According to Human Rights Watch, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group whose stated goal was to create a state based on the Biblical 10 Commandments, has kidnapped and killed tens of thousands of people over the years. 1990 and 2000.
Their practice of kidnapping boys into soldiers and girls into sexual slavery was documented and brought to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, resulting in an arrest warrant for Joseph. Kony, the group’s founder, along with four of its top executives, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Although, according to its leaders, the armed group was a Christian army acting like God, few opinion pieces have had to be written arguing that the actions of the LRA do not conform to normative Christianity. It’s just (rightly) assumed.
Unfortunately, a completely different set of rules apply when it comes to Muslims. The commentary surrounding the most recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is just one example.
Reports have revealed that Afghan women are being forced to marry Taliban fighters, quit their jobs and schooling, as well as endure public flogging.
Rather than calling for the extension of asylum programs or even exerting political pressure on the Taliban to reform, right-wing politicians in Europe and the United States have instead instrumentalised the current instability. in this war-torn country to score political points against their Muslim citizens and immigration. promoters.
As Muslim citizens of Western countries, we have once again found ourselves defending our community and our faith against those who wish to exploit this tragedy to propagate Islamophobic tropes – the same tropes that were used to justify the invasion of Israel. Afghanistan two decades ago.
We are now, as we were then, supposed to clarify, condemn and distinguish our faith from the actions of a militant group claiming to act on its behalf, an unjust and exhausting demand not made by our fellow Christians, regarding any armed group or criminal war claiming to be act in the name of Christ.
Yet despite the double standard, we must take these moments as opportunities to educate. So let me be clear: the normative teachings of Islam are the opposite of the reported treatment of women by the Taliban.
The teachings of Islam, in all their diversity, encourage a woman’s spiritual aspirations in the absence of an intercessor between her and God and define her identity as first and foremost a servant of the Divine, whose rights constitute a sacred covenant. In 7th century Arabia, the advance of Islam shifted a woman from property status to a fully independent agent who controlled her financial decisions and property and who had the right to choose to marry and divorce. .
What about the employment of women? From the earliest generation of believers, women served everything from medical workers to warriors. For example, Rufaida Al-Aslamia was a surgeon recognized by the Prophet for her care of the wounded, her training as nurses and her role in establishing the first field hospital for the community. Nusaybah bint Ka’ab was known as the “Prophet’s Shield” for defending him in battle, even when many men fled.
The teachings of Islam also emphasize the importance of the pursuit of knowledge, for both men and women. In fact, the world’s first known university, the University of al-Qarawiyyin in the Moroccan city of Fez, was founded over 1,000 years ago by Fatima al-Fihri, a Muslim woman. It is the oldest existing and still operating educational institution in the world.
Fatima and her sister, Mariam, were highly educated and dedicated to their faith. Upon her father’s death and her inheritance of her fortune (yes, Muslim women could inherit property centuries before their European counterparts), she and her sister decided to use their wealth to build an institution of higher education. .
The dedication of the al-Fihri sisters to the pursuit of knowledge is far from an isolated example. Four years ago, while on a speaking tour of the UK, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Mohammad Akram Nadwi, author of an encyclopedia of the Muhaddithat, the scholars of Hadith, the collection of prophetic narratives of Islam.
He told me that he set out to write a little book about what he believed to be a handful of female Hadith scholars, and ended up completing 57 volumes (which he had to condense to 40 for publication) out of about 9,000 of them. He continues his research and says there are thousands of other women he could write about. I learned from him that many of the scholars we consider to be the pillars of our tradition have female teachers (not just female students).
It should also be noted that Dr. Nadwi set out to study only the scholars of the Hadith. Many of these women were also scholars of fiqh (law), tafsir (scriptural exegesis) and other sciences with Hadith. I remember wondering what the number would be if he had undertaken to study female scholars of Islam in general.
And yet, these realities contrast sharply with the image of Muslim women in the popular imagination, an imagination easily persuaded that the Taliban represents Islamic devotion, not deviance, in their treatment of women. According to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding’s Islamophobia Index, the stereotype of Muslim misogyny is the most common anti-Muslim trope among Americans.
Western politicians have long instrumentalised the image of the oppressed Muslim woman needing Western saviors to justify the invasion and exploitation of Muslim lands by Europeans, and later by Americans. Although this trend dates back to the Crusades, in the modern context it takes the form of biased media coverage of Muslim women.
According to a Stanford study conducted by Dr. Rochelle Terman, who based her analysis on data collected over 35 years of reporting from the New York Times and The Washington Post, U.S. media coverage of women abroad is motivated by a bias. of confirmation. Journalists are more likely to cover women living in Muslim and Middle Eastern countries if their rights are violated, but to cover women in other societies when their rights are respected.
Some might argue that this is just a reflection of reality. Women in predominantly Muslim countries, they say, are more often raped. But this is not the case. Terman writes: “Even though nations rank more or less even on the Women’s Rights Index, women in Muslim countries suffer from misogyny, while women in Western countries are portrayed in more complex ways.
Even when their lived realities are similar, Muslim women are portrayed as more abused than their counterparts from other faiths, reproducing the false notion that misogyny is uniquely and inherently Muslim.
We must become critical consumers of information, challenge double standards and prejudices, and not allow anyone to use the actions of a militant group to propagate bigotry. This is the only way we will truly stand in solidarity with the Afghan people, women and men, who must lead any effort to support them.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.