10/17/2012 05:07 EDT | Updated 12/17/2012 05:12 EST

This Woman Could Ruffle Middle-Eastern Feathers

Afifa Luaibi wrote a substantial article in Arabic, which I found on an Arabic website under the name of Alhiwar Almutamadden, i.e. "Modern Dialogue." None of her personal details are revealed, but the article reveals a lot about her very progressive thoughts, which are bound to ruffle some feathers in the Middle East. They constitute a breath of fresh air in the ongoing debate about Muslim women and their rights.

I translated some of what she said:

"I don't believe in everything mentioned in religious books. Although it may have been appropriate for women in ancient times is no longer suitable for women in this day and age. I am not a source of shame called "awrah" in Arabic, and am not impure like a black dog, or even a white dog. I am not so impure that I annul the ablutions of a man by touching him. I am not less important or less wise than a man.

If my husband dies why should I remain cloistered in my house for four months and ten days upon the death of a man at whose hands I experienced horrendous cruelty? Why should I avoid being seen lest I be desired by men, by staying within the walls of my home? And yet, when I die, I am told that I would go to hell if my husband was unhappy with me? And why do the angels only curse me if I reject his sexual advances, but do not curse him, when it is the other way round? Why am I being told that I am but a rib of a man, and why am I being compared to a beast? Why am I being treated like one of four concubines of my husband? And why does my husband have the legal right to beat me physically?

If we go through a divorce, why does my son, at the age of only seven, have the choice of living with either parent, but my daughter has no choice but to remain in the household of her father? Why does the dowry system convert us women into pieces of property of men?

If my husband disappears from my life without letting me know, why do I have to wait four years before a judge can give me the right to re-marry, whereas he can take four wives any time he likes?

When my father dies, why do I receive half of the estate which my brother gets, even if my brother is already very wealthy and living abroad with his American wife, and even though it was I who nursed my dying father, at my expense, during his dying days?"

Such a courageous challenge to the prevailing system in most Muslim and Arab societies has not been so eloquently stated, in my own experience, by a woman, although smaller protests demanding the right to drive a car or the right to travel have occurred. This, therefore, is a very encouraging sign that the "Arab Spring" may soon be followed by the "Muslim Emancipation of Women" (MEW), and that just as the Arabs lost their fear, even in the face of the bullets of their dictatorial rulers, Muslim women are losing their fear of their oppressive stick wielding men.

Afifa admits that the apparent submission, without challenge, of so many women to their lot in life is both puzzling and contributing to the continuation of the status quo. She recognizes that part of the reason is ignorance, because a lot of these women think that all these rules are part of Islam, and therefore challenging them might be considered an attack on Islam itself, thus bringing about immediate and severe repercussions from the establishment.

However, I truly believe that change is on its way. Just as the Arab revolution was simply unthinkable as late as the end of 2010, the revolution in the status of Muslim women has begun. It is very unlikely that Afifa's letter would be published widely in the Arabic press, given the level of censorship in the Arab world, but if it does go viral, I am likely to be right. Let us hope that this blog starts the ball rolling.


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