- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 13, 2002

I have been studying the texts of sermons delivered in the mosques of Saudi Arabia, subsidized by the Saudi government, as part of trying to understand the tenets and practices of Islam.
In an earlier column, I dealt with the Saudi mosque sermons attacking Christianity and particularly Catholicism and Pope John Paul. In this column, I want to discuss Saudi mosque sermons about women with texts supplied by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) These sermons are available on a Saudi-based Web site www.alminbar.net. (Alminbar means "pulpit" in Arabic.)
Whatever Islam's ethical base, there is one part of the Islamic code that would be totally rejected in any modern society, democratic or authoritarian. I refer to that aspect of Islam, as defined in the sermons I have been reading, which discuss women in terms, language and concepts no Westerner would dare use today or for that matter would have, in the Thatcher era, dared use yesterday.
It is not that Islam accepts polygamy; after all so did the Mormons. It is that the preachers of Islam regard women as creatures who must be dominated lest empires founder and nations self-destruct. Such a concept is utterly alien to any society based on the Judeo-Christian tradition.
One begins to understand why Israel, let alone the Western democracies, appears as a threat to the future of Islam. The freedom of women, the growth of an enforced equality to men in the Western democracies and the insistence on monogamy as part of the legal code of most countries in the world represents a fearful challenge to the imam. This very discussion about the status of women in Islamic countries would be regarded by the Islamic preachers as an attack on Islamic society.
Here is part of the sermon at the Al-Basateen mosque in Al-Riyadh of Sheikh Saleh Fawzan Al-Fawzan discussing the situation of Western women: "In [Western] societies, the woman has become cheap merchandise, displayed naked or half-naked before the eyes of men. Women are servants in homes, clerks in offices, nurses in hospitals, hostesses on airplanes and in hotels, teachers of men in schools, film and television actresses. If they do not succeed in presenting the woman in these ways, they present her voice on the radio, as an announcer and a singer. As is known, the number of women in society surpasses the number of men. Nevertheless, they have limited marriage to a single wife, abandoning the rest of the women to corrupt and be corrupted. [sic]
"They travel unsupervised and live as strangers among strangers, with danger threatening from all sides. Thus, the enemies of Allah and of humanity have stripped the miserable woman of all the elements of a happy life and of all her social rights, so that she serves as a tool of corruption and destruction. You will be surprised to hear that, in spite of these crimes, they claim that they are protecting the woman's freedom."
In a sermon at the Al-Huweish mosque in Al-Taif, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Nimr explained, "The enemies of Islam know that the woman is a double-edged sword, and that she can be transformed into the most dangerous weapon of destruction [of Islamic nations]. Thus, the woman has suffered from most of the conspiracies to shatter the Islamic nation because the woman has a group of traits allowing her to either build or destroy the nation. "
In a sermon at the Al-Huweish mosque in Al-Taif, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Nimr explained that "the enemies of Islam have decided to distance the Muslims from their religion. Therefore, they have made the woman the most important weapon in this destruction. Ostensibly, they are showing her mercy and defending her rights. Many among the Muslim women have been misled by this, because of their ignorance about their religion, which sees the woman as the man's partner and as possessing rights and obligations appropriate to her nature and character.
"Permitting women to leave the home, so that they rub up against men in the marketplaces and talk with people other than their chaperones with some even exposing parts of their bodies prohibited from exposure are forbidden acts, a disgrace, and lead to destruction. The first crime perpetrated by the Israelites was letting their women loose when they were adorned, so that they would stir up Fitna [inner strife]. For this, Allah punished them with the plague."
Another sermonizer, Sheikh Fahd Bin Abd Al-Rahman Al-'Abyan, speaking at an Al-Riyadh mosque, deplored the Western custom where "the woman leaves the home whenever she feels like it, goes where she wants, and wears what she wants, without her husband's permission.
"Furthermore, in some homes the situation has reached the point where the woman gives the orders, and that is that. It is no wonder, then, that the [Western] women have become masculine. But what is amazing is that some men have become feminine. You can see some husbands with nothing in common with men except external appearance, while the woman calls the shots and controls the children's fate without asking her husband's opinion, even without consulting him or informing him of her intentions."
There are more sermons sounding themes like these that cannot be regarded as the ravings of men who are living in a 12th-century world. These are ardently cherished beliefs by religious leaders who are faithfully supported by the Saudi government. In this globalized world, where Western ideas can only be suppressed by force, as in Iran, the imams realize the danger to themselves and to Islam if such ideas are allowed to circulate freely. That might explain why peace in the Middle East will remain an unrealized dream for many decades to come.

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