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City of Brass

I often find fault with the way in which Yasmin Alibhai-Brown makes her arguments in the pages of the Independent, but I have to concede that on the merits, her main arguments are usually sound. Her latest essay is a good example – she labels the state of women in the Ummah “a dark age” and it’s impossible for me to find honest fault with that assessment. Her essay is a must-read, though I found this portion to be the key:

I am aware that my words will help confirm the pernicious prejudices that fester in the minds of those who despise Islam. Yet to conceal or excuse the violations would be to condone and encourage them. There have been enlightened times when some Muslim civilisations honoured and cherished females. This is not one of them. Across the West – for a host of reasons – millions of Muslims are embracing backward practices. In the UK young girls – some so young that they are still in push chairs – are covered up in hijabs. Disgracefully, there are always vocal Muslim women who seek to justify honour killings, forced marriages, inequality, polygamy and childhood betrothals. Why are large numbers of Muslim men so terrorised by the female body and spirit? Why do Muslim women encourage this savage paranoia?

I look out of my study at the common and see a wife fully burkaed on a sunny day. She sits still. Her children and husband run around, laughing, playing cricket. She sits still, dead, buried, a ghost. She is complicit in her own degradation, as are countless others. Their acquiescence in a free democracy is a crime against their sisters who have no such choices in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Of course, it has to be said that a muslim woman can indeed choose to wear the hijab, or even the burka, and do so as a free and valid choice. The denial of a woman’s right to freely wear it is as wrong as forcing her to wear it. But such nuance is usually outside the realm of Yasmin’s argumentation style. At any rate, the main point is that women in the muslim world are indeed third-class citizens and that represents a dark age from prior eras indeed.

Related: We are discussing this essay at Talk Islam. Also, my classic essay on The Burka and the Bikini serves to highlight some of the nuance absent in Alibhai-Brown’s essay.

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