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Perspective on Women's Plight in Afghanistan

by Hassan Hathout, M.D., Ph.D.
1996

American Muslims were saddened and shocked by the news. This is one time we hoped it was just another example of the fabricated lies against Islam and Muslims. Reports sprinted through the air waves that upon the triumphant conquest of the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, the Afghan Tailban ordered women out of school and out of their jobs and mandated on men to grow a beard. More distressing was the news that this was announced as a fulfillment of the teachings of Islam. Perhaps if the pretext was their own vision or the special brand of their culture, the concern would have fallen under the general umbrella of human rights, as indeed is the case. But when Islam is dragged into it, Muslims in particular should be specially involved.

We feel it is our duty to defend the religion and defend its reputation, often tarnished by the Western media, but in this case, regrettably, by ill-advised Muslims. We go to great lengths educating people about what Islam really is; but in this case, we have to educate all Muslims. And it is not, as you might think, that because we are American Muslims, our Islam must have been diluted and corrupted by the vagaries of Western life. Not at all. We are indeed Islam-abiding people, fairly conservative, and are blessed with Islamic scholarship that matches any elsewhere. And we enjoy a measure of freedom in living and expressing our religion that is not available in many so-called Muslim counties, even though we have our grievances and complaints.

The Taliban must know, as we do, that the Prophet said, "The pursuit of knowledge is obligatory over every Muslim, male or female." Muslim women attained such scholarship that they became teachers to prominent men. Islam gave women the right to mange their wealth, generate income, and issued them the right of individual, independent ownership. The whole medical corps of the Prophet's army was an all-woman corps, and in some battles women took sword and shield and joined active combat, to be later praised by the Prophet. Women participated in public affairs, and it was the wisdom of Um-Salamah, the wife of the Prophet, that diffused the crisis amongst the Muslims at the Hudaybiah treaty. Caliph Omar, the second successor to the Prophet as head of state, appointed a woman judge, Al-Shaffa, over commercial affairs. When Omar gave directives regarding the marriage dowry, it was a woman in the mosque who stood up to correct him by quoting the Quran, only for him to say, "The woman is right and I am wrong."

To sweep away the pre-Islamic culture of ignorance that degraded the status of woman, Islam declared gender equality through the Prophet's words, "Women are the siblings of men." And when we come to the ultimate universal mission of the Muslim Umma (communities), i.e. enjoining good and forbidding evil, we find the Quran assigning it equally saying, "The believing men and women are the confidants to one another; they enjoin good and forbid evil."

It is a competitive world and fates of nations are being decided upon their acumen of knowledge and information. We cannot afford to continue to be parasites upon other nations, whether for the tank we drive or the loaf of bread we eat every day. In this respect we cannot just inactivate one half of our human resources. In some places in the Muslim world, women (and indeed men) are suppressed and denied their basic Islamic rights, but nothing to match the Taliban's recent decrees at the doorsteps of the 21st century.

Obviously, the Taliban's military prowess far exceeds their knowledge of Islam. When they fought the Russians, they captured our hearts and we invested so much hope in them. Our dreams were shattered as they emerged from their victory killing one another. Now the Taliban emerge victorious, but certainly Islam does not. Islam requires them to heal their enmities, build their country and clean it from hatred and prejudice, for this the razor that, as the Prophet said, does not shave hair, but shaves off religion.

Dr. Hathout is the Director of Outreach at the Islamic Center of Southern California.

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