This is a dispiriting epoch of strongmen and bullies, yet side by side with the worst you find the best. So today let’s find inspiration in two heroes.
They are women who bravely challenged misogyny and dictatorship, one in Iran, the other in Saudi Arabia. Those two nations may be enemies, but they find common cause in their barbaric treatment of women — and since they are trying to squelch and smother these two women, we should shout their names from the mountaintops.
Nasrin Sotoudeh, 55, is a writer and human rights lawyer who for decades has been fighting for women and children in Iran. Her family reports that this week she was sentenced to another 33 years in prison, on top of a five-year sentence she is now serving, plus 148 lashes.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 29, a leader of the Saudi women’s rights movement, went on trial Wednesday after months of imprisonment and torture, including floggings, sexual harassment, waterboarding and electric shocks.
Her sister Alia al-Hathloul told me that Loujain was finally presented with the charges against her, which included communicating with human rights organizations and criticizing the Saudi “guardianship” system for women.
Loujain al-Hathloul, a leader of the Saudi women’s rights movement, in an undated handout photo. She went on trial Wednesday after months of imprisonment and torture.CreditReuters
I previously suggested that Hathloul should get the Nobel Peace Prize, and she has now been nominated for it. So let me revise my proposal: Hathloul and Sotoudeh should win the Nobel together for their courageous advocacy of women’s rights before rival dictators who share one thing: a cruel misogyny.
“I was born and raised here; this is America; nothing separates us. Just the fact that [a hijab] is on my head is not a big deal.”
“Because you see what’s in the news and people who are not educated about Islam or hijab, they look at you as an oppressed one or a terrorist.”
“You know, my area is predominantly white, and a lot of my neighbors are not Muslims. Although they are friendly, I do notice that the way they look at me when I am walking in the neighborhood isn’t too friendly. And unfortunately, I have experienced discrimination in the area where somebody said that “Go back to your country!” Just those [kind of] statements make me feel unwelcome.”
These are observations by a few young Muslim women from Dearborn, Michigan, on how judgmental views of Muslims in America affect their level of social comfort on a daily basis as they walk in their urban neighborhoods.
They were participants in a five-year study on Muslim women’s walking behavior in the Detroit Metro area that I conducted with Annulla Linders and Carla Chifos. These Michigander Muslim women said that their decreased sense of safety adversely affected basic daily experiences, including walking in their neighborhoods. Walking is only one instance of the social rights that every member of urban society deserves to enjoy, yet these negative perceptions and experiences discouraged the women from walking even in urban neighborhoods that were defined as walkable areas (based on design criteria, such as street connectivity and availability of walking infrastructure).
Those social experiences present only a handful of different types of discriminatory behaviors that members of minority groups encounter in urban America. To counter the negative impact of these experiences, it’s imperative that urban planners and city officials develop innovative ways to reach these marginalized groups, even as it may mean readjusting traditional ideas about methodology and length of the process.
In Islam, men and women share responsibility in upholding modesty and controlling their desires in society. Whether someone dresses or behaves modestly or not, the obligation to guard one’s own chastity rests with each gender. While many people think that there is excessive emphasis on modesty for women, God’s command for men to maintain modesty precedes the one for women in the Quran: “Tell believing men to lower their glances and guard their private parts: that is purer for them. God is well aware of everything they do” (24:30).
While many people think that Muslim women are enjoined to wear the hijab primarily to restrain men’s illicit desires, this is not true. Indeed, it is not women’s duty to regulate the behavior of men. Men are accountable for their own conduct; they are equally required to be modest and to handle themselves responsibly in every sphere of their lives. Further, Islam’s code of modesty extends to all aspects of one’s life, including attire. Hijab, the head-covering worn by Muslim women, is an outer manifestation of an inner commitment to worship God.
A Palestinian-American and a Somali ex-refugee become the first female Muslims in Congress
WASHINGTON—Two Muslim women from the Midwest were elected to the House of Representatives on Tuesday, making history as the first women of their faith to serve in Congress.
Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American, will represent Michigan, and Ilhan Omar, once a Somali refugee in Kenya, will represent Minnesota. Both received an overwhelming majority of the vote in their respective districts on Tuesday and join a surge of Democratic women coming to the new Congress.
President Trump has made inflammatory statements against Muslims and imposed a ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries that was upheld by the Supreme Court in June. The election of two Muslim women in safely Democratic districts illustrates the divide between progressive Democrats and Republicans who support the administration.
Democratic candidate Rashida Tlaib celebrating her victory with her mother in Detroit.PHOTO:REBECCA COOK/REUTERS
Ms. Tlaib, 42, and Ms. Omar, 37, align with the left wing of the Democratic party, embracing a goal of extending Medicare health coverage to all Americans and increasing the minimum wage to $15.
Although women’s rights and religious freedom are not commonly associated with one another in the world of the 1.6 billion Muslims, there is a correlation that must be uncovered.
According to Women and Religious Freedom by Nazila Ghanea, inherent in religious freedom is the right to believe or not believe as one’s conscience leads, and live out one’s beliefs openly, peacefully, and without fear.
Freedom of religion or belief is an expansive right that includes the freedoms of thought, conscience, expression, association, and assembly. For the Muslim world, the Quran reads in Sura 2:256, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”
Individuals must not be forced to follow a literal interpretation of religious teachings and traditions. Faith under force is invalid and ingenuine. Therefore, it is never in the public’s interest to force belief on individuals, regardless of gender, and restrict their right to question, explore and fulfill their purpose.
In fact, the research shows that women can contribute to greater peace and prosperity of a society when they are free to choose to exercise their own free will and belief (see here).
A few minutes past 3 p.m., after Henna Qureshi and Adeela Khan take a moment to pray, they settle on a living room rug with two more friends to talk. It’s a drizzly July afternoon, and Qureshi, Khan and Freshta Mohammad have gathered in Nafisa Isa’s family home in Ashburn, Va., for their monthly halaqa, an Islamic study group. Isa tucks her feet beneath her knees as she spreads colored pens across the floor for all to share. The topic of the day is “Nice for What?” — title inspired by the Drake song — a theme that women of all backgrounds can relate to.
“As ambitious Muslim women, we have to hold ourselves to high standards of conduct in our lives — whether it’s in the workplace or in community settings — prioritizing being kind, helpful and compassionate above all else,” Isa begins, reading the prompt they’ve each pondered in preparation for this meeting. “How do we react when people aren’t kind to us? How do we assert ourselves and express our emotions in a way that doesn’t stifle us or contradict our values?”
The four women, along with a few other friends, been meeting regularly since 2016, when Isa decided to create a dedicated setting for her peers to discuss Islam and their experiences as Muslim American women. There are halaqa groups across the country, but theirs is uniquely Millennial, Isa says — while they study the Quran, they also draw upon pop culture for discussion topics and add activities like visiting museums and crafting to their agendas. “We have these conversations about faith, personal growth, philosophy, theology, all the stuff that you would expect,” Isa says. “But then we’ll also paint unicorns.”