According to Human Rights Watch, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group whose stated goal was to create a state based on the biblical 10 commandments, abducted and killed tens of thousands of people in the 1990s and 2000s.
Her practice of kidnapping boys to train them to be soldiers and girls to force them into sexual slavery has been documented and brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, leading to an arrest warrant for Joseph Kony, the group’s founder, along with four of its senior leaders on war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Although the armed group was led by their leadership to be a Christian army acting in God’s way, few comments had to be written arguing that the LRA’s actions were inconsistent with normative Christianity. It is only (rightly) accepted.
Unfortunately, completely different rules apply to Muslims. The comment on the recent takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban is just one example.
Afghan women are reportedly forced to marry Taliban fighters, quit their jobs and education, and suffer public flogging.
Instead of calling for the expansion of asylum programs or even exerting political pressure on the Taliban, right-wing politicians in Europe and the United States have used the ongoing instability in this war-torn country as a weapon to score politically against their Muslim citizens and immigration advocates .
As Muslim citizens of Western nations, we have once again defended our community and faith against those who seek to exploit this tragedy to spread Islamophobic tropics – the same tropes that were used to justify the invasion of Afghanistan two decades ago.
As then, we are expected to clarify, condemn and distinguish our faith from the actions of a militant group that claims to act on their behalf, an unfair and exhaustive demand that should not be made to our Christian compatriots regarding armed groups or Wars are made by criminals who claim to act in the name of Christ.
Despite the double standards, however, we must use these moments as educational opportunities. So let me be clear: the normative teachings of Islam contrast with the treatment of women reported by the Taliban.
The teachings of Islam in all their diversity promote the spiritual aspirations of a woman who has no intercessor between herself and God and define her identity primarily as a servant of the divine, whose rights are a sacred covenant. In seventh-century Arabia, Islam progressed from treating a woman as property to a fully independent agent, in control of her financial decisions and possessions, and with the right to marry and divorce.
What about women’s employment? From the first generation of believers, women served as everything from medical workers to warriors. Rufaida Al-Aslamia, for example, was a Prophet recognized surgeon for her care for the wounded, training other women to be nurses, and her role in setting up the first field hospital for the community. Nusaybah bint Ka’ab was known as “the Prophet’s shield” because he defended it in battle, even when many men fled.
The teachings of Islam also emphasize the importance of finding knowledge for both men and women. In fact, the world’s first known university, the University of al-Qarawiyyin in the Moroccan city of Fez, was founded more than 1,000 years ago by Fatima al-Fihri, a Muslim woman. It is the oldest existing and continuously operating educational institution in the world.
Fatima and her sister Mariam were highly educated and faithful to their faith. After her father died and his fortune was inherited (yes, Muslim women could inherit centuries before their European counterparts), she and her sister decided to use their fortune to build a college.
The al-Fihri sisters’ dedication to the pursuit of knowledge is not unique. Four years ago, while on a lecture tour in the UK, I had the special pleasure of meeting Professor Mohammad Akram Nadwi, who wrote an encyclopedia of the Muhaddithat, the female scholars of hadith, the collection of prophetic traditions of Islam.
He told me that he set out to write a short book about a handful of women hadith scholars, and in the end he had completed 57 volumes (which he had to condense to 40 for publication) on about 9,000 of them. He continues his research and says there are thousands of women left to write about. From him I learned that many of the scholars whom we consider to be the pillars of our tradition had female teachers (not just students).
It’s also worth noting that Dr. Nadwi set out to study only hadith scholars. Many of these women were also scholars of fiqh (law), tafsir (exegesis) and other sciences along with hadith. I remember wondering what the number would be if he set out to study the female scholars of Islam in general.
Yet these realities are in sharp contrast to the image of Muslim women in the popular imagination, an idea that is easy to convince that the Taliban represent Islamic devotion, not deviance, in their dealings with women. According to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding’s Islamophobia Index, the stereotype of Muslim misogyny is the most widespread anti-Muslim trope tested among Americans.
Western politicians have long instrumentalized the image of the oppressed Muslim woman who needs Western rescuers to justify the European and later the American invasion and exploitation of Muslim countries. While this tendency can be traced back to the Crusades, in the modern context it takes the form of biased media coverage of Muslim women.
According to a Stanford study by Dr. Rochelle Terman, who based her analysis on data from 35 years of coverage by the New York Times and the Washington Post, found that the US news coverage of women overseas is determined by affirmative biases. Journalists are more likely to report on women in Muslim and Middle Eastern countries when their rights are violated, but they report on women in other societies when their rights are respected.
Some may argue that this is just a mirror of reality. Women in Muslim majority countries are more likely to be injured. But that is not the case. Terman writes: “Even if the nations are more or less equal in the women’s rights index, women in Muslim countries are portrayed as misogynist, while women in Western countries are portrayed in a more complex manner.”
Even when their realities are similar, Muslim women are portrayed as more abused than their counterparts of other faiths, reproducing the misconception that misogyny is exceptionally and inherently Muslim.
We need to become critical consumers of information, challenging double standards and prejudice, and not allowing anyone to use the actions of a militant group to promote bigotry. Only in this way will we really stand by the side of the Afghan people, women and men who must make every effort to support them.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own views and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.