Mona Eltahawy’s piece in the May/June issue of Foreign Policy criticized a series of practices that are justified in Islamic law, including child marriage, wife-beating, and female genital mutilation. Counter-jihadist activists and writers have been calling attention to these human rights abuses for years, but Eltahawy’s piece was singular in that she is a Muslim journalist.
Muslims for the most part (with some notable exceptions) don’t criticize Muslim practices, particularly those that are rooted in Islam, and mainstream media journalists do so even less often. But the reaction to Eltahawy’s article among her fellow Muslim women is even more striking than her article itself.
If the mainstream media narrative about “extremists” making up only a tiny minority of Muslims, the vast majority of which are “moderate,” were true, Eltahawy’s article should have won applause from Muslim spokesmen in the U.S., and particularly Muslim women. But instead, Harvard professor Leila Ahmed confronted Eltahawy on MSNBC:
Mona, I appreciate what you do. I would love it if — I understand if you want to get your message across. It’s an important message. But if possible [you should not] give fuel, fodder to people who simply hate Arabs and Muslims in this climate of our day.
Eltahawy appeared surprised to be accused of fueling hate — the same accusation that jihadists and Islamic supremacists have leveled against counter-jihadists for years. And she answered it in exactly the same way counter-jihadists have innumerable times:
That’s the whole point. It’s not me that makes Muslims look bad. It’s those atrocities that make Muslims look bad. And as a writer, it’s my job to poke the painful places.
But Leila Ahmed was not alone in not wanting Eltahawy to call any attention whatsoever to those “painful places.” Another prominent Muslim woman in America, Dalia Mogahed, took to the pages of the Washington Post to denounce Eltahawy’s article. Mogahed is the executive director and senior analyst at the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, and has served Barack Obama as an adviser in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She is an open advocate of Sharia, so it is perhaps not surprising that she also took a dim view of Eltahawy’s poking of the painful places.
Mogahed invoked unnamed “critics” who, she said, “question not the crimes Eltahawy describes but the causes she assigns, namely Islam and Arab culture’s inherent ‘hate’ for women, alleging that her analysis is not only pedestrian but panders to prejudice. The real danger however is that Eltahawy’s narrative harms the very cause she claims to champion. Conflating women’s rights advocacy with Arab inferiority or Islam-bashing doesn’t empower the champions of change, it aids their enemies.”
“Islam-bashing”? Eltahawy’s article actually makes only glancing mentions of Islam. She criticizes the Egyptian criminal code for saying that “if a woman has been beaten by her husband ‘with good intentions’ no punitive damages can be obtained,” but never mentions that wife-beating is actually sanctioned in the Qur’an (4:34). She notes that “demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.” But she ignores or is unaware of the fact that the assertion that Muhammad consummated his marriage to Aisha when he was in his fifties and she was nine is not just a minority view among some crank clerics, but is abundantly attested in the hadith collection that Muslims consider most reliable, Sahih Bukhari.