Dossier 14-15: From Ethnic Fundamentalism to Religious Fundamentalism

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September 1996
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Editor’s comment: The article of Stasa Zajovic from the Women in Black-Belgrade rings a bell to all of us who live in multi ethnic, multi religious, multi cultural countries, threatened by growing nationalism- or communalism-, where the hatred of the Other closely entwined with population policies (as a mild form which can evolve into its drastic form of ethnic cleansing) put women at the forefront of these policies. Women in Black - Belgrade is a pioneering organisation which has maintained throughout the war in Ex-Yugoslavia the much needed links between women of different communities and has assisted all multicultural multiethnic and multi religious initiatives of women as well as worked with refugees from all origins in camps. They were the first ones to denounce the atrocities committed by the Serbian regime and the prostitution camps installed for the regime as well as the atrocities committed by the other communities and the brothels installed by the UN peacekeeping troops. They also pointed out at the close link between the increase in war violence and domestic violence, thus showing war as an effective brutalisation of the whole society. Needless to say that Women in Black have faced repression within Serbia.

In this piece, Stasa, one of the leading figure of Women in Black -Belgrade, stresses the similarity between ex-Yugoslavia and Nazi Germany in their involvement of women in a form of motherhood which serves best the interests of a bellicose, expansionist, nationalist and racist regime. It appeared interesting to us to juxtapose to her article two pieces which were distributed at the Beijing NGO Forum at the UN Conference on Women, by women affiliated with fundamentalist groups. The first unsigned document shows the proposed model of the Muslim woman in relation to morality and glorification of motherhood. The second document is a statement of the Islamic Research Academy Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, published by the office of the Grand Imam, addressed to the Beijing Conference. We have excerpted from it the paragraphs on women and morality, as well as motherhood and war. They illustrate, in the context of religious fundamentalism - the model analyzed by Stasa in the context of ethnic fundamentalism.

Document 1

Muslim women of the world: Keep to your own religion and culture for your own health; reject the disease-ridden proposals of the UN!

Day after day, Muslim doctors all over the world are discovering the great prescriptions for good health in Islamic teachings given to us by our Merciful Creator, Allah. Medically, it has been concluded that all orders and lawful acts in Islam make you healthy, while all acts deemed unlawful and prohibited in Islam make you sick and ill. Allah has said in Al-Qur'an: "We send down in the Qur'an that which is healing and a mercy to the believers". (Chapter 17, verse 82)

The prescriptions for the good health of women in Islam are comprehensive, including the physical, psychological, social, spiritual and occupational sides of life.

For women only

Islam prescribes breast-feeding (lactation)

Women expose themselves to the risk of cancer of the breast and ovaries if they don't breast-feed their children. Also, their children can suffer from a large number of physical and psychological diseases if the are not breast-fed.

Islam prescribes pregnancy in marriage only

If a woman never has a pregnancy in her life she has an increased risk of contracting cancer of the womb.

Islam prohibits abortion

A woman can get cancer of the breast if she kills her baby through abortion, in addition to the many psychological and medical diseases and problems she may have.

Islam prescribes modesty by covering the skin and body parts in public

Women today develop skin cancer (malignant melanoma) through exposure to the sun while "sunbathing" naked or half-naked. In Britain alone there are over 40,000 cases of skin cancer each year, many of which are linked to nakedness and exposure to the sun.

Islam prescribes sex only with one man within marriage

Having many sexual partners can cause cancer of the cervix, especially if the male partners are uncircumcised. The risk is increased if the woman also smokes.

Islam encourages femininity, womanhood and motherhood

When women are prevented from being women they develop hormonal changes, psychosomatic diseases, stress, male diseases (especially when trying to compete vigorously with men). Many disturbed children and delinquents will result from the lack of true motherhood.

Islam prescribes a healthy, safe pregnancy

In most pregnancies harm to the mother and baby occurs through alcohol, smoking, drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, which are all prohibited and prevented by Islam.

Islam discourages contraceptive pills and devices

People taking contraceptive pills can develop blood clots, thrombosis and other health problems.

Islam optimises the physiology of the body of every woman by utilising all of her organs and not disrupting or interfering with them, as many women do today through a lack of breast-feeding, avoiding pregnancy and lack of motherhood. Islam encourages natural conception, pregnancy and birth free from health hazards.

Document 2

Source: Excerpts from Office of the Grand Imam Statement of the Islamic Research Academy Al-Azhar Al Sharif: Pertaining to the 4th International Conference on the Status of Women to be held in Beijing, September 1995. Cairo: MWL Press, 1995, pp. 4-7.

'Plan of Action' refers to the main discussion and policy document for discussion and adoption by the government representatives at the Fourth International Conference on Women and Development at Beijing in September of 1995. In their relentless and massive attempts to destroy the family structure, the promoters of the Plan of Action were not content to stop with casting doubt and confusion on the belief that the family is the basic unit and norm of society, urging parents to close their eyes at the perverse sexual practices of teenagers out of wedlock, considering these practices as individual and private matters, that neither of the parents has the right to interfere. They have the blazing audacity to declare that the concept of family in the sense stipulated by religion is nothing other than a lame concept according to them, because it does not accept or sanction free and unrestricted sexual relations between people of different age groups, lays condition that it should only be between male and female within the framework of Islamic Sharia, does not give these horrible libertines the right to set up families within their own circles. Al-Azhar completely adheres to the traditional forms of fatherhood, motherhood, and matrimony, while the Plan of Action considers these as a mere set of rules to which people are accustomed all through the ages, so they demand that their practice should be abolished to institute a society free of moral restriction and family ties.

Indeed, the promoters of the Plan of Action went even further than this in pursuit of their whims asking for radical changes in male and female relations by sharing out equally the functions between them, including the right of men to maternity leave, like women, and the same equality in inheritance insisting upon changing the laws which present an impediment to that no matter its origin

Islam has never known what has come to be called woman's problem, which is a secretion of an alien civilization founded upon exploitation and discrimination which is completely incompatible with the teaching of Islam, that men and women were created from a single soul, ordaining equality of rights and duties between them.

With regard to sexual relations, the promoters of the Plan of Action did not find it enough to give liberty to free sex for teenagers, male and female, to indulge in, but they proclaim it loudly in obscene, degrading, abhorrent jargon, which implies that it is the right of women and adolescent girls to choose the type of person she wants to assume, whether as a female or male, or in any other shape, that teenagers have the right to indulge in sex with whom they want, whether a man or woman, and that it devolves upon governments and governmental organizations to allow all such practices without let or hindrance, considering that prostitution presents no harm, nor is it illegal unless it is done by force.

By this way, the promoters of the Plan of Action have exposed their shameful contradiction to the teachings of all revealed religions, including Islam, which does not permit any sort of sexual relations except inside legitimate wedlock, between a man and a woman, and that is because Islam forbids adultery, fornication, homosexuality and lesbianism, and all what may lead to it, such as immoral gathering between a man and a woman, establishing equity between male and female without confusion or mixing up their entities, or casting a slur on the nature of either of the two parties.

Anyone scrutinizing the Plan of Action will clearly see a more dreadful violation of the human rights of all nations, and unacceptable tutelage upon states, and this can be clearer still in what the promoters of the Plan of Action have strictly taken religion as an impediment in the way of achieving complete equality between men and women, or can stand as a stumbling block on the way of implementing any aspect of their repugnant aims and objectives, and they force countries to plan educational programs and urge youth to shoulder sexual responsibility, according to their own vision and to satisfy their own ends, forcing governments to cut down military expenditure, reallocating the funds spent on buying weapons to the implementation of their own objectives. They demand governments to forward compulsory periodical reports on the weapons which they possess, whether they are nuclear, chemical, or biological under threat of the rich and developed countries to cut the assistance offered by them converting it instead to the funding of implementation of their objectives. The Plan of Action urges the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and many other funding organizations to actively strive towards achieving this goal, and granting non-governmental organizations including feminist activist movements and among them notorious feminist, the ability to exert powerful authority in supervising and reviewing whatever reservations governments may have against the Plan of Action prior to its cancellation whatever its source may be.