In much of the Muslim world, Sharia Law has kept women in positions of inferiority. Women in Afghanistan risk their lives simply going to school. To prevent their education, fanatics throw acid in young girls faces, causing life-long horrific deformities. In countries like Saudi Arabia, women are forbidden from driving, dating, voting, divorcing, or even disobeying their husbands. Whenever leaving their homes, married women must be accompanied by their husbands or a close male relative. Wives can be stoned to death for unfaithfulness or, as is often the case, merely the accusation of unfaithfulness. The same rules do not apply, however, for men, who are legally permitted up to four wives. To fully understand the kind of oppression women endure under Sharia, I highly recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns by Afghan author Khaled Hosseini.
This oppression is vividly demonstrated by how women are allowed, or not allowed, to dress. In Saudi Arabia, a woman cannot show her face or hair in public. In pre-9/11 Afghanistan, the women were forced into burqas, a type of gown that covers every part of the body, including the eyes (allowing vision through a fishnet like screen) enslaving half the country and turning the entire female population into what looked like blue ghosts. Make no mistake, defenders of Sharia are not prudes. In the past, punishments for violating the Law have included forced weddings (to much older men) and gang rape. In Islamic culture, women must dress modestly because, it is believed, men cannot control their urges. In cases of rape, the woman is often blamed for her revealing clothing and the rapist found guiltless. Just as in our own textile culture, this notion of uncontrollable urges is a myth, but under Sharia Law, it is an outright lie, a system designed by men for men. As a naturist, I have spent days surrounded by nude women, many of them attractive. Never once did I struggle with unwanted urges, because I could see beyond the outward appearance; I saw fellow human beings, mothers and daughters and sisters, friends and school mates, people deserving of respect. No woman, under any circumstance, should be seen as anything less. Perversion is the fault of the male mind. But the message Sharia Law sends is clear: women are property. They do not own their bodies and they are not allowed to choose what they can do with it.
|This is offensive.|
This is where naturism becomes more meaningful, because Naturism = Freedom. It may seem a trite observation. Even textiles understand the sense of freedom being without clothes provides. But what has recently come to my attention is how much the human body can become a symbol of freedom, not just from clothes, but from any oppression, whether political or religious in nature.
Egyptian born and raised Muslim, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy shows real courage, as public nudity is not only forbidden in Islam, it’s unthinkable. Even in the arts, the Koran frowns upon depictions of humans, clothed or otherwise, which makes her actions all the more remarkable. Posting a nude picture of herself on her blog incited outrage throughout the Muslim world among both liberals and conservatives; she inspired hate blogs and received death threats. Even feminists opposed to Sharia admonished her, arguing that by going nude, men now see her as a piece of meat, that by surrendering her dignity, she has harmed her cause. But if clothing represents oppression, what better way to protest that oppression than by the extreme opposite of the burqa? Shamelessly displaying her own nude body was the most powerful message Aliaa could have sent the Muslim world. It reaffirms that her body is hers and belongs to nobody else. It would have been easy for her to keep a low profile, to remain an anonymous blogger, to complain of the many cruelties and injustices against her sex without impacting real change. Instead, she rocked the boat and made waves; she risked her safety for the attention of the world.
Which brings me to my next point, Naturism = Power. As we can see, the human body can be a symbol, and as a symbol, it possesses power to arouse, draw attention, or illustrate a point. Oppressive societies often use shame to steal power from others. In the Bible, slaves were stripped of their clothes (the “naked” were slaves or poor); a rapist will strip his victim to make her feel vulnerable; the Nazis stripped Jews in concentration camps to assert dominance and authority. But if a woman, or man, chooses, of their own accord, to remove their own clothes, what power is left to the oppressor but violence?
On her Facebook page, Aliaa states that the image, “screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy.” Now she has done one better, going nude in public in Sweden, which, even in our own Christian culture is taboo, illegal and for some people shocking—that takes real courage. Unfortunately, it will take some time before the Islamic world develops to a level where it can see her point. As a free human being, Aliaa can do with her body what she pleases. It is not the right of any religious or political institution to dictate how she is allowed to dress.
Just to be clear, I do not mean to imply that there is anything wrong with the religion itself. During the golden age of Islam, between 700 and 1200 AD, there was an explosion of artistic and scientific achievement in the Middle East. Muslim scholars mapped out the heavens, translated Greek philosophers like Socrates and Plato into Arabic (therefore preserving them) and invented algebra. Andalusian Spain, once controlled by the Muslims, was a mecca (pun intended) of education. Seville and Cordoba contained libraries with over one hundred thousand books. Islamic architecture also greatly exceeded anything the Christians could make at the time. In the Arabian Nights, high born women are afforded greater freedoms and even political power. Before Taliban control, Afghan women enjoyed the right to work and go to school. The Koran itself states that men and women are equal. Unfortunately, radical practitioners have radicalized their faith. Either way, the outrage of the Muslim world should not be directed at feminists, who choose body freedom over shame, but at the primitive culture that forces half the human race into a position of submissiveness and subservience.
|The female body, designed by Allah. How is this offensive?|
When I look at you, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, I see a beautiful, intelligent, courageous woman, an inspiration to oppressed women everywhere, a woman who should be proud. After all, the human body is the direct handiwork of Allah himself. By removing your clothes, the only shameful thing you have exposed is the hate and intolerance of your country.
Post Script: If you’re out there reading this, Aliaa, I want you to know that you have inspired me. The writings of a Greek-American fantasist probably won’t mean much to you (and why should it?) but I have decided to add your name to my novel in your honor. You will be Aliaa, sister to Thelana, from Ilmarinen, a land where women are equal to men, a land free of oppression.