When are we going to stop blaming the culture?

It’s really early in the morning. I have woken up at 2:45 am to get ready and go to the Airport for my flight from Melbourne to Auckland. Though I have my Kindle with me, I am sure that I will be sleeping on the plane.

Right now though, I don’t have time to think. I am frantically finishing all my to-do’s before I disconnect from the world and settle into my seat. Luckily, the flight is on time and soon we all form a huddle, shuffle towards the plane and make ourselves comfortable. I am praying that the seat next to me is empty; it always makes sleeping so much better.

The pilot announces the closing of the gates and I am ecstatic. The seat next to me is empty. I am imagining deep sleep and feeling restful when I meet L on the other side.

It doesn’t all go to plan and my attempts at sleeping aren’t really working. Grudgingly, I take my Kindle out and start reading  Daring to Drive by Manal al-Sharif.

For those of you who don’t know, Manal is an inspirational woman from Saudi Arabia who is fighting for the right of women to drive on the streets of Saudi Arabia. The book is her story about her life experiences and how she came to be fighting for women’s rights. As I read through the pages, my blood starts to boil. I feel that it’s not her who is speaking these words but that it’s my voice that is screaming through these pages. The abuse, the shame and the invisibility with which she lives her life, wasn’t so different to mine many many years ago. The only difference was that I was never beaten.

Manal talks about the education that she received as a Muslim woman. Below is an excerpt from one of the lectures she received:

“If your husband has an injury, filled with pus and you lick his wound, this is still less than what he can rightfully expect”

I am dumbfounded. This is exactly the kind of learning that I grew up as well. I wrote about it in My Sex Education as a Pakistani Muslim Woman

I think to myself: What do a woman from Saudi Arabia and I have in common? (and literally, there is nothing other than the religion that we both share) How can both of us grow up with the “EXACT” same teaching if not through religion?

I have been writing a lot about violence against women in Islam and in response,  people say things like

“It’s culture”

“This is not true Islam”

The women who are burned, thrown into the river, shot, abused, beaten or genitally mutilated wouldn’t say so. Their lives are forever changed by the Islamic forces that impose themselves in countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and many others…

Manal talks about a booklet, which is freely distributed by the Saudi Govt. titled “A Gift to the Muslim Woman” which says things like

“… any woman who applies perfume and passes by others so that they can smell her scent is an adulteress. Veiling is not imposed upon you to restrict you, but to honour you and give you dignity…”

Imagine the self-esteem of a woman, who is taught to be invisible. How can this be just about culture when the countries are built on this kind of Sharia Law? Manal talks about religious police imposing these so-called cultural values on to women in Saudi Arabia.

People tell me that it doesn’t happen only in Islam but in all cultures and religions so why am I singling out Islam?

Honestly, just because it happens in all cultures and religions, does this make it OK? If it happens in all cultures then, there is even a greater need for women in all these cultures to raise their voices.

I am not alone and my country Pakistan is not the only one that subjugates women in the name of Islamic Sharia Law. How long are we going to keep avoiding confronting these wrongs? How long are we going to allow this to happen?

For once, let’s stop blaming the culture and take ownership of what we are allowing in the name of faith and religion. Religion is a very personal and spiritual journey. Let’s not turn it into a law. Let’s allow people to discover their own truth.

Don’t just tell me that this is not “true Islam”  but instead, fight against these so-called Islamic forces that perpetrate these crimes against women and children.

Books/Stories referred to in the Title Image

  1. Saba Maqsood – Shot and thrown in the River
  2. Ambreen – Burnt in a Van
  3. Manal al-Sharif – Daring to Drive
  4. Mehr Tarar – Do we not bleed
  5. Malala Yousafzai – I am Malala
  6. Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Heretic