Sunday, October 9, 2011

“Some Common Western Misconceptions about Women, Sexual Minorities, and their relationship to Islam”

“Some Common Western Misconceptions about Women, Sexual Minorities, and their relationship to Islam”

I decided to write about this topic as a way to cast some light on Islam. It is my belief, born from my own personal experience, that there are many misconceptions and ignorance about Islam in the West.

Furthermore this ignorance and misconception cast a shadow of distrust between the West and the Islamic world. This is especially true when it comes to Islam and its relationship and stance with, and towards, women and sexual minorities when viewed from the Western perspective of common men and women.

The more we learn about Islam, as well as its people, the better understanding is created among our societies, which is a must in this globalized world. It is only when we leave behind our fears, and start learning from and about Islam, that we start building a bridge among our cultures.

I have had the opportunity to know Islam from a very early age (Childhood) thereby dispelling, from my own persona and mind, such common misconceptions. Through my life I have been in close contact, even till this day, with Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Pakistanis (The de facto grandma of my kid is a lovely Pakistani Shiah Muslim lady, with whom I am in debt for all the love she gives to my beloved son Ariel), Kazakhs, Tatars, and other Muslim ethnic groups.

To talk about this topic I decided to make 10 poignant questions, which represent the most common misconceptions about Islam in the West to Ms. Fatemeh Fakhraie and publish them in my blog.

It is worth mentioning that the questions asked to Ms. Fatemeh Fakhraie do not represent my beliefs, or ideas ad hoc Islam. Au contraire! I have the utmost respect for Islam, as well as for any other religion.

These are the unedited questions and answers:

First, I want to say that I am not a scholar, and that my answers reflect my own thoughts and interpretations of Islam--I do not speak for anyone but myself.

1.- What is the position of women in respect to men in Islam?
I believe men and women are equal in the eyes of God. But here have been hundreds of books written about this. It's not something I can just answer comprehensively in a paragraph.

2.- Is there a real discrimination, and subordination, of women in Islam?
There is discrimination against women of all faiths and races and nationalities and socioeconomic statues all over the world that is caused by the combination of several factors: economics, politics, culture, religion, etc. Belief in God does not automatically translate to subordination of women.

3.- Why, according to you, is a great misconception of Islam in Western society?
Fear. Politics.

4.- Is it true that gay people are forced into sex change surgeries in modern day Iran?
Sex reassignment surgeries are supported and often partially paid for by the government based on a ruling by Ayatollah Khomeini. Unfortunately, many gay and lesbian Iranians feel that they must change their sex because, while being transgendered isn't considered a punishable offense, being gay or lesbian is. May God keep them safe and give them strength.

5.- How can Islam be inclusive of sexual minorities?
You're assuming that, in the entire history of Islam, sexual minorities (as they are thought of in current, Western terms) have never existed or had a role in society. This isn't true. I believe that most Muslim communities have a long way to go in their treatment of LGBTQ Muslims, but I am not of the opinion that God or Islam excludes people based on their sexuality.

6.- How can Islam be adapted to modern day Western societies in which women have the same rights than men?
Modern day Western societies DO NOT give women the same rights as men. For example, as an American woman, I earn 80% less salary than a man does for the same job simply because I am a woman. THIS IS NOT EQUALITY. It's a huge fallacy that Western societies are more advanced or egalitarian than predominantly-Muslim countries. Your question assumes that Islam is what's keeping women back, but it's not. Sexism EVERYWHERE is what's keeping women back.

7.- What is your opinion of the Shador ban in France?
A veil ban is just as bad as enforcing the veil; they're two sides of the same coin that tells women what to wear. I don't think either is acceptable or appropriate.

8.- Under which shariah law women are not allowed to drive in KSA?
None. The Saudi government maintains that it is tradition, not Islam, that keeps women from driving.

9.- How can Saudies justify under Islam the way they treat their women?
What way do "they" treat "their women"? Who is "they"? You're making the assumption here that all Saudi men are evil and treat their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters poorly, while you assume that all Saudi women are treated badly.

10.- Which Muslim country gives women full equal rights de facto?
Turkey has the most egalitarian family code on the books. Equal laws do not necessarily translate to equal treatment, however.

11.- What is your opinion of the arranged-marriages practice that occurs still among Muslims (even in Western societes)?
Think about what you mean by the term "arranged marriages." Do you really mean "forced" marriages, where families decide who their daughters marry without the daughter having a say or meeting her future husband? These are not Islamically permissible or acceptable in 2011.

But if you mean "arranged marriages" in the sense where young men and women ask their family and friends to find them someone to marry, that's their business.It's similar to "crowd sourcing" a partner.

You need to read the following blogs:
Fatemeh Fakhraie
Website | Twitter

About Fatemeh Fakhraie (
She is an editor, author, and blogger who writes about issues from her perspective as Iranian-American Muslim woman. She writes about Islamic feminism, Islam, and race for several online and print outlets, including Racialicious, B*tchmagazine, and AltMuslimah. In 2007, Fatemeh founded Muslimah Media Watch, a website dedicated to critically analyzing images of Muslim women in global media and pop culture. She served as editor-in-chief of the website from 2007 – 2011, and currently acts as a Senior Advisor. In 2009, Fatemeh published her first book, Effects of Socioeconomic Status on Hijab Styles in Urban Iranian Women, a textbook version of her master’s thesis. In 2011, she was published in an anthology of American Muslim women’s voices, titled I Speak for Myself. All of Fatemeh’s articles are protected by copyright. If you are interested in republishing any of the links or blog posts on this blog, or booking her for a speaking engagement, please contact her directly. Her contact information can be found on the Contact page.

Picture courtesy of: Fatemeh Fakhraie