Gender equality and Islam: Why Muslim men must recall the spirit of the progressive Prophet
Some will say that because I am a man I cannot write about women. But as a man, I say that it is incumbent upon men to become champions for achieving full gender equality.
It is men who, too often, hold women back from being seen — and therefore treated — as equal citizens in the eyes of the law. Men control most parliaments, law-making processes and law-enforcement institutions, write many of the books, and interpret religious teachings.
Change comes through all of us working together, not pitting ourselves against each other. Our identity is as equal citizens of our nation states — not as members of clubs segregated by gender, sexuality, race or religion, fighting for political power.
The greatest obstacle to women being treated as equal citizens comes from men who exploit religious texts and history to suppress the rise of women as peers in every sphere of life.
The commercial and economic advantages to a nation with greater gender parity are obvious. But how do we send a female astronaut into space when her family, influenced by religious leaders, insists she cannot travel anywhere without a male guardian? How does a father ensure his daughter and son inherit wealth equally when the imam in the mosque cites scripture and suggests women should be left less?
We must find new ways to bring Muslims and modernity into harmony.
Much of the literalist, rigid reading of religious texts (usually out of context) emerges from a lack of confidence among modern-day male clerics. They were too busy defining themselves in terms of their opposition to the West, rather than pioneering a new, more relevant and modern identity for their fellow citizens. The office of ayatollah in Iran is an invention of the 20th century, as is forcing women to wear a veil, and many other forms of institutional discrimination against women.
To be free from this literalism, this lack of confidence, this defining of Islam based on its stance against the West, we must find new ways to bring Muslims and modernity into harmony. If we fail to do this, not only will the rest of the world continue to progress and the gap in ideas and productivity widen, but Islam itself will become unattractive to a new generation of Muslims.
Why should they believe in a religion that teaches them women are impure during their period, while authorities in Scotland, for example, are providing women with free tampons and celebrating menstruation?
The rise of atheism will endure. As citizens, men, brothers and sons, and as clerics, we must all make an effort to reassess our understanding of our old religious texts in a modern context.
• Ed Husain is the author of two bestselling books: “The House of Islam: A Global His-tory” (Bloomsbury, 2018) and “The Islamist” (Penguin, 2007). He advises political leaders and governments around the world on national security and political ideology. He was a senior adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. For five years, he was a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, focusing on US foreign policy and the Middle East.
— This is the executive summary of Ed Husain’s research paper for Arab News Research & Studies Unit.