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10-08-2015, 23:03

KEEPING THE CAMEL OUT OF THE TENT

Almighty God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to men.” So pronounced Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law, as he explained why women are held morally responsible as the instigators of sexual intercourse. Consequently, over the centuries Islamic women have been secluded, veiled, and in many cases genitally mutilated to safeguard male virtue. Women are forbidden to look directly at, speak to, or touch a man prior to marriage. Even today, they are often sequestered at home or limited to strictly segregated areas away from all male contact. Women normally pray at home or in an enclosed antechamber of the mosque so that their physical presence will not disturb men’s spiritual concentration. Especially limiting today are the laws governing women’s behavior in Saudi Arabia. Schooling for girls has never been compulsory because fathers believe that “educating women is like allowing the nose of the camel into the tent; eventually the beast will edge in and take up all the room inside.” The country did not establish its first girls’ school until 1956. The following description of Saudi women is from Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, by journalist Geraldine Brooks. GERALDINE BROOKS, NINE PARTS OF DESIRE Women were first admitted to university in Saudi Arabia in 1962, and all women’s colleges remain strictly segregated. Lecture rooms come equipped with closed-circuit TVs and telephones, so women students can listen to a male professor and question him by phone, without having to contaminate themselves by being seen by him. When the first dozen women graduated from university in 1973, they were devastated to find that their names hadn’t been printed on the commencement program. The old tradition, that it dishonors women to mention them, was depriving them of recognition they believed they’d earned. The women and their families protested, so a separate program was printed and a segregated graduation ceremony was held for the students’ female relatives. . . . But while opening of women’s universities widened access to higher learning for women, it also made the educational experience much shallower. Before 1962, many progressive Saudi families had sent their daughters abroad for education. They had returned to the kingdom not only with a degree but with experience of the outside world. . . . Now a whole generation of Saudi women have completed their education entirely within the country. . . . Lack of opportunity for education abroad means that Saudi women are trapped in the confines of an education system that still lags men’s. Subjects such as geology and petroleum engineering—tickets to influential jobs in Saudi Arabia’s oil economy—remain closed to women. . . . Few women’s colleges have their own libraries, and libraries shared with men’s schools are either entirely off limits to women or open to them only one day per week. . . . But women and men [take] the same degree examinations. Professors quietly acknowledge the women’s scores routinely outstrip the men’s. “It’s no surprise,” said one woman professor. “Look at their lives. The boys have their cars, they can spend the evenings cruising the streets with their friends, sitting in cafés, buying black-market alcohol and drinking all night. What do the girls have? Four walls and their books. For them, education is everything.” Source: Geraldine Brooks, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women (New York: Doubleday, 1996).

 

 

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