GENDER ISSUES: MUSLIM WOMEN’S COURAGE AND VISION:

          My utilitarian lifestyle and attitude is the outcome of the lessons learnt during the past and present events of my life. The events were never important and therefore not recounted. I recapitulate the lessons and the challenges they presented.

I was born in the 1950’s in an Islamic home in India. In a culture, where it is faithfully passed down from one generation of women to the next: “He is your father. Listen to him, he knows what’s best for you”.. Where mothers teach their daughters ” he is your husband. It is your duty to obey him”. Where it is “normal” for husbands and their family to abuse wives physically and verbally. Where it is “normal” for women to walk behind their husbands and keep silent. This was just the way things were while I was growing up.

          In the 1970’s I arrived in North America, well grounded on women’s emancipation and feministic movement. I came with dreams and aspirations of freedom to live, work and enjoy many possibilities. However, I soon discover that a woman had no individuality, she was “honey” for all. Woman was paid less than her male co-worker doing same work. Her indignation was blamed on, “hormones”. Many a time she was told for her ailments: ” it’s all in the head “. Soon I learnt nothing is changed for women in the New World.

          I recollect a story once told many years ago by a patient when I was working at a hospital: When she was small, her father gave her a glass jar and told her to put fleas in it. She went to the family dogs and found enough fleas to make a good showing. At first the fleas jumped so high that they hit the lid and fell back down. After a while, however, they learned how high they could jump without banging their little heads. When some time had gone by, her father told her to take the lid off and see what happens. When she removed the lid, the fleas remained in the jar and continued to jump only to the level below where the lid had been - the level they had grown accustomed to. Her father said, “Never be like those fleas!”. At the end we shared a moment of knowing silence. I thought to myself “my gender is my enemy.

          In the 1990’s I made a trip to Mecca for hajj (pilgrimage). In the short time I was there I learned women were segregated and kept indoors. Women were not allowed to step out alone or drive. Women were prohibited from working along men. Women had to cover from head to toe in long robes, showing only their eyes. I learnt the rights given to women by the Creator were usurped.

          Performing the pilgrim rituals I realized that men and women were actually reminiscing and commemorating the courage and faith of a woman-Hagar. Hagar was left in the middle of the desert to perish. She refused to wither and courageously took the challenge to survive. A well of sweet life-giving water sprung up giving her life. She was transformed from bondwoman to an emblem of incredible faith, courage and perseverance.

I returned with a challenge and the nerve of Hagar.


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