Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gender Parity in Al-Fatiha

As I have noted in my prior posts on Bibi Miriam, until tradition-bound Muslims can accept that a woman also has the capacity for Prophet hood, sainthood and hence spiritual leadership, it will be difficult to accept the notion of gender parity in certain parts of the Ummah. However, there is hope on the horizon and this is as a result of creating equal opportunities for women in the field of education. As Hooman Majd reports in his book "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ," the issue is quickly emerging so that we may even see some progress in our lifetimes:

"A nation that churns out hundreds of thousands of college graduates each year - 60 percent of them women - many of whom end up either jobless or working in fields below their qualifications (such as running a taxi service or even driving a cab), will have to deal with the question of gender equality sooner rather than later, and Bojnourdi's pronouncements on female presidents, distraction or not, are seen to be a step in the right direction. For if a woman can be president, it surely follows that she can also be a judge (a position denied the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi), and if she can be a judge, then perhaps more liberal interpretations of the law, on issues such as divorce, child custody, and spousal rights, might soon gain favor. And if a woman can be president, then surely she would no longer need her husband's or her father's permission to travel abroad - a law that dates from the time of the Shah, who despite his Western ways and progressive reputation, was as sexist and misogynist as some of the Ayatollahs - unlike Bojnourdi, who is a voice of reason in an often unreasonable debate.

The Shah, who had divorced two women he claimed to love for their inability to produce a male heir, when asked by Barbara Walters in an interview in 1977 about his earlier sexist comments to the journalist Oriana Fallaci, didn't deny them, and in fact went further in dismissing equality of the sexes and betrayed his misogyny by saying that women hadn't even been able to produce a famous and great chef (he must not have heard of Alice Waters, whose reputation and restaurant were in their infancy at the time). Walter's follow up question, with the Shah's wife, Farah, looking on, was whether he believed that Mrs. Pahlavi could govern as as well as a man, and he replied that he "preferred not to answer." I remember feeling sorry for the empress, whose tear-filled eyes were clearly visible even on my small portable TV. But in the context of the kinds odd questions on women's rights that have been debated in Iran since before the revolution, it is easy to see why the issue of the hijab, a flashpoint for liberals in the West but an inconvenience that pales in significance compared with other gender issues in Iran, is not a battle that women are keen to fight, at least not yet." (2008, pp. 215-216).

~ Excerpted from "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ" by Hooman Majd.

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