If it wasn’t bad enough (particularly for us!) that Al-Qa’ida launched its English language magazine Inspire 9 months ago, on Monday they published a 31 page glossy, Marie Claire style magazine for Muslim women entitled Al-Shamikha, roughly translated as The Majestic Woman. The front cover shows a niqab clad women, a gun and headlines such as “meeting a jihad wife” and “pages from the pen of a female jihadist.” The contents reveal that articles include “the female martyr” and “your house is a kingdom,” an article providing tips on how to maintain your home.
At first I found it bemusing and to a certain degree amusing that on one page a woman can learn about the “pros and cons of honey masks,” only to turn over to read advice about how to find the perfect man, nothing less than mujahideen. But then I realised it was clever. Why? Because what Al-Qa’ida are skilfully doing, in a perverse kind of way, is normalising acts of terrorism. A vulnerable young lady, angry about what is happening in Muslim countries and who feels a sense of resentment towards the foreign policies of Western countries, is made to believe in an ordinary way, that reading about acts of murder and terror is just as normal as reading or talking about beauty tips. According to the Independent “analysts say the idea is to market global jihad with the same slick feel as Cosmopolitan or Marie Claire who push Western culture to young women.”
What I did find amusing however, was the perception that all women are interested in learning about beauty and fashion tips and the all important, how to achieve the perfect complexion. Whilst trying to impress on women the ‘lofty’ ideals of ‘jihad’ they then stereotype and reduce her into the typical “I am a woman so I MUST be interested in beauty, fashion and shopping” sexist mantra. How patronising.
But how does Al-Shamikha address the contemporary concerns facing Muslim women across the world? It’s clear it views female jihadists as the ideal role model but in the same vein, it reinforces the conservative view that “women should not go out except when necessary.” The diverse views on Muslim women’s role in the 21st century are being advocated by many Muslim ideologies; whether it is the jihadists, traditionalists or progressives. But who will appeal to Muslim women? Who will emerge as being most relevant and able in providing solutions to the huge challenges facing Muslim women?
Instead of empowering women to contribute to humanity and to construct societies, Al-Shamikha encourages them to destroy societies and spread hatred amongst humanity. Rather than motivating women to address the global concerns of the day; poverty, climate change, human rights for example or inspiring her to become part of a much needed solution, it dehumanises her and makes her become a part of the problem. Contrast this to the work of Muslim women like Daisy Khan, a woman who found herself in the furore over Park 51 or the so-called Ground Zero mosque. She took it upon herself to fight not only for the rights of American Muslims but for the rights guaranteed to all by the American constitution itself.
Three days ago Daisy spoke at a ‘Women, Peace building and Islam’ conference at Arizona State University where she spoke about both violent extremism and domestic violence as corruptions of Islamic doctrine. She then went on to talk about denouncing violence against women and the need for more Muslim women peace leaders who could help build a better future for everyone. What an empowering message for Muslim women. To become global leaders of peace. This is what we need more of, not the debilitating message of destruction of Al-Shamikha. We need more Muslim women, like Daisy to lead our communities in breaking the cycle of mistrust, misunderstanding and fear that exists between Muslims and non-Muslims, particularly in the Western world.
Now, more than any other time are Muslim women needed to take centre stage and help build, rather than burn, bridges between all of humanity.