Welcome to my third post in my series Learning About Islam.
As I mention in a previous post ‘Learning About Islam ~ My Questions’, my initial exploration into what Islam is all about left me with quite a few questions. Obviously I didn’t get these answered all at once! In fact, I didn’t even think of all these questions at the same time. Rather, they developed over several months, just spinning around in the back of my mind.
Seeking answers to these questions also didn’t occur all at once. Instead, I’d see something and want to know more. Below is a summation of some of the information I found that lead to ‘answers’ for my questions.
(NOTE: these answers may not be true or accurate. They are simply what I found and observed on my own during my time of information seeking)
3 ~ Are women being denigrated and subjugated by men? Is that what Islam actually does?
It can be very difficult to separate Religion and Culture, particularly in the more strict Muslim countries were their cultural norm is based around the Laws of Islam, hence they are known as Islamic or Muslim countries.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Australia doesn’t do this. Australia (Like America and many European countries) have laws that are based on Christian beliefs and values. You only need to look at Australia’s public holiday system to see that the majority of our holidays are Christian. To my knowledge we don’t have special public holidays where Australia openly celebrates non-Christian holidays. We have a few secular (non-religious) holidays, but the country doesn’t stop for other religious festivities.
Why is that important? Well, my exploration of ‘are women being denigrated and subjugated’ is limited to the Australian context. I have not explore this within the context of Muslim/Islamic countries. I simply couldn’t do that topic justice, given the varied social, political and culture issues that come into play. So, let’s just focus on Australia.
Are Muslim women forced to wear Hijab? Forced by who? The government? Obviously not, Australia has a fairly lax dress code. Meter Maids anyone? The key is wear what you want. During my exploration of this topic, I read someone say ‘but Muslim Australian women and migrant women don’t know any different’… wow, ok, way to deny someone’s intelligence. Muslim women are not inherently stupid and unable to think and consider options because they are Muslim (or choose to be Muslim). But if I were to entertain that argument, I could say that Australian women don’t know the difference, as they haven’t worn one and may not know the reasons why women might choose to wear one.
Look, to the best of my knowledge, no one is in a Muslim woman’s home, holding them down and force wrapping a Hijab around their head. I realise that is a little extreme. I am aware people mean culturally forced to wear one. Or that if they don’t wear one, they will be shamed and isolated from their family or friends.
Well, I have a news flash here for you. Being shamed or isolated from family and friends isn’t a Muslim thing, and it’s not just occurring around Hijab wearing. Here are some Australian cultural examples:
- go to the beach in a bikini, but you’re not stick thin
- the debate over public education, private education or homeschooling
- catholic vs uniting church vs Anglican, etc
- boys playing with dolls, girls playing with trucks
- being gay!
And not too long ago, interracial marriages!
So, no one is forced to wear Hijab in Australia. There may be religious and cultural pressures to wear one, but you cannot force someone to wear it.
What rules of men are women being forced to live by?
This one had me really confused for a while. My conclusion is that we find it difficult to accept the patriarchal nature of the Muslim culture. And on many levels, I agree that it is definitely patriarchal. So is Australia. The fight is there to even the scales, but it is deeply rooted in culture and religion.
But let’s not forget, patriarchal society doesn’t always benefit the man. To be a ‘man’ in a patriarchal society comes with a lot of pressure. It all rests on him. HE must provide for the family. HE must be strong. HE must be capable of providing spiritual guidance. HE must protect his wife and family. HE holds the ultimate responsibility for all the deeds, good and bad, that happens to his family or that his family do.
I’m reminded that each and every law and rule we follow in this country has it’s origins as man made or decided. I argue that we are all, Muslim or non-Muslim, living by laws that were decided on by men.
Other than that, I don’t know a lot more about this particular topic. My research hasn’t made it clear what ‘rules’ people refer to. It appears to be a generalised statement about women doing what their husband say, or what the male religious leaders say.
But again, in the Australian context, the only law you can be ‘forced’ to live by is the Australian law. Everything else is social and religious pressure.
Is there a difference between Australian Muslim women and Muslim women overseas?
From the blogs I’ve read, there doesn’t seem to be too much.
I did not that a lot more women overseas are speaking up about issue that would be termed ‘feminist’ or women’s rights however the lack of content from Australian women may simply be because many Australian Muslim women already enjoy the freedoms that Muslim women overseas are pushing for.
Muslim Australian or Muslim from overseas, they are religiously more or less the same. Guided by the same book. There may be cultural differences, but again I stress that people should not confuse cultural behaviour and religious behaviour as the same thing.
If women are being harmed, what’s the underlying cause? Is it religion? Is it cultural? Is it prevalent in Australia?
This is so hard to find. News, blogs and some gov websites, have noted that migrant populations often experience more conflicts with our laws than people born in Australia.
This could be for any number of reasons, for example, lower socio-economic status has been shown to be a significant indicator of whether someone will engage in criminal activities to have their needs met (like stealing).Many people who come to this country are often disadvantaged with lower education or standards different to ours, challenges with language, finding work is difficult, etc.
As I’ve mentioned in another post, a hot topic of ‘women being harmed’ is domestic violence. I couldn’t find any information to support the idea that more Muslim women are the victims of violence than any other cohort in this country.
What is it like to wear a Hijab? If I wore one, would I experience negative responses from the community I live in?
This seems like the kind of question you can only answer by actually wearing a Hijab!
So I scrounged around in my cupboard to find a scarf that I would normally wear around my neck in winter, watched a few YouTube videos, practiced putting one on, then I ventured out into the big bad, scary world of the sunshine coast.
I did this on 2 different occasions (For those of you reading this who are Muslim, please pardon my hair. I was learning!).
This first time I went out, my ever supportive Husband
came along. We went out and had breakfast at a café in
Maroochydore then went for a stroll along the water.
I admit, I was disappointed. No one stared for hours on
end, no one insulted me or shamed Islam. It was all
incredibly normal. Within a minute I’d forgotten I was
even wearing it.
The second time I went out and about, my husband dropped me off at Sunshine Plaza. I wandered around by myself, looking in clothing stores, grabbing some lunch, bought an instant scratchy, etc.
I smiled at random people, I helped a lovely elderly couple to locate a particular store (they were trying to use the shopping centres computerized screen to lookup stores), I stopped to assist a lost child who’d walked out of a shop away from his mum, etc.
After a few hours, I was exhausted from shopping, but still I remained unaccosted by the general public. In fact, I’d had nothing but positive experiences… again as I was disappointed as I hadn’t been able to recreate what the news and media were leading me to believe… Namely that Australians hate the very sight of a Hijab or Muslim person.
What was it like to wear it? Actually incredibly normal. Ever pulled the hoody up on your jacket? Or held an umbrella over your head? Or worn a hat? It’s pretty much like that.
Depending on interpretation, you do need to be careful about your hair showing (oh but my color is soooo pretty!!!) and readjust occasionally, but to my surprise they don’t move around that much.
(And to make some of you feel a little better, here is a photo to show my Hijab skills, knowledge and wardrobe did improve over the following months)
Stay tuned for the next post in this series.