression. However, we should not forget that in the same way, The Bible teaches us that “Men are superior to women, Jesus is superior to men and God is above all. Women should worship all of them” (Corinthians 14: 34, 35). So, how did women earn rights in Christian countries, but not Islamic ones? I strongly believe that the reason is education.
So, isn’t there any way to change this in the Islamic countries as well? There sure is. Just like in other religions, different readings in the belief system pave the way to different explanations. One of the most famous Women’s Rights Activist is the 17-year-old, Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. She champions for women’s right to education, and is confident that those issues would be addressed correctly only if the people were educated. At the United Nations in July, Yousafzai said “One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world.”
As a Muslim herself, for example, Yousafzai’s education enables her to bring another reading of The Qu’ran and she states that “When God created man and woman, he was thinking, Who shall I give the power to, to give birth to the next human being? And God chose woman. And this is the big evidence that women are powerful. Women are strong. Women can do anything. Come out and struggle for your rights; nothing can happen without your voice.”
Don’t forget, The Qu’ran also preaches in Sura 8:22 that “Without doubt, the worst of beasts in Allah’s sight are the deaf, the dumb, who do not use their ‘Aql’ (reason)” and in Sura 21:10 it says “O Mankind! Now We have revealed unto you a Book that is all about you and it will give you eminence. Will you not, then, use your sense (Aql)?” Therefore, instead of just obeying those who teaches us women about religion, what we, women, must do is to fight for our right to education so that we can read and criticize any religious teaching ourselves. Only then we can be free and decide how to live our lives and what to believe in.