They Hate Women Don’t They?

“It must be terrible having to wear all that,” a friend of mine was told last December as she attended a meeting to discuss the future of Afghanistan, particularly its women – “all that” being some baggy clothing and a headscarf.

“Not particularly,” she retorted, putting an abrupt end both to the conversation and to the prospect of building bridges between Muslim and secular feminists.

My friend is the founder of an NGO dedicated to penal reform. A convert to Islam, she is as British and as white as the participant who so earnestly assumed she was a victim of the Taliban and in need of liberation. No doubt the woman meant well, but no amount of good intentions justifies the way that she, like many others, berates Islam for embodying all things anti-women. This misconception predates the Rushdie era – indeed, so oppressed were we deemed to be in the 80s that even an illicit affair with Ricky Butcher in EastEnders provided an avenue of liberation.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission receives case after case of employers and educators using this image of the downtrodden Muslim woman to excuse discrimination. Muslim women are denied many opportunities on the assumption that they will – if not on a whim then by force – get married, or have many children. Or they face the horrendous dilemma of having to choose between employment and their Islamic garb.

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