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Distortions of Islam by "60 Minutes"

As a member of  Muslim women's organization that has been speaking out for the rights of Muslim women, I was disappointed in your story regarding Ayaan Hirsi Ali on March 13, 2005.  The problem with such reporting when you fail to include alternative Muslim women's voices is that the viewer is exposed to a simplistic dichotomy which belies the true representation of the Muslim community.   The way this story reads there are people like Ms. Hirsi Ali and the radicals.  The truth is that millions of Muslim women and men do challenge negative interpretations of the text that oppress women while remaining devout Muslims in their own right.  Challenging the status quo while being committed to a faith that many of us believe is founded on the most basic principle of justice is not without risk.  Yet, those who engage in such activity do not achieve notoriety, perhaps because they are not choosing to reject Islam in the process.
 
It is true that some segments of the Muslim community do not understand that Islam itself protects freedom of speech, including speech that Muslims may find abhorrent and blasphemous.  The Prophet Muhammad was exposed to slurs and insults of the worst kind yet he prevented his companions from taking up arms against those who verbally assaulted him.  There is no justification Islamically for an individual to kill Theo van Gogh for expressing views that are distasteful to Muslims and many Muslim groups (like the Muslim Public Affairs Council) have spoken out against calls for violence against artists and authors such as Salman Rushdie.
 
Still, it is unfortunate that you continue to perpetuate the stereotype of Muslim women, framing the story in such a way that we  have to abandon Islam to achieve freedom and equality or to fully embrace democracy.  I grew up in the US reading Nancy Drew  and the Hardy Boys too.  That never presented a problem with my identity as a Muslim.  Nor does being an observant Muslim interfere with my career as a physician or as an active member and leader within my own community.  Cultural practices that Muslims are unable to disentangle from religion are what lead to many of the oppressive practices women face today (such as honor killings, female genital cutting, forced illiteracy, etc.).  That is the battle many of us have been fighting for years.
 
Finally, the Qur'an does not say literally or even in the wildest interpretations that it is lawful for a man to rape his wife if she refuses to have sex with him.  Marital rape does exist and perhaps is encouraged by patriarchal cultural practices.  But the fact that Muslims erroneously use religion to justify such acts does not mean they are condoned by Islam itself.
 
I would like to think that Ayaan Hirsi Ali's efforts will pay off in terms of advancing the rights of suffering Muslim women, rather than feed the anti-Muslim frenzy that is fast overtaking Europe. 
 
Laila Al-Marayati, MD
Spokesperson, Muslim Women's League
Los Angeles, California
213-305-7921

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