Veiled Ummah of Islam find their voices on the Internet
Many 30-something middle class Islamic fundamentalist housewives and
mothers,from Saudi Arabia,Eygpt, Iran and Palestine are beginning to
find their voices online. Their thoughts can be heard trickling and
buzzing through America Online Islam chat rooms and messaging boards,
through MSN Islam message boards and, just like anyone else, through
email. They talk about their children, perfecting their relationship
with Allah(Shahada),the obligation of motherhood and being good women.
They also speak about the matawah(religious police), driving restrictions,
and limitations on worship in the mosque, though they still refuse to
talk about sex, clitorectomies, polygamy and other volatile personal
issues, choosing rather to express their solidarity by evangelizing
their religion to western Internet users and engaging in anti-American
foreign policy rhetoric. On the other hand the Internet is a promising
medium for the eventual liberation and enhanced self expression and
creativity of oppressed Muslim women.
Muslim Women are ubiquitously involved in all aspects of Internet use,
including chat, message boards, surfing, website hosting and creation,
and even website development. The speak about their primary duties as
wives and mothers and the happiness it brings them. Their complaints
are valid but their religious leaders are suggesting that the Internet
should be censored so that innocent,traditional Muslim women are not
tempted to break the laws of hayaaí (modesty)
through western biased global communication.
For this paper,I will attempt to engage the Islamic woman in debate
on self expression via the Internet I hope to grasp how the Internet
can enlighten or resolve her faith in Islamic culture. With some insight
into her special needs as the equal but weaker sex in her extremism
culture, I hope to understand why and how submission impacts her daily
life. What I have found, however, is perhaps even more frightening to
the western mind. Most Islamic women who use the Internet in 2002, have
used it to further the gender subjugation, inferiority and inequality
between the sexes in such an ingrained way, that the promise of globality
amongst them and us is elusive. Will feminism via the Internet help
explore attempts for political and cultural expression,thereby showing
that The Internet is the antithesis of Islamic culture
women praying in Saudi Arabia
The Muslim world has a controversial relationship with the Internet
The common understanding about Muslim women and the Internet, especially
in the west, is that like other aspects of the Islamic educational system,
and systems of information, women are cut out of it entirely, separated
from the global landscape through a thick sheet of male dominance. The
Internet was supposed to make lives easier and to help us learn about
all people and their cultures. We in the global community are learningeveryone
is not a friend. Bias and intolerance for a culture different from your
own is enough to start a Jihadmasked as a fight of David against
The Internet allows us to find out as much as the Islamic
world is willing to tell us and it also allows the world to question
the Islamic mindset. Currently we are at a great historical impasse
in humanity. Democracy, spirituality and the individual rights of every
global citizen is at risk. Quranic precepts clearly influence the mode,
tone, and content of any communication between men and women. This prevents
any questionable communication from being seductive, lewd, crude or
suggestive. Saying all that, I also intend to discuss the role Shari'a
Law plays in fundamentalism. The world wide feminist voice, inclusive
of Islamic women have already been sown. Even more paradoxically, the
Internet may be the vehicle by which women in fundamentalist Islamic
cultures can be heard. However, this may not be possible since their
spiritual leaders have come up with new guidelines(Fatwaah) for chat
on the Internet
Women and men are cautioned,that the Internet is a place of great evil,which
may be leading the women to behave adulterously. In fact, many religious
figures have decreed this warning especially for women.
One such fatwa (decree) was from Belief.net by Imam Saidullah Khan on
Right to Chat "on the Internet He councils that Islamic etiquette
demands that any communication, especially between males and females,
comply with the highest standards of hayaaí (modesty), and that
decency and "purity of intention are of paramount importance."
He also stated that serious consideration of all forms of communication
should be considered."
Afghanistan Women in Burqa
Identity as a Moslem and Islamic doctrine coming out of extremist cultures
are central to propaganda. This type of discipline prevents Islamic
individuals from identifying with any national group or democracy outside
of Islamic statehood and Allah. This psychological indoctrination and
barrier encourages zealous,one-sided rationale.The dogma and culture
of teaching hate and intolerance for western and democratic values has
a dominant importance in shaping extremist society. This conspiracy
points out that the womens' status of equality is secondary. The societal
objectives have to be achieved before equality. Only then can women
and their special needs,as the equal but weaker sex, be dialogued. The
Internet has opened a new frontier for all women in their struggle to
express themselves, and Muslim women now have an opportunity to exchange
ideas and promote democratic principles as Islam decreed.
There are no real solid studies done on the level of Internet use amongst
Muslim women, but through dozens of interviews and research on AOL:Islam
and MSN: islam. I have found fascinating developments/tendencies amongst
Muslim women of all persuasionsbe they religious,secular,Arab,
American, from different national origin, and in all degrees of philosophical
beliefs about gender roles, and specifically feminism, within Islam.
How Muslim women theorize about their political and cultural issues,and
how the Islamic feminism movement will move from theory to strategy
in implementing its priorities is unique in Islam. The Muslim woman
should define her activities and goals,so that efforts to improve public
and private lives are under one umbrella when peace eventually comes.
The opportunities for women in Islamic culture has been tradition
bound towards motherhood and in light of their contribution to
the overall national struggle, they now have legitimate demands
on the Islamic brotherhood for equal status. Many of them currently
are the sole providers for their families and have to work outside
the home in their traditional society. We must now wait and see
the rewards such honor and faith will bring these women from their
Islamic individuals and women all over the Arab world identify their
struggle for equality and freedom with that of the Palestinian state.
They believe that this struggle for freedom of Palestine is what is
holding them back from gaining other freedoms in their society. To me
it seems like they have translated their struggle to Palestine for equality
and freedom by identifying with a national(faith) agenda, which of course,
skirts the issue of a feminist movement,and works for them only until
or unless Palestine becomes an official country in the world alongside
Israel. Do Muslim women then have a chance for political freedom or
will womens freedom be pushed aside for another cause.
Women In Chador-
Like Black Ghosts
In a televised interview recently done by Barbara Walters
on 20/20 in Saudi Arabia, she interviewed the crown prince,students
from a university in the town where some of the hijackers came from
about their school curriculum and how they viewed America,and also spoke
to four middle class Islamic women about their lives and touched on
the topic of their lack of freedom in their society. It was interesting
to note,that they thought that certain liberties needed to be had
such as the chance to drive or freedom from the Matawah(religious police)
who control all parts of their daily lives due to traditional culture.
They believed the Matawah should be disbanded due to their unpopularity.
They also hoped to be able to convince their culture that Muslim women
should be granted the right to drive. This seemed very important to
them. What was interesting was,they did not mind wearing the abaya which
they felt protected them from unwanted advances. One interviewee said"It
is a uniform". It was clear what they were fighting for personal
freedom(basic human rights), the right to drive, medical help without
their husbands permission or to even travel abroad without his consent.
Feminism tried to bring to light the question regarding power, equality
and basic human rights and has become the source of much dialect in
the fundamentalist society. Should Islamic women have a role in the
new global culture,economy and their society? It is commonly accepted
in the west that in Islamic extremist cultures,women do not have the
opportunity to express themselves. The difficulty with any attempts
at Feminism,promoted to Muslim women is that it shakes the social structure
in ways it does not,in western culture. The culture of Jihad in Islamic
culture does not believe nor encourage women to partake of any modernity
and believes the womans place is in the home which is further
enforced by Shari'a law.The URL
Shari'a is the law of Islam, based upon the
Quran, the Sunna, parallel traditions and work of Muslim scholars
in the two first centuries of Islam
Shari'a is the totality of
religious, political, social, domestic and private life.
Shari'a importance is related to Islamic societies that have gone
through a period of Islamization such as Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia,
and to some extent Libya. Where Shari'a Law truly counts is in
domestic law relating to family, marriage and inheritance.
The Rhetoric in Islamic culture promotes the submission
of the islamic woman which enrages Western culture, since many of us
believe that women in the middle eastern culture are either being subjugated
against her will or we think she is being lazy and parasitic. Western
culture's ultimate goal seems to be one culture catering to an individual
needs and desires. Islamic extremist society analysis of thisis
the destruction of the human spirit which is an affront to Allah. In
Benjamin Barber's Jihad vs. McWorld, argues that the new technology
and the Internet offer soft services and technology aimed at the mind
and the spirit or aimed at undoing the mind and the spirit (60).
Since Musim citizens believe its faith is the most supreme and complete
manifestation of all three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity
and Islam. I have to wonder why most of the citizens in Islamic countries,live
in conditions of poverty, illiteracy, subjugation and underdevelopment
churning out young citizens with mindsets for Jihad bent on world dominantion
by Islam or destruction of all things infidel. Obviously religion is
not doing it for them,their real lives are such misery. The lack of
self-respect by the older generation and racial hatred and intolerance
taught to young people,lack of job opportunities and the political repression
in their own countries is behind a lot of Muslim defiance. A great example
of this rage was manifested from among educated Muslim youth from Saudi
Arabia who bombed the world trade center and the pentagon on September
11th 2001. Can you imagine the intolerable lives they must lead to commit
such murder in the name of Allah. So what do Muslim women have to say
about terrorism, their lives and the equality? One such email I received
was from a muslimah who wrote this letter to me.
To: Querida D
IM -NOT SURE YOUR GOING TO LIKE MY VIEW POINT ON THIS SUBJECT.
ITS AVERY TOUCHY SUBJECT FOR ME TO DISCUSS.MY OPINION ON THE WHOLE
SITUATION. IT IS THIS: I REALIZE WHAT HAPPENED ON THE 11TH WAS
WRONG, IT SHOULDN'T HAVE HAPPENED BUT "DOES THAT GIVE AMERICA
THE RIGHT TO GO BULLYING OTHER COUNTRIES INTO HELPING IT LOOK
AT THE SITUATION THEY PUT PAKISTAN IN THEY SAID EITHER YOU ARE
WITH US OR AGAINST US HOW COULD THEY PUT PAKISTAN IN SUCH A DANGEROUS
SITUATION?"I MEAN THEY WERE FORCED TO TURN THERE BACKS AGAINST
OTHER MUSLIMS AND RISKED HAVING THERE OWN PEOPLE REBEL AGAINST
THE GOVERNMENT FOR GOING ALONG WITH AMERICA HOW COME AMERICA CAN
GO INTO OTHER COUNTRIES AND KILL THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WHICH THEY
HAVE DONE BEFORE AND ITS ALL RIGHT BUT THEN WHEN IT HAPPENS TO
AMERICA ITS ALL OUT WAR ITS JUST NOT RIGHT!!!!NOT ONLY THAT THE
HAVE ISRAEL HAS THE US IN ITS BACK POCKET AND LETS FACE IT JEWS
ARE NOT THE MUSLIMS BIGGEST FANS THEY ARE PUSHING US OUT OF WHAT
LITTLE COUNTRY WE HAVE IN PALESTINE WHERE DO THEY EXPECT THEM
TO LIVE? BUT WHO CARES AS LONG AS THE JEWS GET THERE WAY! ALSO
OSAMA IS A PRODUCT OF AMERICA THEY CREATED HIM IN THE COLD WAR.
HOW STUPID DO THEY FEEL? IF THEY HAD JUST KEPT THERE PROMISES
AND HELPED THE STARVING PEOPLE IN AFGHANISTAN MANY YEARS AGO INSTEAD
OF TURNING THEIR BACKS WHEN THE SOVIETS WERE DEFEATED THIS WOULDN'T
BE HAPPENING TODAY I THINK THE AMERICAN GOV. KNOWS IT THERE FAULT
AND THAT'S WHY THERE GOING FULL FORCE ON A COUNTRY THAT BARELY
HAS ANYTHING SO THAT THEY CAN KEEP AMERICANS FROM REMEMBERING
THE REAL REASON WHY ALL OF THIS HAPPENED!
One must also remember that most poor and uneducated
Muslim women living in fundamentalism,will not have Internet access
in their society. Those who can afford to have Internet access are usually
in the minority and affluent. I have attempted through Islamic message
boards and chat-rooms online to interview Islamic women. It has been
a frustrating experience not only because it seems to be an abundance
of Islamic men online but because Islamic extremism is now promoting
the Internet as evil and not as the enlightenment tool that it is,as
witnessed from this question placed on a message board at
Question: Is it permissible to go on Islamic chats?
Answer: This is from the pathways of the Shaytaan.
There is no such thing that is called Islamic chat - meaning
that there can be no relationship between a man and a woman outside
of the realm of marriage. Rather, this is a satanic relationship and
not an Islamic relationship. Islam came to prevent the means of evil,
and preventing the evil takes precedence over bringing about good.
So many of these kinds of relationships, which people call by other
than their proper names, lead to temptation and having meetings (i.e.
dates), and maybe that may lead to fornication or holding lust for
one another. Therefore, we say that this door must be closed and we
must be warned about the Internet and using it in wrong ways, because
in the Internet there can be found trials and tribulations and channels
that corrupt the person's character. So the Muslim woman must fear
Allah and not follow the footsteps of the Devil, by establishing these
kinds of relationships over the Internet And how many of these types
of relationships have corrupted women towards their husbands and men
towards their wives, and the children - boys and girls? And we ask
I wonder what they are afraid of most, the idea that
Islamic men and women might be able to think outside of religious sphere,thereby
allowing democracy to take hold and banishing religion to the realms
of the dark ages, where it belongs or allowing the Islamic people to
grow both economically and intellectually. For them to have equality
amongst all their citizenry is of paramount importance.The global movement,
through the Internet and engineered through democratic priciples, enabled
Muslim extremists to try global warfare in the name of Islam How can
they not see how they are being manipulated by the forces of their culture,who
trap them in lives of misery by suggesting that they fight a Jihad in
the name of Allah. Is the fear really about pleasing Allah and preventing
Muslim people from going to the fires of hell?
I am currently reading a few books by Islamic women authors who have
written about their experiences in their extremist societies and one
such author is Leila Ahmed, a Muslim author who argues that sexuality
is one of the main reasons why Islamic women are still in subjugation.
She wrote the book Women and Gender, the author shows us the mental
and physical controls that are prevalent in Islamic societies from birth
until death women are encouraged to be submissive and to deny
their own sexuality. Women in these countries undergo the brutal, systematic
torture of clitorectomy, or female circumcision and most girls at very
young ages and depending on the area where you are born the severity
of the female circumcisions varies.This procedure is also done without
anesthetic. This is brutality enforced by cultural, social and religious
attitudes towards the female sex for the benefit of men. In these societies
you will be able to observe the result of submission enforcement towards
girls and women who have no powerthey are subject to rape and
other forms of abuse as a result,more interesting is that Ahmed suggests
that without Qu'ranic Islam, the women in these cultures would be treated
Held at a Jail in the Sudan
Bare feet and Fully covered
While surfing the Internet, I came upon a focus group
interview that was done on about 30 Islamic women living in Cairo: The
majority of the subjects came from either clergy or bazzari (merchant)
families. One of the questions asked was about women and power. One
of the women in this group who was interviewed stated:
Many leaders did not challenge the Islamic principles, rather
they challenged their interpretation and implementation. Members
of the legal opposition groups lauded Islamic provisions for women's
rights and criticized the state's interpretation and implementation
Another woman who previously agreed with the repressive regime
views on the role women should play in Islamic society now said:
They claim to be Muslims but are far from it. This regime has
a political view of women, for political exploitation. Women suffer
double exploitation. They have passed some laws, but their implementation
is left to the Male judges' discretion. We still lack legal protection,
but if men respect women and children's rights, many of our problems
will be s solved.
Another of the women from the interview stated:
One of our problems is lack of coordination between our women.
I mean, women of our society with outlook, intelligence, and progressive
ideas currently do not have cooperation. Due to the same mistakes
going in the larger society. I think there is a conspiracy against
women. If they were united and cooperated, they could start a
broad movement in the society, which would make men, who control
most of laws and rights, to follow.
The interviewer also asked, "Do you believe men plot against women's
"It is possible, one suspects this. Men are not united either.
Men, at least, are united about their issues, we women are not
unified on our own issues either".
Another woman from this focus group said
"women are equal to men but have weaker minds, that is why we
spend most of our time gossiping and chattering."
Well of course if I believed I was nothing more than
a little girl,not worthy of doing anything better than gossiping and
chattering like a young girl playing with dolls and my little girlfriends,
then I deserved to be in a cage either created by the men who dominate
over me or one of my own creation. This leads me to believe that these
women are really simple minded or unsophisticated and they really know
little about the real world, so how can they have an opinion about the
things of the world? This is why when you observe their communication,it
is always about family or about the anti American rhetoric that their
governments spoon feed them as a steady diet. They are only repeating
what their government is saying without proofing what they are being
taught, like children are taught to read and write.
There has to be an end to the denial and more attention to the very
valid injustices that poor Muslim women and their families must suffer
in their own homes in Islamic fundamentalist countries. The Western
world often contemplates why girls are left uneducated and how to get
these women access to medical treatment. Even in countries that are
considered moderate. What amazes me more is when they transpose that
same attitude of indifference towards a fellow human being,like in a
recent case in California that occured about a month ago(March 2002)
where a little Muslim Saudi girlan 11 year old was kept as a maid
and lived in appalling conditions,inside the family garage of a wealthy
Saudi family in one of the rich suburbs of Los Angelos, California.
She was kept destitute,uneducated and made to sleep and go to the toilet
on the garage floor because she was not one of them, she was treated
worst from how most people in the United States and the Western Hemisphere
treat their pets,even though the children she was being a maid for and
her were the same age. Is this what Islam is about? Where is the humanity
of the great Islamic religion and why do they break the laws of a western
culture that values freedom and children? Did they think their wealth
entitled them to treat this little girl so terribly because she did
not have any legal status in America and she was defenseless or was
it because she was from Saudi Arabia? They should be prosecuted because
what they did was criminal.
Tradition is the obstacle to democracy in Islamic society,to womens
full political autonomy, and to womens having basic human rights
met. My quest for dialogue from Islamic women has been hard because
it is so difficult to communicate with them due to my lack of
knowledge on Islamic culture and a result of this is that I have
been stonewalled every time. A typical answer to my questions
on "What is the Islamic women's role in her culture?
I'm afraid your questions reveal more about your lack of knowledge
than anything else. There is no such thing as "Islamic Culture".
There are a multitude of national, racial, tribal cultures whose members
are Muslim There is a great variety among them. Some are more in tune
with the principles of Islam and some less. But that is culture, not
Now, this could be interpreted in at least two different
ways. First, it could mean that the question truly is ignorant, and
represents such significant naivetÈ that it doesn't deserve an
answer. Or, it could simply be a hostile and insular reply to a non-Muslim
So, when I reanalyze the question: "What is the Islamic women's
role in her culture?" I don't see anything particularly ignorant
about assuming that there is some general role that might be answered
by different people with different specific answers: that of housewife,
that of teacher, etc., rather than the non-answer that I got. When I
have tried to communicate that the reason I am asking questions, is
to learn what roles they play in their culture and Islam, they have
belittled me on my quest by suggesting that my questions were presumptuous
or unintelligent. A typical question to me in return was why doesn't
the United States get out of their countries and whom do we think we
are trying to save. They felt that we were subjecting them to our values,
when in truth they do not want to be saved. What they want is to be
granted the status of equality as Islam decreed and to have the option
to exercise it when and if they chose.
These are the list of questions I used to dialogue and interview Muslim
a) What country do you represent in Islam and please answer the
questions in full or part from your own point of view.
b) How has the Internet benefited Islamic women?
c) What is the Islamic women's role in her culture?
d) Are they free to express themselves?
e) How do the alias handles on the Internet help those Islamic women
who can afford access to the Internet and who live in fundamentalist
cultures express themselves?
f) What do they talk about?
g) What do they want the world to know about their lives.
h) How many children do they have.
I) Does being on the Internet interfere with their roles as women in
j) How many sister wives do most families have living in an Islamic
culture and how does the multiple wife system work?
k) Does it affect the relationship between men, multiple wives
and the children that are born into families with this arrangement?
l) Is it recommended that men have more than one wife?
m) Do women in fundamentalist society design websites and what
are the websites about?
n) Do Islamic women living in fundamentalist society have social lives
outside of the Internet and do they belong to groups that provide for
political and cultural equality?
o) What do you think of the culture of Feminism in Islam and what
role can it play in Islamic culture and how should it work?
p) What do you think about the Towers of Light for a memorial?
I have also submitted the same questionnaire to the Imam at Belief.net
who may or may not answer the questions. So far I have received few
replies from Islamic women from North America and Saudi Arabia whose
replies I will share independent of this thesis. Some have chosen to
decline all my questions by saying they do not have time to answer any
of my questions or it will take too long to answer. It seems like the
sharing of certain types of information is looked on with great suspicion.
What I did get from those who replied to a few of the questions was
that the Internet provided lots of information and that as long as they
kept within the confines of what the religious edicts said, it was okay
to be online since they saw no reason to discuss any other topic that
might be of interest to those who are non-Muslim
The women also did not want to discuss anything political or of intellectual
value because they believed it really did not concern or benefit them
on their quest for spiritual perfection. One interviewee who did not
say if I could state her handle said that the Muslim womens role
in her culture depended on if she is married it is to try to prepare
for the hereafter as best as she can, and commit good deeds while married
to her husband, because both are equal slaves surrendering to Allah.
They both help each other. If she is not married, then I would assume
she does whatever it is she needs to do to get through life while following
Qur' an as best she can if she is not currently married She also
sent me a link to Women in Islam versus Women in the Judeo-Christian
Myth & The Reality.
Any reform that changes the status of Muslim women will not succeed
in extremist Islamic society without reforming Islam's religious doctrine
and the tribal culture way of life. An American Muslim, Malcolm X, said
"the fate of a nation depends on how it treats women." He
is correct in his assessmentthe Muslim world could learn from
him that extremism behavior is tantamount to bullying and murder. The
religion of Islam is long overdue for its renaissance. In the west we
need to get on with our own lives and get over our perception that Muslim
women need to be saved. They don't want the status quo changed as answered
by this Muslimah when asked this questionWhat do you think of
the culture of Feminism in Islam and what role can it play in Islamic
culture and how should it work?
She replied "Whew, this is a big question, for which I'll just
give a brief answer. I was a 60's & 70's era feminist and have
come to understand how much I, as a woman, have lost by gaining
"equality." I now am an Islamic Feminist. I work to eliminate
the unIslamic, culture-bound marginalization of women in many
countries, and within some "Islamic" organizations in the US."
Their struggle is entwined with the type of Islamic
doctrine taught and practiced today. The ideals of Islam and democracy
can only happen by a change in government and tribal culture. It seems
that in the year 2002, The three main religions are still arguing about
whose religion is the best for all the citizens of the world, dogma
and extremist rhetoric will continue to be the thorn that separates
all global citizens. The rhetoric of American foreign policy swings
like a pendulum of enormous proportions against those who are in power
and the tired, poor of the world keeps looking to America and western
culture to fix their needs which are enormous, the argument will vacillate
between religious dogma and dogmatic government policy around the world.
Both eastern and western society are proclaiming to the world the other
side is inaccurate, but the absolute truth is history has proven that
fundamentalists are seldom always right...
As a fun loving Trinidadian woman of roman catholic upbringing and non-practicing
from the Caribbean where every creed and race has managed to find an
equal place, I might suggest that they learn to respect and admire what
each culture can bring to the melting pot, Because religion has the
same set of problems as government. The nature and structure is a guided
journey dictated by the person in the driving seat and the shepherd
convinces the follower of the Light that his blueprint or bible is the
one true book of Life. In some respects all three major monotheistic
religions of Abraham and states have divisions that will counterfeit
data or destroy it to strengthen their status, relying on the general
ignorance of their flocks who watch these master actors. It also must
be firmly understood that there are groups or individuals on both sides
of the fence who are honorable, direct and trustworthy. My friend, Kelly
A Steele said it best. "Many will perceive truth to that moment.....there
IS NO REAL truth unless you accept an axiom that all is thought and
agreement by many....ergo..the Internet allows ideas to be explored....Truth
is a perception...Real truth always succeeds." The is only one
building that houses mankind. The disciples of these religions are in
a barn of their own making and it smells of corruption and inhumanity
to man which results in the submission of women. In this bitter dogmatic
battle, fought for the most part by positioned elderly men who are highly
resistive to change, entire governments or communities are upset by
the ensuing disenfranchisement and the time is fast approaching when
all parties are going to be forced to admit they are all fighting for
the same thing. The American constitution states what all men and women
really want Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
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