by Salina Khan (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 9, Muharram, 1437)
“Why is everyone talking about the refugees all of a sudden?” a friend messaged me last month. “Facebook is so annoying. It’s one crisis or another, and they just repost one article after another. By the time they are posting articles, the damage has already been done!”
Thanks to Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms, heart wrenching abuses and tragedies occurring around the world are being circulated in real-time, motivating many, including many of our hitherto apolitical sisters, to do something about it. This renewed political awakening among Muslim women around the world is long-awaited, welcome and absolutely necessary for there to be real movement toward peace and justice in the world. History has time and again shown that transformative changes in society only occur once women, due to their strong influence as individuals, mothers and teachers, are involved.
“The role of the women in society is much more important than that of the men, for in addition to being active members of society in all fields, the ladies also raise active members,” according to Imam Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran (1979), who gave the Iranian women credit for overthrowing the brutal regime of the Shah of Iran. “Women are creatures who can destroy a power that seems everlasting.”
But Muslim women frustrated with wars, extremism, racism, poverty, corruption and all the other ills of our times who decide to dive onto the political scene must beware. Their political awakening has hit the radar screens of the rich and powerful currently running the world, and they are doing everything they can to control, misdirect and misuse Muslim women’s activism toward furthering their own agendas.
While in the past, infiltration of political efforts such as the Black Power movement of the 1960s or the Occupy movement of a few years ago was covert, the Muslim women’s movements are being intercepted in broad daylight with little resistance. They are convening conferences on empowerment, offering education, technical training and social media awareness coupled with seed money, jobs and networking to influence the paths awakened Muslim women take around the world. Not only is this aimed at preventing the radical changes necessary in the world right now, it can also be used to persuade activists to rally for changes that ultimately give even more power and riches to the elites running the show.
This past summer Muslim women influential in their communities from around the world convened at a “Women and Countering Violent Extremism” conference in Washington to learn how to “build a better world.” Ironically, those lecturing them were current and former members of the United States government, which funds terrorists in the region with one hand and bombs the countries in their “War on Terror” with the other. The Center for International and Strategic Studies, a think tank aimed at making sure nothing changes, or in their words “finding ways to sustain American prominence and prosperity as a force for good in the world,” hosted the conference.
“We need to engage the women so that they are raising their children in the way we want,” declared Farah Pandith, the former first-ever Representative to Muslim Communities appointed by the Obama administration, who spoke at the conference and is currently an adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Similar efforts are being made to shape the political pathways of intelligent and active Muslim women in the US. This month (November) a local American Muslim council, “which serves as a bridge between the Muslim community and federal, state and local law enforcement as well as other private and government agencies,” is holding a two-day conference entitled “Empowering Women: From Awareness to Action.”
My question is: where is God in all of this empowering of women? Who are these women running into the open arms of governments, corporations, and think tanks — the same entities who have abused their long-held power and are responsible for the bloodshed, poverty and immorality destroying our world — to teach other women what is power, how to obtain it and what do with it when they get it. “That they may know Allah has power over all things.” (65:12)
The Rahbar, Imam Khamanei of the Islamic Republic, who has said, “…if women don’t take part in a social movement of a nation, that nation won’t be successful,” recently gave women advice on how to succeed in the political sphere in these times. “When women participate in a movement seriously and knowingly, that movement constantly will improve,” the Imam said. “If women continuously stay on the scene, victory will be theirs.”
So, according to Imam Khamanei, the first aspect of political involvement is being serious about a subject and having the commitment to making a difference. Take a look around your community and find a need that is not being fulfilled. Now go do it — and keep doing it even when it is no longer the hot topic on Facebook! To preserve your freedom, avoid affiliating yourself with groups with their own agendas, such as governments, corporations, think tanks and even masjids! Reach out to other local activists, and they don’t have to be Muslims!
And how could you refuse to struggle in the cause of Allah and of the utterly helpless men and women and children who are crying, ‘O our Sustainer! Lead us forth [to freedom] out of this land whose people are oppressors, and raise for us, out of Your grace, a protector, and raise for us from, out of Your grace, one who will bring us support! (4:75).
The second part is gaining comprehensive knowledge about one’s area of interest from both the Islamic and worldly perspectives.
1. Read the Qur’an. Not only does God discuss societal problems that must be addressed, but He also specifically delineates how women should empower themselves to attain success in the public sphere. God has an organized plan of action that starts from women building peace, love and compassion within their families and expanding outward to bring those qualities to their local communities, countries and the world. How should women dress for success? How should they network for more impact and influence? There are guidelines aplenty.
2. Understand the problem inside out. Activists should study the problem and its root causes. Sharing pictures and articles of Syrian children washing up on beaches builds awareness, for example, but getting to know the Syrian refugees who turn up in one’s town is even better. Analyzing the root causes of the exodus of Syrians from their once peaceful country is also a must. Activists should read multiple and alternative news sources for a more nuanced understanding.
3. Realize the agenda of the power brokers. Those currently in power want to stay in power, and one way they are doing it is by using social media to persuade the public to accept their courses of action. In the problem-reaction-solution tactic, they present a problem (people fleeing Syria), generate a reaction among the public (sympathy for the refugee children) and propose a solution (war against Syria’s Bashar al-Asad) that will further their goal (“regime-change” in Syria). Only activists with knowledge and experience will avoid falling into this trap, especially when Muslim organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations are obediently pushing the same solution.
Getting Muslim women on board to promote their policies has historically been an important strategy for imperialists. The French colonialists occupying Algeria up until 50 years ago employed Muslim women without their hijabs to march in their occupation parades. According to the revolutionary writer Frantz Fanon, who supported the Algerian independence movement, the French doctrine on women could be summed up as follows, “If we want to destroy the structure of Algerian society, its capacity for resistance, we must first of all conquer the woman; we must go and find them behind the veil where they hide themselves and in the houses where the men keep them out of sight.”
Just last month, America’s First Lady Michelle Obama, alongside her Pakistani counterpart Kalsoom Nawaz and “First Daughter” Maryam Nawaz, announced a $70 million US commitment to educating women in Pakistan. Along the same lines, a Pakistani fashion designer recently boasted she wanted to “empower women” through her immodest clothing line. Knowingly or unknowingly, both will strengthen imperialism’s iron fist in Pakistan.
Lastly and most importantly, acknowledge the correct Islamic political leadership of the time. No matter how dismal and complicated the world’s affairs seem, there are always politically astute scholars able to distinguish between black and white and provide solutions toward a better world.
4. The four perfect women in history, Maryam (mother of Jesus – a), Aasiyah (foster mother of Moses – a), Khadijah (wife of Prophet Muhammad – pbuh) and Fatimah (daughter of the Prophet – pbuh), were given this honorific title not only for their taqwa but also because they whole-heartedly supported the leader of their times when few others did, according to scholar Syed Jawad Naqvi.
As Imam Khamanei has said, “If women continuously stay on the scene, victory will be theirs.”