Violence against women must stop
The United Nations gave women around the world a huge boost last Friday, when the world body's Commission on the Status of Women agreed on a declaration that "condemns in the strongest terms the pervasive violence against women and girls, and calls for increased attention and accelerated action for prevention and response."
The document followed some tricky negotiation. Last year the initiative failed. This year, a number of states objected to the original draft.
The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, in a lengthy diatribe, asserted that the goals of the declaration would "lead to complete disintegration of society, and would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries."
This reveals a disconnect with the reality of women's lives. If Islamic values are so sacrosanct to the Brotherhood, why do 83 per cent of Egyptian women say that they've been harassed?
The Muslim Brotherhood, and myriad other Muslim organisations around the world that use lofty rhetoric about rights granted to women in Islam, should admit that the reality falls drastically short of the words.
I would like to see more potent directives given to Muslim men, guiding them to non-violent, non-abusive behaviour.
Islam does have a strong stance in favour of the family, but I am puzzled about how a religion that has so much fluidity and capacity to adjust to time and cultures has stagnated so heavily in developing modern social structures.
Muslims have managed to deal with modern health care, cars, airplanes and the internet, yet too many lawmakers and thinkers have difficulty understanding that violence against women is not Islamic. Prophet Muhammed was known for his kind and gentle treatment of women. So why do Muslims today think they know better?
I'd like to ask religious authorities to go away and rethink what words like "choice" and "freedom" mean. After all, "there is no compulsion in religion".
Authorities in some countries need to take radical steps to deal with entrenched attitudes on violence. They should address the perpetrators of violence, and be clear about protecting victims.
We need an evolution of Islamic thought on gender relations, and I don't believe that such an exploration is against Islamic principles. Challenging our existing faulty human cultures is to me the essence of Islamic behaviour.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been politically obtuse on this issue, and should have been able to separate the issue of violence against women from concerns about the structure of society.
People in the Muslim world and in non-western countries sometimes look at western nations and see the fact that many women there do continue to suffer. Some even detect a backdrop of social disintegration. This can naturally lead to scepticism about the rights agenda being promoted.
It is understandable that people wary of some things about the West might wonder what kind of society can be created that would consistently give women the freedom, respect and justice that are their right.
But if this is the case, these movements and critics must be absolutely unequivocal in their stance against violence.
More importantly, they need to bring forward new, fresh and better ideas. Otherwise it just looks like - and is - entrenching oppression against women.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk