Once upon a time there used to be billboards for Virginia Slims cigarettes with the slogans, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” The billboards are gone now, but in their place are billboards for All-American Muslim which substitute the hijab for the cigarette. The same left which was outraged at a company marketing cigarettes as a form of female empowerment is completely supportive of marketing 7th century Islamic misogyny as female empowerment.
“The Fast and the Furious,” the second episode of TLC’s All-American Muslim, plays out like a hijab commercial, along with a pitch for the Ramadan fast. But what is missing is any acknowledgement of the violent means by which the hijab is imposed on Muslim and non-Muslim women around the world. For many women, even in North America, the consequences of not wearing the hijab can be fatal.
Sixteen-year-old Aqsa Parvaz was strangled to death by her father because she refused to wear a hijab… not somewhere in Pakistan, but in Ontario. In that same city, Mohammad Shafia killed his three daughters, ranging in age from 13 to 19, over their refusal to wear hijabs. There is no way to know if Virginia Slims or the hijab killed more women, but we do know that today it is unacceptable to show women smoking, but it is acceptable to promote treating them as chattel.
All-American Muslim had set out to show that Muslims weren’t terrorists, that they are just the neighbors next door. What a pity then that the second episode features a terrorist supporting cleric providing hijab counseling to one of the show’s stars.
Imam Abdul Latif Berry spoke at a 2009 commemoration ceremony for the Ayatollah Khomeini which took place at his own Islamic Institute of Knowledge. And he’s also quite a feminist. His website features an opinion that a husband can deny his wife a divorce if she does not return the dowry and in another appears to justify marital rape.
So, the wife must obey her husband by giving him his physical rights which he asks from her; she has to make herself available to him when he wants her; she has no right to abstain unless she has her period, a medical condition, or a difficulty that keeps her from responding favorably to him. If he demands his right and obliges her, this would not be rape in the Islamic Law, but something basic in the concept of marriage contract. Otherwise, what would marriage be without mating?
What about beating your wife? Imam Abdul Latif Berry has the answer for how to deal with a wife who won’t perform her “marital duties.”
When all peaceful methods have been exhausted and attempts to fix the problem have failed, and if this is the only means for reform, practice disciplinary confrontation with the rebellious wife. Again, Islam poses extreme conditions on this last step. The confrontation must not lead to injury or leave bruises. It must not be done in revenge or be based on hatred which trespasses the set limits, but instead be prescribed like the bitter medicine with calculated dosages to speed reform while still protect from harming the self and others.
What about marrying thirteen year olds?
The girl’s menstrual period is a natural sign that her body qualifies her for fertility, pregnancy, or reproduction. Islam does not contradict the natural aspect of life. Therefore, it does not oppose marriage at a younger age when the girl is naturally ready. However, American civil laws prohibit such marriage but could allow it in some states with parental consent and with the approval of a civil judge after verifying that the girl is qualified to wed.
This is the Islamic feminism that lurks behind the scenes of the placid life of All-American Muslim’s Dearborn, Michigan. When the cameras stop rolling, this is the religious authority that governs the lives of the “All-American Muslims” on the show. A man who praises the Butcher of Tehran and treats marital rape and wife beating as legitimate forms of behavior.
How does TLC feel about promoting a man who preaches such ugly doctrines? We’ll never know until they are actually challenged on it and until the show’s sponsors, which include Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Clinique are actually called upon to explain their relationship with the program.
The presence of Imam Abdul Latif Berry peels back the veil to reveal what is really underneath the smiling faces in their hijabs – a misogynistic religious authority that uses the Koran to demean and subjugate women. And Berry’s presence is a shadow on more than just the episode; it is a shadow on the entire premise of All-American Muslim.
All-American Muslim pretends that we can best learn about Islam, not by looking at a Koran, but at the ordinary lives of Muslims. But devout Muslims are not in charge of their own lives. It is men like Imam Berry who control their lives by controlling their religion.
Americans have grown used to taking decentralized religious authority for granted, but in Islam that is not the case; religious authority is not decentralized. Everything from deciding whether to beat your wife or to divorce her depends on the will and whim of men like Imam Berry.
We cannot understand what Islam in America means without also understanding the role played by Islamic religious authorities who are transforming their mosques into the nucleus of a theocracy. And so by the words of the Koran women are beaten, young girls are married off to older men and Sharia courts reduce women to the status of second-class citizens. All of this happens under the red, white and blue, and all of it is ignored or brushed aside in the name of tolerance.
There are two Islams in America. The ideal Islam and the real Islam. The ideal Islam is the religion of peace that so many Americans wish it could be. But the real Islam is the one that defines rules for beating your wife. And to look away from that Islam is to look away from the honor-killings and the subjugation of women.
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