Islam and women’s Status

Posted: January 27, 2010 in Women's Empowerment

By Weam Al Dakheel

Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian feminist, activist, physician and writer. She has more than forty books. Her novels and books are mainly focused on women’s position and the feminist movement in the Arab world. In the article “Empowerment of women, writing and fighting” Nawal El Saadawi states her views on the status of women in the Arab world. She talks about different subjects such as knowledge, the feminist movement, and violence against women particularly in the Arab world. El Saadawi has a special definition to violence against women; as not separated from violence against the poor, the black people in Africa. She believes that religions -particularly Islam, as she comes from an Islamic Egyptian family- has a direct violence against women by veiling them “physically and psychologically” added to undergoing the process of “female circumcision” among young women. (Saadawi, 98) In fact, Islamic religion does not recognize any discrimination between genders so far as a protection for women’s honor and reputation and that is naturally accruing to fulfill social and biological differences we are born with.

Furthermore, the Egyptian feminist is known with her fearless self-expression and major attention to women’s rights. In the “Empowerment of women, writing and fighting” Sadaawi presented her intellectual perspectives concerning violence against women such as female circumcision, and women’s role within the media, education, religions, and politics. Some if not most of her lecture discussions contained chaotic and disordered information and personal opinions. For example, she related the politics of George Bush and the religious fundamentalists with the process of female circumcision. She gave an explanation to that by connecting the policy of George Bush in the white house that “encouraged the religious fundamentalist groups all over the world.” She mentioned what Anwar Sadat did during his presidency in Egypt with the Islamist and Christian fundamentalist and in return separated the state under the rule of two religions and in return women are the ones to suffer first from the violence in the state. In her point view “whenever revival of the most reactionary and right wing parts of religions” exists “women are affected first.” In addition, Saadawi has criticized the knowledge in the Arab region and the way of education. The absence of diversity in knowledge produced female workers who are “ ignorant” of things happening around them and separated from what is happening outside their private bubble. She defines the knowledge as a “sin” in the Arab world supporting her claim with Eve and Adam’s story. Saadawi went back with history and reminded us with Eve’s punishment for eating from the forbidden tree. In the Arab world, women who gamble to eat from the knowledge tree would be punished and sent to jail. In her point of view, overall education strategies in this Islamic part of the world are “ fragment” and women are educated with no conscious and awareness of things happing around them.

Moreover, in the “Empowerment of women, writing and fighting” Saadawi failed to differentiate between the biological and cultural practices and the Islamic law in matters concerning women. Her tone is harsh, aggressive and forceful as her arguments demonstrated her own lack of knowledge and experience in the Islamic religion. Taking into consideration that she is an atheist, Sadaawi inappropriately asserts that the Islam are prejudiced towards women by veiling the “physically and psychologically” and considered that as a violence against women. She claims that women are looked as inferior to men in Islam and all other religions. They are positioned under the opposite gender including God and prophets who are all males. But God should be respectable and beyond masculinity and gender issues. Additionally, Sadaawi fails to separate the family injustice upon women and their position in the Islamic religion. This is an evidence in her article “Empowerment of women, writing and fighting” where she says, “ my parents said because you are a girl, you have to know how to cook and you will marry in the future,” But her one year older brother “was playing all day.” The generalization particularly in Islam served her wrongly. The use of words and information were misplaced and distracting. In some point she is discussing the subject of female circumcision in Egypt, then to the discrimination towards women in all religion “of the world, and finally how rare the “ USA speaks about violation of human rights.”

In response to El Saadawi’s article “Empowerment of Women, Righting and Fighting” It is true that woman in the pre-Islamic Arabia suffered different forms of discrimination such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), inheriting women as slaves, and infantilizing newly born girls. But under the rule of Islam, women’s status has changed fundamentally. The Islamic law has a major role in improving the conditions of female existence by securing basic safeguards, and instituting rights of property, inheritance, education and prohibiting any form of physical violence against women.And Even if Saadawi referred to Christianity as one of the religions violating women by undergoing female circumcision, the Coptic Pope Shenouda, the leader of Egypt’s minority Christian community, stated “that neither the Quran nor the Bible demand or mention female circumcision.” In addition, Saadawi misunderstanding of Islam and being unable to distinguish between the cultural injustices inflicted on women fails the legitimacy of her personal claims. Assuming that “women are ignorant of what is happening around them” implies that they are intellectually inferior to the opposite sex. As a result, el Saadawi is harming and underestimating her sex more than awaking them. She is the one who is discriminating women not religion and God by stating that they are “ignorant.”
In fact, her inaccurate research into the pillars of the Islamic religion without adequate knowledge and information take away credibility of her claims and on the contrary, a prove to her own knowledge ignorance.

  1. maysash says:

    Weam, I liked your criticism of Saadawi’s approach. I read also once that Saadawi accuses the Prophet of child molesting because he has married Aisha when she was 9 years old. In fact,every wife the Prophet married was for a specific reason and not for pleasure.Saadawi also mixes a lot between Arab traditions and what true Islam is about. One would be surprised that only small percentage of Muslims are Arabs.

  2. Thank you Mayssah for your sweet comment. Well I agree with you 100%. Saadawi’s misunderstanding of Islam and personal failure to distinguish between the cultural injustices inflicted on women makes her an ignorant Doctor! Shame on her. When you read her books, novels and lectures, you recognize what kind of thinkers she is. Her false claims in Islam without adequate knowledge and information is a proof of her own mental fragment.

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