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file under: human rights 19 Aug 2007 7:19 PM
What is a Woman?s Place in the Arab World? Posted by Nissim Dahan

We have to be careful when we criticize aspects of a foreign culture. It is often a bit presumptuous to do so, and can open up our culture to valid criticisms as well. We are all far from perfect, and we know it.


Having said that, even to the casual observer, it is readily apparent that many women in the Middle East are not treated well, and this may well explain some of the problems in the region. In some Arab countries women can not vote, or can not drive, or can not own a business, or can not even work outside the home. The rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan was perhaps the most blatant example of the oppression that women are subjected to in parts of the Middle East. I'll never forget the image of a poor woman being stoned to death in a soccer stadium, for allegedly engaging in adultery.


All this stands in stark contrast to Muhammad's teaching, and to his example as a man. You may or may not know, but Muhammad's first wife, Khadijah was a very wealthy businesswoman who owned a number of successful businesses. It was she, in fact, who proposed marriage to the young Muhammad, and who encouraged him in his becoming a Prophet, and in his founding the new religion. Later, one of the Prophet's daughters went on to become one of the greatest theologians of Islam. And in his teachings, Muhammad defied the tribal customs of the day and advocated on behalf of treating women as partners, and protecting their rights.


In many respects, strange as it may seem, Muhammad could be thought of as one of the first feminists of the ancient world. When he passed away, however, the tribal customs of the day, including treating women like property, came to be enforced, and became integrated into religious teachings.


What is wrong with marginalizing women in the Middle East? Plenty. First of all, how can you thrive economically if half of your workforce is oppressed and marginalized? Also, keeping women down can make it more possible for ideological extremism to flourish. Who are women? They are the givers of life, and the caretakers of life. They know how to make things work, often using scarce resources. Their families depend on them. They work tirelessly to protect their children, and therefore, they don't have the time or the inclination to incite ideological hate, or to instigate violence. When your job is to care for your family, you are not predisposed or conditioned to promulgate hate. Caring for others does not leave much room for hate.


Women are the givers of life, and the caretakers of life, and as such are uniquely qualified to reconstitute their societies consistent with a Vision of Hope-a Vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom. Empower women in the Middle East, in ways that they deem appropriate, and you will have changed the face of the Middle East.


Investing in female entrepreneurs, for example, makes a lot of sense and will accomplish a great deal of good: women will reclaim their sense of dignity, they will spark needed economic growth, and women and men will work together as equal partners. With economic power women will begin to have a say in political reform and will advocate for their rights: the right to vote, the right to run for office, the right to own and manage a business, the right to work for equal pay, the right to pray with men, the right to participate fully in religious worship, the right to choose a husband, the right to make decisions about her body, and the right to partner with her husband on an equal footing.


As women are empowered economically, and as women's rights are asserted ever more vigorously, then gradually the moderating influence of the feminine mystique will help to dull the sharp sword of extremist positions. As the natural givers of life, and as the natural caretakers of life, women do not have a lot of patience for war and bloodshed, and their rational disposition toward peace can and will become a part of the political landscape of the Middle East.


So Mamas, this may well be the time, before time runs out, to do what it takes, to really protect your babies, and to protect them in a way that will keep them safe for generations to come.

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