A Quandary for the West: Why So Many Muslim Women Support Islamic Law

By Gregory Hirshman

Many Westerners are shocked by the fact that so many Muslim women support Sharia, the law of fundamentalist Islam. According to a 2007 Gallup poll, 78% of Muslim women in Iran and 88% of Muslim women in Egypt believe that Sharia should either be the source, or at least a source, of legislation in their countries. Even in Turkey, a modern democratic state whose founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, repealed Islamic law in the early 20th century to establish a secular civil code based on Western ideals, a full third of women believe Sharia should either be the source, or at least a source, of legislation.

In many ways Sharia treats women like second class citizens. According to Sharia, a woman counts half as much as a man when she testifies in court or when she is in line for inheritance. Her husband has the right to beat her for disobedience. She may not marry a non-Muslim and can be forced into an arranged marriage. If she has an affair, honor killings may be appropriate, or even necessary. She often does not even have the right to choose her own clothing. She may have to cover her entire face, except her eyes, with a veil. Men, on the other hand, are given much greater freedom to dress and act as they choose.

In light of this, it seems bizarre to Westerners that so many Muslim women support Sharia. Feminists are especially shocked and consider these Muslim women brainwashed, or even delusional. Many believe that Muslim women should support a freer sexual lifestyle and aspire to hold demanding jobs in the workplace. According to Western feminists, Muslim women should demand total freedom of action and fulfillment instead of devoting their lives to raising families. To the feminists, it seems totally unreasonable that Muslim women accept a misogynistic law code, yet Muslim women support Sharia in large numbers.

This phenomenon is largely due to the work of feminists in the West and to the sexual licentiousness and immorality of Hollywood culture. It is precisely the contempt for traditional family values which often pervades feminism and Hollywood culture that makes Muslim women prefer Sharia to the only Western alternative they know. Cherishing the traditional family and moral values that have sustained their way of life for more than a millennium, these women are disgusted and repelled by the “values” they see embodied in Hollywood, MTV, and the Western feminist movement. Muslim women would be more likely to abandon Sharia if they were presented with a model of Western culture which upheld the traditional virtues of morality and the family.

While many of us in the West approve of, or at least turn a blind eye toward, the immorality which pervades pop culture, many Muslim women view it very differently. Where numerous Westerners see the opportunity for self-gratification, many Muslims see a society in decline. John Hayes, a member of the British Parliament, has noted: “Many moderate Muslims believe that much of Britain is decadent.… They are right.” He added: “Modern Britons … are condemned to be selfish, lonely creatures in a soulless society where little is worshipped beyond money and sex. … Is it any wonder that the family-minded, morally upright moderate Muslims despair?”

Self-indulgence and the rise of feminism have led to a great decline in traditional family values in the West and have helped cause fertility rates in all Western European nations to fall below the replacement threshold of 2.1 births per couple. Nations in Western Europe which even approach that threshold do so only because their Muslim citizens produce enough children to offset lower rates of fertility among traditional Europeans. For example, the average fertility rate in France is 1.9, but the fertility rate among traditional Europeans is 1.4, while among Muslims it is 3.5. Even the United States’ fertility rate is no greater than the replacement threshold. Muslim nations, on the other hand, have much higher rates. For example, Syria has a fertility rate of 4.1, and Egypt’s is 3.2. The difficulty of obtaining abortions and contraception in some Muslim countries cannot fully explain these higher birth rates. Abortion and contraception are legal in Turkey, yet its fertility rate, 2.2 births per couple, is greater than that of any Western country. Muslims in France have as much access to abortion and birth control as other citizens, yet their fertility rates are more than twice that of traditional Europeans. Nor do Muslims have large families because they are poor. Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait all have a GDP per capita greater than that of France or Germany. They rank among the 15 richest nations in the world according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), yet all three have birth rates well above the replacement threshold. Muslim families are much larger than Western families, and this is apparently what they want. The late Yasser Arafat, who was immensely popular both among Palestinians and across the Muslim world once said, “The womb of the Arab woman is my best weapon.” Many Muslims not only like larger families but also appreciate the demographic consequences of having them.

Illegitimacy rates in Western society also trouble many Muslims. In Denmark, 60% of children are now born out of wedlock, and in France the rate is 40%. The United States is little better, with an illegtimacy rate of 35%. As more children are being born out of wedlock, more families are being dissolved by divorce. In the West, divorce is easy to obtain and socially acceptable. In many nations in Western Europe and in the United States, approximately half of marriages end in divorce. For many people in Europe, and even a growing minority in the United States, marriage has become outdated. This is true especially among ardent feminists, who often see marriage as an avenue for the oppression of women’s freedom. For them, the fundamental institution which has structured society for thousands of years has become an anachronism. By breaking the “shackles” of marriage and abandoning traditional morality, many Westerners believe that they are freeing themselves for a life of personal freedom. Sex, drugs, and alcohol provide an opportunity for immediate pleasure and fulfillment. Most Muslims, however, see the burgeoning of sex shops and Internet pornography not as the way to liberation but as the way to depravity. They see the free sex movement advocated by many Western feminists as a reason to disdain the West, not a reason to support it. Nigerian Islamic studies legal professor Abdur Rahman Doi speaks for many Muslims when he chastises the West for its “premarital and extramarital relations, prostitution, pornography, and the disintegration of the family.” The majority of Muslims, according to a study done by the Middle East Institute, are religious, family-oriented people. For them, the demise of the traditional family and its values is inimical to their desired way of life. Sharia, for all its imperfections, upholds a lifestyle closer to their ideal.

Muslim women may not be totally happy with Sharia, but they see it as better than the alternative presented to them by Western feminists and Hollywood culture. While Westerners may be shocked that hundreds of millions of Muslim women support Sharia, their choice makes sense from their perspective. Advocating free sex and women’s “liberation” will only help drive them to support Sharia. Until the West provides Muslim women with a picture of Western culture which is moral and family-oriented, it will continue to encourage them to oppose the West’s values and its way of life.

This entry was posted in Articles for Volume 2, Issue 3, Spring 2009. Bookmark the permalink.

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