Beantwortet furchtlos wie immer die großartige Mona Eltahawy, die auch sonst viel Erhellendes über die Schwierigkeit zu sagen weiß, wie man als Feministin und Muslima mit den Widersprüchen des eigenen Glaubens lebt. Eltahawy hat selbst 9 Jahre lang Kopftuch getragen, als sie in Saudi Arabien lebte. Heute sagt sie: „Lasst gefälligst mein Haar in Ruhe!“ Hier spricht sie mit Rachael Kohn von ABC Radio:
Rachael Kohn: Do you think that feminism has much of a chance in the Muslim world? I know you’ve written about women in Khartoum who have been arrested for wearing baggy pants or others who have been flogged for alleged indecencies. Do you think that in the Muslim world feminism will take hold, either secular or religiously-based feminism?
Mona Eltahawy:I became a feminist when I was 19 and living in Saudi Arabia, simply because I despaired of what I could see as men copyrighting religion because this is not the Islam that I was taught. So I became a feminist basically to keep my mind, keep my wits together, but also because I became familiar with many Muslim women who were writing about religion, and Muslim women scholars. So this was when I was19 back in the late ’80s.
Since then, I have come across many more Muslim women who are reinterpreting their religion, who are rolling up their sleeves and saying ‚This is our fight, and we’re no longer going to give in to the male interpretations of the religion.‘ And as a Muslim woman, I fully believe that all those awful violations that are committed against women, supposedly in the name of religion and in the name of Islam, are committed and justified because of the male domination in the fields of interpretation and religious scholarship generally.
The future I think for Islam, belongs to women because quite simply, we have nothing to lose. For too long men have controlled the interpretation of the religion and men have told us what God wants from us, and for me as a Muslim the whole point of Islam and what makes it special for me and why I remain a Muslim is that it’s my direct relationship with God. Nobody, especially a man, should be there between me and God.
So whether you’re talking about Sudan or whether you’re talking about here in the US where we as Muslims live as a minority, it’s women who are leading the way, and here in the US especially, I think of Amina Wadud who is a scholar of Islam with tremendous academic credentials and scholarship behind her, who led us in the first public Friday prayer led by a woman of a mixed-gender congregation. This was here in New York in 2005. There were 50 men and 50 women praying side by side, and to this day, everywhere I travel people either ask me about it or remember something I wrote about it, and are still stunned and for many, still inspired by this woman who basically said, ‚I am going to be an imam. I want to be an imam and I’m no longer going to wait for anyone’s permission.‘
It has since inspired so many other women to lead prayers, has inspired other congregations to ask women to lead prayers, and you know, if you look at my bookshelves here, I have books by women like Asma Balas, Leila Ahmed, Fatima Mernissi, you know, show me the others who are doing exactly the kind of work that secular feminists and Muslim feminists need so that we can argue back and say, ‚Islam does not belong to men. Islam belongs to human beings.‘
Rachael Kohn: And is that mixed congregation still going?
Mona Eltahawy:In many places it is. It depends. You know, after Amina led the prayer, it was co-sponsored by a movement I belonged to at the time which is no longer in place, but has inspired others. So there’s one group for example called Muslims for Progressive Values that was a spin-off of that, women in the movement still lead mixed-gender prayers. I know many congregations in Canada have asked women to lead their prayers. Amina herself has led mixed-gender prayers in the UK and at a feminist conference in Barcelona. I don’t know of other places where this has happened but I know that it has taken off since the 2005 prayer.
Rachael Kohn: Well that seems to be a very courageous step, and I wonder how risky it is. For example, when you wrote in one of your articles that you agreed with the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy when he says the burqa is not a religious sign but a sign of the subjugation of women. How risky is it for you to make those kind of statements, particularly when for many Muslims, Islam means submission and therefore women should submit?
Mona Eltahawy:I think for the majority of Muslims, Islam should be in submission to God, not submission to a man. And my argument on the burqa I recognise has been very controversial, but I think that it is one of these things that has fallen into many traps.
One is cultural relativism, another is political correctness, another is what has happened to Muslims who have emigrated to various parts of the West, and the discrimination and bigotry they face from the growing right-wing in those countries. As far as I’m concerned, the burqa and the niqab, face veils of any kind, do not belong to Islam, they’re much more a tribal expression that is very specific to the Arabian Peninsula, specifically Saudi Arabia and its very ultra Orthodox interpretation of Islam, commonly known as Wahabi or Salafi Islam. This is where the face veil comes from.
I want to ban the niqab and the burqa everywhere, including in Saudi Arabia. But when it comes to Europe especially and when it comes to Sarkozy’s comment, I think what happened there is that because Muslims in France, you know the largest Muslim community in Western Europe, have faced a lot of discrimination, and the right-wing in Europe have become very vocal, many people who are horrified by the burqa and the niqab refused to say anything because they worry they’re going to arm and fuel the political right-wing. But my point is that in order to defend women, I will not sacrifice women and women’s rights for political correctness, because my enemy is not just the political right-wing in Europe, but what I call the Muslim Right Wing, and that is Salafi-Wahabi Islam.
So I position myself very much in the middle between people like Le Pen in France, the British National Party in the UK, all the other right-wing expressions of politics in Europe, but also all those men who for me represent the Muslim right-wing, who are very happy to tell women how they should look and how they should dress, and are specially obsessed with women’s appearance. So I’m not going to defend Salafi-Wahabi Islam which you know in France anyway you know, a tiny minority of women cover their face, that I recognise, but it represents something, it represents the erasure of women and it represents a hateful ideology because when you unpack Salafi-Wahabi Islam it is hateful towards women, and there is no way I’m going to defend that just so that I can speak out against the right wing. We must speak out against both right-wings.
So that might be controversial but for me it’s also controversial that Saudi Arabia treats women as children; that is very hateful that a woman needs a man’s signature to go to the hospital or to travel, so I’m not going to shut up about that, I think that is the real danger to women, not what Sarkozy is saying or what I’m writing.
Rachael Kohn: That’s the syndicated journalist Mona Eltahawy, a Muslim, a feminist, and an inveterate human rights watcher in countries such as The Maldives, where as The Independent reported in July 2009, the sharia court handed out 150 sentences of flogging to women accused of extramarital sex. Only 50 men were sentenced to flogging in the same period.
Why have liberal feminists in the West not stood up for their Muslim sisters and spoken out against this? I mean, for example, in Australia the Anti-Defamation Commission, which is a kind of sister organisation to the Anti-Defamation League, it issued a statement [Correction – Rachael’s attribution was incorrect. The statement actually was part of an Editorial from the Sydney Morning Herald, 25/06/09] on the veil and civil liberty, and it said, ‚Like the headscarf, or hijab, worn by a much larger number of Muslim women, the burqa is a statement, albeit an uncompromising one. But it is also an issue of personal choice and freedom, and in this, it is a dilemma of liberalism. Mr Sarkozy was ‚wrong‘ to describe these women as prisoners. They have not been cut off from their identity; their faith is part of their identity. Some may be compelled by family or community pressure to wear the burqa, and would be prisoners of intolerance, but this is a separate issue.‘
Now as I was reading this statement, I had a sense that it was trying to have a bet each way; it was slipping and sliding all over the argument.
Mona Eltahawy:You know, that W.B. Yeats, ‚The Second Coming‘, the poem, the best lack all conviction. This is why when my friends ask me how as a liberal can you argue against the burqa? I tell them that as a liberal, if I argued or supported or defended the niqab or the burqa, it would signal the death of liberalism. You cannot use liberal arguments to justify the erasure of women from society. I’m outraged by this statement that you just read to me. I’m sitting here shaking my head; I cannot believe that they actually used the word ‚freedom‘ to support or defend the niqab or burqa. It’s absolutely outrageous, I cannot believe it.
I think what’s happened Western feminism, and I understand where it comes from. We reached a stage of feminism generally where women of whatever you want to call it, the Developing World, the Imagined World, the Third World, whatever, the non-West for lack of a better term, many feminists coming from those parts of the world started telling basically white feminists, you cannot speak for us and stop making it seem like your issues are our issues because our issues are often very different from your issues and have to do with economics and racism and many other things. And so out of a very well-meaning stand a lot of white feminists said, OK, yes, we will stop speaking for you.
But I think what has happened is it’s started to eat its own tail, and it’s turned into this ugly kind of cultural relativism where everything is justified by that it’s a culture I must support and must defend it, and it’s not my place to attack it.
But you have to ask who determined that this was culture, and who determined this was religion for you to say that I must support it? Men have. So look at the position that you are in now. You know, as a white Western feminist you are supporting something that a man has imposed on a woman, because believe me, no woman has designed the niqab or burqa and said, you know … I lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and the Saudi women I knew there who covered their face made it very clear it was the male head of the tribe who determined if the women of the tribe would cover their face or not. This is a very male decision that has very little to do with what the women want. And while I appreciate that very well-meaning stand that keeps many Western feminists, or white, because you know, I’m a feminist who lives in the West and I’m not white, but for lack of a better term, let’s be crude, white feminists silent. What I would ask them to do is to listen to our voices, the Muslim women who are feminist, who are saying, We oppose the burqa and listen to why we oppose the burqa. We oppose the burqa because it erases women.
I think also at the heart of this argument is this idea that conservative equals authentic, and that the more conservative you are, the better of whatever religion you are. And I oppose this idea vigorously because I’m a liberal Muslim and I’m also an authentic Muslim. But the kind of Muslim you see in the media is always the conservative Muslim who wants to speak for me. So it’s always the man who has a long beard and very, very severe and very strict, and the more covered up the woman is, the more authentic she must be. Well I am not covered up and I am a Muslim, and I demand to be taken seriously as a Muslim.
So I think the more you hear from people like me and there’s a woman in France called Fadela Amara, she’s a junior minister for Urban Affairs, she’s the founder of a feminist movement in France specifically aimed at women from North Africa called Neither Whores Nor Submissives [Ni Putes, Ni Soumises ]. She’s taken on this virgin/ whore dichotomy, and she is a strong supporter of the ban on the niqab and burqa because she says it is absolutely a prison, it has nothing to do with freedom, and it is definitely imposed by men on women. But you know, a lot of people make the argument against the burqa on security grounds. I could probably get much further by making an argument on the burqa on security grounds, but I want to make the argument against the burqa on philosophical grounds. It erases women; women are no longer part of society and identity is the face. If I can’t see you, who are you?
And even more dangerous than all of that, it has equated piety with the disappearance of women. The more pious you are, the less of you I see. This is an extremely dangerous idea, because I want to be close to God, but I’m not going to disappear to be close to God, so how dare these men mostly, tell me that the more pious I am the less of me they should see. I find that outrageous, and it’s especially outrageous to me that liberals defend it based on a liberal argument.
Rachael Kohn: Then how do you feel about the many young Muslim students who want to be very visible with their veil, with their hijab, they may indeed wear make-up, even wear tight pants, but they want to make a very strong statement about wearing a veil.
Mona Eltahawy:I make a big distinction between covering the face and covering the hair. Covering the face for me is the point of no return. I will not cross that line, ever. Covering the hair however is very different because I still see the face. I used to wear a headscarf for nine years, I chose to wear it and I chose to take it off. With a headscarf the context, it’s all about the context because you have countries like Turkey and Tunisia where women cannot wear headscarfs to go to university and state-run institutions, and countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran where they must cover their hair. So for me it’s ultimately about choice and the kind of veiled women you’re talking about, those who want to engage in identity politics, in a very Western context, where Muslim has become a dirty word, especially after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in 2001.
So I understand what these women are doing. I mean you can compare it to being punk. You know, you want to do something very visible to show people that I am against whatever you think a young person is. Hence the punk movement. This is something very visible to show that you know, I am Muslim, I am proud to be Muslim, and I will not be cowed into the corner.
I’m all for that, as long as she has chosen to dress that way because for a long time after I took off my headscarf I defended the right of women to cover the hair if they wanted. My mother does, my sister does, most of my female relatives do. But again, back to context: in a country like Egypt, my country of birth, the majority of women cover their hair now; it’s beyond choice now, it’s social pressure, it’s peer pressure. I ride the subway in Cairo now and there are stickers. It’s a picture of a woman with her hair covered and underneath it says ‚This is what a good Muslim woman looks like‘. I ride the elevator in the building where my parents live, and the same sticker, ‚This is what a good Muslim woman looks like‘. In the face of that, where is choice?
In the face of growing horrific numbers of sexual harassment and groping and verbal assaults on women in the street, where is choice, and yet at the end of the day women are blamed for being groped on the street because they’re not dressed well. Well they’re all covered up, what more do you want them to do, you know? So in that kind of context, the choice has really gone out the window. In the more Western context where women want to do that, if the woman has chosen to dress that way I support her, but at the end of the day I want to sit down and discuss with her, are there other ways to be Muslim, because I am Muslim, even though I might not be recognised as such when I walk down the street, people can never forget what I am. I’m very proud to be Muslim.
I like to think I confuse people because Islam is not just about surface or appearance, Islam is much more. So when I have a conversation with someone and I tell them I am Muslim, they’ll say, ‚Oh, I would never have guessed‘, you know, ‚you don’t look like a Muslim‘. I love that ‚You don’t look like a Muslim‘. There is no look to a Muslim. A Muslim can be like my sister with a headscarf tight behind the ear so you can see her earrings. A Muslim can be like my mother who doesn’t show her earrings. A Muslim can be like me, where you can see my hair. There isn’t one way to be a Muslim.
Rachael Kohn: What do you think then of one of the most popular and influential spokesmen now for a new kind of Muslim feminism, and that’s Tariq Ramadan. A lot of people look to him as their new exponent, their new saviour, and yet he puts the veil or covering of women as pretty central to his idea of what a new modern Muslim woman should look like. Is he making the veil something like a sixth pillar of Islam?
Mona Eltahawy:I like that. I think many people, Rachael, make the veil the sixth pillar of Islam. I think for Muslims and non-Muslims the veil is everything. It’s the end-all, be-all of everything, that’s all they want to talk about. I often say the kind of the paradigm that determines everything for Muslim women is headscarfs and hymens. It’s always about what’s on our heads and what’s in between our legs. Especially what’s on our heads because again it’s this conservative equals authentic and this very, very visible way of expressing yourself.
First of all there are only two verses in the Qur’an that have to do with the way a woman should look in public. Scholars have interpreted those verses differently. But it’s all Muslims want to talk about and it’s all non-Muslims want to talk about. And I’m often asked when I give public talks, you know, why is the headscarf such an important issue? Shouldn’t we be talking about women’s legal rights, shouldn’t we be talking about poverty, shouldn’t we be talking about education and access to free health care? And I say, ‚Absolutely‘. But the reason that the veil is so central to all the arguments is because that’s all everyone ever wants to talk about, because it symbolises how so many of the arguments especially over Muslim women, are carried on over their bodies, or rather over their heads.
In very few cases, a Muslim woman actually asked, What do you think of this? And this is a primary case. Tariq Ramadan. What do I care what a man tells me how I should look? Who cares what Tariq Ramadan says about Muslim women. Surely it should be that Muslim woman and her relationship to God that determines how she lives out what she thinks the Qur’an or the Prophet’s example tells her. Why should Tariq Ramadan be the one? And why is it about my hair?
You know, in the Qur’an every chapter and every time we pray, we use in the name of God, the most merciful the most beneficent. So the word ‚mercy‘ appears more times in the Qur’an than those two verses that have to do with the way I cover up. So I want Tariq Ramadan to be out there and to talk about mercy much more. I want Tariq Ramadan to say, and others like him, that the modern Muslim woman is a merciful woman; the modern Muslim woman is a compassionate woman; the modern Muslim woman is a woman who believes in justice and equality, and goes out there and helps those who need help. Why this obsession over my hair? I just cannot understand it, and it’s always from the men.
You know, when I talk like this in public, and I did it just in Colorado at two different places I spoke, there’ll be women in the audience, Muslim and non-Muslim in the audience, some of the Muslim women wear headscarfs, and they will hear of my story about where covering my hair and then taking off my headscarf. Invariably, there’ll two or three Muslim men at the end of the talk who’ll come up to me and say, By the way, there is no argument about those verses in the Qur’an, you know.It’s definite that God wanted to cover your hair and you must just accept that and just say you choose not to do it. And I tell them, No, I absolutely disagree with you. I do not believe this is what God wants, and in the end I tell them, ‚Look, you’re a man, and you’re trying to tell me how to dress. Why aren’t the women in the audience coming up to me to have this argument with me, some of them covered, they don’t come up to me and say, I’m the right, you’re the wrong. It’s always the men. What is it with the men and my hair? So to Tariq Ramadan and every other man out there, leave my hair alone is my message!