What is the connection between Boko Haram in Nigeria and the culture of religious prohibition in our Arab countries?
What is it about women that terrifies extremists, fanatics, and parochial people around the world?
Why does Boko Haram find the education of women a frightening prospect? Why would they prefer women to be weak, submissive, ignorant, and illiterate?
If knowledge is a heritage shared by humankind, is there such a thing as a Western curriculum and an Eastern one? And if Western education is haram — religiously forbidden — as the extremist Islamist group maintains, why does this prohibition apply only to girls and not to boys?
What does Boko Haram in Nigeria have in common with the tyrannical sentences handed out to women in Sudan?
What they have in common is not simply an anti-women stance: it is a stance against anything that liberates human beings from corruption, ignorance, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness — at the head of which is their position against women.
When the extremist Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the mid-April kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls — 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from the town of Chibok in Nigeria's northeast state of Borno, a number of whom managed to escape — they announced that they would become bush wives. They threatened to sell the girls and coerce them into marriage: "We will sell the girls according to God's law" — justifying their actions by claiming that they are combating Western education in Nigerian schools because it goes against the teachings of Islam!
If Western education curricula, as they claim, are against the teachings of Islam — "Western education must stop; the girls must leave school and get married" — are the kidnapping of girls, selling them in markets, treating them like slaves, and coercing them into marriage among the teachings of Islam?! Is burning an entire village — after kidnapping the schoolgirls — also among Islam's teachings? Or is it that killing is a kind of appetite, a criminal lust: "I love to kill whomever God tells me to, just as I enjoy killing chickens and sheep"?!
What does Boko Haram have in common with the tyrannical sentences handed out to women in Sudan?
There is a connection between the mentality of the Boko Haram group and that of the judges in the criminal court of the Khartoum district of Haj Yousef, who issued the death sentence to Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, a 27-year-old doctor. Born in Darfour, Mariam was raised by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother after being abandoned by her Muslim father as a child. Mariam — who is married with one son, and in her 8th month of pregnancy with a second child — has been sentenced to 100 lashes of the whip for the charge of fornication, and death by hanging for the charge of apostasy.
Since Mariam was abandoned by her father from an early age, how can she be expected to uphold his religion, which she knows nothing about? If she has chosen the Christian faith — owing to her mother's religion, her husband's religion, and her own free will — how can she be punished for renouncing a faith that she never knew to begin with?
When asked whether she is an apostate, Dr. Mariam replied: "I'm a Christian; I did not desert anything"; "I have never been Muslim."
The judge in the Haj Yousef criminal court, who issued the verdict according to Article 126 of the 1991 Penal Code, did not pay heed to the fact that this article is in contravention to the 2005 Sudanese constitution, in particular Article 27 of the same constitution, which is also in accordance with Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 8 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. This was confirmed by the Sudanese attorney Nabil Adib, who added that the judge who implemented Article 126 was going against the constitution, as "Article 48 requires the judge to uphold the constitution after applying conflicting laws."
The mentality of religious prohibition is still powerfully present across the Arab world.
This is why murders of women in Palestine continue, the numbers rising in recent years (from 5 cases in 2004 to 13 cases in 2012, 26 cases in 2013, and 15 cases in the first five months of 2014).
Despite the issuance of a presidential decree amending Article 98 of the Penal Code, in order to annul the possibility of a diminished sentence in so-called 'honor' crimes, it is still paramount to fight against this culture of prohibition and all of its manifestations: in the media, in educational curricula, and in cultural forums, and to open ourselves up to different human cultures, in order to eradicate this phenomenon from its very roots.
To the Administration of Future Schools in Ramallah:
How are we to understand the termination of the services of a Science teacher and the accusation leveled at her of 'deviating from the curriculum' when she explained Darwin's theory to her students? The theory is, in fact, part of the Cambridge curriculum approved by the school (Future Schools are accredited by the University of Cambridge as an international school, offering the internationally recognized IGCSE curriculum and the Cambridge GCE).
If this curriculum goes against ideological and religious convictions, why did the Future Schools adopt it in the first place?
And what is the problem with studying all theories of human science, including Darwinism, whether or not they are part of the curriculum?
Isn't this the very same mentality of prohibition, insularity, and conservatism in the age of the information revolution, scientific discoveries, and space exploration?
How are we to understand the unjust measures taken against the teacher after she was fired, when she was prevented by the administration from entering the school at the end of the academic year to attend a student activity that her own son was involved in?
Backing from an error of one's ways is a virtue.
We hope that the administration will recant its arbitrary decision, apologize to the teacher, and rehabilitate this woman who was faithful to her students and to learning, and was unfairly terminated — so that the Future Schools will hold true to its philosophy of offering a distinctive brand of education that helps students form critical thinking skills and remain a beacon of enlightened pedagogy.
We must raise our voices high, individuals and institutions, women and men, against the violence perpetrated against women.
Let us stand in solidarity for women in Nigeria;
Let us stand in solidarity for women in Sudan;
Let us stand in solidarity for women in Palestine.