Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Muslim Women I Met

“Each day of our life is a gift from our merciful God to realize that we are still alive to give Him our grateful thanks and try to discover new things to keep our universe sacred with a long lasting shiny light.” - Kanar (my fellow delegate and dear friend)

         One of the first things I noticed being in Turkey and Iraq is that not all women wear headscarves. When I read Baghdad Burning the author talked about how she considered herself a devout Muslim but made the personal choice not to wear a headscarf with exception of when entering a mosque. This was true of most of women I befriended on my trip. When someone brought up the fact and asked why they did not cover their heads, most would answer that Iraq is not Iran. However, there were still plenty (well over half the population of women) who did wear a head scarf or even the full burqa. However, although it would seem that women in Turkey and Iraq have more freedom by not being legally required to wear a veil, many expressed feeling the same oppressions of patriarchy.
          As I listened to the discussion, the women talked about how they felt oppressed. They talked about how the system of patriarchy started back during the hunter/gatherer period when women had to take care of the children while the men hunted. The men controlled the economic system and this patriarchal system has continued until today. The men have power and women can only act in the ways and borders that men define. My one friend discussed being a woman in the society was like being a bird within a birdcage. Turkey and Iraq might seem more free but they still operated under the same patriarchal systems. 
          However, these women do not blame Islam as the source of this patriarchy. Indeed, the women I encountered were some of the most Godly women I have ever met. They have such a high respect for God and the Koran and would talk so openly about their love for God. They did not find Muslim traditions and rules as suffocating or tedious, but rather found joy in their religion and the ways they could show their love and devotion to the God they worshipped. I was inspired by their faith and commitment. 
         Over and over again I heard how the myths about Islam and women were simply not true. One woman activist we met with talked about her work dealing with FGM (female genital mutilation) and honor killings. FGM has traditionally been viewed as part of Islam, although it does not come from the Koran, but rather earlier traditions. The activist discussed her work talking to local mullahs and trying to gain their support. Many mullahs agree with the activists that FGM is not Islamic or even healthy, but fear speaking out for the sake of their reputation. Most mullahs also condemn honor killings in society and many like the mullah I met, speak actively out against all types of violence and oppression. 
          And women in the culture are slowly finding their voice. I learned about how women are now becoming organized and in Turkey, are a key force in the Kurdish movement. More than 1000 women are in prison there with 25 taking part in the hunger strikes. Women are coming together in solidarity to act against the male-dominated system. In Iraq, women are working to let other women know their rights and educating a whole society. I was so inspired by all the women I came across who are letting their voices be heard and standing up for what they believe in. And these are the voices I want others to hear and know. 
          Below is the painting I have been working on. Although the original painting is from one of the missions in San Antonio, I felt like it could also be a mosque. I wanted to portray a Muslim women sitting in awe and love of her God. She is not oppressed but rather freed by the light and in total peace with herself as she sits in reverence. This is the faith I experienced from the Muslim women I met, and the faith I want to have. 

1 comment:

  1. Dear Julia, I was just catching up on all of your wonderful (but also educational, sobering, challenging) posts from your time in Iraqi Kurdistan. Thanks so much for all your sharing . . . I especially love these reflections on women and also your artwork. Hope we can sit down and talk about it all sometime soon! Christmas? :) Love and hugs to you!
    -Beth (and family)