Stop the Stereotypes

Response to Chicago Tribune’s “A feminist’s case against Islam”

As a Muslim woman I was greatly disturbed by the article in the Woman News section entitled “A feminist’s case against Islam” (Feb. 1). Although the reporter attempts to offer the truth to the readers through the voice of Fadwa El Guindi, this reality is lost between the fallacies Phyllis Chesler is trying to promote.

Any reasonable person will know that one cannot reach a conclusion by basing all evidence on only one personal experience. Yet this is exactly what Chesler is doing. She defines Islam’s treatment of women in the context of her one encounter with Muslims in Afghanistan during the 60s. That would be akin to someone claiming that discrimination against women in Western culture is rampant because until 1971, women in Switzerland did not have the right to vote.

As a Muslim, I condemn female genital mutilation and domestic violence. Both these practices have no basis in Islam whatsoever and are definitely not mandated by holy teachings. FGM is prevalent in both Sierra Leone and Ethiopia, where the populations of Muslims are equal to those who practice traditional beliefs and Orthodox Christianity. There are women in the United States that put up with years of domestic abuse: between 1 and 4 million women annually are victims of domestic violence. Both these practices predate Islam and are used against women across religious lines.

Chesler claims that Muslim women must be “deprogrammed” so that they can realize they are being discriminated against. How does Chesler deal with the fact that so many Muslim women in the West continue to practice their religion, including choosing to cover their hair? How does she deal with the statistics that show that at least 35 percent of Americans who convert to Islam annually are women? There is obviously something in Islam that its female adherents see that Chesler chooses to completely disregard. Perhaps it is Islam’s incessant insistence on the equality of men and women. Or perhaps it is Islam’s own feminist history of elevating women in social, economic and political aspects of life.

Feminists like Chesler who are crying over the rights of Muslim women should look at their own country to see what discrimination is. Since 1789 only 33 women have served as U.S. Senators. Today there are only 14 female senators, 0.14 percent of the Senate, even though women make up 51.3 percent of the population. America has yet to have a women president, though several countries with strong Islamic influences have embraced top women leaders, including Pakistan, Turkey and Bangladesh.

These are all facts that are absent in Chesler’s book, a book that does exactly what the author herself claims is wrong with Islam: giving only one opinion and demanding that that opinion be accepted. I urge the Chicago Tribune to publish this response in the WN section so that readers have access to another view, which is what journalism should provide.