Posted in Islam & Interfaith Subjects

Zaidism and Women’s Liberation (Part 2 of 2)

Here is the rest of the previous article that Zaidi copied and pasted in the article. I’ve left everything the same way she wrote it.

Here is the article by Abdullah Hamidaddin, entitled ” Segregating women from their humanity”:

Part 1: I was visiting a friend a few days ago in Little Rock, Arkansas, state of President Clinton and other prominent American leaders. He took me around the city starting from the Clinton Presidential Library and ending in Little Rock High School, the center of political and social events that constituted a turning point in the social history of the United States.

Though the American constitution grants individuals equal rights, yet there were those who interpreted it in a way that legitimized racial segregation between blacks and whites; thus “constitutionally” not allowing blacks to mix with whites in schools and other public areas. The legal principle which proponents of segregation upheld was “separate but equal”. Whites and blacks are equal in the eyes of the law, but each in their own geographical space. Opponents of segregation resisted such a principle more than one time of which one was in 1923 where the majority of the Supreme Court supported that principle justifying it by saying: “if one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution cannot put them on the same plane.”

In 1954 the Supreme Court rejected that principle and considered racial segregation unconstitutional. As one would expect, things didn’t simply end here. In spite of a constitution that guarantees equal rights and supported with an interpretation that prohibits racial segregation, some southern states rejected the court’s decision. Three years later 9 black students decided to act upon their constitutional right and attend school in the whites only Little Rock Public High School. Events escalated till President Eisenhower intervened in 25th September 1957 sending 1200 soldiers to the high school to protect the students and uphold the law. The legal victory of 1954 was based on psychological considerations. Opponents of racism presented evidence proving that racial segregation creates a feeling of inferiority leading to a permanently unhealthy person, who despises him/her self and has low self esteem. Those studies helped turn the case around to the side of the opponents of racial segregation.

The whole story is rich in meaning and deserves much contemplation, but at the time the foundations of the court’s ruling particularly caught my attention. The wording of the Constitution did not change, but consideration of the psychological impact of racial segregation lead to a change in its interpretation in a way that invalidates legalization of segregation even criminalizing it.

What can we say about the consequences of the demeaning situation of the Saudi woman? And how important is it to include those consequences in the legal and jurisprudential debate?

On different occasions I would ask Saudi women of different age groups to briefly describe their social experience of womanhood. One of the more expressive answers was:

Part 2:

“I am a “seduction”. This sums up how I look into myself. I am in the eyes of everyone first and foremost a body that is desired. A body that must continuously be concealed so as to protect men from the evils of my beauty. My mind cannot be seen unless I hide my body. And to the degree that I reveal my body less is seen of my mind even if it was casual and modest. I don’t own myself. My life is a set of roles that I didn’t choose and have no right to question. My duties and “rights” are tailored for me by others, and I must be grateful for whatever comes. My feelings have no value. Few look at me as I am and consider what it is that I really want. Rarely am I looked upon as a rational being that has the right to be a full human, has the right to have a body, and has the right to act as she will without considering its impact on others. I have no decision. I am an all time minor. I pass from the guardianship of one to another. From my father, to my brother, my husband and then even my son. And if neither of those then to a judge who knows nothing of me or my needs. I am a tag. I am a mother, a sister, a daughter, and a wife but I am never simply a “me”. Don’t believe those who tell you that they accept this with satisfaction. Whoever accepts this is either a woman afraid of the responsibility of independence individuality and humanity. Or a woman who has no more sense of her marginalized character while she is being treated as a minor. Any person is choked by this. Some of us reject silently. Some of us vocally. I cannot be silent. The situation chokes me. But I pay the price dearly. Look how people talk about me.”

I heard a similar answer from a woman living outside the bonds of customs and norms even outside religious boundaries. Assuming that she had a more positive answer I asked her: “How could you say this and your life is as free as it is?” Her reply was shockingly telling: “I am like this because it coincided that that my husband wants this life of me (not for me). My freedom is his freedom. My choices are his. Though I am happy being better than others, but my sense of humanness and personhood remains incomplete.”

Part 3:

Feelings of frustration, anger, sadness of the way she is perceived manifest differently according to the woman’s temperament. Some women rebel openly against norms and traditions. Some go further and reject religion silently or as the case of some openly and publicly such those who wrote against everything including religion. Some accept this subjugation unwillingly sometimes due to survival necessities. And then there is she who decides to wipe off herself to relieve herself from the inner struggle between her individuality and her restraints.

I don’t blame those whose anger takes them far.

The least right a woman in such a situation is to be angry at a patriarchal male dominated society that reduced her to a body and deprived her of her most basic human rights.
We may not be practicing racial segregation, but when we separate a woman from her humanness we are practicing segregation from humanity which in some ways may be lead to experiences worse than that those experienced by blacks.

We need to acknowledge this, making it an integral part of the debate on women rights. Legislative debates that focus on Islam and its view on women rights are fundamental but not sufficient. Getting closer to the psychological situation of women enhances our ability to interpret legislative texts. The laws of the United States changed when their judges looked into the psychological consequences of racial segregation. It may take some time for our laws to immediately change but we would at least change our perspective on the predicament of women in a way that would set the ground for future change in legislation.
And as a first step, I would suggest to every man believing that a woman has rights to wear a veil for two hours daily. Then to follow the instructions of his wife (or other relevant woman) regarding travel and stepping out of the house. Or he should just place himself under her guardianship in the same way she is under his. After that he should look at the suffocation he will experience. This is despite that this is a self imposed temporary situation. So how would it be for those whose whole life is such? Once we start doing that, once we start trying to be closer to the predicament of women, then we can speak of women rights.

Author:

Liberal Muslim, social justice and human rights activist, cat lover, author and fellow human.

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