The Women of Afghanistan:
Whose Concern Is It, Anyway?
The Muslim-American Community Needs to Give Its Uncompromising Support for the women, children AND men, the People of Afghanistan
by Saraji al Muslima (c) 1999 c.e.
"Let no Muslim man consider a Muslim woman his enemy. If you do not like one of her ways, you will like another." (Saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him)
The rest of this page is designed to give both the Muslim living in the West, and the non-Muslim who would like to learn more a little bit of the recent history of Afghanistan, the views of the Taliban, in their own words, the views of Islam on women, and what we, as a Muslim community, can do and say to defend the honor of our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. Jazakum Allah Khair.
Muslim and Non-Muslims: You are free to use "Whose Concern Is it Anyway" ONLY on your websites or to put it in posts to e-mail lists as long as you include my name (Saraji al Muslima) and my (c) 1999 c.e. If you wish for people to see the rest of this page, please include a link to this page. If you do use it on a website, please e-mail me a link so I can go see it!
The Women of Afghanistan: Whose Concern is it Anyway? (Editorial)
It seems as though the "feminist" obsession with the Afghani woman is never ending. Hey, who doesn't love to slap up some pictures of vaguely exotic women swathed in layers of materials, so as to illustrate the "moral inferiority" of her people? (Hence, the implied moral superiority of a culture where rape, sexual harrassment, pornography, teen pregnancy, and prostitution are so commonplace they are considered "boring" topics)
As we speak, the "brains" behind the Feminist Majority Fund, the loudest voice in this Western protest against the "gender apartheid" in Afghanistan are planning a buffet reception and program in Hollywood (the center of moral authority... not) called "Eleven and a Half Million Waiting to Be Freed." Excerpts from the press release are as follows:
"On March 29, 1999, the Hollywood community, and women's rights and human rights leaders will converge to shine a bright light on the human rights abuses against the women and girls in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime. The program is being written, directed, and produced by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason."
My brothers and sisters in Islam, it is no mistake that they choose words like a "shine a bright light." As humans we are naturally attracted to light; this is why television is so enticing to us, especially young children. Unfortunately, the light which will "shine" in Hollywood is a false light, one that seems dim in comparison to the Nur al-Allah. And can anyone tell me when the "Hollywood community," with its thousands of films depicting both emotional and physical violence, rape, torture, and murder against women who are rarely more than half dressed (and often nude), became the moral voice for the United States?
Featured Guests at this "star studded" event include:
"Mavis Leno, Event Chair, & Jay Leno, Eleanor Smeal, President, Feminist Majority Foundation, U. S. Senators Barbara Boxer & Dianne Feinstein, Honorary Co-chairs, as well as the following Entertainment "Celebrities": Gillian Anderson, Kathy Bates, Brandy, Delta Burke, Natalie Cole, Claire Danes, Geena Davis, Dana Delaney, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Shannen Doherty, Fran Drescher, Melissa Etheridge, Sally Field, Frances Fisher, Sharon Gless, Geri Halliwell, Daryl Hannah, Salma Hayek, Tippi Hedren, Anjelica Huston, Christine Lahti, Juliette Lewis, Julianna Marguolies, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt), Laura SanGiacomo, Cybill Shepherd, Nancy Sinatra, Mary Steenburgen, Lily Tomlin, Alfre Woodard, Renee Zellweger"
Now maybe it's just me, but for some reason, I just have a problem with the idea that BRANDY and GERI HALLIWELL (better known as Ginger Spice) are going to be "speaking out" for the Muslim women of Afghanistan. Most of these women consider on screen nudity to be a positive career move, and at least one is a lesbian (Etheridge), whose lifestyle is in direct opposition to Islamic teachings. Is their "celebrity" status the only requirement they must fulfill in order to "speak out" on a subject laced with subtleties of a misunderstood religion, war, and oppression, and history? Is this who we wish to have speaking publicly for the Muslim women of Afghanistan?
Do not be fooled. It is no mistake that when they hold these galas, as well as their press conferences and such, they do not include the voice of reason, known as the Muslim voice. They do not want people to know that the oppression of women is not the way of Islam. Even 'Glamour' magazine, which features articles such as "Are your Sex Secrets Getting Spilled?", and "Massage Fantasies," has set itself up as some feminist authority on the women of Afghanistan... and they passed recently on printing my letter alerting their readership to the realities of women's rights in Islam, preferring to print instead, letters calling Islam barbaric and oppressive, while peppering their magazine on almost a MONTHLY basis with phrases like "Islamic extremists," "Islamic fundamentalists," and so on.
They now have a fashionable "symbol," not unlike the ribbons worn for AIDS and cancer patients. Before you read any further, please stop eating, lest you get sick. The symbol is a "swatch of the mesh through which Afghan women view the world." (I am NOT making this stuff up) Half of the $2 contribution goes towards the FMF's "Gender Apartheid" campaign, and half to Afghani women refugees. (So they say).
This is what FMF says about the burq'a, the Islamic veil worn for centuries by some women in Persia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. I bet some of you niqaabi sisters had no idea that the face veil was so "deadly!"
"Since 1996, under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, women have not been permitted to leave the confines of their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative and covered from head to toe in the burqa -- an oppressive garment which completely shrouds the body, with only a small mesh-covered opening over the eyes through which to see. Wearing the burqa can cause or aggravate respiratory conditions and loss of vision, both of which can be deadly.
"This swatch of mesh represents the obstructed view of the world for an entire nation of women who were once free. Wear it in rememberance -- so that we do not forget the women and girls of Afghanistan until their right to work, freedom of movement, education, and healthcare are restored and they are free once again. The symbols are $2 each and can be ordered in mass quantities as well as individually. We encourage you to buy many and share them with your friends, family, and co-workers. Help us to raise awareness and make a difference for the women of Afghanistan!"
"Do not forget the women and girls of Afghanistan?" OH PLEASE! Who was concerned with their health and safety when the Communist Soviets invaded the land and waged a ten year (losing, alhamdulilah) battle with the people of Afghanistan? Where was the "outcry" against the devastation that they wreaked across the countryside? How ARROGANT to think that they, with their $2 swatches of material will "make a difference" for the MUSLIM women of Afghanistan!
This "fashionable" swatch, which will soon go the way of red, pink, and purple ribbons once a new "cause" comes along, is nothing more than a GROSS insult to the women of Afghanistan, the women of the region who have traditionally worn the burqa'a (yes, that's right, people wore it before the Taliban came around... for hundreds of years!), to Muslim women, and to Muslim men. In actuality, it is an insult to anyone who possesses common decency, and is nothing more than a cheap attempt to exploit the hardships of the Muslim people of Afghanistan via something for the consumer in all of us. It trivializes any, and all, hardships that the women of Afghanistan have suffered since the Soviet Invasion, when they were commonly beaten and raped by Communist soldiers! (oh, where was the outcry then?)
Honestly, I am telling you, these people can NOT get enough of photos of women in burq'aa, which they of course, consider to be a "symbol of oppression." I found TWO sites dedicated just to pictures of Afghani women in burq'a, though unfortunately for their claims, many of the women also had on plain hijab, or were showing some of the skin they claimed they are beaten for showing.
My friends, this is no different than some 80 French teachers walking out of their schools in Northern France b/c the governement allowed two Turkish girls to wear hijab to school. The walkout was a protest against, "The symbol of oppression." (I am REALLY NOT making this stuff up, as hard as that may seem) To the FMF, the French Teachers, and many, many non Muslims, even the smallest bit of cloth on your head is considered an oppression against not just you, the Muslima, but against all women.
On the whole FMF site, I found only one small phrase which mentioned that some of the things which may (or may not be) going on in Afghanistan are not the teachings of Islam. More often, I saw words like "Islamic fundamentalist," or words such as Madrassa thrown around as if it is some ominous thing. (ooh, those big bad madrassas...)
I don't think I found one item relating that the ENTIRE country is undergoing serious instability due to 10 years of war with the Communist Athiest Invaders, or with the serious (like 8 on the Richter Scale) earthquakes which have destroyed much of the country in the past few years, the plague ravaging the countryside, the starvation, or the general poverty which exists there, and so on.
It seems the voices of the Muslims are silent on this, and I think I know why. What Media, or even government, reports can you trust? How do we really know what is going on? Some of us are uncomfortable speaking "publicly" (ie outside of the Muslim community) about the wrongs that are sometimes done by other Muslims (whether that Muslim be the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, King Hussein, or Yaser Arafat... or even men in our own communities). I can only hope that as this topic grows, our voices become louder. And who among us does not support ALL the Afghani people?
Do not be fooled. Most of these FMF types do not care about your Muslim sister. If they really cared about the "women of the world," they would speak about genital mutilation in Africa (which is done by Christians and animists, not just the big bad Muslims), selective abortion and female infanticide in China and India ("And when news is brought to one of them concerning a female child, his face darkens with grief..."), child prostitution in Thailand and Russia (and the U.S.A.), bride burnings and dowry deaths in India, the crisis of women's safety in Mexico (especially near the US border, where Mejican women are routinely raped and murdered), and on and on and on.
Even in our own country, there are issues such as: prostitution, teen pregnancy, abortion (not necessarily the right to one, just why it is so widespread in an age when every conceivable form of contraception is available), pornography, child abuse, sexual abuse, runaways, rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment.
Remember, they do NOT care about the Muslim woman, whether she is in Kabul or California. They only care to see her hair showing. After all, isn't that what "freedom" is all about?
In 1978, a coup by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, a Marxist group, put Hafizullah Amin in power. He initially solicited advice and military equipment from the Soviet Union, but relations soon deteriorated, and his short lived reign was marked by almost constant violence. In December 1979, the Soviets chose to invade. They murdered Amin and installed the puppet government of Babrak Karmal. 120,000 Soviet troops quickly established their presence in Kabul, the capital, but had difficulty taking the countryside. Muhajideen from all over the country, and soon, from all over the Islamic world, flooded the rural areas and engaged in guerrilla style warfare with the Soviets. The Soviets were prepared to fight a NATO style war, not a war of countryside and mountain fighting, where the opposition had the great advantage of knowing the lay of the land.
By 1986, the Soviets were displeased with the Karmal regime, and installed one led by Muhammad Njibullah. In 1988 they signed a peace agreement, and finally withdrew in 1989, ten years after they invaded. They left behind a country devastated by severe shortages in agricultural and livestock production, as well as heavy damage to roads and transport. 1 million Afghanis (and 14,500 Soviets) were killed in the war.
The fighting did not end with the Soviet pull out. The Majibullah government collapsed in 1992, and the mujahideen took over Kabul. Religious, ethnic, and clan conflicts erupted into violence from 1992 to 1995, and another 20,000 people died.
The people were tired of looting, war time crimes (including rapes), and the behavior of the previous regimes they had faced. The message of the Islamic students, known as Taliban, appealed to a great many, and by 1996, they emerged at the forefront in the struggle for power in Afghanistan.
The Taliban Now: What do They Have to Say?
The strongly Sunni Taliban receives support from Pakistan, where it orginated. The minority Hazara people, who are Shi'a, receive support from Iran. Other Taliban opposition movements have received support from Uzbekistan.
Tensions have continued to increase in the last 3 years, even as the Taliban has gained control of 90% of the country. The Taliban have moved to the headlines of the media, accused of gross human rights violations against women, Shi'a, Hazaris, and, until recently, of harboring Public Enemy #1, Osama bin Ladin.
But there is a little reported "other side" to the Taliban story. They have accomplished in three years what hasn't been seen by the Afghani people in more than 20 yrs, and that is the unification of government. With a single, unified government comes something that young Afghanis have never known: peace and stability. Unlike other soldiers, the Taliban mujahideen didn't loot the people, or rape their daughters.
Many Afghanis are unwilling to speak out about the restrictions placed on them, partly because they are so grateful for the much-needed stability.
Not that this by any means signals the beginning of a new "golden era" for the Afghani people. Though many people are glad for the stability, they also question the Taliban's ability to provide them with basic human needs. They are starving, the hospitals are understaffed, with little modern equipment to use. Non Governmental Aid Organzations left the country rather than continue petty bickering with Taliban officials. A mysterious disease has killed between 300 to 750, and infected about 9,000 in the remote northeastern region. Forty percent of the country relies on food handouts from aid organizations in order to feed their families. There are an estimated 68,000 street children. This is a country in need of very basic medicinal and nutritional supplies.
Al-Haj Maulavi Qalamuddin, the religion minister, said to the New York Times:
"To a country on fire, the world wants to give a match. Why is there such concern about women? Bread costs too much. There is no work. Even boys are not going to school. And yet all I hear about are women. Where was the world when men here were violating any woman they wanted?"
The people of Afghanistan, contrary to some claims, are largely illiterate, and education has proved to be one of the most immense tasks the Taliban government has understaken. Most of the Taliban are actually functionally illiterate. Although the movement originated out of Madrassas in the refugee camps of Pakistan, and although the majority of the Talib are Hafiz ul Qur'an, the fact is, they don't understand Arabic, and they were never taught the meanings of the Holy Qur'an.
This means that they do not understand the origins of women's rights in Islam! On top of that, many of them spent those childhood and young adult years in these male only schools away from any female presence, including that of their families, severly handicapping their abilities to relate or communicate with women.
Decades of fighting have left many buildings riddled with bullet holes, or structurally unsafe. Landmines pollute the country, and injure an estimated 25 people a day, two thirds of them children. Educated people fled the country when the Soviet war broke out. What available textbooks there are promote the Communist / Marxist based curriculum taught in the schools during the puppet regimes of the late '70's and the '80's.
This is what Islam has to say about education, and the worth of the work of both a man and a woman:
"Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim." (Saying of Prophet Muhammed)
"And their Lord hath accepted of them (their prayers) and answered them: "Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: you are members, one of another..." (Qur'an, 3:195)
what the Taliban has to say about Education:
"Contrary to reports about girls education in the press , the figures obtained from the education sector in Afghanistan, reveal that girls education in rural Afghanistan is increasing. According to a survey conducted by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA), almost 80 per cent of the girls schools located in rural areas under the administration of the Islamic State of Afghanistan are operating in full swing. Ms. Pia Karlsson , education advisor at the Education Technical Support Unit ( ETSU) of SCA , said in a recent interview published by the Frontier Post , a Peshawar based English daily that only in Ghazni province, where the Islamic State under the leadership of TIMA has control for the last two years, approximately 85 per cent of the girls are still in schools. Ms. Karlsson says, "The picture outside the cities is totally different."
The SCA which has been supporting elementary education in Afghanistan since 1984, currently supports 422 boys schools, 125 girls schools and 897 mixed schools ( co-education ) in the forms of primary schools and home schools. During the survey , she concentrated on 100 SCA supported girls schools in the nine provinces: Kabul, Kunar , Laghman , Ningarhar, Ghzani , Logar , Paktika, Paktya and Wardak All these provinces are under the administration of the Islamic State of Afghanistan. According to the survey, female attendance was at 94 per cent and of the 7834 girls enrolled, 7341 were found present. More significantly, at least 170 female teachers were found teaching in these schools. Similarly, In Kunduz province, 122 schools are operating with 390 female teachers teaching at the schools. The Islamic State is ready to open girls and boys schools with appropriate foreign assistance."
The media has also been filled with dire reports of women being refused medical assistance, but as stated earlier, most hospitals are lacking qualified personnel, up to date medical equipment, and even basics such as nutritious food for patients.
what the Taliban has to say about medical treatment for women:
"Health facilities for women have increased 200% during Taleban administration. Prior to the Taleban Islamic Movement's taking control of Kabul, there were 350 beds in all hospitals in Kabul . Currently, there are more than 950 beds for women in exclusive women's hospitals. Some hospitals which have specifically been allocated to women include Rabia Balkhi Hospital, Malali Hospital, Khair Khana Hospital, Indira Gandhi Child Health Hospital, Atta Turk Hospital, Kuwait Red Crescent Hospital, Contagious Disease Hospital, and T.B. Hospital, . Moreover, there are 32 mother and child health clinics. In addition to this, women receive treatment at ICRC and the Sandy Gal Orthopaedic Centers. In all these hospitals and clinics, women work as doctors and nurses to provide health services to female patients."
On top of the widespread lack of sufficient food, educational materials, and medical care, the Afghan people are faced with the fact that Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, and that drug running is a fact of life in the moutains. Pakistan, one of Afghanitan's neigboring countries, recently unveiled a multi-million dollar plan to battle the now commonplace heroin addiction in the streets of their big cities. Last year, Afghani production of opium (from which Heroin is derived) was estimated at 400 tons. Taliban opposition groups claim that the Taliban are involved in the cultivation and trafficking of opium, and that they even collect taxes from opium farmers. For their part, the Taliban ordered the destruction of all Heroin labs on Feb. 19, 1999, and made an international plea for help against drug traffickers on Feb. 24.
As we all know, the Taliban have been accused by the media and other organizations of implementing a "strict" form of "fundamentalist" Islam in Afghanistan. However, the fact that many of the Taliban militia men are poorly educated or completely illiterate has to make us, as Muslims, question their Islamic knowledge.
Many of the "street enforcers" are little more than teenage boys armed with Kalishnikovs and rampant hormones. Although Shi'a Muslims have been vocal in their opposition to the Taliban, mainstream Sunnis have been suspiciously quiet. Many of us do not trust media reports, and may believe that the situation in Afghanistan is much less dire than the media makes it sound.
Here are Taliban's positions on women in their own words:
On Purdah (confinement to the home):
"In Kabul Taliban are giving monthly salaries to 30,000 job-free women sitting at home. These are the women who were associated with the anti-Islam mixed system of the Communist and Rabbani era. They had been appointed in offices, colleges and other institutions by the so-called Islamic Government of Rabbani, and were working side by side with men without the Sharee`ah-prescribed purdah (veil)."
On Trampling the Rights of Women:
"...Taliban are also being criticized of suspending the women of Afghanistan from duties, who represent approximately fifty to sixty per cent of the population. These are completely false and fabricated accusations being propagated against the Taliban. Until present day no Taliban representative has hinted at this policy. However. they have certainly said that they would give the women the nights that Allah Ta'ala and his messenger Muhammad Al-Mustafa (peace be upon him) have given them. I would like to say that the rights that Allah Ta'ala and his final Messenger have given to women the followers of western culture can not contemplate. What nights can the west or western systems offer'?
People have also expressed that the Taliban are against the education for women. This is completely false because they are not against education. However. you must know that the Taliban are a revolutionary government who has brought dear principles. As long as they cannot provide an educational syllabus based on their principles neither males nor females will receive any form of education. When they have prepared their syllabus then both sexes will receive education."
One physician working in Afghanistan says he sees many women with esophagal burns these days. They come from attempting suicide by swallowing battery acid and household chemicals. It is a slow and painful way to die. Women beggars are now a common sight on the streets of Afghanistan.
Physicians for Human Rights claim that in a recent study of women in Kabul "42% percent met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, 97% demonstrated evidence of major depression, and over 20% told PHR that they had seriously contemplated suicide."
Although the women of Afghanistan are suffering from dire poverty, depression, and abuse, they do resist the Taliban in small ways. Many women run "underground schools" in their homes, educating neighborhood women and girls. Supplies are scarce, and they make do writing lessons by scratching with twigs and rocks on the floor.
Although many of these numbers have been cited repeatedly, it is never suggested that the depression and the other problems plaguing Afghani women could very well be the result of dire poverty, years of the Soviet war, and then civil war, the bad economy, and the fact that many were left war widows, and can no longer provide food for their families without some sort of International Aid.
Afghani women who are exiled in Pakistan or the United States have been much more vocal, but do not receive the media attention that the Taliban do.
Reactions to the Taliban: Muslims
When we, as Muslims, wish to check whether or not the actions of the Taliban fall under proper Islamic guidance, we must look to the primary texts (Qur'an and Hadith), as well as to our trusted scholars.
But in this day and age, it seems that many Muslim leaders are loathe to speak out publicly about brutal or questionable acts by other Muslims. We are reluctant to be branded as "traitors" by other Muslims, to air our collective dirty laundry, or to expose the sins of another Muslim.
As of yet, most of the organizations who have actively spoken out against the Taliban are those with a political stake in Afghanitsan, among them: Hezb'ul Islam, the Jami'at Islami, and Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan. The Muslim Women's League of the USA is the only Islamic group that has publicly spoken out both against alleged abuses by the Taliban, as well as media coverage of the situtation in Afghanistan.
Reactions to the Taliban: Non Muslims
Non Muslims have been much more vocal and organized in their crusade against the Taliban. They have the media on their side.
Groups such as National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority Fund, and Amnesty International have been all over the media, and with heavy celebrity power, and deep pockets to support them, their views have been understood as the "authoratative" views on Afghanistan, the Taliban, Islam, and Muslim women.
Most of these groups only vaguely or briefly mention that the practices of the Taliban are "not those of mainstream Muslims," and more often than not, they rely on words like "Fundamentalist," "hardliners," "Islamist" and "extremist." Even the word "madrassa" (school, or University) has been demonized.
Not only that, but their campaigns rely heavily on images of veiled women -- dredging up old sterotypes and biases amongst those who are not well informed about Muslim women and hijab.
As the saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words," and pictures of heavily veiled Afghani women only serve to drive home pre-conceived notions that Islam is a terrorist religion that oppresses women.
What Our Purpose As Muslims Should Be
We, as individuals and organizations, need to offer our uncomprimising support for ALL the people of Afghanistan. We should try to bring the plight of the Afghani people to the attention of aid workers, average Americans, and especially to the Muslim community as a whole. We should strive to keep the struggles of the Afghani people in the forefront of people's minds. We should also offer ourselves as a credible source and a formidable force in the fight to restore the human rights of all Afghani people, as well as the ongoing battle to make sure that Islam and Muslims are portrayed fairly and accurately in the media.
Muslims know from the Qur'an that those who patiently persevere are rewarded in the afterlife. We also know that we are obliged not only to help the oppressed, but the oppressor as well. How? But preventing him from oppressing anyone else. We are men and women who believe that there is nothing worthy of worship but Allah, and that Muhammad is His Messenger. We know that Islam has always been a revolutionary force for liberation of the oppressed.
It's also time for the media to know that they MUST separate the actions of the Taliban (if they are true. Investigation might serve the media well on this issue) from the dictates of Islam. When groups like the FMF, and NOW, and the media at large make the claim that their alleged activities fall outside the commonly accepted practices of Islam, they must state how Islam has always condemned the abuse of women. They must also be challenged by credible, polite, and angry voices as to the veracity of their anti-Islamic statements. Furthermore, the media needs to take responsible measures and search for reactions on the Taliban not from non Muslims, but from educated Muslims who are in a position to debunk the claims of the Taliban.
Educated Muslims must make themselves available to the media, in order to clarify the position of Islam against actions such as those the Taliban are accused of. We must make ourselves available to answer, honestly, questions and concerns that may be raised by non-Muslims regarding our religion, and the cultures that claim to follow it.
as Muslims, we are to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil. We
demand of the Taliban, as your brothers and sisters in Islam that you follow
the teachings of Islam, as given in the Qur'an and Sunnah. The best example
for mankind is the example of Muhammad.
fifty percent of the Muslim Ummah. By denying your Muslim sisters the opportunity
to reach their full potential, you are allowing yourselves to continue
with an extreme handicap.
To the Taliban we must say: stop placing unreasonable restrictions on foreign aid workers, and let them do their jobs. You yourselves have admitted that your people are starving, that you don't have enough money for schools, and that you don't have the personnel to work modern medical equipment.
Stop enforcing yourselves on those who would help the people of Afghanistan.
The people of Afghanistan deserve better than half-starvation. The people of Afghanistan deserve to have their rights to work and education restored. The people of Afghanistan deserve to be treated with dignity by those who occupy their government, as well as those in the West who claim to "care" about them.
by Saraji al Muslima
Webmaster of Cyber Muslima