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Qatar’s Gulf Times published three different articles in its February 15, 2008 “Islam” section that have an unsettling theme: telling women how to act.
The first article, by Fatima Barakatullah, is titled “Reviving Our Sense of Gheerah,” and has run in several other outlets that are specific to conservative Islamic interpretations.
For any readers unfamiliar with the word “gheerah,” Barakatullah defines it as “protectiveness or jealousy.” According to her, it’s “a good type of jealousy, like when a man feels jealous or protective over his wife or sisters and other-womenfolk and doesn’t like other men to look at them. It is a natural inbuilt feeling Allah has given men and women.”
Barakatullah ostensibly admonishes both Muslim men and women for “los[ing] their sense of shame,” blaming feminism for the suppression of “natural emotions” in men and women:
“We live in societies in which most men and women have lost their sense of modesty, women are obsessed with their appearances and wear clothes to be seen by others and to attract the attention of other men even if they are married! … Men are not even embarrassed when their wives are dressed up and attract the attention of other men…”
But the rest of the article berates only women for being shameless if they don’t do what their “menfolk” tell them to: “If your husband asks you not to wear a certain colour of khimaar [scarf] because it brings out the beauty of your eyes, or if he wants you to cover your face – by Allah, be thankful!”
The second article, titled “Hijaab and the real beauty” and written by Aboo ‘Abdul-Fattaah Salaah bin Bernard Brooks, is more of the same. He presents this article as “a reminder of the excellence of the women who wear hijaab” because “A sister who does not truly know the superiority of hijaab will always remain envious of disbelieving women. Why? Because they observe these misguided disbelievers attempting to look beautiful for all to see. Hence, the Muslim woman then compares herself to that woman which causes her to feel ashamed of her own hijaab.”
The author does not describe what he means by “disbelieving women,” so we’re left to guess whether he means non-Muslims, Muslim women who don’t wear hejab, or both. His ambiguity doesn’t stop him from throwing around judgments and condemnations: “…displaying oneself is indeed unlawful. Further, it is a quality of the most evil of women! Therefore, do not be envious of the disbelieving women. They only have this life to enjoy, while the believing women will have Paradise.”
The third article, by ‘Ifrat Azad, discusses the haraam-ness of women’s aspirations to beauty. In “In search of the body beautiful,” Azad beings with “There seems no limit nowadays to the extent that women (and men) are prepared to go to for that ‘perfect look.’” This is the only instance in which the author includes men. The entire rest of the article is aimed at women’s beauty practices (none of which Ms. Azad partakes in, I’m sure) such as plastic surgery and hair removal.
When Ms. Azad rages against the beauty industry, I rage with her. I completely agree with her statement that
“Beauty today is big business. Beauty contests are very profitable …The cosmetics market is a multi-billion dollar industry; the demand for cosmetic surgery is growing at a tremendous rate. All three industries promote the same notions of beauty that women everywhere are expected to meet: mainly a white, European, “Barbie-doll” like standard. The pressures on women to conform to these standards are enormous and few are able to withstand them.”
But in her attempt to comfort her sisters, Ms. Azad merely criticizes them for doing things that are considered “un-Islamic” and yet she is surprised that “Muslim women too develop inferiority complexes about themselves.”
Since the Gulf Times considers itself to be “a cornerstone of the Qatari information media,” maybe it should rethink how it views journalism. Newspapers are for news, not for patronizing women and their choices.