By Karmanye Thadani:
Those who are prejudiced against Muslims often tend to generalize all countries with a predominantly Muslim population, except perhaps Turkey and the UAE, on the basis of Saudi Arabia and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan when it comes to women’s rights and tolerance of other faiths, even though no country other than these two has imposed burqas (though Iran has imposed headscarves; however, as regards burqas, it must be noted that the Muslim scriptures certainly nowhere ordain covering the face), or prohibited women from driving (though recently, several Saudi women, supported by many men, defied the driving ban and went unpunished; a Saudi cleric also declared that there was nothing in the Islamic texts that prohibited women from driving), and one of the best car-racers in the world is Laleh Seddigh, a Muslim woman from Iran.
The anti-Muslim elements also very conveniently overlook the fact that many, perhaps even most, Muslims in Saudi Arabia don’t favour the regime (many Saudi men supported women in defying the driving ban some time back), nor did many Afghan Muslims actually favour the Taliban (it is noteworthy that neither of the two regimes were elected by the people, and Islam calls for representative governance, and Imam Hussain, Prophet Muhammad’s grandson died a martyr to this very cause) and many Afghan Muslims today listen to music and shave their beards, things they were not allowed to do when they were governed by the Taliban (though there are no injunctions in the Quran supporting these laws introduced by the Taliban, nor any Hadiths with undisputed authenticity), and now, with the Taliban killing innocent Afghan Muslim civilians, its unpopularity has only increased. I saw a Facebook post being shared by many Afghan Muslims (there are quite a few of them in my friend-list) saying that they are willing to befriend people of diverse ethnicities and religions but not people from the Taliban, who in their eyes are not human, and I have interacted with several Hindus and Sikhs who have lived in Afghanistan, and they said the common folk were very warm. In fact, Ahmad Shah Masoud, the leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and a strongly progressive adherent of the liberal Sufi Islam, who was murdered by Al Qaeda operatives posing as journalists, is widely hailed as a hero in that country.
In fact, I may point out that in the light of the previous article referring to how an all girls’ rock band in Kashmir suspending its activities on receiving death-threats should not make us stereotype Muslims, or even Kashmiri Muslims, I may also point out that an all girls’ music troupe from Iran was in India when this issue was hitting newspaper headlines and they were aghast on hearing the same (for reference, please see this).
The Taliban did indeed destroy the ancient Buddha statues at Bamiyan, but on the other hand, an Afghan Muslim boy named Reza had come to India to study Buddhism at Jawaharlal Nehru University (for reference, have a look at this ) and I recall being invited to the screening of a film on Afghanistan’s Buddhist heritage where the film-maker was a Muslim! Iranian, Indonesian and Egyptian Muslims, by and large, take great pride in their pre-Islamic civilizational heritage. And as mentioned in the second article in this series, quite a few Muslim-majority countries are secular states, though a country being an Islamic state by itself can also not be equated with being another Taliban-ruled Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, as has already been mentioned.
Also, in Egypt, the Christian minority, mostly of the Coptic sect indigenous to that country and making up about 10% of its population, enjoys equal rights and many Egyptian Christians have been prominent personalities in different spheres, including politics, though the Western media makes a mountain out of an anthill when anything concerns Christian minorities anywhere (including India – one could see that when there was a wave of anti-Christian violence by Hindu extremists in parts of Orissa, Karnataka and a few other states in 2008), and in Iran, the Jews and Zoroastrians are given full freedom of religion as also to run schools, hospitals, newspapers etc. in the name of their religion and there are seat reserved for them in the parliament. Women in most Muslim-majority countries freely work as doctors, engineers, lawyers, pilots etc., though there are indeed conservative parents who discourage their daughters from working, but then, there are many such cases even among Hindus in India, and in spite of liberal-chauvinistic historical constructions, the fact is that notwithstanding some digressions, women have never been given their due in any ancient civilization.
The next article shall focus on dispelling exaggerated images of the plight of the religious minorities and women in Pakistan.[box bg="#fdf78c" color="#000"]About the author:The author is a freelance writer based in New Delhi. He has co-authored two short books, namely ‘Onslaughts on Free Speech in India by Means of Unwarranted Film Bans’ and ‘Women and Sport in India and the World’. To read his other posts, click here.[/box]