5 years ago
I used to look at veiled women as quiet, oppressed creatures, until I was captured by the Taliban. In September 2001, just 15 days after the terrorist attacks on the United States, I snuck into Afghanistan, clad in a head-to-toe blue burqa, intending to write a newspaper account of life under the repressive regime. Instead, I was discovered, arrested and detained for 10 days. I spat and swore at my captors; they called me a “bad” woman but let me go after I promised to read the Qur’an and study Islam. (Frankly, I’m not sure who was happier when I was freed — they or I). Back home in London, I kept my word about studying Islam — and was amazed by what I discovered. I’d been expecting Qur’an chapters on how to beat your wife and oppress your daughters; instead, I found passages promoting the liberation of women. Two-and-a-half years after my capture, I converted to Islam, provoking a mixture of astonishment, disappointment and encouragement among friends and relatives.
“Don’t leave a bomb in the back seat” and asked, “Where’s bin Laden hiding?” Yes, it is a religious obligation for Muslim women to dress modestly, but the majority of Muslim women I know like wearing the hijab, which leaves the face uncovered, though a few prefer the niqab. It is a personal statement: my dress tells you that I am a Muslim and that I expect to be treated respectfully, much as a Wall Street banker would say that a business suit defines him as an executive to be taken seriously. And, especially among converts to the faith like me, the attention of men who confront women with inappropriate, leering behavior is not tolerable.
It is not just Muslim men who must re-evaluate the place and treatment of women. According to a recent National Domestic Violence Hotline survey, 4 million American women experience a serious assault by a partner during an average 12-month period. More than three women are killed by their husbands and boyfriends every day — that is nearly 5,500 since 9/11.
If they want to be fair they should talk about the status of women in the holy texts of Islam.