Windows into Islam 5

Windows into Islam 5

The series of 6 blogs, “Windows into Islam”, are a compilation from many of my other writings and speaking on women who live under Islam, and the result of conversations with others who have done When Women Speak… I-view courses, and my friend and colleague Moyra Dale, who first used the concept of windows into Islam.

Windows into Islam come from a class I taught online in 2023 for the Lilias Trotter Centre.

Window 5: Media

When looking at contemporary issues in Islam for women, we have to include the window of the media. Women living under Islam are regularly news items for a whole variety of reasons. Because they are most regularly in Western media, their inclusion is most often for negative reasons: Hijab and veiling and wearing of the abaya (robe) continues to prove contentious for Western-oriented media with the French decisions to address what girls can wear to school the most recent; Girls and women who joined ISIS to become brides of Isis fighters, including what should happen to them now and their children; violence experienced by women including honour killings, sexual abuse, child abuse and other forms of sexual and physical violence.

Words that have become associated with Women living under Islam as a group are words that are usually used to describe something that has happened to someone or the person it has happened to, not to categorise a whole community of people. Thinks of words that come to mind, and that are often used in the world of mission, when we talk about Muslim women: helpless, oppressed, needy, marginalised, vulnerable, mistreated.

Many crimes against women living under Islam are perpetrated in the name of religion. These are crimes perpetrated against individuals like Mukhtar Mai, Samia Sarwar, Qadeel Balouch, Ahlam, Malala Yousafzia and so many more. Each of these and so many more women are victims of crimes of violence. Crimes committed in the name of religion against women for: seeking a divorce, pregnancy outside of marriage, leaving home for education, contact with a non-family member male, and issues around inheritance. Many of the reasons behind these crimes can be strengthened by using a religious imperative, if you rely on particular interpretations of religious texts.

We have a challenge. While issues like honour killings, FGM and many other issues impacting women’s lives adversely, can be justified in the name of religion, others would argue that these are cultural issues and not religious. Women who are not from Muslim communities also experience these sorts of violence. For example, FGM has been widely practiced in Egypt among both Christian and Muslim communities and in certain African countries where Islam is not the main religion. So, does an issue become a religious issue when certain people use religious arguments to justify it?

The Media uses a certain narrative to talk about Islam and issues they consider fitting under the Islamic religion rubric. As we think about Islam and women who live under Islam, we will need to ensure that we don’t follow this narrative.

Questions to explore

  1. What issues that are seen in media about Muslim women/Islam most affect the women in your community? How do these media images shape how you view your friends and the women in the community?
  2. What opportunities does this create for the good news?
  3. What stories of women in scripture speak to the way women are portrayed, seen, included by God?

Good news for women

Jesus refused to have his engagement with people shaped by the narratives that were created in his day. Whether it was the religious leaders of the temple who said what was right and wrong, who belonged and who didn’t, what you could do on what day and what you couldn’t, or his disciples wanting to control access and the discourse people could engage with Jesus about (think of the Syro-Phoenician woman), or social consciousness that meant a bleeding woman was humiliated every day in her society, or a man born blind who the disciples wanted to know who was to blame, Jesus challenged those narratives.

We are called, as his followers, to rewrite dominant discourses that shape the way our society, our church, and our mission label Muslim women and set up discriminatory and marginalising behaviours. We need to create safe spaces where women can create their own narrative, tell their own stories. Jesus did this. We see God constantly inviting women, and men, to tell their story by asking them questions and giving them the opportunity to say what was happening for them. Think of Hagar. Where are you going? And with that Hagar could give voice to her story. This is something for us to grow in practicing for our Muslim women friends.

Photo credit: Photo by أخٌ‌في‌الله on Unsplash

© When Women Speak … January 2024

CH spent nearly four decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and has returned as part of Interserve’s International Leadership. A co-founder of the When Women Speak… network, her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).

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