Skip navigation

Afghan law just age-old power grab

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

"Hey, her bag is almost exactly like mine," I told my five-year-old daughter as we gazed at the arresting images of protesting women, their hijabs framing contorted faces on the front page of the newspaper.

Finding commonality in something as simple as the style of bag hanging off the shoulders of one of the many young women who had gathered to protest against a discriminating law in Kabul reminded me how easily I could have been one of them. After all, not only did we share the same religion, in whose name oppression was being legislated, but the same fashion sense.

But the bag was more significant in something else it represented, the realization dawning on me as I read an obscure statement made by a woman who was as far apart from the reality of the Afghan protesters as a woman could be - a former CNN correspondent who had penned a book on how to charm a man and keep him from straying.

"The [large] bag implies I can do everything," the author is quoted as saying. Instead, women should keep their purses small, she advises, so as not to threaten the male species.

And therein lies the secret of the maelstrom.

This latest conflict over women's roles and responsibilities isn't totally about Islam but about the age-old struggle over power - power that even Western men may sometimes want (or so suggests Whitney Casey, author of The Man Plan: Drive Men Wil d - Not Away, quoted above). Some men just don't want to see women "do everything," and this latest outrage in Afghanistan is about reminding everyone who's boss.

And just as this legislation is contrary to modern-day notions about women's roles and rights, it is also contrary to the spirit of Islam that it tries to co-opt. Believe it or not, Islam actually encourages positive relationships between husbands and wives, and aims to promote societies based on mutual co-operation and education of the sexes. It is this that can neutralize oppressive values, not a Western-imposed world view.

Afghan scholars who have (willingly?) forgotten some key points about women's rights in Islam need to be reminded of the faith's ideals (Koran 30:21): "And among His signs is this: That He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest, peace of mind in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, herein indeed are signs for people who reflect."

The Prophet Mohammed said: "The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and best of you are those who are best to their wives." And "seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim."

He also said: "It is the generous [in character] who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them."

Girls and women are even guaranteed the right to refuse marriage in Islam, according to prophetic tradition.

And while there are contentious teachings in sacred texts, they should never be taken at face value. There are important caveats when it comes to controversial issues such as polygamy, giving witness and inheritance.

And no one steeped in Islamic jurisprudence would ever condone a law that legislates violence in the home, or a strictness that makes home life ugly. This was not and could never be the aim of a faith that teaches that "paradise is at the feet of mothers," or so said the Prophet.

Afghan women can find much in their own heritage to mount a serious and legitimate challenge to all forms of patriarchy.

As for backup? Armies of trained Muslim scholars from across the Western and Muslim worlds are long overdue in lands that fear oversized bags.

Amira Elghawaby is an Ottawa-based writer.

Recommend this article? 14 votes

Back to top