October 28, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 807

Israeli Arab Author: The Arab Man is the Problem,The Arab Woman is the Solution

October 28, 2004
Special Dispatch No. 807

In an article titled "The Arab Man is the Problem, The [Arab] Woman Is the Solution," Israeli Arab author and poet Salman Masalha is harshly critical of the situation of women in Arab countries, and argues that women's equality will put an end to the backwardness of Arab and Islamic society. The following are excerpts from his article: [1]

'The Developed Peoples are Those Whose Women have High Status in Society'

"The U.N. 'Arab Human Development Reports' of recent years show that in comparison with other peoples, the Arab world is at the bottom [of the scale] culturally, socially, politically, and otherwise. There is no need to reiterate what these reports say, since they can be found online. But there is a need to place our finger on the roots and causes of this situation, and to attempt to point out ways and means to be rid of this tragic, dead-end [situation]…

"If we glance at the world around us, we see that the developed peoples are those whose women have high status in society. This status did not did not emerge out of thin air, but rather has developed and grown in the past centuries against a certain economic, cultural, and religious backdrop which facilitated the advancement of women and their rise to an active and organic role in these societies. In contrast, it appears that in Arab societies women have not yet overcome the nomadic tribal [social] order that is the founding principle of Arab societies…

"There is no escape from viewing the Arabs today as being similar to the nomadic Arabs of the past – even if they travel by airplane, drive cars, and surf the Internet. Even if they were born and raised in Western countries, their notions have not changed. We often hear of so-called 'honor' crimes among the people of the [Arab] diasporas in Scandinavia, Britain, France, and other countries. These crimes, that traverse seas and continents, take place because Arab societies developed within a patriarchal mentality at their primitive, animal stage. And if these things occur in Europe, then they clearly occur with greater frequency in the Arab world."

'The Arab Man's Insistence Upon Controlling the Destiny and Body Of the Woman is an Attempt to Cling to Honor He Does Not Have'

"Such a situation has long-range psychological implications for the general development of society. It is a pathological condition of the Arab male, which may be summed up by [saying] that the Arab male's honor does not emerge from within himself, but rather it is something that flows from an external source … from another place, from another person, and particularly from the woman, who is the weakest link in these societies. The Arab man's insistence upon controlling the destiny, and particularly the body, of the woman, is nothing but an attempt to cling to honor that he does not possess and of which he is deprived, socially and politically…

"The situation of the individual in Arab countries is like the situation of the individual in the deeply-rooted nomadic tribal Arab mentality… Everything concerning the individual honor of the Arab is nonexistent. For this reason, the Arab man goes far outside himself in search of his repressed selfhood – [he turns] to the weakest link in his environment, namely the woman – his wife, sister, daughter, etc."

'Islam Introduced Nothing New From the Religious and Social Standpoints'

"Islam introduced nothing new from the religious standpoint, as can be seen in more than one place in the two most authoritative collections of prophetic traditions [Hadith], [2] among other places, [where it is stated that] … Allah's Messenger [Muhammad] said: 'You will follow the customs of those who preceded you, every step of the way; even if they enter the lizard's hole, you will follow in their footsteps. We said: Oh Messenger of Allah, [do you mean] the Jews and the Christians? The Messenger said: Who else?'

"Just as Islam introduced nothing new from the religious standpoint, it introduced nothing new from the social standpoint, and changed nothing among the Arab nomads… This also applies to the principle of preferring the man over the woman… In other words: Islam transformed the rival tribal societies into a new, different tribe – the nation-tribe, with a male bias – and directed it to plunder and rob outside the land of the Arab nomads. But this nation-tribe rapidly disintegrated, and the tribal zealotry that was rooted in it surfaced; it became focused on the issue of the right to the caliphate – that is, on political rule…"

'The Arab Man Must [Believe] that His Honor Should Emanate from His Selfhood and His Essence as an Individual'

"What can be done, therefore, in this situation? The answer to this question is not simple, and requires a large measure of moral courage among those who hoist the banner of change. We must stop burying our heads in the sand, and we must state things explicitly and in public, and bring them up for discussion and debate. If we do not ask ourselves the difficult questions, how are we to arrive at solutions to difficult problems?

"Hence it can be said that the deeply-rooted male tribal mentality that later cloaked itself in religious Islamic ideology is the very heart of the problem. After this outlook [stated in Koran 4:34] – that 'men have authority over women' – took root... what then remained for the repressed half of Arab society [i.e. women] to do for the benefit of this society? Thus, we say that the door to the solution is wide open, and it is the door of the woman – the woman in these societies.

"In order to arrive at this goal, the Arab man must be convinced that his honor and dignity must emanate from his selfhood and from his essence as an autonomous human individual – and not from the essence of others. Every individual, man or woman, has dignity that emanates from his or her own self. Thus, the Arab man must be liberated from his chronic complex by liberating his honor and dignity from the shackles of the so-called woman's honor."

'Arab Feminist Movements Must Demand Laws to Restrict Birthrate'

"Similarly, the Arab feminist movements must take the initiative and demand legislation to mandate family planning – so that the woman will no longer be seen as a baby factory… Let us think for a moment about what the Chinese revolution has accomplished. Do we not see how in recent years, after a few decades [of restricting the birthrate] … China has begun to assume its place, economically and socially, in the company of developed countries?

"And if we try to understand how women in the Christian world have reached such an advanced status, there is no doubt that there are social and religious roots for this situation. Christian culture elevates the Virgin Mary to a level [of veneration] that sometimes surpasses that accorded to Jesus Christ. Doubtless, this status has had a direct effect on the development of [the status] of the daughters of her sex in these [Christian] societies. [In contrast], look how the tribal Arab Islamic heritage expunged women from its history. How, for example, can we interpret the absence of [Muhammad's wife] Khadija bint Khawailid from the prophetic traditions? She lived with the Prophet for a quarter of a century, and he did not marry other women when he lived with her during this formative and sensitive era of Islamic history. How is it that no tradition is related on her authority stating that the Prophet said or did this or that? Did Khadija speak with no one? Did none hear a single word about the Prophet from her lips for an entire quarter-century?..."

'The Arab Woman is the Solution'

"The roots of Arab Islamic backwardness are to be found, therefore, in this view of the woman. Accordingly, if we want to look for solutions, the Arab woman is the solution. The first step must be to eradicate the illiteracy that is so widespread among them – because the woman will remain, in the foreseeable future, the one playing a central role in educating the children, as long as the man goes out to look for a livelihood with which to support his family, going out for days, and sometimes weeks on end.

"When the mother is educated and self-confident, and is an active and productive member of society, she can raise a generation that in its turn will also be educated, confident, and productive… If she is not, what can she give her children besides love? Nothing. We must recognize that motherly love alone is not enough to push society forward…

"In order to escape the dead end in which Arab and Islamic society [are now situated], there is a need to reconstruct these societies – on the condition that this reconstruction be based first of all on restoring the Arab man's self-confidence and on ensuring that his honor emanates from his own self and not from someone else. Second, it must be based on legislating full and absolute equality between men and women, in all areas of social, political, and economic life. Third, the individual, and particularly the woman, must be placed at the center of Arab life, because ultimately she and only she is the solution."


[1], September 24, 2004.

[2] The two most reliable collections of traditions, called Al-Sahihan, are those compiled by Muhammad ibn Isma'il Al-Bukhari(d. 870) and Muslimibn Al-Hajjaj (d. 875).

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