Malaysians from all walks of life must not surrender to the fundamentalists who want nothing more than to destroy democratic principles, says Syerleena Abdul Rashid.
The relation between religion and women’s rights is a heavily discussed topic in Malaysian politics.
Ongoing discussions also highlight a worrying trend of internalised sexism; where women take on discriminating views and oppress the rights of other women instead of supporting one another. This is evident from the slew of irrational rhetoric and suggestions made by some of our fellow sisters who have chosen to identify with ultra-conservative ideologies.
Islamic fundamentalism has been gaining some level of support in recent years which allows certain factions in Malaysia to become increasingly vocal champions of such ideologies; such radicalism is a major threat that can lead to the demise of democracy and destroy the social fabric that holds our nation together.
The problems with Islamic fundamentalism are their harsh analysis of gender roles and discourteous interpersonal relations with other human beings. For instance, a highly oppressive regime like Saudi oppresses their women through highly radical Ulamas who have, over the years, succeeded in thwarting the real teachings of Islam.
As a result, the present social structure is heavily biased and the roles of women have been severely limited, restricted and disempowered. Such fundamentalism simply replaces positive universal values (endorsed by
all types of religion) with a terrifying face that exerts aggressive intolerance and insolence. Women are told to remain passive, docile and denied of education or economic independence.
Fundamentalism is also regarded as anti-democracy because it covets segregation – be it religious, ethnic and gender. Non-Muslims are regarded as second-class citizens and have very little rights. They are not allowed to question religious doctrines and are completely prohibited from seeking any intellectual discourse. These skewed views on women are triggered as a response to the spread of capitalism and globalization.
These fundamentals have the utmost conviction in doctrines that are highly oppressive, especially to women. According to the Sharia and ‘kodrat’ (nature), women must be controlled and are only suited to take on domesticated roles. They often declare that a woman’s place is in the home and must embrace their ‘God-given’ roles as mothers, wives and homemakers. Any social interaction between men and women is strictly prohibited, even if those interactions are not sexual in nature.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be unto him) urged the followers of Islam to respect women, to treat us as equals, to give women the same rights as men and to encourage women to participate in the development of the community and the nation.
“I shall not lose sight of the labour of any of you who labours in My way, be it man or woman; each of you is equal to the other (3:195)”.
He believed in not leaving anyone behind in pursuit of improving one’s way of life and in the quest for faith.
Over the years, a majority of Malaysian Muslims have seemingly forgotten the positive messages endorsed in the good books and would rather believe in religious hypocrites who conveniently hide behind the mask of religion. At present, it seems dangerously customary for a religious man to have extremely oppressive views on women – the more religious, the more soul crushing his views will be.
These oppressive views are nothing more than the practice of patriarchal values intertwined with religious interpretations.
Increasingly, more Muslim women have succumbed to this either due to ignorance, hopelessness or a sense of duty and obligation to be a good Muslim woman. In other words, internalised sexism occurs as a result of living in societies that practise extremely harsh patriarchal social systems – Malaysian Muslim communities are slowly but surely becoming more receptive to this.
Such teachings threaten to destroy Malaysian society because they devalue women, as the uncompromising views of religion and gender roles will strip us of our rights and liberties.
Therefore, Malaysians from all walks of life (both men and women) must not surrender to the absurdities of the fundamentalists who want nothing more than to destroy the principles that support our democratic way of life.
After all, tolerance and respect are basic principles in Islam as specified in the Hadith (602, Riyadh-us-Saleheen) ” … You should show courtesy and be cordial with each other, so that nobody should consider himself
superior to another nor do him harm”, and this is something worth remembering.