Muslim Women Reformers

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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ida Lichter, an Australian psychiatrist who was based in London for many years. She became interested in the Muslim women’s reform movement after the events of 9/11, and while she lived in a part of London characterized by a large migrant population and increasing Islamization. She is the author of Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression.

FP: Ida Lichter, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Let’s begin with what inspired you to write this book.

Lichter: The events of 9/11 created a huge publicity coup for Islamists. At the same time, voices of Muslim women activists were drowned out and further weakened when Middle Eastern countries shut down many dissident websites and blogs. In order to amplify the voices of reformers and bring them into the public domain, a book seemed necessary.

These activists are modern suffragettes. If empowered, they could provide a major social, political and economic resource for their societies.

I also felt inspired and humbled by the courage and sacrifice of those who were killed by misogynist Islamists and my book is dedicated to these heroines.

FP: How can Muslim women reformers be classified by ideology and geography?

Lichter: They are not a homogeneous group and many are still fledgling activists. Some are secular but the majority identify as practicing Muslims. The secular group rejects Sharia law in favor of civil law and a few, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan and Taslima Nasreen, reject Islam outright. These women suffer death threats, and are often branded American or Zionist agents and traitors.

In the religious group, Islamic feminists claim women’s rights can be provided within the framework of Islamic law. In general, they blame the culture of male-dominated tribalism and patriarchy for distorting authentic Islam and giving rise to sharia-legislated discrimination.

The greatest activity in women’s reform has emerged in Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

FP: What are some of the impacts of patriarchy and tribalism on Muslim societies?

Lichter: Control of women through marriage safeguards tribal property, family honor, inheritance and lineage. As men’s self-worth is linked to controlling the sexual behaviour of female kin, “honor killings” and domestic violence tend to be excused. In rural Afghanistan and Pakistan, women are also treated as collateral to settle family and tribal disputes.

Discrimination against girls is ingrained, as boys are favored over girls from birth, and receive better care, education and material goods. Social turmoil or fitna is ascribed to women, who are deemed temptresses capable of jeopardizing community stability, or even causing political corruption.

FP: What changes are Muslim women reformers trying to achieve?

Lichter: Reformers are trying to overturn discriminatory Sharia laws like lenient sentencing for “honor killings,” stoning to death for adultery, polygamy, child marriage, temporary marriage, unilateral divorce, and inequality regarding custody, citizenship, inheritance and ‘blood money’ – the compensation paid by a murderer to the family of the victim. Under Islamic law, payment for the death of a man is twice that of a woman.

Women want freedom to choose their clothing, abolition of male guardianship, and in Saudi Arabia, the right to vote and drive a car.

Some reformers believe education is the best antidote to the ideologies of jihadism, takfir (accusing other Muslims of heresy) and fighting the infidels, and educated women are less likely to provide a role model of the submissive, fearful woman or be cowed into indoctrinating children.

FP: How are women reformers attempting to achieve reform and what successes have they had?

Lichter: Collectively, Muslim women reformers are rising up, even though many are lone voices and their organizations are new.

The majority want to change discriminatory legislation by making changes within Islam, reclaiming the rights they believe women were originally granted in the Koran.

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  • Bamaguje

    Slavery ended in the West not because of anything Black people did, but because their slave masters – white people – had a change of heart.
    Similarly, Islamic oppression of women will only end when their oppressors (Muslim men) embrace secularism and abandon Sharia, not because of the feeble ineffectual efforts of "women reformers".
    Women suffrage in West succeeded not because of feminists, but because Western men had largely come to accept women equality.

    “Reformers have received little recognition or support by the U.S. Administration” – Lichter

    That would be counterproductive since these women reformers are already demonized as Zionist and American agents.

    ‘Wajeha Al-Huwaider and her colleagues protested against the guardian laws, using the slogan: “Treat Us Like Adult Citizens – Or We’ll Leave the Country.”’

    Empty threat, since they can’t leave that Wahabi Islamist hell-hole without the consent of their male guardian.

    • Tommo2

      Slavery hasn't stopped in the West and trafficking of people across Europe continues today.

      White people played only a small part in global slavery. By far the biggest slavers were Arabs who not only plotted with African leaders to take large numbers of their tribal enemies into slavery, but they also plundered coastal towns of Ireland and Southern England clearing out whole villages and shipping them off to become slaves of Islam. I don't hear Muslims apologising for the part they played in world slavery unlike the white man who seems he has to take responsibility for all the world's depravities.

    • visitor

      Your comment <<Slavery ended in the West not because of anything Black people did, but because their slave masters – white people – had a change of heart. >> is not accurate history. Most contemporary historians would say that slaves crossing over to Union lines, thereby depriving the Confederacy of their labor, and their eventual participation in the Union armed forces turned the tide of war and led to the Emancipation Proclamation and the evenual defeat of the Slave Power. Dr. Dubois wrote about this in "Black Reconstruction in America" in the 1930s, and today most mainstream historians validate his findings.

  • Chezwick_mac

    Gender equality is impossible within an "Islamic framework". Proponents of equality must look for solutions OUTSIDE the parameters of Islam…otherwise, the canonical texts – Quran, Hardith, Sira – will always remain an insurmountable impediment. This applies not only to women's rights, but to the equality of ALL people in the Islamic realm, particularly non-Muslims.

  • vaslovik

    Reform of Islam is not possible. Islam is a gigantic lie, and you cannot reform a lie.

    • ahmadnb

      This "lie" has survived for 1,400 years. That's a lot older than you and I, and will go on after we have left this world. If it is truly a "lie" as you claim it to be, it should have vanished when faced with the "truth". So what is the "truth"?

  • g_jochnowitz

    It is wonderful to know that there are women who are both bold and enlightened in the Islamic world. We must publicize their views and try to be of assistance to them.
    Religions evolve. Jews and Christians no longer execute witches and homosexuals, despite Exodus 22:18 and Leviticus 20:13.
    As we say in Chinese, "Don't fear slow progress; just fear no progress" (Bu pa man; jiu pa zhan).

  • neill

    a masterful report on a subject understood by few, including
    the current american administration, which has been of very little help in relation to supporting the aspirations of these women reformers or any other reformers for that matter

  • dawning

    I would sure like to read the passages they are trying to use from the koran that "reclaim the rights that women were given". I have read large pieces of the unholy book and there are MANY verses they would have to get rid of to achieve their goal. In short they would have to totally destroy isalm to ever truly have equality.

  • Tanstaafl

    I don't see much hope in "reforming" Islam. For 1400 years, Islam has been a monolith that has resisted all attempts to change the teachings of Mohammed or even interpret the sayings of this desert madman. It is a zero sum game.

    • ahmadnb

      You're full of it.

  • ahmadnb

    Have you ever lived outside your little bubble? It sure sounds like you don't get out there very often.

  • Barbara Cail

    Education is the unique gateway from oppression. Ida Lichter is contributing valuable knowledge for women in the West about the oppression of Muslim women. If we are educated in the West about the gender problems in Islam, hopefully it will provide a greater understanding and enable increasing reform.