Islam has a bad rep these days for the way women are treated. Not to mention the demonizing in the press backed by the Western war lords (Thanks George). What is not generally known is that Islam was a religion that instigated social welfare and gave women more legal rights than they were to see in the West until the middle of the 19th century. Mohammad was even supported by his wife, a businesswoman. Islam also introduced care for the poor as a legal obligation, alimony and child support.
The Koran itself only recommends that women wear a head scarf for the sake of modesty. The chador and the hideous metal veils of the Gulf are purely the cultural interpretation of the Arabs who live there. Provided they stuck to the role of virgin, wife or mother, women had more rights and respect than their counterparts in the Christian world for more than a thousand years. Take the witch hunts, for example.
In all Muslim countries the hospitality is unsurpassed. You cannot go hungry. The Koran says that the guest is ‘the face of God’ and you will be bowled over by the everyday kindness typical to most Muslim countries. In theory there is a great Brotherhood of believers amongst Muslims and they are supposed to hold together at all times. Hence the fury against the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Turkey who assist other countries to launch war against Muslim countries.
The Muslim empire once looked like it might take over the world but has been going into economic decline for some time now – only the oil of the Gulf States keeps it going anything like a power bloc. As Muslim theology teaches that the law given to Mohammed 1300 years ago was as good as it could get, it’s not a religion much inclined to change.
The rapid transformation of society in the 20th century at the hands of technology left the Islamic world in shock. Rock n’ roll and mini skirts were a little hard for such an old culture to digest. Consequently they are now in the struggle of integrating the youth’s desire for modernization without sacrificing all their values in the process. The last thing they want is an irreligious society of liberals like in New York or London.
Unfortunately this has also led to a fundamentalist backlash that wants to terrorize everyone into a severe interpretation of the Koran. The military invasions and occupations carried out by the Western powers only lend strength to these hard-liners. Ultimately it’s a question of power and money that has very little to do with the average farmer in neither Ohio or Cairo.
As religions go Islam comes out looking pretty good as there’s no mafia controlling the place of worship or owning the rites of passage – as in Christianity or Hinduism for example. A man in Islam can carry out all his religious duties by himself and in this sense the religion can be seen to have more integrity than most.
Still, it is a religion where the men run everything outside of the home and I, for one, got tired of the almost exclusively male company found in most of the Muslim world. Yet in somewhere like Istanbul things already feel more balanced and you get an idea of how Islam can meet the modern world. One way or another it has to.