Distortions of Islam
by "60 Minutes"
As a member of Muslim women's
organization that has been speaking out for the rights of Muslim women,
I was disappointed in your story regarding Ayaan Hirsi Ali on March 13,
2005. The problem with such reporting when you fail to include
alternative Muslim women's voices is that the viewer is exposed to a
simplistic dichotomy which belies the true representation of the Muslim
community. The way this story reads there are people like
Ms. Hirsi Ali and the radicals. The truth is that millions of
Muslim women and men do challenge negative interpretations of the text
that oppress women while remaining devout Muslims in their own right.
Challenging the status quo while being committed to a faith that many of
us believe is founded on the most basic principle of justice is not
without risk. Yet, those who engage in such activity do not
achieve notoriety, perhaps because they are not choosing to reject Islam
in the process.
It is true that some segments of the
Muslim community do not understand that Islam itself protects freedom of
speech, including speech that Muslims may find abhorrent and
blasphemous. The Prophet Muhammad was exposed to slurs and insults
of the worst kind yet he prevented his companions from taking up arms
against those who verbally assaulted him. There is no
justification Islamically for an individual to kill Theo van Gogh for
expressing views that are distasteful to Muslims and many Muslim groups
(like the Muslim Public Affairs Council) have spoken out against
calls for violence against artists and authors such as Salman Rushdie.
Still, it is unfortunate that you continue
to perpetuate the stereotype of Muslim women, framing the story in such
a way that we have to abandon Islam to achieve freedom and
equality or to fully embrace democracy. I grew up in the US
reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys too. That never
presented a problem with my identity as a Muslim. Nor does being
an observant Muslim interfere with my career as a physician or as an
active member and leader within my own community. Cultural
practices that Muslims are unable to disentangle from religion are what
lead to many of the oppressive practices women face today (such as honor
killings, female genital cutting, forced illiteracy, etc.). That
is the battle many of us have been fighting for years.
Finally, the Qur'an does not say literally
or even in the wildest interpretations that it is lawful for a man to
rape his wife if she refuses to have sex with him. Marital rape
does exist and perhaps is encouraged by patriarchal cultural practices.
But the fact that Muslims erroneously use religion to justify such acts
does not mean they are condoned by Islam itself.
I would like to think that Ayaan Hirsi
Ali's efforts will pay off in terms of advancing the rights of
suffering Muslim women, rather than feed the anti-Muslim frenzy that
is fast overtaking Europe.
Laila Al-Marayati, MD
Spokesperson, Muslim Women's League
Los Angeles, California