Islam and Women


Vicky Beeching interviewed Mo Ansar on Isn’t Islam Anti-Women. I expected some tough questioning. For example about acid attacks on women, the “honour” killing of women, the status of women as sharia is practised in Islamic theocracy now, that dress codes are designed to reflect an Islamic manner rather than their own female or personal identity. How rape victims are treated in the judicial system in theocratic Islamic states, and adulterers. Not being able to hold public office or needing a chaperone to be in public – might just have cropped up in such a discussion.

Perhaps the experiences of women going to sharia councils in the UK or the recent documentary by Panorama. The disgraceful attack on defenceless baby girls that FGM is here and abroad.

The answer is that would be a big no. This was a cosy coffee morning interview praising faith rather than a Paxman well done late night grilling. We all have our styles, but not asking a single question on the issues above was an insult to the feminism part of the “Faith in Feminism” site.

Surely for Mo a grilled breakfast would have fitted his appetite for debate:

MA: Yes. It’s quite astounding that the religion which has at its centre a woman such as Aisha, an entire chapter of the Quran called the women and another dedicated to the mother of Christ; should now stand in the dock accused of the worst manifestations of misogyny and abuse towards women. It is a charge which needs to be refuted and with some vigour.

So Mo, in the absence of being asked why those terrible things are happening in Islamic countries to women if religion promotes feminism, here was his most vigorous refutation to a general claim of misogyny:

MA: The shocking truth is that to judge Islam by the worst conditions for Muslim women around the developing world is to create an ugly caricature, one which denies the geo-political machinations behind events and the balkanisation of women’s rights in these lands. The truer picture is that which we see when the rivers or confidence, empowerment, education, peace and prosperity flow together. We can only ask that the world looks towards Yemeni feminist Nobel prize winners like Tawakul Karman, as the real face and voice of a modern, politically engaged and socially astute Islam, rather than those with a Talibanised view of education and equality; it is a hard and closed thinking which wanders around in the shadows beyond the light of Islam. In truth, we may even find that a modern, enlightened Islam has much to offer a West which today, still struggles to find the right settlement for those balancing influences of sexuality, equality and feminism.

What version of enlightened Islam does Mo have in mind for us to judge? Here are some of his words on.






So in this enlightened Islam women should be prepared to be segregated from men whether formally or informally, that women should be dressed modestly – so forget about that party dress because being sexy is pornographic, and mothers the prophet is above your children in status so remember that if they ever become apostates or make a joke that someone overhears insulting the prophet – free speech to insult is not an option.

This is not even an ugly caricature but going by the words of Mo himself. His Islam tells you how to dress on waking, how to socialise, how to speak when you do, who to sleep with when you go to bed and that you had better satisfy each other if married before sleeping. Enlightened is not a word I would use, let alone feministic, to describe this.

Plus we still have this unresolved issue of email advice given by Mo Ansar to a woman suffering an abusive relationship. The only person whose confidentially needs protecting wants to wave it to publish the correspondence – Mo has said no.

The empowerment of women is the key thing to social change – it is an affront to history and the modern situation of women in Islamic countries to suggest that Islam has answered. The advantages for women in secular democratic countries are hard won – and women did it wearing whatever they liked and acted as brazenly as necessary to promote feminism. Women are not inferior – this needs to be clearly understood when your enlightened islam is a woman’s gaze to be lowered in modesty.

Women are being held back by islamic theocracy. It is being challenged by secular, politically astute Muslim women and non Muslim women – at considerable risk from Islamists. The rights of women are not derived by religious scribes – these rights are theirs if only they are not hindered, threatened or cajoled to be less than they truly are. Tawakul Karman survived an attempted assassination by someone wielding symbolically a traditional dagger – the weapon reflecting Karman rejecting Yemeni values of women being subjected to inferior status.

Her would be assassin wanting to kill her for practising “politically engaged and socially astute Islam” was a woman.

In the developing world give women access to birth control, education, health care, the ability to manage finances even borrow for investment, and a say in how the community is run. Let them get on with it. The results are proven when you do. Yet we also need a revolution in thinking too. Educated independent secular women will not need to listen to Mo or me.

It is noticeable that support for sharia by Muslims in Europe is a significant minority (18%) according to Pew Research. Compare that to the Middle East and North Africa (74%).

Release women from the tribal, cultural and religious shackles of seventh century thinking and designated roles so they can get on with much needed change. Mullahs, Taliban, elders and other misogynistic pricks are in the way and religion is the excuse they use.

I would also beware anyone who is for segregation of men and women, and calling for women to be modest, being enlightened about anything. For seen in the true light of the real enlightenment such people are shadow puppets to real rights for women.

Follow on Blog: Please Mo Answer – questions by historians Llewelyn Morgan and Tom Holland

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog


Filed under British Society, Culture, Philosophy, Religion, World

12 responses to “Islam and Women

  1. The Syed Atheist

    Reblogged this on The Syed Atheist.

  2. Do you even have a clue what Sharia is? There is no book called sharia law, laws are interpreted and coded by patriarchs in societies where scholars and “experts” are commissioned to protect power by disempowering citizens with selective emphasis on texts from the hadith and uncontextualised Quranic verses which can be pushed on illiterate and unversed masses. Extreme, primitive interpretations of Islam provides that security.
    Saudi Arabia and much of the MIddle East and Muslim world at large can be pointed at to find easy patterns by lazy, ignorant and patronising (read orientalist) western commentators who draw the common thread of Islam into the observations and buy into this narrative of backwardness, yet, they shirk from entertaining the views of educated, enlightened and feminist Muslim women. Its always the crassest and stereotypical denominators drawn from media dictated impressions that constitute the sampling factors.

    If the Arabs went round with TV cameras in Southend, Dagenham, Dundee or any friday night in any city in the UK and invited talking heads to opine, do you think the verdicts reached would be accurate?

    ” it is an affront to history and the modern situation of women in Islamic countries to suggest that Islam has answered” (You meant answers i’ll assume?)

    And then you write..

    “Women are being held back by islamic theocracy” …”Her (Tawakul)would be assassin wanting to kill her for practising “politically engaged and socially astute Islam” was a woman. ”

    So there is an Islam that is socially astute, politically engaged and presumably enlightened?

    “this needs to be clearly understood when your enlightened islam is a woman’s gaze to be lowered in modesty.”

    And men are given are equally instructed to lower their gaze but why would you include that in a blog piece, you’ve not broken into proper journalism yet I just discovered with a chuckle and an indulgent cringe (you’re not that Jon Sargeant and you work for Dawkins, lol).

    • 1. Don’t confuse a cartoon with what I know – it illustrated a point only and like a sacred text should not be taken literally.

      2. Follow the link to sharia provided in post.

      3. I mean what I say – and try not to criticise spelling incorrectly when you do. It looks “i’ll” (see point 7).

      4. I make vey clear in piece islamic theocracy “is being challenged by secular, politically astute Muslim women” – my point is Mo Ansar does not represent them. Pity one of them was not interviewed.

      5. Neither men nor women should be ordered to lower their gaze for shame of what eye contact may lead to. I do not mention men because this is a post about Women and Islam replying to Mo’s interview.

      6. I am not trying to be a journalist. I have been published by Left Foot Forward, The Commentator and have a Huffington Post Blog. I am a blogger and I blog. Occasionally others want to cross post. Fine by me.

      7. You mean John Sergeant – not Jon Sargeant. Well done for noticing I have a similar name to him. For the whole of my life no one has ever noticed that before …

      8. I volunteered for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and as a volunteer moderated the forum. Past tense.

      9. Try and go for the argument rather than the person next time.

      10. Try and get your facts right next time.

  3. I have a perverse admiration for Mo Ansar. He has managed, while creating nothing of intellectual substance, to establish himself as an authoritative commentator on society. It is a triumph for old-fashioned social climbing: the talent for insinuating oneself into peoples’ eyeline by way of flattery and provocation. An achievement, if an unwelcome one.

    • Stuart Paynter

      Astute observation. He’s tweeted 80k times and never really said anything. If an orthodox opinion is asserted, it’s such an anathema to our liberal, secular society it gets attacked.

      He responds to this in one of 2 ways:

      Attacker is well known (Aaronovich, Holland, etc) – Be obtuse. ‘I didn’t mean that’, ‘read it again’, ‘You misunderstand, my friend’, etc.

      Attacker is not well known – Islamophobe, troll, etc.

      He has built a career on vapid, meaningless platitudes and it’s quite an achievement.

  4. Mark

    When I logged in to Vicky Beeching’s new site and looked at the ‘women in Islam’ post, I had two reactions. 1) Surprised that she should use Mohammed Ansar for such a subject. 2) Not surprised because they seem to be friendly. Even before reading, a thought struck me that Beeching is likely to get a lot of criticism from feminist friends for this. She has either been naive, or in fact is doing it in order to generate controversy and interest in the website. Somehow I suspect the former.

    After reading, what was missing? After all, this is all about feminism and by implication, women’s rights in Islam. A short list of missing questions would be:

    1) His view of women covering up. He has said it is mandatory. Surely a feminist is interested in this.
    2) His views on inclusive mosques in Britain, where women can lead prayers and homosexuals are welcomed. Surely Mr Ansar as a civil rights campaigner, who advocates inclusiveness, tolerance and equality, would welcome something like this.
    3) Certain Sharia law principles, such as inheritance for women, or the intricacies of rape witnesses/adultery etc.

    All of these things directly affect women, so should have been covered, given that she introduced Ansar as having a ‘committment to feminism’.

    Vicky Beeching campaigns for women bishops, and has been known to criticise the Anglican church or individuals when necessary, so why can’t she apply the same to Islam? Surely, she must be curious of the role of women in mosques?

    So overall, I thought it was incredibly fluffy and she didn’t even scratch the surface, but showed Ansar in a better light than otherwise probing questions would have done. But they are mates.

    It’s easy in hindsight to say that maybe she should have interviewed a female Muslim feminist, who may have been more critical of the religion/faith/ideology/culture and later got Ansar in to tackle what was said there. Perhaps now it’ll happen the other way around, because she needs to act quickly to get a balance for that interview, if only to save her credibility.

    In some ways I feel a bit sorry for Beeching because she seems to be a nice person who doesn’t like criticism or confrontation, and wants others to be nice in return. In this case, she has tackled a subject, with a contributor that is simply going to attract a lot of criticism, if not confrontation. She’ll need to grow a thicker skin. But maybe any publicity is good publicity.

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