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A feminist reading of the Koran

  • 23 October 2012

It's hard to imagine any scenario in which shooting a 14-year-old child is justified. And yet, the Taliban attempts just this by insisting its attack on Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai (pictured) is ordained by Islam.

Yousafzai first attracted the group's ire for her insistence on the right of girls to be educated. At the age of 11, she gained international recognition for her BBC blog, in which she documented Taliban atrocities as they burned girls schools to the ground.

Following Yousafzai's shooting earlier this month, the Taliban released a statement claiming, 'We did not attack her for raising voice for education. We targeted her for opposing mujahideen (holy warriors) and their war.'

And so, the Taliban continues to paint Islam as an inherently violent religion.

Muslims are required to model their lives on that of the prophet Mohammed. Consequently, it is easy to assume the roots of radical Islam can be traced back to the prophet himself, hence the numerous Western depictions of Mohammed as an intolerant, murderous tyrant. Such depictions have no basis in history.

Mohammed was trying not just to introduce a new faith, but to transform Arabian society. He blamed much of Arabia's ills on the concept of jahaliyyah. Referred to as the 'Time of Ignorance' by Muslims to denote pre-Islamic times, jahaliyyah, according to historian Karen Armstrong, is better translated as 'irascibility', an 'acute sensitivity to honour and prestige; arrogance, excess, and ... a chronic tendency to violence and retaliation'.

In establishing an inclusive Muslim community (ummah), Mohammed sought to overcome the tribal ethos that had led to customs such as lethal retaliation for perceived transgressions, honour crimes and blood feuds, and whose patriarchal nature bred violence against women including wife beating, forced marriages and female infanticide, all of which Mohammed condemned.

Indeed women had such low standing it is not surprising that, after hearing Mohammed declare women's rights to inherit property and determine who and when they marry, women were among his earliest converts. For this, Mohammed was ridiculed for mixing with the 'weak'.

In his final sermon to the ummah near Mount Arafat, an ailing Mohammed seemed to wonder how his legacy would be fulfilled. 'O people, have I faithfully delivered my message to you?' he cried.

Sadly, it is jahaliyyah that one sees in much of the Muslim world today. It is in Pakistan's ludicrous blasphemy laws, and it rears its ugly head every time fanatical preachers whip young men