Feminist Writing. Fourth Wave. For Women.

How Moderate Muslims Fail Muslim Women

“Islamists and critics of Islam have one important thing in common: they do not obscure or deny the teachings of Allah.”

How Moderate Muslims Fail Muslim Women

“Moderate Muslims aren’t enough,” is the thought that goes through my head over and over again, while I read Honor Killing by Ayse Onal.

Honor Killing: Stories of Men Who Killed, published in 2008, tells ten stomach-turning cases of honor killings that took place in various parts of Turkey.

The killings are often carried out by low-income, poorly educated families, and the murders are often not the only ones to have taken place in their neighborhoods. The sects of Islam that the families belong to vary, as do the languages they speak. One thing, of course, is constant: a girl or woman is brutally murdered for stepping out of line.

I am shocked by how much I understand these murderous families. The things they say are appallingly misogynistic, and yet I can hear echoes of things my own parents have told me. The murderers explained to Ayse Onal how horrible the gossip was, how it ate away at them and affected their daily life and close relationships, and I get it.

“Daughters are difficult,” one of the killers told her, in an attempt to explain the heartlessness and depravity it took him to murder his own child, and I want to hurl a chair at the wall because I remember. Time and time again, “daughters are difficult,” is what Muslim parents say to justify oppressing their daughters, from invading their personal privacy to forcing them into arranged marriages. Muslim parents shrug their shoulders when it’s 2 AM and their son isn’t home yet, but punish their daughter when she is too friendly with a strange man.

“Islamists have a better chance of achieving their Sharia law paradise than Moderate Muslims have of tempering their demands.”

Moderate Muslims understand my frustration, because they feel it, too.

Who are Moderate Muslims? They are the Cool Muslims, the Progressive Muslims, the Feminist Muslims, the 21st-Century Muslims.

Moderate Muslims think it’s wrong for people to force women to wear hijab; a woman must choose it for herself, you see. Never mind that hijab is a direct insult to women, it’s choice that’s important here, and choice trumps all else. Moderate Muslims say, “trans women are women,” because they are not closed-minded, they believe in the right to identify with the opposite sex—whatever that means—and Allah makes no mistakes, you see. Moderate Muslims say “fuck” and “shit” and tell dirty jokes, because life is short, Goddammit, and they should if they want to.

But Moderate Muslims aren’t enough.

I believe that critics of Islam—from reformist Muslims to never-Muslim critics and everything in between— are better equipped to make a significant difference in Muslim-majority countries than Moderate Muslims will ever be. Likewise, Islamists have a better chance of achieving their Sharia law paradise than Moderate Muslims have of tempering their demands.

Islamists believe a number of things: that honor killings are a just punishment for moral crimes, or that honor killings are only a problem because the state should be carrying out the punishments rather than civilians, or that the act of killing is too extreme, but the punishments must remain effective (such as religious counseling).

“Islamists and critics of Islam have one important thing in common: they do not obscure or deny the teachings of Allah.”

Critics of Islam advocate for a number of things: an official reform (i.e. a re-writing or official omission of some of the more extreme texts), forcing secularism into countries that practice Sharia law, or increasing literacy and education for citizens of Muslim-majority countries (particularly ones where practices like female genital mutilation and honor killings are common).

Islamists and critics of Islam have one important thing in common: they do not obscure or deny the teachings of Allah; frankly speaking, they respect the texts. Interpretations may vary, but they never stray too far from the consensus. For instance, when Allah instructed Muslim men to beat their wives if they fear misconduct from them, Moderate Muslims often suggest that “beat” doesn’t mean “beat” at all (ergo, a mistranslation) and instead means “admonish” or “reprimand” in a non-violent way.

Moderate Muslims believe that the parts of Islam that seem problematic are probably too complicated for them to understand, so they may ignore or deny them. For instance, they think that there must be some divine wisdom in their holy prophet marrying a 6-year-old girl, or that the texts are unreliable and she must have been 16 instead of 6.

In fact, Moderate Muslims often do not know very much about their faith. Many of them do not know, for example, that Islam allows its followers up to four wives. They will tell you that Muslim men who marry more than one woman are just using religion as an excuse to do whatever they want. Then you tell them that, in this case, Islam did indeed permit it. A quick shifting of the goalposts takes place: OK then, says the Moderate Muslim, Allah permitted up to four wives per man to protect women, obviously, so that women in Muslim communities could have more opportunities to be provided for (the texts do not support this defense).

Moderate Muslims do not tolerate Islamic extremists nor critics of Islam. According to them, both of these groups have got it all wrong. The fundamentalists practice the faith far too literally, and the critics selectively choose outdated texts that are no longer relevant.

In the pretty pink bubble that Moderate Muslims reside in, Islam is nothing but sex-segregated praying, pastel-colored hijabs, and yearly Eid Mubarak’s. “ISIS is not true Islam,” they say amongst one another, while they watch their elders say nothing to condemn these Islamic terrorist groups. “Forcing women to wear hijab isn’t right,” they claim, ignoring the two entire Islamic republics that force their female citizens to wear it by law. They walk around saying that Islam means “peace,” not knowing that this is a common misconception and the actual meaning of the word Islam is “submission [to Allah].”

“I want them to stop talking about how bad Islamic terrorists and murderers make them look, and simply condemn them for their actions and beliefs.”

I think of Moderate Muslims when I read Honor Killing because their tepidness makes me feel ashamed.

They do not have to share my opinion that the hijab is an offensive symbol; I would deplore a world where women desperately wanted to wear it, but couldn’t. They do not have to care about my perceived logical inconsistencies in the Islamic texts; I concede, and believe that people should have the freedom of faith. They don’t even have to denounce the term Islamophobia, a term I believe does not properly express the discrimination that Muslims experience on a human level. I am not asking them to take responsibility for others’ actions. I want them to stop talking about how bad Islamic terrorists and murderers make them look, and simply condemn them for their actions and beliefs.

What I call Moderate Muslims are arguably the largest demographic of Muslims, and instead of working together to stop the endless horrors that girls and women are subjected to in the Muslim world, they instead run off to yell at Rihanna for remixing an Islamic hadith into music for her fashion show.

What they must do is get their priorities in order. I am sick of hearing about masses of Muslims getting upset about Beyoncé dancing to an Um Kalthoum song or American models wearing non-hijab-hijabs. Yes, one can care about more than one thing at a time, and I certainly have the freedom to disagree with their criticisms as much as they have the freedom to express them. However, it seems that there is too much cover on frilly pop culture topics and almost dead silence on much more pressing, oftentimes life-or-death social issues that plague the Muslim world.

Instead of listening to Muslim apologists go on about how great the Muslim world is for women (lying to nobody but themselves), I want to hear more about how things could be great for women in the Muslim world. I want to hear suggestions, ideas, and critiques. I want other Muslims to disagree with or build on these ideas. I want to see a breakthrough in the discourse of the Muslim world: a newly discovered refusal to deny its problem with girls and women, and a desire to eradicate this problem.

4W provides paid writing work for over 50 women in countries spanning the globe. This work is made possible thanks to our paid monthly subscribers. Join today to support our work!

Enter your email below to sign in or become a 4W member and join the conversation.
(Already did this? Try refreshing the page!)