Monday, 20 June 2011

Unlike Fulla, the Islamic Barbie doll, we aren’t objects

'Fulla' is an Islamic answer to 'Barbie' marketed in the Islamic world
I often imagine it must be truly difficult for many non-Muslims to understand why a woman would choose to be Muslim. If you look at the media these days you find so many reasons why it seems absurd for an independent, modern-minded woman to follow the Islamic faith. This month, news emerged that a group of women in Malaysia had set up an ‘obedient wives club’, which sounds dreadful, but somehow manages to be worse than it sounds.

The club’s founders say that domestic violence, infidelity and divorce can be rectified only if women keep their men happy in the bedroom. They should be so good in bed that they are “better than a first-class prostitute”. In effect, they equate a woman’s proper practicing of the Islam with her success at satisfying her man’s carnal desires. Some Indonesian women have opened their own branch of the club.

If I was not a Muslim myself, I would cringe at the thought of a faith that objectifies women such that they are reduced to being sex objects for their husbands. Marriage, in this context, is a union forged solely for physical satisfaction and a man’s faithfulness relies on a woman’s ability to satisfy his sexual needs.

Fulla and Barbie: just toys
At about the same time as that story was splashed in newspapers and news wires across the world, a Kuwaiti woman who had once run for parliament called on sex slavery to be legalised. She argued that buying a sex-slave would protect devout Kuwaiti men from committing the sin of adultery.

Again, what woman would willingly choose to be part of a belief system that assumes men are inherently too weak not to be given to sin, and places on women’s shoulders the burden of ensuring men don't stray from their faith?

I sympathise with non-Muslims. Even as a Muslim I read these articles and cringe. In many ways, they are worse than reading about men suppressing Muslim women in places like Saudi Arabia, where women are struggling even for the basic right to drive.

I cringe because these women attack the most-beautiful aspect of my life, my Islam, and complicate it, tarnish it, misconstrue and misinterpret it. In my view, they are doing a major injustice to humankind and, more importantly, to God. They appear to take the view that we as women are nothing more than Barbie or her Islamic answer, Fulla – objects that can be bought and played with.

Muslim men and women will often loosely cite traditions or Quranic phrases, stripping out the context and relevance, in order to justify their illogical ideas of what it means to be Muslim. In the process, they alienate Muslims and non-Muslims alike. They distort the beauty of God’s message in a way that places ego and fulfilment of pleasure above all else, which is completely at odds with Islam’s purpose.
Indonesian women launch branch of 'Obedient Wives Club'
The term Islam means ‘submission to God’ in Arabic. The more you surrender to the Divine, the less attached you become to the desires and temptations of the world, and the greater freedom you find. As a woman, I have found more liberty in submitting myself to God in Islam than any feminist ideology, job title, self-help or how-to book, or piece of clothing would ever collectively even come close to giving me.

Submission places in a human’s grasp the freedom to be happy in every moment of life, and find purpose and blessing in every hardship and triumph.

A relationship between true Muslim men and women is far greater than a physical bond. One who really loves God and submits her/his self to the Creator as a Muslim would never be unfaithful. That is not part of the language of true submission, that is part of the language of ego and desire that we are supposed to separate ourselves from.

I would applaud efforts to strengthen marriages by encouraging men and women to communicate better and be obedient to each others needs mentally, spiritually and physically. But placing the burden on women is a gross misrepresentation and disservice to Islam.

Islam is simple and inherently rationale, hence its appeal to me and many women. God gives each human soul the chance to attain salvation through prayer, fasting, charity, patience and works of righteousness. I often cite the Quranic verse below because it so beautifully encapsulates the egalitarian ideas that God tries to convey to those who are willing to listen:

For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s (God’s) praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward. 
(Quran, 33:35)

There is an intrinsic spiritual equality between men and women in the pages of the Quran (The Recitation), which charts out the path individuals should take to strive toward eternal peace and escape the facade of modern life. Men and woman are different by nature, and our roles in life are very often complementary. But Islam does not objectify women – patriarchal cultures and traditions upheld by men, and women, do. Islam is a very personal struggle to discover God and find peace.

As I truly embraced Islam in the past year, I discovered how to separate myself from the emphasis society places materialism, consumerism, success and sex appeal in achieving lasting happiness. Islam has taught me to drown out the senseless noise of modern society and allow the beauty of God’s message guide me.

Being a Muslim woman means I am chaste. I involve God intimately in each of my daily activities, knowing as God informs us in the Quran that He is closer to me than my jugular vein. Like everyone, I work and run errands, meet friends and family, cook, clean, shop and travel. But five times each day like clockwork I pull myself away from whatever activity I am doing to kneel in devotion to God in prayer. It is comforting to have this consistency in my life; whether I am having a good day or a bad day, I am constantly drawn back to the Source.

Quran mentions women and men and equal number of times on its pages
There is a harmony in submission that runs through your life as though it were a continuous thread, weaving together our days into a beautiful quilt, each loop of which is coloured with a new insight from the Divine.

Being a Muslim woman means I fast regularly out of a desire to purify my body, speech and thoughts. It means I give generously to charity from the money God has entrusted with me. It means I try my utmost to be a loving, devoted daughter, sister, friend, colleague and human being. I am not married, but if God wills that I should be some day, it will mean cherishing my husband and striving to work together to find intimacy on a spiritual, mental and physical level.

This short description of what Islam means to me as a modern, independent and devout Muslim woman will never be splashed as a headline like the “obedient wives club” so irritatingly was this month.

But this is my reality; submission is a beautiful state of existence. It is a shame that a minority of irresponsible women and men will continue to tarnish the spirit of Islam for their own narrow-minded, self-centred objectives. 

All I can really do to fight the stereotypical view of Muslim women’s oppression is be the best Muslim I can be. The closer I draw into God’s embrace--and He becomes the object of my affection--the more I discover liberty in the truest sense.

4 comments:

  1. As an American whose introduction to Islam was 9/11, I spent the next ten years responding with shock to all of these kind of headlines. Now I live in Turkey, and know lots of Islamic people as friends. Friendship is the best antidote to being manipulated by the media into disliking one group of people.

    The Islamic people I know are fun, moderate, giving, wonderful people who I have a lot in common with and who I enjoy spending time with.

    Living here has helped me see even more clearly the crazies in my own religion and country who could appear very threatening to Islamic people if Islamic media consumers thought they had any power.

    In all countries and religions, we just need to keep our own cringe-inducing folks as headline-makers and not decision-makers. :-)

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  2. hello mam,
    it seems to me that you accept all things which are good to be Islamic but anything bad comes out of people following Islam you say they distorting your religion. you should critically analyze theologies(including Islam) of religion if you want to better yourself

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  3. I know of a website that has over 500 different Islamic dolls and Islamic doll clothes.it is the largest of it's kind in the world.it is muslimtoysanddolls.com I just bought three from the sister and they are beautiful.

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