Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Fighting Fire (and Brimstone) with Fire (and Brimstone)

Today's Christian Science Monitor tells the story of Wazhma Frogh, an advocate for women's rights in Afghanistan who has learned how to persuade her oppressors with arguments they'll understand - religious arguments. Walking past a mosque in the northeastern Afganistan, for example, Frogh once overheard the local mullah preaching to his congregation that she should be killed, since she was "meddling with their women with her plan to start a literacy program." Rather than fleeing the region or laying-low:
...she marched straight into the mosque. In a flowing black chador that left her face uncovered, she strode past the male worshipers and faced the mullah. Trembling inside, she challenged him.

"Mullah, give me five minutes," she recalls saying. "I will tell you something, and after that if you want to say I am an infidel and I am a threat to you, just kill me."

She then rattled off five Koranic verses – in both Arabic and the local Dari language – that extol the virtues of education, tolerance, and not harming others. She criticized local practices of allowing men to use Islam to justify beating their wives, betrothing young girls, and denying women an education.

The room was silent. All eyes were on Frogh and the mullah. Then the mullah rested his hand on her head.

"God bless you, my daughter," he said.

With that, Frogh won permission to start the literacy program that later helped women from Badakhshan Province participate in local government and run for the national assembly.

Of course, the above story shows her willingness to force others into publicly owning the consequences of the ideas they preach, as well as her theological knowledge. Yet, according to Frogh, the only way to convince religious men in power is through religious arguments. She knows she puts herself at risk through her boldness, but asserts, "...I may lose my life during this process, but if I am able to open a door for rights for one woman, then it is worth it."

If Frogh is right when she asserts her power lies in the ability to combat misogyny couched in religious terms with arguments for compassion and equality from the same source, then I should learn some Bible verses to defend women's rights from their religious attackers here. Anyone know any good ones?

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