Monday, June 06, 2005


Here is an extremely useful site. The inflation calculator allows you to see that when something cost one dollar in 1950, that is the equivalent of 7.75 in 2005 dollars. Helps to put certain stories & arguments in perspective.


Sexual Segregation in Islam

Asra Nomani, an American born Muslim is leading the fight to allow women the right to pray beside men in the mosque. The current practice is to segregate the sexes during prayer, with men in the front, main hall & women in a back area separated by a wall, which, in her mosque is so high, that women watch the services on a closed-circuit TV. A woman must also enter the mosque through the back door, not the main entrance.

The genesis of her campaign to end the humiliation of women at prayer ironically began in Saudi Arabia during her pilgrimage to Mecca, where at the Masjid al-Haram, the Sacred Mosque, she saw men & women praying side by side. All she is asking for is a more open Islam. But, this is proving to be difficult.
She says there is a "Muslim Mafia" in town, a group aligned with Saudi Wahhabism, a fundamentalist branch of Islam. They bring sacks filled with cash to the mosque, she says. You have to challenge the power and control of those who run the society, she says.
Of course while women are commanded in the Koran to show their face when praying at Mecca, in other parts of Saudi Arabia, women are forbidden to do so.

She has begun a traveling organization called the Muslim Women's Freedom Tour, which conducts mixed-gender prayer services. Ironically, the first female sermon & prayer service, led by Amina Wadud, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor and Arabic scholar was held at a Christian institution, Synod House at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, an Episcopal Church, due to the refusal by local mosques to allow this service.

Her observations about the changes that have occurred in the Muslim community at Morgantown offers insight into the evolution of Islam from peaceful & moderate to radical.
Nomani moved to this country in 1969, when she was 4. Her family moved to Morgantown when she was 10, settling into an apartment near the mosque. Back then, she recalls, the Muslim community was tolerant and respectful, with men and women mixing freely at dinner parties. Gradually, that changed. Students from more conservative countries came to the university, importing their values with them, Nomani says. Dinner parties became segregated affairs, with the men hanging out in comfortable lounges and the women confined to cramped studio apartments.
Recalls Nomani: "The men would put food in containers, put it down, knock on the door and run away as if seeing us was blasphemy."

Ms. Nomani's observations add to the contention that sexual segregation leads to radical & aggressive behaviors & social attitudes. When the public sphere is artificially divided into a male & female, the two sexes begin to be to each other creatures of another specie rather than one of another gender.

This foreignness, creates an atmosphere of mystery & suspicion. We, as creatures, fear that which is unfamiliar. Imagine what it's like for a boy growing up in such a system, his exposure to women is limited to the woman he is born & nursed by, his mother. As he begins to grow-up, he is made to enter the male sphere, were he is even discouraged from interacting with his sisters who he played with as a child. Constant reminders are sent to him about the uncleanness & evilness of women as he enters adolescence, a time when his hormones cry for anything female.

It is when he marries, that he finally encounters an grown woman, as an adult. Can you imagine how much of a shock such an experience must be for him? How conflicted he must feel to want something that he has been taught is evil & unclean. Is it any wonder that he deals with it in the only way he knows how, violence. In fact, the segregation of women, merely heightens a man's desire for women, not vice versa. The teaching of the uncleanness of women, with their constant references to a woman's privet parts & functions are very much pornographic in nature.

"...[A]s if seeing us was blasphemy", this observation of Ms. Nomani succinctly states the effects of segregation. As sexual segregation is antithetical to human nature & our social patterns, the constant vigilance it requires can lead to obsessive thoughts regarding women. If one believes that stepping on a line will lead to disaster, that person will be on a constant look out for lines & make a great effort to avoid stepping on them. Every step he takes will be filled with thoughts of the existance of lines & their role. Of course, in his moments of bravery, he will on doubt dream of destroying these lines which causes him so much misery.

This system also leads to the ghettorization of women. Anything by a woman is attributed to femaleness & not humanness. As the only relationships a male has with a female are those of child & husband, he begins to see women solely through the lens of sexuality. When a man is forbidden from forming a platonic friendship with a woman or working along side her or praying along side her or conversing at party with a woman, all interactions with women become highly charged. In segregating the mundane activities, which form the basis for true understanding, a man's appreciation of woman is limited to the sexual.

The viewing of woman as a sexual object & possession can lead to violent tendencies. One of the constant refrains of terrorists is the imagined rape of Muslim women by American soldiers in Iraq & Afghanistan. As they are infatuate by thoughts of women & incapable of seeing a woman in any other context than that of sex, they believe this to be the same for all. The motivation for martyrdom is the rewards that await them is heaven, namely the 72 virgins. Had this one section of the Koran not been there, I doubt we would have an Islamic terrorist problem to begin with. Of course, all men have a strong desire for women, but not in the same obsessive intensity. The segregation of women does not lead to improved relations between the sexes as it's promoters allege, rather, it creates a dangerous atmosphere of predatory sexual interactions between men & women. Let us hope that reformers like Ms. Nomani prevail in their campaign to reform Islam.


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