How about (1) male chauvinism, (2)arranged marriage, (3) polygamy, (4)homophobia, and (5) Sunni versus Shiite mutual atrocities.
Okay so I am going to address the very first topic you picked which is
"Male Chauvinism and Islam."
My response will be very long as I will try to cover the history of how women have been viewed in different cultures over the past 2500 + years. In this post I will represent the history of Western view of women which I think is necessary to know before we discuss Islamic view of women. In my next post I will cover how women are viewed in Islam. I am not discussing culture as culture is not part of Islamic teachings. I may end up covering culture and its impact on Islam in my last post if it appeared to be necessary.
When we discuss women and their rights, there are basically two world views. These two views are often in conflict - not only on the personal level where individual human beings are making choices, but also on the international level in terms of the debate over the authenticity and correctness of these two world views.
The first world view is the Western liberal view.
A view which claims to draw its roots from the Judeo-Christian tradition that probably, upon investigation, is more well rooted in the ideas that appeared after the reformation; ideas that are rooted in secularism and the world view that appeared thereafter during the ‘era of enlightenment’.
The second view is that of the Muslims - the Islamic world view
, and this view says that its roots and ideas lie in the revelation given by God (or Allah in Arabic) to Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him. Those who proclaim this view say that it can be used by humanity during all ages and times, and that its relevance and benefit is not restricted to a certain period of time, geographic area or certain race of human beings.
Likewise, the adherents of the first view, that of Western secularism and the liberal tradition, believe that their world view, ideas, culture and civilization are the best for humanity. An American author of Japanese decent (Francis Fukuyama) wrote a book entitled, “The End of Time”. In this book he basically put forth the theory that human development in terms of its ideas has concluded with this final period of liberal secular thought and nothing more will come to humanity. However in his book he adds that that the only part of the world which has not adopted this secular human view is the Islamic world and proposes that there will be a conflict in terms of this ideology in the Islamic world.
With that brief introduction, one of the topics of contention between these two world views, that of the secular liberal view in the West and the Islamic tradition, concerns women. What is the position and status of women? How are women looked at? Are women elevated in one culture and oppressed in another?
The Western view is that women are elevated only in the West and that they are getting more and more rights with the passage of time, while their sisters - they say - in the Islamic world are still being suppressed. The Muslims who they encounter say that in actuality it is the Islamic system that provides the true freedoms for men and women alike, and women in the West as well as men, are deceived into an idea of freedom which really doesn’t exist.
How women are understood in Islam cannot be properly understood - and this is more significant, I feel - unless one understands exactly what we might call the philosophical basis or ideological understanding - since this is really a theological concept.
First, let’s review how exactly women were thought of and understood in the western tradition, to compare and contrast perspectives.
We know that the western tradition sees itself as the intellectual inheritors of the Greek tradition that existed before Prophet Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, and so therefore many of the intellectual traditions of the West are found to some degree in the writings of the early Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, etc.
How did they view women? What were the ideas of Aristotle and Plato regarding women? When one reviews the works of these early Greek philosophers, he finds that they had very disparaging views of women. Aristotle in his writings argued that women were not full human beings and that the nature of woman was not that of a full human person. As a result, women were by nature deficient, not to be trusted and to be looked down upon.
In fact, writings describe that the free women in many aspects of the Greek society - except for the very few women of the elite classes - had positions no better than animals and slaves.
This Aristotelian view of women was later carried on into the early Christian tradition of the Catholic Church. Saint Thomas of Aquinas in his writings proposed that women were the trap of Satan. The issue of Adam and Eve added a dimension to the earlier Greek ideas of Aristotle; women were the cause of the downfall of man and therefore were Satan’s trap and should be looked at with caution and weariness because they caused the first downfall of humanity and all thus evil precedes from women.
This type of thought was persistent within the writings of the Church fathers throughout the Middle Ages. In their writings we find this theme proposed in one aspect or another.
However, after the Protestant reformation Europe decided to free itself from the shackles and chains of the Catholic Church. Ideas which have been entitled as the Age of Enlightenment or thought of as such, caused them to feel that they needed to free themselves from many of these ideas. Some of these ideas were scientific in nature that the earth goes around the sun, instead of the sun going around the earth; theological in nature, as in the writings of Martin Luther; and also social in nature, like the position of women in society. However, the writers of the Enlightenment still carried this basic theme that was not much of a switch - women where not full human beings. French writers during the revolution, like Rousseau, Voltaire and others, looked at women as a burden that needed to be taken care of. Due to this Rousseau in his book “Emile”, proposed a different form of education for women based upon the fact that women were unable to understand what men were able to understand.
This is the tradition that the West inherited and thereafter we find in the 1800’s the first writings appearing by women and some men calling for the change of these ideas. And with this we have the origins of the first feminine movements. One of the first books written was the “Vindication for the Rights of Women” by Mary Walsencraft which appeared in the 1800’s. Thereafter the tradition of women receiving certain rights came. The first of these were basically legal rights because until the 1800’s women were not able to own property and were not able to dispose of their wealth as men did.
It is very well known that the first laws that allowed women to own property in the United States or in Europe appeared only in the last couple of decades of the 1800’s.
The Industrial Revolution caused another impetus, another search, to this feminist movement. Women in the Industrial Revolution, especially England, were forced to labor for many hours in the coal mines and so forth, and would receive no pay whatsoever compared to men. So therefore the first calling of the movement was that people who work the same amount of hours deserved the same amount of money or pay.
Finally a break occurred in this century of basically all which is understood from the Western tradition. Coming from the latter feminist movement which appeared after World War II, a new movement called for the emancipation of women not only in terms of legal rights, but it also questioned some of the morals of society and called for greater sexual freedoms for women and men alike. It contended that basically a lot of problems were caused by the institution of marriage and the ideas of family and so forth. People wrote concerning the need to break from these.
And finally in the 1990’s, the prevalent argument in the West is that we should discuss genders, not sexes. This idea was expressed in a book which came out called “The Age of Extremes”. The author discusses the idea that there is no difference between male or female and that gender is so only due to environment. So therefore we can change the environment so that men could take the roles of women and women take the roles of men by changing the education and climate. This is where it has ended up now. So we find in this 2500 year old western tradition, we come from the first extreme which was expressed by the Greeks, where women were denied their essential humanity, to this extreme expressed today where there is no differences between the sexes and it is an issue of gender, climate and environment. This is, of course, a very brief summary of the first world view. I didn’t do justice to those 2500 years in just those few minutes, but it just gives us an idea.
The other view which I would like to talk about in more detail is the Islamic view and I will cover that in my next post. Just want to check if you agree so far with me?