THE BLOG

On Islam and Feminism

03/12/2014 01:24 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2014
  • Sami H. Elmansoury Executive at Precision Learning; owner of blog American Reflections; writer; public speaker; investor

This week saw a vast social media firestorm stemming from an Islamic scholar in the United Kingdom, one who was taken to task by Muslims and Non-Muslims alike for mocking the purpose of International Women's Day. Those who defended him argued that his numerous statements were satirical. Yet his defense of himself suggested otherwise, and made benefit of the doubt a tremendous challenge.

Regardless of station or position within any community, we are accountable for what we say and do. I frequently give public remarks. I write. I engage. Irrespective of whether individuals know me on a personal level, they will often pass judgment based upon my online and public presence. Fair? Perhaps not.

But this is the reality of the social media world, and I am cognizant to be as consistent as possible in my sincere messaging, and in trying hard to honor that others may agree or disagree. There are times when I have also had to apologize.

I cannot determine the course for another, including the scholar in question. I do know that what happened this week was beyond sense of humor. I know that in the case of one who considers himself to be a scholar of religion, it is simply not becoming to use hurtful sarcasm, nor to mock the efforts and lives of others -- whether in public or behind closed doors. And knowing the burden of scholarship that the individual has taken on by choice, such actions, exacerbated by a lack of regret, represent an egregious, deeper problem.

Despite the clear mantra of the scholar, it is a tired action to simply state that "If only we practiced religion as it should be, all would be well." This is supposed to sound promising -- in principle. But it is a cop-out from facing the existent reality. We need activists to keep us walking on our toes. To do more than simply question the status quo, applying loose bandages while suggesting that "this is not the true teaching of our faith."

Otherwise, as we have done in the past and the present, we, as men, may continue to abuse our power. Stepping back and looking objectively at the image as a whole, our overall gender track record -- let's be real with each other -- is abysmal. And while there are plenty of stated justifications for committing a crime against another, I regret to say that these crimes are too often justified -- again and again -- in the name of "rights given to men" by way of faith.

For those who may use this piece to attempt to demonize over one billion Muslims, know this: I am not your ally. Although there are other communities which have indeed had more advanced conversations on this issue to date, statistically, this is not a matter that is simply endemic in Muslim men nor limited to followers of Islam -- with the problem of misogyny and sexism manifesting itself in Hindu, Jewish, Christian, and other communities worldwide. But my concern, for the moment, is Islam and the disturbing comments and conversations this week, emerging from an influential scholar in the United Kingdom. My concern is the rush to defend these actions. My concern is the lack of recognition that there is, in fact, a problem. My concern is the dominating reluctance to speak out.

In earnest refutation to his beliefs, feminism does not equate to social extremism. Feminism was practiced in the earliest days of Islamic tradition, when some of the fiercest questions about women's issues were discussed, and it is practiced until today, worldwide -- in the quest to ensure that our mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters are given unquestionable respect and due honor, amid cultures and traditions that demand otherwise.

Nor is feminism a laughing matter. Women have given their lives to ensure that those who suffer at the hands of parental and spousal abusers, who suffer from FGM, daughter rape, forced child marriage, murder justified through a broken lens of honor -- a list that is as extensive as it is tragic -- are protected and are given the spotlight. Regardless of his personal and -- according to his defenders -- apparently unspoken views, this individual has publicly overlooked his faith's declared inner purpose: to consistently better humanity, to call injustice to task, to honor women by internalizing their historic plight, just as we work hard to do when fighting racism or any other form of xenophobia -- and to support those individuals who do. Men and women consistently make jokes about the other. Each of us has an aunt or uncle who absolutely despises the other side. The challenge arises when jokes become our normative truths, and when we train youth, whether subtly or overtly, to believe them to be true.

So let us step out of our alleged jest and publicly remind ourselves of what is not our right to devalue: Women are of equal worth to men. This can no longer be negotiated, whether in political circles, religious circles, family circles, or elsewhere. And when women's issues are discussed, women should always be at the table. Women's rights, frankly, are human rights. And each woman who shares this Earth with men, deserves the same respect. Let's work toward the moment when these days of specific recognition -- such as International Women's Day -- are no longer a necessity for our global society.

But for now, as is evidenced by the events of the past week, their importance cannot be overstated.