Not Ignorant, Not Helpless is an article written by Lorraine Ali. In this essay she presents a gentler side of Islam that the western cultures do not realize and the media also fails to present. Ali argues that the western cultures have stereotyped Muslim women as hapless creatures with no rights.
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They picture them to be under restitutive cultures which command them to be always covered from head to toe, while in the actual sense these women enjoy their rights to the fullest. As she mentions, some are lawyers, others cops patrolling the streets and still others have ventured into the field of medicine. The article generally talks about the changing world of women in Muslim societies.
While the western communities continue to focus on uttermost oppression cases of Muslim women in nations such as Afghanistan which is dominated by Taliban, Saudi Arabia which is under the rule of Wahhabi and the radical Iran; there is actually another Muslim world out there where women are professionals. Many women like the late Doria Shafik have been offended by the way that the west and the fundamentalist Islam portray them (Ali).
Modernity is one of the issues brought up by Ali. In discussing the clothing worn by Muslim women that covers them from head to toe, a picture of backwardness is perceived by the western people.
This is more so because, current societies have progressively moved toward modernism and hence the social statuses of Muslim women may be considered inferior as a result of the conservativeness of their religious and cultural roles, rights and even dressing.
Dress codes and rights are especially found on a conservative regime placed by religion upon women as Ali mentions: “Under those regimes, women were and are ordered to cover” (Ali). Having to wear a veil and not have the right to choose what to wear is oppressive and outdated. According to Islamic norms, women are always expected to wear long-loose fitting garments which cover their entire body parts, while men on the other hand, can only cover their bodies beginning from the belly button to the knees.
Though Ali states that women in some parts of Islamic regions “argue politics with men at the dinner table in Bagdad, slap husbands on the back of the head for telling off-color jokes in Egypt…” (Ali 1) this still does not justify the fact that they are stuck to Islamic traditions. Otherwise, why would they not dress as they wish? All the same, every society has some mode of dressing that distinguishes men and women in some manner but in my opinion, the way of dressing in today’s dynamic world, should be left to an individual.
Inequality in roles, rights and duties, is yet another issue established in Ali’s work. Women are dying to have equal rights as men. They want change, as depicted by Ali’s statement; “If reform is to come, they will surely be the ones who push it forward.” They live in a patriarchal society where women are oppressed under the banner of religion.
Women have more roles and men more rights. Even though Ali indicates some Muslim countries where women are professionals, most other countries still deprive their women such opportunities. In fact, in most of the Muslim countries, women’s work involves domestic chores; professional jobs are left to men. The existence of these career women is attributed to the change that is slowly taking place. This change recognizes gender equality and women’s rights.
The differences noted in the Islamic nations mentioned by Ali could also be due to the variances of the extent to which the roles and rights of women are influenced by the religion. In some countries the Islamic laws exist under conservative regimes whereas in others, the law is not strictly enforced. In a country like Egypt for instance, the system of law has become a battlefield betwixt the orthodox Muslims and liberal reformists and this could be an explanation to the presence of career women.
Countries with strict adherence to Islamic laws are classified by the western countries as second-class citizens because of the status that they depict. In such countries, it is rare to see a woman in a leadership position. They are even denied their democratic rights as witnessed in Ali’s article, of the late feminist, Doria Shafik, who had to struggle in order to cast a vote during the 1940s in Egypt (Ali).
Perhaps, Ali’s main objective of writing the article was to present the predicaments of a Muslim woman and not to prove the media and the western communities wrong in their view of Islam women as oppressed.
In my view, Muslim women are under oppression as long as they stick to the restitutive Islamic cultures in the name of religion. However, the west and other societies should not be too quick as to judge the condition of women in Muslim societies. It would be of great import though, to learn about the culture of other people before getting biased.