A noble, yet daunting task
Dr Farzana Hassan, Toronto Sun
First posted: Thursday, September 12, 2013 06:41 PM EDT | Updated: Thursday, September 12, 2013 06:47 PM EDT
burkagirls TORONTO SUN FILES
Cultural projects struggle to attract federal funding. Yet the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) recently procured a grant from the federal government to fight violence against Muslim women in Canada.
The group will receive more than $300,000 for the project over the next two years. It will target all forms of violence toward Muslim women, not only the most vicious — honour killings.
The minister for status of women, Kellie Leitch, outlined the objectives of the project, saying “Canada is a very open and generous country, and we don’t want to extend … any tolerance to harmful cultural practices: Spousal abuse, killing in the name of so-called ‘honour’ [and] female genital mutilation.”
The aims are noble and commendably varied, but the task ahead is daunting.
The CCMW must first define and identify the varied and insidious forms of violence. Wife battery, spousal abuse and marital rape are sometimes precursors of honour killings, requiring intervention at these crucial stages of escalating tensions. Sadly, patriarchal cultures are still too medieval to see such actions as crimes.
The council must then craft a strategy to fight these inhumane practices among religious fundamentalists. Radical Islamists harbour the most trenchant revulsion toward women. They regard them as chattel to be controlled and subdued. The more passionately they love their book, the more they tend to hate women.
That hatred derives from radical interpretations of the Qur’an and Hadith. People who believe in violence against women adhere to literal interpretations of Qur’anic precepts. For that reason, such literal theologies must be discredited if headway is to be made toward eradicating misogyny among conservative Muslims.
Organizations like the CCMW can make progress toward convincing male Islamists to renounce violence only if they can first overcome these theological constraints. That is no easy task. Such men consider it their God-given right to beat women or to punish them for any perceived infractions.
They naturally repudiate any progressive or feminist interpretations of Qur’anic verses. Feminist Qur’an exegete Laleh Bakhtiar, for example, softened the controversial Qur’an verse 4:34, which permits husbands to beat their wives. Far from beating, she claims it really means walking away. The fundamentalists have of course rejected Bakhtiar’s explanation outright.
They constantly reinforce an obscurantist narrative steeped in unabashed patriarchy. Brampton imam Sheikh Faisal Hamid Abdur-Razak recently announced that stoning is good for the adulterer’s soul.
Perhaps the grimmest obstacle is that fundamentalist Muslim women tolerate — even revel in — the status quo. They believe male authority, however oppressive, is divinely conferred. If Muslim women themselves do not loudly declaim against such barbarity, conservative narratives will only neutralize any progress the CCMW strives to make.
Nothing can be accomplished unless there is honesty in the debate. The council must candidly identify the problem areas and boldly come up with solutions. The CCMW has acquired a reputation for placating the Islamists. Particularly troubling is their refusal to call a spade a spade or to call a murder in the name of honour an “honour killing,” in order not to upset the Islamists.
The obstacles are plenty. Conservative theology, combined with entrenched cultural practice, is a formidable obstacle. The members of the council will need to look inside themselves to find the courage to be honest and forthright. Yet the cause of combating violence against Muslim women is a noble one and this federal grant is an encouraging way to start.