- Barney Zwartz/The Age
- November 20, 2008
- Come’on Barney, why are you writing this garbage?
MUSLIM Australian women are starting to fight back against a repressive patriarchal system in which controversial Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali is seen as a champion of women’s rights, a Melbourne University conference will hear today.
– Muslim women fight patriarchal system
– Mosque ‘increasingly irrelevant’
– Educator defends Sheikh Hilali
Leading Muslim spokeswoman Silma Ihram says new voices in the Muslim community, especially women, are bypassing the mosque as increasingly irrelevant â€” but the lack of structure also makes space for radical groups to seek recruits.
Ms Ihram, a noted educator who will present a paper to a National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies conference today, is one of several speakers about Muslim women fighting back from “second-class status”.
In her paper, she defends Sheikh Hilali, who sparked outrage two years ago when he compared scantily clad women with uncovered meat, saying he is considered one of the most outspoken supporters of women’s rights.
She says he was the main supporter for setting up the Muslim Women’s Association despite objections from his own male-only mosque board, and is reputed to support women’s choice in marriage, divorce and ethnic intermarriage.
She toldÂ The AgeÂ that the sheikh changed his message depending on the audience. “He has a conservative patriarchal community (at Sydney’s Lakemba Mosque), and he’s going to address them in a way they feel comfortable with.
“At the same time he has to deal with younger Australian women, whose rights he is championing. So he has this contradiction: he says one thing to one group and another to another. A lot of imams have this problem.”
The paper says Muslim women in Australia are still denied essential rights spelled out in the Koran, but access to a Western education and feminist discourse is helping them contest “centuries of selective male interpretation of the Scriptures”.
Ms Ihram said both the West and Islam saw attitudes to women as a key battleground, whether it was non-Muslims focusing on the hijab (headscarf) or Muslims focusing on the “decadent and immoral”Â Sex and the CityÂ Western lifestyle.
“In the West, women have had their liberation and men are still getting over that. Muslim men are threatened.”
She said many Muslim men believed their piety was demonstrated by how their women behaved. “They think, ‘if I’ve got control of my women I’m a man’. What the boys do is irrelevant.
“The patriarchal argument can’t tease out two separate strands: women as victims of sexual harassment and women as sexualised people who engage in consensual sex. They can’t see these are different things.”
Ms Ihram said new voices had begun to challenge the authority of ethnic religious leadership in the mosque, partly in frustration at the politics and limited capability of ethnic Muslim associations.
New organisations and leaders were emerging through Australian-born Muslims who responded to “media moral panics” and bypassed Islamic councils to present a moderate, local and English-speaking voice of Islam.
Women were starting to take leadership positions through their writing and as academics. “Women can speak out from the Muslim community into the mainstream, but it’s very hard to get a platform into the Muslim community, to get constructive female voices.”
Jamila Hussain of the University of Technology, in a paper offering “subversive thoughts” about Muslim gender relations, also to be delivered today, talks of discrimination against women in mosques, community gatherings, religious education and membership of Islamic organisations.
She said women were strictly segregated in mosques, and sometimes discouraged from attending at all. Usually they entered a small door at the back, and went to an area cut off by a barrier or wall so that sometimes they could neither see nor hear the speaker.
Yet Muslim women in Australia work in law, finance, medicine, engineering and run their own businesses. “The idea that all Muslim women must be sheltered from the outside world is outmoded,” Ms Hussain said.