Last year, Pakistan Today ran a satirical story about the very real Council on Islamic Ideology.
Said council is a group of bearded zealots who for some reason hold a certain amount of respect in some Pakistani circles, and who lobby for more Islamic influence in government. The story told how the council had ruled that women were “un-Islamic.” It took a while for readers internationally to realize it was a spoof (yours truly included), probably because such hair-brained rulings have been a staple of many extreme Islamic — and religious — bodies of late, so it did not seem particularly absurd.
The status of women in Islam is enormously complex, and endlessly debated. But why does it need to be so complicated? Well, look around. As of today, at least two major news stories are still unfolding which involve self-proclaimed Muslims perpetrating atrocities on women, who are utterly de-humanized: the Boko Haram abduction of girls in Nigeria in 2016, and the sickening selling of Yazidi girls and women into sexual slavery by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which came to light recently.
In both cases Islamic militants have decided (and decisions have apparently been ratified by an “Imam” or religious leader), that it is legitimate to “use” non-Muslim women as sex slaves, and by some reports even for Jihadist fighters to have sex with underage girls.
When self-described Muslims do stuff like this, and when they do it overtly as “Muslims,” it becomes increasingly hard to defend Islam’s record on women. Many people might, at this point, throw up their hands and say, “enough! Muslims are doing this, therefore the Muslim view of women is unsupportable.” And if that’s as far as you are willing to go, don’t read any further.
But the other 99.9 % of utterly peaceable and inoffensive Muslims worldwide, from India to Chicago, via Scotland, Malaysia and Australia, will still be waving their fists at Boko Haram and ISIS and saying “stop calling yourself Muslims.”
The thing is it is entirely possible, sensible and logical to be outraged by ISIS’ exceses, and those of all extremists, withough throwing out the Islamic baby with the ISIS bathwater.