Women, Sexuality and Islam – Final Thoughts

This class has been one of the most challenging, yet most enjoyable classes that I’ve experienced during my time at SNHU.  It has certainly raised far more questions about the topic of Women, Sexuality and Islam than I had prior to starting, but I think in many ways it’s designed to.  This topic is full of biases that come from simply being a part of a different culture than that which is being studied, and while the readings, discussions and papers have certainly served to allow me to see beyond those biases, the questions raised as those biases are stripped off seem far more pressing.  The reading for this final module is perfect, and I’m incredibly grateful that it did not come at any other time through this course.  Is Islam truly to blame for its treatment of women?  Is it a cultural problem?  Is it a reactionary move against Western post-colonialism, or is it in reality a combination of all 3?  Can the veil be empowering to the women who choose to wear it, or can anything that is down because of coercion truly empowering?  None of these questions have easy answers, and it seems that in its desire to demonize and distance itself from Western cultural values and practices, Islam has regressed even further and embraced the often-heavy yolk of fundamentalism.  But Islam is not alone in this regard.  We see a resurgence of fundamentalism in certain aspects of Western cultural traditions as well.  It would seem that in many ways these two clashing and competing cultural norms feed off of each other, and the result is a reactionary culture battle between East and West that serves to further entrench both sides with little progress being made towards equality, egalitarianism and cross-cultural respect.

I mentioned in my initial journal entry that Islam would be deadly to me.  In some regards, that sentiment is still true.  In others, my mind is slowly starting to shift and see Islam as an institution differently.  That’s the point, however – it’s not an institution, not any more than the multitude of Christian sects can be labeled an institution just because they share similar beliefs.  Islam is a belief system comprised of many interpretations, practices and cultural values, much like Christianity in the West is.  To try to characterize it, simplify it or categorize it would be a significant error in judgement that would forbid truly understanding it in any real meaningful way.  While apologists and legal specialists like El Fadel would argue, Islam is meant to be constantly changing and evolving.  The reality on the ground, however, is somewhat different from his idealized perspective.  The truth is that women are treated worse in Islamic cultures and states than they are elsewhere in the world in many meaningful and measurable ways.  That is not to say, though, that Western treatment of women is superior – it certainly has its own faults and a long way to go before it can be recognized as truly equal.  Ultimately the lessons that I’ve learned throughout this course will inform future dialogues I have with people about Islam as a cultural, political and legal system in the efforts to further the cause of fruitful and meaningful discussion rather than arguments and lingering xenophobic ideals.

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