Re­li­gious doc­trine and the lib­er­a­tion of women

The Kurdish Globe - - NATIONAL -

Men dom­i­nate re­li­gious dis­course in Kur­dis­tan. Peo­ple ac­cept their in­ter­pre­ta­tions, of­ten rem­i­nis­cent of preva­lent views in neigh­bor­ing Arab coun­tries, as un­ques­tion­able and sov­er­eign. In mosques one sees

imams present, but no fe­male schol­ars. Even if there were fe­male the­olo­gians in the re­gion, they would have dif­fi­culty find­ing a job since the imams would not want to share their func­tion with women.

Thus imams in­ter­pret Is­lamic texts as they will and ex­clude women en­tirely from the op­por­tu­nity to en­gage in the schol­arly ex­plo­ration of re­li­gion. In the rare in­stances when imams in­clude women in

dis­cus­sions, they use gen­der as a point of at­tack to (falsely) il­lus­trate that women lack the log­i­cal ca­pac­ity to com­pre­hend the Ko­ran. This form of dis­crim­i­na­tion causes psy­cho­log­i­cal and so­cial dam­age to women. It is an in­cre­men­tal as­sault on their self-es­teem and con­trib­utes to a cul­ture of pa­tri­archy that in­doc­tri­nates men and women to be­lieve that fe­male­ness comes with lower in­tel­lec­tual

po­ten­tial. The func­tion­al­ity of pa­tri­archy owes its success to mass com­pli­ance and obedi- ence from women. When we sit on the mar­gins of so­ci­ety nod­ding to au­thor­i­tar­ian fig­ures who in­sist on our

in­fe­ri­or­ity, we ap­prove our own sub­ju­ga­tion. Of course many women stand idle be­cause they de­pend on men to sur­vive.

Herein we find the vi­cious cy­cle of pa­tri­archy: To make au­tonomous de­ci­sions women need fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity to ma­neu­ver, but in Kur­dis­tan many rely wholly on spousal sup­port. This in­her­ent prob­lem re­minds us that only ed­u­ca­tion can as­sure com­plete in­de­pen­dence for girls when they reach adult­hood. The prob­lem of women's so­cial de­lay in Kur­dis­tan is mul­ti­di­men­sional and—be­cause they in­flu­ence so­ci­ety so greatly—the clergy could play a sig­nif­i­cantly pos­i­tive role in im­prov­ing con­di­tions for women. For this rea­son we must find ways to open dis­cus­sion with imams and re­cruit their help in teach­ing peo­ple that women and men are be­ings born with equal po­ten­tial for lead­er­ship.

Peo­ple blame re­li­gion for much of women's de­layed progress in Kur­dis­tan; but re­li­gion it­self is not the cul­prit of the ills of hu­man so­ci­ety. For a very long time peo­ple have pointed the fin­ger at Is­lam, for ex­am­ple, to jus­tify women's op­pres­sion in the Mid­dle East; but we for­get that it is the way hu­man be­ings con­cep­tu­al­ize an idea that sets a prece­dence for the ex­pres­sion of val­ues—and how th­ese in turn

man­i­fest in the homes of peo­ple. Peo­ple mis­con­strue re­li­gion to incite shame and pre­vent women from ex­press­ing them­selves. For ex­am­ple, many have cited re­li­gion to claim that women who walk alone in the evening or con­verse with un­re­lated men, are amoral and dis­hon­or­able.

Hence from a sub­jec­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tion of re­li­gion comes a cor­rupt value that man­i­fests in so­ci­ety as a cul­tural stereo­type. With great power the neg­a­tive stereo­type grows to be ac­cepted as a uni­ver­sal truth that de­lin­eates the moral­ity of women. The labyrinthine na­ture of this de­struc­tive stereo­type re­quires cal­cu­lated treat­ment be­cause it is em­bed­ded in the per­son­al­i­ties of peo­ple.

We are in­evitably the prod­uct of our so­ci­eties, and when we grow hear­ing the same sto­ries and state­ments, we in­te­grate their value in the fab­ric of per­sonal iden­tity. To be­gin to ad­dress the prob­lem prop­erly, we must en­list clergy sup­port in pro­mot­ing a pos­i­tive, au­tonomous im­age of women, along with their schol­arly par­tic­i­pa­tion in re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion. The lat­ter may take the form of women of­fer­ing view­points dif­fer­ent from the widely ac­cepted in­ter­pre­ta­tions of sa­cred scrip­ture, which cur­rently place women in a po­si­tion in­fe­rior to men.

With all things con­sid­ered, the fact re­mains that few Kur­dish women make an ef­fort to par­tic­i­pate in re­li­gious meet­ings, where they may share new per­spec­tives to coun­ter­act re­pres­sive no­tions of women's be­hav­ior. One of the rea­sons for this may lie in the pub­lic per­cep­tion that a woman in­ter­ested in the study of re­li­gion is not at­trac­tive. Men in Kur­dis­tan ad­mire women who are mod­est, cul­tured and gen­tle. They pre­fer women who con­tain their re­bel­lious streak on the sur­face and never use it to defy author­ity. Such im­age of women is one of

con­tra­dic­tion, and it is com­mon in Er­bil where most men run from the idea of women hav­ing an in­tel­lec­tual dis­cus­sion about re­li­gion. The sit­u­a­tion is un­for­tu­nate be­cause it dis­tances tal­ented women from cler­i­cal cir­cles and lessens their op­por­tu­nity to in­flu­ence imams.

A case in point is that of wom- en who have mem­o­rized the Ko­ran—an as­ton­ish­ing feat— but never en­gage in de­bate or pro­pose alternative, con­tem­po­rary in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the sa­cred text. Their si­lence is a dis­ser­vice be­cause th­ese are the women in the best po­si­tion to en­gage peo­ple in thought and show that neg­a­tive be­liefs con­cern­ing women are vastly un­re­lated to the wis­dom put forth in the holy Ko­ran. There are women who are ac­tively try­ing to change the way re­li­gion is per­ceived, and the so­cial con­straints placed on women due to pa­tri­ar­chal in­ter­pre­ta­tions of re­li­gion. One or­ga­ni­za­tion that has

tried to chal­lenge so­ci­etal con­straints on women is the Women Em­pow­er­ment Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WEO) in Ainkawa which gives women free le­gal ad­vice, and coun­sel­ing. One young woman who reached out to WEO in the past ex­pressed her out­rage at the lack of at­ten­tion given to the progress of women in the re­gion, and the detri­men­tal role so­ci­etal ig­no­rance has on the lib­er­a­tion of women.

A gen­eral view of the Jalil Khayat Mosque, the largest mosque in Er­bil.

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