By Naila Sahar
In the Western world, Muslim women are often stereotyped as silent and oppressed, enjoying no agency to voice their concerns, having no capability to save their rights, in short, puppets in the hands of Muslim patriarchy. Such stereotypes, when persistently published and recreated in international media, doubly marginalize and further oppress Muslim women as they not only reinforce a perception but also utterly disregard the diversity of Muslim population in the world. While its probable that Muslim women in Islamic countries face triple fold challenges than women in the rest of world, it’s also probable that the patriarchal, religious and political pressures make these Muslim women further resilient to find spaces and platforms to express their concerns and voice their frustrations. This article will look at some recent examples where Muslim women bubble up from within the inherent conservative structure of society that seek to imprison them in the four walls of home, and audaciously claim their right to articulate their discontent about the status quo.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a staunch and conservative Muslim country where Saudi women keep struggling to combat the patriarchal pressures. The guardianship system in Saudi Arabia constricts women to ridiculous extremes, because of which women cannot take any decision of life independently. This system has crippled women systematically, so that they are unable to obtain a passport, travel abroad, exit prison, access health care, rent an apartment, or file legal claims without the consent of either husband or father or any other male relative. Zahra, a 25-year-old Saudi woman told Human Rights Watch, ‘We all have to live in the borders of the boxes our dads or husbands draw for us.’ Another 34-year-old woman, Rania, says in the same report “We are entrusted with raising the next generation but you can’t trust us with ourselves. It doesn’t make any sense.” A Saudi woman’s life is thus controlled by the men of her family for the whole of her life. The most irritating condition, however, is the one in which Saudi women are prohibited to drive, and even if the approval is granted, it demands women to be at least 30 years old, have permission from male guardian, not wear make-up, and drive only in daylight hours. Most recent rebuttal of these restrictions has come in the form of a song, in which a group of Saudi women are ridiculing the guardianship laws of Saudi Arabia, while dressed in festive colors, skateboarding in flashy colored sneakers, playing basketball, driving bumping cars while still putting on niqabs/ a long headscarf that is covering their faces too. The song not only has catchy rhythm, but has powerful lyrics that register the way Saudi women feel frustrated with restrictive patriarchal structure in their country. The name of the song is ‘Hwages’, which can be translated as ‘Obsessions’. Lyrics include sentences like ‘May men disappear from the face of earth’, ‘They give us psychological pain’, ‘None of them are sane’, and ‘Each of them has an illness’. The song very effectively exposes the hypocrisy of disapproving Saudi men and has been viewed 2 million times by now.
In Afghanistan, Muslim women are grappling with many challenges, including the silence that is forcefully imposed on them by society to articulate their concerns about their rights. Although the condition of women rights has improved since 2001, female politicians and activists have been subjected to threats and intimidation even now. Women rights have continued to be violated, with many women officials being targeted and killed for being too vociferous about women empowerment. Taking a head scarf is mandatory for women, with orders of severe punishment if women don’t follow. Women remain marginalized in the public sector, with men being chief entity in decision making whether its political, public or domestic domain. In this scenario, Paradise Sorouri has become Afghanistan’s first female rapper who has voiced women abuse in her songs. Her crimes also include the way she has chosen to cover her head with a baseball cap, rather than a traditional hijab. In her songs, she speaks up for 87 percent Afghani women who have endured either physical or psychological abuse in their lives. Sorouri raps about victim women who get acid poured on their faces, are married off as children to older men, or are set on fire by their husbands. In the past seven years, Sorouri has been forced to flee the country twice has received innumerable death threats and was brutally beaten by a group of men and was left on a street later to die. In one of her interviews, she said, “It doesn’t matter if you are a singer, an artist, or a teacher,” says Paradise. “If you are a woman in Afghanistan, you are a problem. I am speaking out and fighting for women who don’t have a voice.” In her song Faryad-e-Zan, she raps the lyrics ‘My song this time is about the story of a woman of my homeland, I want to be the voice of a woman… I demand my right; how long should I be slave to tyranny’.
Similarly, Helly Luv, a Kurdish-Finnish singer, dancer, actress and model, who was born in Iran, gained popularity from her revolutionary songs in which she challenges ISIS. Hally’s family escaped Iraqi Kurdistan because of political abuse by fleeing to Iran where Helly was born, and later migrated to Finland after getting citizenship. Helly later shifted to Los Angeles to follow her dreams to be a singer. Her first song ‘Risk it all’, in which she sings about Kurdish independence, became a sensation in which she dances in mini-dress and baggy pants jump suits of Kurdish Militia. The song talks about the Kurds, who are the largest ethnic group without a national homeland in the northern Iraq. Helly’s song ‘Revolution’ has infuriated many, especially ISIS, who think she is a bad example for Muslim women. This song is filmed in a village near Mosul where the Kurdish forces are fighting against ISIS. After singing this song, Helly is now on the most wanted list of ISIS, however it hasn’t stopped her from protesting against violence of ISIS through her performance and singing. The video of the song shows Helly strolling through a war zone in golden stilettos, gyrating on a car and firing a machine gun.
All these Muslim women are rare revolutionaries, in that they’re uniquely voicing their concerns and are being heard too! Such images of Muslim women are not only exotic for the rest of the world, but add to the perspective of rich diversity of Muslim women identities across the cultures and countries.