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Stop with the assumptions about the Middle East and ask more questions

by Lehi Naseem, Contributor

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My name is Lehi Mohammad Naseem.

I am from Kurdistan, Northern Iraq and I am a Muslim woman. I do not wear a scarf, but I still believe in Allah, which is directly translated as God. I don’t believe everyone around me should have the same beliefs as I do and my faith certainly doesn’t work to oppress me.

I was born in the Middle East, and my family still lives in Kurdistan. So I’ve learned to brush off the generalizations publicized by the media. However, I have recently learned not everyone realizes these crazy stories are almost always only generalizations and not facts. Don’t get me wrong, there are several issues paralyzing parts of the region, but the Middle East is more than what the headlines tell you.

The media has consistently portrayed the Middle East as a benighted and frightening region. I realize it’s not personal; it’s just a matter of media gate keeping. If they reported on how guerrilla forces, such as the Peshmerga, were fighting to stop the extremist violence in certain parts of the Middle East, no one would pay attention. Reading about the beheading of a Syrian man in the streets just has more of a shock value. I’m fully aware that certain stories concerning development in the Middle East have been filtered out and replaced with rare gruesome stories just for the purpose of viewership. However, the entire region should not be judged based on the sins of a few extremists.

First and foremost, Islam, the predominant religion in the Middle East, does not promote oppression of women. Every Muslim woman is not obligated to wear a veil and women who do have their own reasons for doing so. UC San Diego junior Zahra Alasady has been wearing a veil since she was nine. She explained her personal reasons for covering up.

“You wear a hijab to hide your beauty,” said Alasady, expressing how a woman should “keep the beauty just for (her) husband.”

The veil exemplifies modesty and honor a woman feels for herself and her family.

However that does not mean the women who do not wear a veil don’t embody the same dignifying characteristics. Contrary to popular belief, all women are valued and respected in most parts of the Middle East. Turkey was one of the first countries to grant women the right to vote in 1934. There is still more progress to be achieved but equality for women is an incessant global issue, not just a Middle Eastern one.

Second, there is a difference between Islamist extremists and the rest of the Islamic community. Western and European societies are only exposed to the malicious Muslims who manipulate religion to promote violence and spread animosity. Fortunately, this widely publicized faction is only a small portion of the billion Muslims in the world. Islam is a peaceful religion not much different than Christianity or Judaism. Associating every Muslim with the popularized extremists is like associating every Christian with the Westboro Baptist Church. Every Christian is not a homophobic anti-Semitic, just as every Muslim is not a terrorist.

Despite widespread belief, everyone in the Middle East is not Muslim. And “Middle Eastern” is not synonymous with “Arab.” Lebanon is the perfect example of a melting pot where a majority of Christians and Muslims have learned to live peacefully with one another. Israel has a predominantly Jewish population. And aside from the existence of the Abrahamic faiths within the Middle East, there are populations of Yezidis, Zoroastrians and many other minority religions within the area. There are also several various ethnic groups, who are not descendants of Arabs, spread throughout the region.

Thirdly, the economic issues and achievements of the Middle East don’t only relate to access and exportation of oil. Many people believe the entire population is either mostly poor or overwhelmingly wealthy. When in reality, their wealth distribution is quite similar to America’s. The middle-class population is considerably larger than the upper- and the lower-class populations. Only a handful of the wealthy actually work directly with the oil business. And for the most part, the benefits have been utilized to urbanize the region. Cities such as Dubai, Cairo and Istanbul continue to attract tourists from around the world.

Generalizations, prejudices and stereotypes exist everywhere and they will continue to exist until people are willing to learn the actual truth rather than fixate on their personal perceived truths.

We all have our own image of what someone is supposed to act or look like, but in order to truly understand one another we must stop assuming and start asking questions. The Middle East began as an enigma for the West, and then somehow turned into the epitome of terrorism. But there’s more to the region than just the violence and the religious tensions. The Middle East is beaming with culture, intelligence and development but it will only continue to be crippled by affliction if it is expected to do so.

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3 Responses to “Stop with the assumptions about the Middle East and ask more questions”

  1. Arafat on February 26th, 2016 4:02 pm

    “First and foremost, Islam, the predominant religion in the Middle East, does not promote oppression of women. Every Muslim woman is not obligated to wear a veil and women who do have their own reasons for doing so.”

    Tell that to the women in Saudi Arabia who are forced to wear stifling black bags in the Saudi desert.

    How do you expect us to believe anything you write when you write something as patently false as this?

  2. Arafat on February 26th, 2016 4:04 pm

    The move to paint Islam as a pioneering force in women’s rights is a recent one, corresponding with the efforts of Muslim apologists (not otherwise known for their feminist concerns) and some Western academics prone to interpreting history according to personal preference. In truth, the Islamic religious community has never exhibited an interest in expanding opportunities for women beyond the family role.

    The fourth Caliph, who was Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, said just a few years after the prophet’s death that “The entire woman is an evil. And what is worse is that it is a necessary evil.”

    A traditional Islamic saying is that, “A woman’s heaven is beneath her husband’s feet.” One of the world’s most respected Quran commentaries explains that, “Women are like cows, horses, and camels, for all are ridden.” (Tafsir al-Qurtubi)

    The revered Islamic scholar, al-Ghazali, who has been called ‘the greatest Muslim after Muhammad,’ writes that the role of a Muslim woman is to “stay at home and get on with her sewing. She should not go out often, she must not be well-informed, nor must she be communicative with her neighbors and only visit them when absolutely necessary; she should take care of her husband… and seek to satisfy him in everything… Her sole worry should be her virtue… She should be clean and ready to satisfy her husband’s sexual needs at any moment.” [Ibn Warraq]

    A Yemeni cleric recently explained in a television broadcast what makes women inferior and unable, say, to serve as good witnesses: “Women are subject to menstruation, when their endurance and mental capacity for concentration are diminished. When a woman witnesses a killing or an accident, she becomes frightened, moves away, and sometimes even faints, and she cannot even watch the incident.”

    During a 2012 talk show on an Egyptian television channel, a cleric slammed Christianity – in part for teaching gender equality: “the Christian religion does not differentiate between women and men, but it confirms their perfect equality: it gives them an equal share in inheritance, it bans divorce, and it bans polygamy.”

    In 2014, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphasized that men and women are not equal: “Our religion has defined a position for women (in society): motherhood.”

    The many opportunities denied women under Islamic law, from giving equal testimony in court to having the right to exclude other wives from their marital bed, is very clear proof that women are of lesser value then men in Islam. Muslim women are not even free to marry outside the faith without being killed by their own families.

    Islamic law also specifies that when a woman is murdered by a man, her family is owed only half as much “blood money” (diya) as they would be if she had been a man. (The life of a non-Muslim is generally assessed at one-third).

    Although a man retains custody of his children in the event of his wife’s death, a non-Muslim woman will automatically lose custody of her children in the event of her husband’s death unless she converts to Islam or marries a male relative within his family.

    Contemporary Muslims like to counter that Arabs treated women as camels prior to Muhammad.This is somewhat questionable, given that Muhammad’s first wife was a wealthy woman who owned property and ran a successful business prior to ever meeting him. She was even his boss… (although that may have changed after the marriage). Still, it is somewhat telling that Islam’s treatment of women can only be defended by contrasting it to an extremely primitive environment in which women were said to be non-entities.

    Homa Darabi was a talented physician who took her own life by setting herself on fire in a public protest against the oppression of women in Islamic Iran. She did this after a 16-year-old girl was shot to death for wearing lipstick. In the book, Why We Left Islam, her sister includes a direct quote from one of the country’s leading clerics:

    “The specific task of women in this society is to marry and bear children. They will be discouraged from entering legislative, judicial, or whatever careers which may require decision-making, as women lack the intellectual ability and discerning judgment required for these careers.”

    Modern day cleric Abu Ishaq al-Huwaini has called for a return of the slave markets, where Muslim men can order concubines. In this man’s ideal world, “when I want a sex-slave, I go to the market and pick whichever female I desire and buy her.”

    At best, Islam elevates the status of a woman to somewhere between that of a camel and a man.
    Muhammad captured women in war and treated them as a tradable commodity. The “immutable, ever-relevant” Quran explicitly permits women to be kept as sex slaves. These are hardly things in which Muslims can take pride.

  3. Lehi on February 28th, 2016 7:59 pm

    I am not claiming that every woman in the Middle East is equal to a man. I clearly stated in the beginning of the article that there are still several issues crippling the country. I only wanted to dispel the belief that ALL women in the Middle East are oppressed, when they are not.

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