Sunday, September 18, 2005

Attention All Men! Violence Against Women Is Never Acceptable

I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of special days to mark special causes. I mean, celebrating Mother’s Day seems a bit much. After all, every day should be mother’s day.

But the problem is that I am not always the best son. And most of us could improve in the way we treat our mothers. So perhaps Mother’s Day is a good reminder.

Days, weeks and months are often devoted to special occasions. In October and November, millions of Muslims will commemorate the sacred month of Ramadan. They will fast from dawn to dusk, and will engage in special prayers.

I will be unable to fast for much of Ramadan as I will be taking medication. The strict timings of my medication will not allow me to lawfully fast within the confines and requirements set by the Islamic personal law (known as the “sharia”).

I guess I will be able to make up for my omission in various ways. Taking part in White Ribbon Day is one such way. 25 November is White Ribbon Day, a chance for men to wear white ribbons to show their commitment for the elimination of violence against women.

It is a fact of life that violence against women occurs in every culture and is carried out by the followers of every faith. Islam in particular has a reputation of being oppressive, if not violent toward women.

But Muslim Australians have no truck for violence against women. This became clear to me when I decided to make my first foray into the public eye. A certain young sheik (religious scholar) from western Sydney had made remarks justifying the sexual assault of women based on how they dressed. I expressed my condemnation. Thankfully, I was not alone.

Thankfully, the broader Australian community was horrified. But what made many in the broader community pleasantly surprised was the vehemence of condemnation from ordinary Aussie Muslims.

From Byron Bay to Albury and from Bondi to Broken Hill, ordinary Aussie Mossies were expressing outrage at the remarks. Talkback radio was full of Muslim callers, women and men, expressing their absolute unequivocal condemnation for the man. In the end, nothing but a complete retraction and apology would do to satisfy the Muslim anger.

Of course, just as Muslims can express violent views, Muslim women can be the subject of violence. Indeed, many women presumed to be Muslim (because of their appearance and/or names) are often subjected to racist taunts and even physical attacks. It is not unknown to hear of women in headscarves (Muslim and non-Muslim) being subjected to abuse and attack.

Muslim women are feeling increasingly marginalised. Comments by certain female federal backbenchers do not help the cause. But there are so many other women feeling marginalised and are subject to abuse.

I believe that violence need not only take a physical form. There is also verbal and emotional violence. And then there is the more subtle violence of marginalising certain women, of making them feel like outcasts.

Women of all faiths and no faith in particular possess inherent honour. Islam, like so many other faiths, gives honour to women. The Prophet of Islam spoke of male scholars and martyrs going to hell whilst a female sex worker was promised paradise purely for saving the life of a dog dying of thirst. Yet Muslim (and indeed most other) societies will force a sex worker underground whilst honouring the scholars and martyrs.

Violence against women is a mere reflection of the gross hypocrisy and double standards of mankind in his dealings toward womankind. It makes me feel ashamed to know that in the 21st century, women like Mukhtar Mai and Amina Lawal can be subjected to male violence carried out in the name of a religious tradition that declares paradise to be under the feel of mothers.

Of course, it is easy for me to stand on my high horse and pontificate. I have not always been the best example in my behaviour toward women I have met during my adult life. But just as Ramadan is not for perfect Muslims, similarly White Ribbon day is not for perfect men. We Australian men need this day to reflect and to commit ourselves to the internal and external “jihad” (an Arabic word meaning struggle) against violence.

And our first targets should be acts and attitudes of violence against people’s wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters and mothers. So on 25 November 2005, make sure you wear a white ribbon. Show your abhorrence to all forms of violence against women.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005