This is one in a series of ‘Open Letters’ addressing non-Muslim neighbours, colleagues, family and others in Britain. Please pass it on to anyone who you think might find it useful or interesting.
The Jimmy Savile Scandal: Time to take an honest look at the values that underpin society
Those of us of a certain age associated Jimmy Savile with family entertainment and charity fundraising. As a consequence, the revelations that have emerged over the past few weeks will have been unusually shocking.
The ugly picture of what actually occurred has become clearer over the weeks: a radio and television personality abused the power and privilege of fame; he (and most likely others, as yet unknown) frequently took advantage of impressionable girls, overwhelmed by their encounter with celebrity; the entertainment industry bred a culture where such promiscuity thrived; no one listened to the victims, amongst whom were vulnerable children and young women in hospitals and children’s homes.
Some will blame the individual, who is undoubtedly worthy of blame. Others will blame the BBC and the charities Savile worked with for promoting and tolerating his abusive behaviour.
But few ever confront the values and way of life of that time, which exist to this very day, which permit or encourage promiscuity, sexual harassment and dishonouring women through treating them as commodities.
Society’s demeaning attitudes towards women are not confined to the entertainment industry.
Since the 1960s society has seen values that encourage marriage, fidelity and self-restraint abolished – in favour of values that encourage ‘free love’ (aka promiscuity). These latter values are usually celebrated as the result of a social revolution that empowered women in respect of their bodies.
But the only revolution that really occurred was that women became economic commodities on an industrial scale used in marketing, ‘art’ and ‘entertainment’. Eventually this led to ‘lads mags’, ‘Page-3’ and lap-dance clubs becoming ‘normal’ in society rather than an immoral aberration.
Sadly, the attitude that sees women as a commodity to be ‘consumed’ (by men) is not confined to celebrities – like the footballers, pop stars, actors and others that we hear about in the tabloid press. Rape statistics are frighteningly high; recent articles about University student life suggest ‘more and more social gatherings are promoted with themes of misogyny’; and all-male environments generate the same sexist banter as they ever did, which all too often is shrugged off as ‘a bit of harmless fun’.
When men are exposed to this culture 24-7 what attitude are they likely to develop toward women around them? Is the lack of respect surprising? When society has degenerated to the extent that small children are no longer safe from the sexual desires of men, isn’t it time to question the values that underpin that society?
Rather than asking such fundamental questions we seem to be forever searching for ways to limit the damage after it has been done – more robust child protection strategies to safeguard children from predators, CCTV cameras and DNA profiling to improve detection and conviction – but nothing to curb the societal environment that breeds and nurtures predators and abusers.
We rarely hear anyone admitting that the ‘freedom’ to do whatever one wants has gone too far – and has even become a cause of great harm to women in society. Or that market forces have defined an attitude to women, which demeans them through treating them as commodities, exploiting them for their physical appearance.
Islam is often falsely derided for its attitudes to women, for its approach that keeps apart men and women, and for its harsh punishments. The Quran declares men and women to be of equal worth in the eyes of God (Allah) and enjoins, for the most part, identical rights and responsibilities on both. Access to justice, the right to security, food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare – all of these are the same for men & women, Muslim or non-Muslim. There are a few areas where these roles differ, and it is common to hear critics publicise the examples where they think men ‘do better’. But did you know, for example, that Islamic law obliges a man to work – yet permits a woman to work without forcing her to do so. Similarly, Islamic law says a man’s wealth is not just his – it is his wife’s as well – whereas a woman’s wealth is her own, over which no one else has a claim.
You may have heard many Muslim women, including Anglo-Saxon women who have converted to Islam, say that when they adopted the Islamic dress code men are forced to engage with their intellect and skills – rather than evaluating them as an object of attraction. They, uniquely, are able to compare whether or not it is actually liberating or oppressive to wear a scarf – and whether or not it is oppressive or liberating to have to conform to the stereotypic image of a modern woman.
Islam enjoins a series of behaviours that minimise the agitation of desires that quite naturally arises from intimate engagement between the genders. Clothing is just one aspect of this. But there are many others.
The first is self-restraint – or ‘lowering the gaze’ as the Quran puts it. It is forbidden for men to enjoy the beauty of women they are not married to, let alone create a society where women’s bodies are sold for a price.
The second is that Islam establishes a different series of norms about the degree of mixing between the genders. In Britain, we are quite used to segregated hospital wards, changing rooms and toilets. Islam extends this to many other areas of life, excepting things such as education, the market place and family life.
Another is to channel peoples’ emotions in a positive way. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) encouraged people to marry – and marry young if they could. He encouraged a loving, mutually affectionate married life, with a large family if you were able. He elevated the status of mothers, wives and daughters to a position of respect and honour in a family and society – and exemplified this in his own behaviour towards his wives and daughters.
He (peace be upon him) addressed Muslim men: “Fear God (Allah) in respect of women.” And: “The best of you are they who behave best to their wives.” And: “The more civil and kind a Muslim is to his wife, the more perfect in faith he is.”
A society built upon these norms would substantially reduce the culture that fuels Savile-like behaviour – preventing the problem rather than always picking up the pieces after the damage has been done.
Finally, Islam set down firm rules to deal with those who abused these norms. Had Savile committed the acts he bragged about in an Islamic society, he would have faced firm punishment under the law.
Islam’s philosophy is to prevent human beings oppressing each other – whether that exploitation is economic (as can be seen with the current economic crisis, where ordinary people are paying the price for the crimes of bankers and business) or whether it is men making a profit by using women to satisfy the lusts of other men. Both men and women only submit to the Law of the Creator of the Universe, who has set a right balance in society to create peace and harmony amongst human beings.
We believe it is part of our responsibility , as Muslims living in Britain, to ask serious questions of society – as well as to explain Islam’s views, and offer something to provoke thought amongst those who are open enough and honest enough to consider there might be a better way to build society.
“People, be mindful of your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them spread countless men and women, far and wide; be mindful of God, in whose name you make requests of one another.” (Translated meaning of Quran: Chapter 4: “Women”, verse 1)
With good wishes
Chairman, UK-Executive Committee
Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Liberation Party)