I have always viewed push-up bras as false advertising, but does wearing one deserve a whipping because of their “deceptive” and “un-Islamic” nature? I don’t know, but the controlling Islamist Shabaab party of Somalia seems to think so.
And if our bras are not at issue, it’s some other part of our bodies. Apparently, women should simply not participate in public life and if they try, they should be marginalized with one misogynistic application of Islamic law after another.
Otherwise, if you believe Islamists in Muslim-majority countries, free will would transform Muslim women into western ones. Not real American women, for example, who are busy working, raising families, but the one-dimensional women portrayed on shows like Melrose Place and Hooter ads on American highways.
Such simplification was reinforced rather than combated on an Oct. 4, 2009, Islamic news show by Dalia Mogahed, President Barack Obama’s appointee to his Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
She made no effort to separate herself from extremist positions offered by fellow guests like a representative from Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT), or the Islamic Liberation Party. HT members want Islamic law applied globally, and agitate for it with conferences like, “The Fall of Capitalism, the Rise of Islam” presented in Chicago a few months ago.
Mogahed’s failure to defend secular democracies as societies where the law protects an individual’s right to be as orthodox or as “liberal,” “progressive” or “cultural” as they choose makes sense considering her contribution to a controversial study, “Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think.”
The study defines Sharia as “the rule of law,” including ethics and morals. Such a loose interpretation justifies her radio show comment that “the majority of women around the world associate Sharia with ‘gender justice.’” She added that “the perception of Sharia and portrayal of Sharia has been oversimplified even among Muslims.”
Oversimplified? That is ironic considering Mogahed’s definition of Sharia. What ethics? Whose morals, and whose law legitimizes Sharia? If I took a poll of all Americans today defining Islamic law simply as “living ethically and morally,” I guarantee that 100 percent would want to live under it. This is because each person would insert his or her unique understanding of right and wrong, just as the Saudi, Iranian and Somali Islamists do.
Muslims who do not want to live under Islamic law are not oversimplifying. Rather, they are accepting that Mogahed’s vapid description bears no resemblance to Islamic law in practice.
Reformers like Asma Jahangir, a Muslim human rights activist and lawyer in Pakistan know. Jahangir regularly defends men and women against discriminatory laws and cultural mores in the name of Islam. She is also one of many men and women in Pakistan fighting to have the misogynistic religious Hudood laws repealed.
Mogahed sounds a lot more like Abu Tayyeb, one of the Taliban kidnappers of New York Times journalist David Rohde. The kidnapper claimed “the Taliban treated women better than Americans did. … Women in the United States were forced to wear revealing clothes and define themselves solely as sex objects. The Taliban protected women’s honor by not allowing them to appear in public with their faces unveiled.”
Promiscuity and “male disrespect for women” are not the definitive traits that govern relations between men and women in the West, just as abuse of women, child brides, female genital mutilation, honor killings and denial of equal opportunities for women are not the only way women live in Muslim-majority countries. But those are realities that Islamists do not wish to address, preferring to defend their egos on radio shows like the one in which Mogahed participated.
Obama will only make progress when he chooses to appoint spokespeople who do not pander to current global anti-Americanism by abandoning universal human rights, but show that they can be proud practitioners of their faith in a society that defends everyone irrespective of faith.
Examiner columnist Supna Zaidi is assistant director of Islamist Watch and editor-in-chief of Muslim World Today.