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When Muslim women are perceived as inferior

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Uneven power relations are a reflection of the larger society where social institutions, particularly Islamic agencies, are led by men, writes Mustafa K Anuar.

The findings of a recent survey by advocacy group Sisters in Islam (SIS) on Muslim women in the country are disturbing as they suggest that the stubborn stains of patriarchy and injustice are very much visible in our socio-cultural landscape.

This is despite the fact that Malaysian women generally have made great strides in the professions, academia, industry and politics, among other sectors of society.

A segment of the women surveyed, for instance, felt abused and neglected by their husbands. They perceived that their rights as fellow human beings have been denied, if not trampled upon, and their husbands do not put in their fair share of household chores.

And yet, some of them still believe that husbands have the right to beat their wives if they were found to be “disobedient”.

The notion of “disobedience” harboured by these women reflects the uneven power relations between couples, with wives often having to receive the raw end of the marital commitment.

And what are the examples of a wife’s marital misconduct that deserve a beating? Not getting husband’s permission to leave the house; woman’s refusal to have sex; refusal to open the door for her husband and refusal to answer when he calls or to follow his instructions.

Corporal punishment of this nature, nonetheless, occurs despite the fact that such behaviour of the husband transgresses Qur’anic principles and contradicts the practice of Prophet Muhammad who never hit his wife – as pointed out by SIS.

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What is much needed in this kind of marital set-up is the importance of mutual respect between the partners so that the rights of each partner are acknowledged and protected.

Furthermore, an element of mutual respect would help curb the inclination to view women as mere sex objects that denigrate their dignity as human beings and God’s creation.

Such uneven power relations are also a reflection of the larger society where social institutions, particularly Islamic agencies, are led by men, particularly those with biases and prejudices that affect adversely the concerns and interests of Muslim women.

To seek justice for some Muslim women can be an uphill task, given the social environment where their interests and rights are come up against those of men, particularly their husbands.

Additionally, often women – and not men – are blamed for social ills prevailing in society, almost comically depicting the latter as helpless victims.

A classic case in point refers to a certain Muslim senator who, in the middle of this year at the Senate, called for the enactment of a sexual harassment law to protect men from being seduced into committing crimes such as rape because of women’s “actions and clothing”.

“We men,” he stressed, “need to be protected.” It is the kind of expression that would make feminists laugh out loud if not for the fact it is the product of warped and perilous logic. Thank God that this sexist suggestion was shot down eventually owing to public pressure, particularly from women’s groups.

This partly explains why the idea of women who are independent-minded and brook no nonsense from men can be perceived as dangerous, if not an affront to the masculinity of the latter, particularly by certain political and religious quarters.

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Such a scenario also implies a patriarchal orldview that has been given a religious stamp of approval as well.

Pressed against such backdrop, civil society groups such as SIS are aware of the obstacles that they are up against, especially when they have the steely resolve to liberate women from the chains of ignorance, injustice and oppression.

Being labelled as “liberal” and “deviant”, thanks to a fatwa of the Selangor Islamic Religious Department, may well be taken by SIS as a badge of honour that indicates that they are on the right path.

It is a path that is less trodden but one that is worth taking for the eventual betterment of Muslim women and children and importantly, justice that Islam treasures.

Source: themalaysiansight.com

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