I am a woman, of course, so a huge obstacle to my acceptance and tolerance for some fundamentalist Muslims has to do with their traditions surrounding the freedoms of women. Women’s Rights are very different in many Muslim cultures than they are in western tradition. I am not sure that we can really coexist peacefully without resolving the place of women in society. I have arrived at the (perhaps erroneous) conclusion that women’s rights in Muslim culture are curtailed to prevent men from being tempted into certain sins. I have also arrived at the conclusion that, as in all relationships the world over, there are benevolent and healthy relationships carried on even in this “prohibitive” environment; just as purdah can also be used as a private space in which to abuse women without censure from the larger culture.
One of the freedoms that has been most sweet to me is the freedom to be educated and to use that education out in the world in a career or business. When I see a teen-aged girl (Malala) shot in such a way that she was actually being assassinated just because she spoke up about the right of girls to go to school, I do not have any way to rationalize such an action. It is just wrong. Some cultures abuse women in ways that, however traditional, will never, ever be acceptable to women who live in a culture that respects women as the equals of men; in other words as human beings. Even naming all of the ways that cultures have found to subjugate women gives these “traditions” too much power. I am convinced that freedom, however difficult it sometimes is to handle, is something that, once won, should never be given up. I am further convinced that we should work to free anyone who is “chained” by either religion or tradition. Perhaps we can find ways that straddle tradition and freedom, but so far that seems improbable.
I am not saying that we have to work this out instantly because we can all see that that is not doable. Freedom is as much an internal feeling as it is an external right. Freeing someone will not really work if their internal beliefs cannot accept such a state. Helping women feel free will take time and care, it will take action and example, it will take freeing the men in the culture so that the women will not be separated from freedom by fear. All of these things are already happening in baby steps, around the world until someday girls will not have to remain ignorant because some man, or some religion says it must be so.
I think you can see that the attitudes I have about Women’s Rights put me in opposition to cultures that practice things like purdah or the imprisonment of women and girls or that squelch the freedom of women in any way. I see my Muslim sisters as less than free and this is a huge difficulty I have with Islam. I don’t know how to moderate this feeling. I believe in tolerance. I believe in live and let live. I believe that Muslims and Christians should be able to peacefully coexist, until I get to the issue of women. I do not intervene in any way. I politely acquiesce because it is socially correct to do so and I am not a fighter, I am a talker; but I do not really accept the way women are treated in the Muslim faith. I pray that the Taliban, or any Fundamentalist group does not try to curtail my freedom and so I pray that these groups lose. This does not make me sound very tolerant; it makes me sound like a hater. When I am strong I may feel like a hater, but most of the time men like this just scare me. And isn’t that the point?