Muslim Women Don’t Need Saving

For a Muslim woman, and especially a Muslim feminist, one of them most frustrating aspect of our portrayal in the Western media is the desire to present us as hapless victims. Whilst Muslim men are often portrayed as conservative at best and as deranged terrorists at worst, Muslim women are typically shown to be helpless, fully subordinated by tyrannical husbands and fathers. Although some media outlets have sought to give at least some airtime to the idea that Muslim women are not mere caricatures, but human beings, many still reduce them to a stereotype.

This portrayal is damaging to Muslim women, as it serves to delegitimize their agency and, by association, their choices. It has been used to justify curtailments to our freedom of expression, such as in the case of France’s burqa ban, and it was even used as an excuse to go to war with Afghanistan in 2001.

There are certainly countries across the world where women’s rights are considered unimportant. And in some of those countries, the justification used is related to a highly oppressive and dysfunctional reading of Islam. However, typically in Western media there is a presumption that this particular reading of Islam extends into the religion as a whole, which is not the case. For example, many non-Muslims assume that the Burqa is experienced by Muslim women as a tool of oppression, whilst many Muslim women find it very liberating to be able to go about their day whilst keeping true to the cultural belief that women should be separated and protected from unrelated men. It is easy to understand why some people in the West might find this bizarre, but most cultural practices appear bizarre outside of that culture. Whilst a woman, or person of any gender, being forced to wear something against their will is undoubtedly oppressive, dictating that Muslim women who prefer to wear the veil are somehow not fully in control of their own identity and expression thereof is patronising and oppressive in itself. The implication is that Muslim women are not capable of making decisions for themselves, which in turn calls into question their intelligence. Within the context of cultural relativism, we find clear assumptions of western cultural supremacy – “We don’t understand it, therefore they must be oppressed”.

Another misconception is that Muslim women are not allowed to educate themselves. Whilst in some countries this is true, and indeed terrible, there are many countries where it just isn’t relevant. In Pakistan, for example, girls are only slightly less likely to go to university than boys, and in Iran more women go into Higher education than men.

There are countless examples of Muslim women living perfectly in harmony with their faith, whilst dressing how they want, whether they be studying, working or even using bingo sites like Bingo Strike. All of this is very exhausting for Muslim women, not only do they need to fight sexism in their own communities, they also have to deal with cultural supremism from feminists in the west, convinced that they need liberating.