In response to The Veil of Piety: Religion and Mercy (http://yusufroohani.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/the-veil-of-piety-religion-and-mercy/)

If Yusuf Roohani [1] has convinced you that Islam, as practiced by Sunnis like him, is respectful to women, then he has only strengthened my case further. Because while decent Muslims like him can always defend their religion, and their holy book, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan use the very same book, and very same ideology to visit unspeakable atrocities upon the women living in that area, while calling themselves Sunnis. They continue to do so today, while rejecting peaceful interpretations from fellow Muslims all around the world. They are willing to behead, to castrate, to burn, and to maim those who don’t agree with them. It is undeniable that they derive their motivation, their support, and their ability to control large numbers of people from religious texts as well as religious practices.


Yet, when someone criticises the Qur’an or the Hadith for the existence of sexist paragraphs, and their availability, and potency to be used for mischief, apologists are too quick to well, apologise. This is the interpretive flexibility that enables those who want to misuse religious texts while it neuters those who want to criticise them.

Rather than addressing my argument about interpretive flexibility, Yusuf sidestepped it by presenting and defending only his interpretation of the Qur’an and Shari’a law.  And while I wish every Muslim in the world, not just the Sunnis, would have the prudence and the clarity, like Yusuf, to cherry-pick the respectful and thoughtful parts of the religious texts, that quite simply isn’t true.

The nuanced version of post-modern feminism that both Yusuf Roohani [1] and TJ Winter/Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad [2] present- where we must ‘celebrate the differences’ between the genders leave too much scope for damage to the female, who is essentialised to her physical characteristics, euphemistically expressed as ‘a thing of beauty’.

And while my ‘Absolute Egalitarian’ feminism stems not from the misconception that men and women are biologically and psychologically the same, it stems from the recognition of the that biology and psychology ought never to limit the opportunities that are available to women. Something that the Qur’an and the Hadith shamefully fail to do:

Qur’an (4:11) – (Inheritance) “The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females” [3]

Qur’an (2:282) – (Court testimony) “And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not found then a man and two women.” [3]

Qur’an (2:228)“and the men are a degree above them [women] [3]

Qur’an (2:223)“Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will…” [3]

Bukhari (62:81)“The Prophet said: “‘The stipulations most entitled to be abided by are those with which you are given the right to enjoy the (women’s) private parts (i.e. the stipulations of the marriage contract).'” [3]

Tabari Vol 9, Number 1754 – “Treat women well, for they are [like] domestic animals with you and do not possess anything for themselves.” [3]


Now several Muslims around the world would be revolted by some of these misogynistic writings. And I would not be surprised if, in an attempt to reconcile their purported faith to their actual daily ethics, people outright try to deny the existence, or translations, or interpretations of these texts. But that isn’t my concern- I do not wish engage in a 1400 year-old dispute about what the Qur’an says or what it means to say.

The existence of these passages as some form of Islamic truth, and their use by those who want to oppress and exploit, is enough to carry my burden of proof- that only religion has the power to cause human beings to do inhuman things. And that humane and considerate acts stem from our very natural and visceral inclination to compassion and empathy, which secularists and atheists are demonstrably capable of.

The Burkha is a case in point. If modesty were organically to stem from within the woman, as an expression of her will to keep her physical appearance and character private, it wouldn’t be seen as a product of oppression. Human beings are capable of feeling and acting on a sense of modesty. But it is undeniably true that the burkha is a symbol of religious modesty and subservience imposed upon participants who are largely unwilling. It stems from the male desire to cripple female sexuality and to impose anonymity on a woman when she’s walking on the street, lest she be recognised by other men. The Islamic religion has mangled and distorted the ability of women to experience and express genuine feelings of modesty, rather than coerced and controversial ones.

Yusuf’s attempt to highlight the hackneyed and quite misused ‘Burkha-Bikini’ dichotomy does not succeed in convincing me that oppressive hyper-sexualisation in the West justifies oppressive desexualisation in the Muslim World.  Far too often, as in the case of the Muslimah Pride Protests, the perceived lack of autonomy that women face in a promiscuous Western-media raunch culture is considered a valid argument in support of the idea that women who are forced to cover themselves, are acting autonomously.

And while we do recognise that both sexualisation and de-sexualisation are oppressive, it is important to understand which one is more oppressive than the other. No woman in the West is publicly flogged, or burnt with acid, or ‘correctively mollested’ [5] because she chose not to wear a thong and do a lap dance.

On polygamy, again we have at best, a mitigatory response from Yusuf, where he says that Islam allows, but discourages it. That flies directly in the face of texts like this:

Qur’an (4:3) – (Wife-to-husband ratio) “Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four” [3]

Once again, unfortunately, only Allah can decide who is correct- Yusuf, or the men who actually have two, three, and four wives. But the rest of us (including the multiple wives of the same husband) have to deal with the pragmatic realities of such teachings on earth.

On FGM, while many of my Muslim friends haven’t taken too kindly to this allegation, I’m afraid I can’t back down. It seems to be prevalent as a parallel to male circumcision in substantial chunks of the Muslim world. The evidence that claims that Islam is opposed to FGM seems apologetic at best and seriously questionable at worst.  [4]

In any case, saying that practices like polygamy and FGM prevailed before the advent of Islam does not exonerate Islam from its propagation of these pracitces, or the propagation of these practices by the followers of Islam. The rest of the world, barring some tribal communities in West Africa, seems to have gotten over this hideous brutality.

The existence of respectable and respectful Muslims does not excuse the actions of the heinous and the fanatic. The existence of pleasant paragraphs in the Qur’an does not excuse the presence of the hateful and dogmatic ones. Neither does it mean that we should be intellectually indolent and say that “some of it is good and some of it is bad”, and be in a state of suspended animation with respect to recognising religious misogyny.

Doing charity, helping someone in need, not being a hateful murderer, et cetera are moral acts that all human beings are capable of because of our sense of ethical reciprocity and collective solidarity. Religion therefore, does no unique moral good to human society. We cannot allow the existence of non-unique religious good to justify the existence of unique religious harm. We cannot let the cherry pickers defend the acid throwers. We cannot live under this veil of hypocrisy.


  1. http://yusufroohani.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/the-veil-of-piety-religion-and-mercy/
  2. http://www.masud.co.uk/ISLAM/ahm/boys.htm
  3. http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/010-women-worth-less.htm
  4. http://answering-islam.org/Sharia/fem_circumcision.html
  5. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19440656

4 thoughts on “The Veil of Hypocrisy: From Cherry-pickers to Acid-throwers

  1. I hate to come between this volleyball of argumentation between Yusuf and you, but this response highlights an important characteristic of present day institutions.
    A lot of people would have already come forth by now with their points on how its not only religion which results in a lot of social crime today.There might be x,y,or z reasons.Whatever be the reason,what we cannot ignore is the justification or the legitimacy for that reason is linked back to religion.The fallacy,here happens not to be of religion,and to blame Allah or Prophet or Quran for that would be fallacious in itself.The problem lies with the perceptions of religion as a social institution that are propagated-both by people not belonging to that fold,and more importantly people belonging to it.
    Since so much has been spoken about Islam,the widely prevalent misconception regarding that religion is the fault of mostly, the followers and preachers of that faith.A stranger to that faith will always form half-baked opinions.That is only expected.But to ridicule and admonish that stranger is equally erroneous.
    Since a long time Islamic preachers(majority) have limited themselves to the literal translations of the Quran and rigid practise of its rituals,instead of helping the followers and others alike to help understand the context and real essence of whatever has been enshrined in Arabic about the faith.Unless that happens Islam as a socio-religious institution would be highly likely to be more misinterpreted,leading to tensions.Moreover it would also lead this socio-religious institution to become more and more stagnant.

  2. Pingback: The Veil of Ignorance: What you don’t know that you don’t know | yusufroohani

  3. Reblogged this on polygamy 911 and commented:
    Some people claim that there is nothing misogynistic about Islam, only about interpretations of islam. If this is what you believe – read this!

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