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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid

Published on Feb 15, 2010 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Heroic Muslim Girls and Women: Missionaries to Feminist America?


By now, we have all heard about Nujood Ali, the incredibly heroic ten year girl in Yemen who fled her abusive husband and demanded a divorce. This act was the first of its kind in a country where girls as young as eight are given away in marriage.

We want her as an ally. We want her counterparts in the Muslim world as allies. We want Mukhtaran Bibi on our side. She is the young Pakistani woman who was gang-raped by her alleged social superiors in order to cover up their other crimes. She escaped. She was not silenced by shame. She did not kill herself. Unlike Phoolan Devi, India's Bandit Queen (a girl after my own heart), Bibi did not join a gang of outlaws and then exact personal revenge. Despite numerous death threats, Mukhtaran Bibi legally pursued the criminals–and won.

Personally, I wish we had more women like Nujood Ali, Mukhtaran Bibi (alright, like Phoolan Devi too) right here. Their bravery is astounding. Although they have much to lose (their lives for starters), they also have much to gain since they are debased from morning to night from the moment of their birth.

Now, Nujood Ali has written a memoir: I Am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced.

Go to Amazon. You will read this:

"I'm a simple village girl who has always obeyed the orders of my father and brothers. Since forever, I have learned to say yes to everything. Today I have decided to say no."

Forced by her father to marry a man three times her age, young Nujood Ali was sent away from her parents and beloved sisters and made to live with her husband and his family in an isolated village in rural Yemen. There she suffered daily from physical and emotional abuse by her mother-in-law and nightly at the rough hands of her spouse. Flouting his oath to wait to have sexual relations with Nujood until she was no longer a child, he took her virginity on their wedding night. She was only ten years old.

Unable to endure the pain and distress any longer, Nujood fled—not for home, but to the courthouse of the capital, paying for a taxi ride with a few precious coins of bread money. When a renowned Yemeni lawyer, (Shada Nasser) heard about the young victim, she took on Nujood's case and fought the archaic system in a country where almost half the girls are married while still under the legal age. Since their unprecedented victory in April 2008, Nujood's courageous defiance of both Yemeni customs and her own family has attracted a storm of international attention.

The upcoming National Women's Studies Association should invite Ali and Bibi to keynote their convention in Denver later this year. Their program concerns "Difficult Dialogues" and features panels on "Indigenous Feminisms," "The Politics of Nation," "Outsider Feminisms," and the "Critical and the Creative." They wish to re-position "violence against women" by taking into consideration "nationalism, militarism, religious fundamentalism, land rights, war," etc. They also wish to "effectively challenge nationalistic rescue narratives within and outside the U.S. (i.e. 'saving' Muslim women under the Taliban as a justification for US invasion)?"

Ahem. That is not why America invaded Afghanistan.

Still, I think that Nujood and Bibi would genuinely qualify for and would illuminate, even bless, this gathering of American Women's Studies professors and students.


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