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Questions of faith & freedom
Does the exercise of power by a woman make her a prostitute?

By Darya Allen-Attar
November 20, 2001
The Iranian

Why is the expression of a deep and abiding faith in God, and the commitment to living a moral life tantamount to living a life full of restrictions for women in so many Islamic countries? I was born a girl in Iran, but my mother, grandmother and aunts were and are strong, well-educated, powerful, opinionated women. These family women held positions of power and raised assertive, independent women. I was told that Islam is a great peaceful religion, that puts women on a special pedestal. But I have been observing the Moslem world, reading my history, studying items from the Koran and I have some questions about women and Islam.

Why do Islamic societies prescribe restrictions on women, and why do these women abide by them? I have read that the prophet's wife was a strong woman, who actually led men into battle on occasion after the prophet's death. It seems that she was not a retiring flower, daring not to venture out of the home without a male escort, living inside the harem or "andarooni" with repressed expression of power. There are accounts in history of queens in early Islamic societies. It is said that even the so-called barbaric Mongols, who converted to Islam allowed women the right to hold power, exercise power, to walk about uncovered, and enjoy self-expression.

Pious Moslem women all over the world seemingly enjoy restrictions, and with free will choose to live a life in accordance to rules of behavior mandated by their particular brand of Islam. The burqa, the chador, the hijab has become a weapon in many women's minds in the war against the West. They wear it as a sign of nationalism, cultural expression, piety, defiance, or a means of protest. By wearing the veil, by refusing to drive, by not wearing makeup, by not working outside the home, by not dating, by marrying a man chosen for them, by not seeking and enjoying an education; they become soldiers in the war against the West. Why is wearing the hijab a more powerful expression of defiance for a woman, than speaking out, leading a rally, taking up real weapons, charging into battle on horse back (as the prophet's wife did)?

If you think back on the early days of the Iranian revolution, Islamic law impacted all aspects of life, but on a superficial level the impact of Islamic law was most apparent in the lives of Iranian women. In Afghanistan it was the same. What do restrictions on women really have to do with living a life in accordance with the will of Allah? What would the prophet say about all this? When the prophet brought his message to the people of Mecca and Medina was it primarily a message about the corrupting influence of women on society, or the fact that women tempt men to commit acts of evil?

We know that in all these societies, many women who choose to expand the role of women are branded prostitutes. I am using the word prostitute loosely, but anyone with any experience with Moslem cultures will immediately understand the way this word is being used. In Afghanistan under the Taliban, a woman who worked outside of the home was branded a prostitute. In Iran, a woman without proper hijab over the last 20 years has been branded a prostitute. In Saudi Arabia, a woman who drives a car may be branded a prostitute. In the United States, a young Moslem girl who chooses to wear makeup and date early may be branded a prostitute.

Does the exercise of power by a woman make her a prostitute? A woman who works after all has economic power and may be able to determine her own fate, without a husband. A woman who drives a car controls her own movement. The leader of the faithful, Mullah Omar, has said that an Afghan woman who does not live according to the restrictions imposed on women by the Taliban is a prostitute. Is protecting women from being prostitutes, at the core of the battle between the West and Islam over the role of women.

The real question is, can women ever live a faithful life in Islam with rights and restrictions, equal to those imposed on men? Will Moslem men ever be able to organize societies, which are free of oppression for all? I invite your thoughts.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Darya Allen-Attar


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