Despite this, feminists in the Middle East are far from achieving full gender equality, much like the rest of the world. Probably because sexism and misogyny is so deeply entwined in our culture, not just in any specific religion, but in society, in our day to day life. We are all still fighting, no matter what religion or race, to be equal with each other. So if you are reading this, and have realized how truly messed up our world is, try to do something about it. Whether you have any negative racial stereotypes, or see sexism in your daily life, fight against it. It may not do much right now, but it may, in the long run. It’s time for us to be on our own side, right?
Whenever the Middle East is brought up, what comes to mind? What is your perspective on the people who live there? Western media and culture heavily influence the rest of the world’s perspective on this region of our planet; heck, even the term “Middle East” is Euro-centric (the more accurate, Asian-centric name would be “Western Asia”). So because of this, we tend to have a lot of stereotypes—usually negative ones—about the Middle East and the people who live there.
One of the most prevalent stereotypes is that Middle Eastern = Arab = Muslim = terrorist. Yes, Arab is the most predominant ethnic group, but there are also plenty others, including Persians, Turks, and many more. Same goes for Islam—it is the predominant religion, but there are many others, including Judaism and Christianity (which were, if you’ll recall from your world history class, both established in this area of the world). Also, Arab and Muslim are not necessarily the same, as there are Arabs who are not Muslim and Muslims who are not Arab. The Middle East is actually really diverse with their many cultures and religions, that just doesn’t get represented in the media very often, if at all. As for the terrorist/bomber/criminal/violent/etc. stereotype, which I believe was further propagated after the 9/11 attack, that is definitely not true, thinking that is way outdated and if you do think that I suggest you get some perspective. You’ll find that terrorists can come from any part of the world. (Just saying.)
Another common stereotype is that the Middle East is all desert; again, false. Having traveled to the Middle East a couple of times in the past, I can assure you that you can see more than just sand, oil, and camels. Though the climate is more on the warm side (it reaches over 40 degrees Celsius in the summer!), there’s plenty more to see other than the desert. Aside from the existence of fertile forests and mountain ranges, the architecture of buildings in the cities there are amazing. Even all the roads and highways look very well planned out and paved, you wouldn’t even think you were in a desert.
But the one thing that irks me the most about the Western view on the Middle East is their perception of women. In Western media, Middle Eastern women are almost always represented as either belly dancers or concubines part of a harem. These women, oftentimes the women who wear veils or hijab, are viewed as oppressed by their religion. To those people who think that, let me ask you this: aren’t a lot of women from various parts of the world also oppressed? And aren’t these women battling their oppression, to claim the rights they rightfully deserve?
Just as women in all parts of the world are fighting oppression in its many forms, so do the women in the Middle East. There are feminists in the Middle East: women who are fighting for their rights, much like feminists in other parts of the world. It’s just a lot harder for them in the Middle East, because as mentioned earlier, Islam is the predominant religion in this part of the world, and for the longest time, Islam has been interpreted and promulgated as a male-dominant religion. So, in response to this, Islamic feminism was born.
Islamic feminism is vastly different from Western, secular feminism because it is more radical, and basing its ideologies and arguments on the Qur’an. In the present, Islamic feminists fight against the Muslim Personal Law (MPL) which includes laws on polygyny (polygamy in Islam), divorce, marital property, etc. They also debate on the laws regarding dress code, whether or not the veil (hijab/burqa) should be banned, required, or optional. Additionally, they call for equality in the Mosque, and in leading prayers. This brand of feminism extends beyond the Middle East, as there are Muslims in other parts of the world as well — in Pakistan, Indonesia, and many others. Islamic feminists are seen protesting for the rights in the streets, making discourse about Islamic beliefs, and in some cases, even leading countries. Little by little, they are gaining power, not to dominate their male counterparts—which is the common misconception about feminism—but to be equal to them.
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