By Soraya M. Deen –
I have never met any of you, but we have a few things in common. We are South Asian, we are Muslim, and we focus on women. In the fall of 1996, when you seized power in Kabul and declared Afghanistan an Islamic emirate, you ruled with brutality and repression. Women’s rights were taken away: women were barred from education and they were forced to wear clothing that completely covered them. You considered music evil and banned it and the arts. The texts of classical Islamic laws do not fully capture the brutal reality of daily life for women under regimes that apply Sharia. You displayed an authoritarian and intolerant interpretation of Islam devoid of modern standards of human rights and gender equality. You showed the world your brand of the Sharia.
You do not represent any indigenous ethnic group nor are you a part of the indigenous culture of Afghanistan. Some of your members are Pashtuns, but you don’t represent the Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkman, Baluch, Pachaie, Aymaq, Qirghiz, Nristani, Gujur, or Brahwui; yet you wield enormous power through violence and intimidation, authoritarianism and intolerance.
I am a community organizer and an international activist. My work centers around equipping and empowering women to deconstruct Received Theologies and stand up to religion based oppression, dominance, and violence against them. My agitation and struggle to advocate for my sisters everywhere is not negotiable.
While you focus on applying your brand of Sharia Law to govern the women of Afghanistan, I focus on humanitarian laws, the Quran and its contextuality and the legacy of the Prophet Mohammed to understand how women are to be treated.
We don’t choose our born gender, which religion we are born into or which country we will be born in. We live in times where one can freely express their sexual orientation, renounce their faith and choose which country to live in. The women of Afghanistan have bravely and courageously chosen to remain in your beautiful country, and continue to follow their religion – Islam. Today, my sisters need your protection and compassion; they need to feel safe, respected, and celebrated.
Let me remind you, every Prophet was born to a woman. Paradise, we are taught, lies at the “Feet of thy mother.” Holding positions of situational religious authority does not confer you with any superiority of intellectual ability and power. Women and men are equal in their capacities to reason.
Our faith mandates it.
Remember the words of the Prophet…
In his Farewell Sermon (Arabic: خطبة الوداع, Khuṭbatu l-Widāʿ ), prophet Muhammad on Friday the 9th of Dhu al-Hijjah, 10 AH (6 March 632) in the Uranah valley of Mount Arafat, delivered a long lasting universal message and teaching to his Ummah.
He called on us Muslims to remember four things –
Every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood and therefore we shall not do injustice to yourselves. Observe your prayers, and look after the weak amongst you. Your women also have certain rights over you. Do treat your women well and be kind to them. For they are your partners and committed helpers. Remember one day you will appear before Allah and answer your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.
So how will you treat my sisters?
You have declared that you are going to “allow women to work and study within the framework of Sharia. Women will be active, their rights will be guaranteed within Islam.”
Many men around the world remind themselves and force women to submit to a mans version of Islam. Nowhere is it stated that Muslim women shall not receive an education, that they shall not hold political office, that they live joyless, meaningless lives. Like so many patriarchal structures you chose to constantly reinforce these man made rules so as to keep your will alive, not Gods.
Islam’s teachings have always emphasized the importance of seeking knowledge. Thousands of years ago, the first university in the world was established by a Muslim woman named Fatima al-Fihri.
As you know the Sharia that you are referring to is about Fiqh, the human understanding of divine law. These laws vary from country to country, from culture to culture, and from tradition to tradition.
The Sharia (unique to Afghanistan) that you impose upon my fellow sisters who have for the last 20 years built a world for themselves, participating in public life, holding political office and pursuing business opportunities within a framework of freedom, dignity and human rights will be misplaced.
Judging from your past record, where a strict and harsh interpretation of Islam was imposed by you, I am afraid that me and my fellow activists see that the Sharia you threaten today will confine women to their homes, end mixed-gender education and deny women and girls their basic human rights. Most of the Sharia implemented in Muslim majority contries are outdated, with functional distinctions, deadening rituals, oppressive rules, totally devoid of contextual realities.
I inquire because back in 1999, during your rule, there was not a single girl enrolled in secondary school and only 9,000 were in primary schools. There are now 3.5 million who go to school and around a third of students at public and private universities are women. Almost 60% of Herat University students are women, and their scores are higher than their male counterparts. Proving that when provided with the opportunity, women flourish in currently male dominated subjects.
Your Sharia should not apply here…
What good is a misplaced Da’wah or the call to God, immersed in impunity if it will surely desecrate the very religion that you claim to defend. Triumphalism is your attitude or belief that your Sharia is superior and that it will or should triumph over all others.
I urge you all not to be blindly committed to the destruction of a culture, a generation, a gender, a country; by being fanatically driven by your brand of Sharia engulfed in patriarchy and misogyny and the received theology of superiority and exclusivity. For thousands of years men have interpreted religion. Women’s leadership and scholarship has been undermined and devalued in the Muslim world.
Religious actors proclaim to be the sole recipients of the divine message and that women are simply the benefactors. We must find enough common ground to create a safe and thriving place for the women in Afghanistan. Afterall, they are the progeny of Khadija, the Mother of Islam the first wife of the Propher Muhammad. And she was an independent, strong, courageous woman with an entrepreneurial spirit.
One of the greatest downfalls in life is thinking that you know everything and are therefore right at all times. The tragedy is not knowing when you don’t know enough and failing to realize when you are wrong.
We must respect and protect individual freedom. There can be no compulsion in religion. Qur’anic passage (2:256) famously declares “There is no compulsion in religion.” Faith is an intensely personal issue and plainly, each person should be allowed to figure their own path in life.
The well-known story of Rip Van Winkle is not that of a man who slept for 20 years, but a man who slept through a revolution. We are in the midst of a social revolution. Giving voice to the person who doesn’t have one. It is akin to a vibrant political and social movement.
A civil society has burgeoned in the past two decades that didn’t exist before.
The world is changing at a speed we would never have imagined. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and all media tools are creating widespread influence which comes with great risks.
What we see today evolving in Afghanistan is appalling.
Women’s faces are being whitewashed from billboards throughout Kabul. Women in Kandahar have been told not to return to their jobs and that male relatives could take their place. We have seen your members knocking on doors and demanding to be fed. Anybody refusing is beaten and even killed. Fresh in our minds is the story of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in 2012 by your fighters because she dared to advocate for girl’s education.
The story of Bibi Aisha is a chilling reminder of the brutality of the Sharia you declare you will implement. A young woman, she attempted to escape from her abusive husband (whom she had been forced to marry), but when the Taliban caught her, they had her ears and nose chopped off.
Muslims today face unprecedented challenges. Much of the world considers us violent and engaged in a belief system that is incompatible with modernity. We have to do better. It is incumbent upon every Muslim to solve this disease of moral decay within our own commuunities.
Our mosques are devoid of inclusive, visionary leadership. Our Imams are versed in the text but not the context. They live in the 21st century with a world view of the 7th century. They preach and teach as you do, as if God has spoken to them directly.
It is possible, it is necessary, it is YOU…
It is possible for you to change the course of history. It’s necessary that you do. Take inventory of the talents, gifts and abilities of all your citizens. Power Afghan society with creative women and girls.
No country, no power can build your country, your society unless women are emancipated from all forms of oppression
I write to you to be aware that the world is watching you and the Muslim world. Islam will be once again on trial.
You and I have a personal and moral responsibility to be more ethical, more kind, and more just than the societies we grew up in.
Support wholeheartedly the statement issued by the UN Women “We remain fully committed to supporting women and girls in Afghanistan. Womens and girls rights in Afghanistan must have only one direction and that is forward. Their hard won rights must be protected.”
Women’s rights must be at the center of your governance. Treat your women fairly and with dignity. Keep the girls in schools, and allow women to show up in public and walk without their face being covered.
Finally, my plea to you is to understand your values and vision. If your theocratic domination dehumanizes women, treats them not as equals but as subjects, choose to think beyond and read beyond your Received Theologies. Remember the Quran was revealed at a particular time in history within a particular social context. Religious solutions don’t always provide for human rights.
I urge you to rethink your religious justification for everything uncompromising and immoral. The primary objective of the Quran is not to restrain and restrict a woman, but to promote her welfare, dignity and human rights.
Let’s face it.
James Baldwin reminds us that, “Not everything that is being faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
*Soraya Deen is a lawyer, award winning international activist, Interfaith consultant and the founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement. She is the women’s outreach coordinator for Omnia Institute for Contextual Leadership. She has written the book, “Peace Matters– Raising Peace Conscious Children,” and “SERVE: A Call to Muslims.” Soraya divides her time living between Los Angeles and Sri Lanka. Her workshops focus around empowering women to effectively participate in social justice and political decisions that impact their lives.