Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience



Your Name:

Recipient Email:

We know them as al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and the Taliban. Their branding may differ, but their misogynist ideologies do not.

These so-called Islamists have promoted discrimination against women for centuries. Now, they abduct young women and threaten to kill them. Permitting these militants to pursue their misguided agendas will destroy whatever goodwill is left for Muslims.

Last month, the Nigeria-based Islamic militants, Boko Haram (Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad), raided a school in Chibok, a small town in the north-eastern Borno state, and kidnapped more than 200 teen-aged girls.

A recently released video by Boko Haram shows the abducted Christian girls clad in abayas. Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, claims that the girls, while being in captivity, have embraced Islam.

Boko Haram has taken forced conversions to another level. They have kidnapped young women, held them hostage, threatened to kill them, and offered conversion and forced marriage to Boko Haram fighters as the only way out.

Muslim societies across the globe have been notorious for the poor welfare of women, especially the girl child. In several Muslim countries, determinants of physical and social well-being are much worse for girls than they are for boys.

Despite the glaring discrimination, Muslim apologists argue that this has nothing to do with Islam or Muslims. They hastily blame the "enemies of Islam" for propagating lies about Muslims.

Scapegoating, however, will serve no purpose. Boko Haram and its ilk hurt all Muslims, but more so young women. Muslims must confront those who harm women in the name of Islam.

Boko Haram may seem like a remote African tribe that abducts girls, threatens to kill them, and marries them off against their will. Some introspection should reveal that the same tendencies are alive and instrumental in all Muslim societies.

Muslim fathers in the West have abducted their daughters and transported them back home to prevent their daughters from marrying for love. In the name of honour, Muslim fathers and brothers are known to have killed their daughters and sisters who married against family's wishes.

In almost every neighbourhood in Muslim societies, one will find women who were forcibly married to men chosen by their parents. There is a mini Boko Haram alive and thriving in every neighbourhood in Muslim societies.

In some Muslim societies the situation has worsened to the extent that young Muslim women have to abandon their homelands and find refuge elsewhere.

Ever wondered why Pakistan's most recognised young woman, Malala Yousafzai, is unsafe in Pakistan, but is safe in Birmingham?

The forced migration of Malala and other young women like her sends a clear message to the young Muslim women; conform, and you can live a life of servitude; express dissent, and you are condemned to death or exile.

Video | Malala: 'Girls in Nigeria are my sisters'

While the British stepped up to save Malala, millions more like her need to be rescued.

A quick look at the development statistics across Muslim societies reveals the not so hidden bias against the girl child, who is less educated and faces a much narrow set of options to develop and self-actualise.

Given the scale of discrimination against Muslim women, one may feel overwhelmed, not knowing where to begin. One may be tempted to blame the government and ask of the legislators to enact even more laws to try to safeguard the welfare of young women. While it may help, it is not where the change really needs to take place. Instead, the change has to happen at homes.

Alys Faiz, a social activist, knew what lied at the core of this issue. She grew up in England, but lived in Pakistan after marrying Faiz Ahmed Faiz, one of Urdu's most revered poets. She asked me,

Why do Pakistanis serve the father first at the dinner table? Why are daughters served after sons, and why are mothers the last to eat in a Muslim household?

She could clearly see what the rest in Pakistan were blinded to.

Women are subjected to institutionalised discrimination at homes because of the hierarchy that favours men over women. No wonder, the girl child in Pakistan, and in other Muslim societies, struggles to be fed.

The discrimination and the neglect of the girl child in Muslim societies must not continue. Scapegoating is no longer an option, nor should it be tolerated. In the name of our daughters, we should stand up to safeguard the economic, emotional, physical, and social welfare of women.

We can start this very evening by serving women, young and old, first at the dinner table.

More on this:

Author Image

Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of

He tweets @regionomics

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (64) Closed

Tomorrow May 14, 2014 03:56pm

Bold and insightful introspection. Let us evolve towards a world of equal opportunities to all, sans discrimination of any kind.

prafulla shrivastva May 14, 2014 04:06pm

Good to know, people in Pakistan have started thinking on discrimination with women in society, it is welcome but I expect good number of comments from readers of various cities like Karanchi, Lahore, Islamabad. People should come ahead & express their feelings on this subject as time has come when they should listen their inner voice.

subhagan thankappan May 14, 2014 04:06pm

A fact at least for Sub Continent and Africa. Moderate Muslims can play pivotal role to correct these misguided fellows by educating them the real values and teaching of Islam and save the world from more anarchy and bloodshed as the growing trend of extremism is spreading to other religion also.

Krishnan May 14, 2014 04:12pm

Subtle discrimination is quite common in our parts.Of course Haramipanthi is too much .

M. Siddique May 14, 2014 04:12pm

It is very enlightening article and explains what we knew but is a taboo to talk about. A strong reformation of brain set is in order. Pakistan is suffering from a national depression due to lack of honest and accountable governance. As a result if anything goes wrong, which is often, the society in a unison blames outsiders. No one thinks why in the world Pakistan is the only country world conspires against. Educational reforms are in order.

bhakkkk May 14, 2014 04:14pm

watch seems to be present in majority...

ash.kareem May 14, 2014 04:27pm

excellent article impersonating discriminatory attitude of muslim society towards women.

catherine May 14, 2014 04:31pm

It's not like we have not tolled you this in the west for hundreds of years.........But it is so much easier for the Islamic world to close there ears with there hands and say LALALALALALALALALALALALA I can't hear you!

rama May 14, 2014 04:42pm

Nothing new in that, It is technique created and perfected by the Pakistani fundamentalist against the Hindu.

sarah shah May 14, 2014 04:55pm

very well written article....voice of women should be raised. mr Murtaza Haider u are really awesum writer,hats of to you.

parvez May 14, 2014 04:57pm

It is about time we treat our Women with Equal status and Dignity or we will see our women been treated as they were in Dark Ages. It hurts the core of me the see status of women in our Muslim societies including in pakistan. I have seen in my family growing up my sisters being treated better then brothers and were educated the same way as brothers but i guess that was the exception then norms.we call our self Muslims( 90%of us in Pakistan) then we should Also fellow the Sunnah of our prophet Mohammed(PBUH) how she treated and raised her Daughter Fatimah (salam ullah Aleh) and used to stand up in her honor when ever she Visited her or he visited her house.

Maria May 14, 2014 05:25pm

It is time for level headed people to come out against narrow minded Mullah's and demand change. Rich and famous in Islamic countries send their kids abroad for proper education, poor have no choice, but depend on Mullah's Maddrassas. Why all the Pakistani Politicians hold western passports,Why?

Kamal Gupta May 14, 2014 05:25pm

Is this true in all Muslim majority societies? I don't think so. Women enjoy much more freedom in countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and maybe some more. I am told it used to be like that in Pakistan as well before it started on the road to copy all things Arab.

Dystopia May 14, 2014 05:44pm

@rama Nothing to do with inter-religious harmony. This article is focusing on an issue within the religion. Focus on the issue.

B.B.Pandey May 14, 2014 06:00pm

Education alone will empower women. Educated amongst them in India enjoy more freedom now. Uneducated and poor women will continue to be second class citizens all over the world.

Ayesha May 14, 2014 06:02pm

A wonderful article. Let's get over the apologia attitude Muslims have adopted all over the world and realize that something is dreadfully wrong with the mindsets we've been raised with. Especially when it concerns terrorism and women rights.

Usman Tariq May 14, 2014 06:11pm

An incorrect and contrived passage. I would consider it just an amateur opinion of the writer.

"Why do Pakistanis serve the father first at the dinner table? Why are daughters served after sons, and why are mothers the last to eat in a Muslim household?"

It does not matter who eats first. What matters is that everyone is eating together. If world starts operating from your perspective then i am pretty sure family system will become extinct.

shah May 14, 2014 06:24pm

The fires of mullahism and extremism are burning brightly and alas noone in this world has any ideas on how to put it out. I think it will eventually burn out itself.

shah May 14, 2014 06:26pm

@catherine Western views on Islamic women are wrong and rooted in trying to use women as a weapon against Islam.

J May 14, 2014 06:39pm

It will be nice if in the form of comments, Pakistanis from around the world, comment on this page saying "I have started the change. My wife/daughter gets food before me. I cook for them sometimes." etc. Only say it if it's true! The girls/ladies reading this article will find some hope atleast.

BRR May 14, 2014 06:45pm

Just look at planeloads of Saudi and UAE men, mostly uneducated and uncouth, who even now descend into Muslim areas of Hyderabad and marry a young child bride as an Nth wife and take back to virtual slavery in Middle east. Ofcourse it is all kosher according to their religion.

Vish May 14, 2014 06:57pm

Very well written article. Even educated women cannot drive cars, use cell phones, or wear the dress they want in many Muslim societies. So the plight of the poor, uneducated Muslim woman can be imagined. Even according to law, a man's word in court is considered to be equal to that of three or four women in many countries! However, serving food first to the father is more of a cultural issue. Almost always the food is cooked by the woman and it is a courtesy to offer it to others first. We will have to see what happens when more men start to play a role in cooking. But that is not likely to happen anytime soon.

NASAH (USA) May 14, 2014 08:25pm

Murtaza, you can say that again.

Indian May 14, 2014 08:38pm

Wow.....this is brave efforts by the writer to write an article on such a controversial issue. Respect !!!

Humanity above all religions, faiths, ideologies........Respect for women is the only way forward for every progressive society.......

Arif May 14, 2014 09:46pm

Give me a break!! This is a tribal or cultural issue not religious issue. There are millions of Muslims living in US, how many of them have practiced such acts? Unfortunately tribal culture and religion is mixed in East to an extent that it gets impossible to tell the difference between the two.

raghu May 14, 2014 09:57pm

too little too late...........time for the bash

Naseem Khan May 14, 2014 10:12pm

Very realistic. Time has come to expose the bigotry. We must clean our own house before condemning other people.

Salman May 14, 2014 10:44pm

A very well reasoned and put together article. I could not disagree with anything .

Masood Haider May 14, 2014 10:53pm

Regarding Dr. Haider's advice on how to treat our own daughters, we have two highly accomplished daughters of whom we are extremely proud. After our second daughter was born, we didn't opt for trying for a son. The son worship so prevalent in South Asian culture is so misguided because whereas a son is a son until he is married, daughters are forever.

For Muslims, the love that our Prophet (PBUH) bestowed on his daughter and the exalted position that she holds should be an example to emulate and should be incentive enough to accord all the love, respect and dignity that girls and women so richly deserve.

Saqiba May 14, 2014 11:40pm

I am so happy to read such a subtle article like this. Usually, in Pakistan, everybody thinks that an increased volume and harsh tone will get the message across. They forget that loud voices will create more chaos, and it is the substance and justification of the argument that helps it win over minds and hearts. I am quite happy to see a subtle toned article with good content.

Salik May 14, 2014 11:42pm

Nice article but a lot of generalization. The writer presented muslim women as if they are constantly suffering and being ignored in our societies e.g. by saying "No wonder, the girl child in Pakistan, and in other Muslim societies, struggles to be fed." Seriously!! I grew up in a middle class family and I have seen the household environment of lower-middle to lower class families but I have never seen a girl starving and struggling for food while the males ate in front of them. These articles are strategically written to gain readership and promote the already worsening image of islam and Pakistan. Mr/Miss writer, be careful with this kind of stuff - you might make some money and gain fame in the short-term but this is going against you and your own people in the longer term

anony May 14, 2014 11:52pm

@catherine Just like the christian world is doing now, covering their eyes with their hands when innoent muslims are killed via drones and illegal occupation? Such hypocrites you guys are.

Asim May 15, 2014 03:19am

No one can dictate the life of an economically capable and personally independent individual. Albeit a man or a woman. A while back,people took a wrong turn from the early teachings of the faith onto a path that keeps our women away from self growth. We called it 'honor'. What ever that word really means. To me, its is the mens' personal insecurities that result in our women suffering. Change starts at home. You/we need to elevate our mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. We may feel less in control by this but I would gladly embrace seeing them flourish in the world as equals vs. the fake superiority attained from imprisoning an entire gender and feeling like king-of-the-house.

daniel shiger May 15, 2014 06:47am

First of all, all these Mullahs must condemn it in every mosque of Pakistan and all religious parties must come forward, in the streets with their follows and condemn these words openly and loudly and offer all help to the victims' families and all sort of support. If this does not happen, it means your religious scholars are morally corrupt . Then Pakistan's society does not need them.

Aysha May 15, 2014 07:37am

@Salik , Author is not saying girls are starved when men are eating in the family, but they are given less priority.

dvdv May 15, 2014 10:14am

Very bold and well written article. Hope that education improves the mindset of people in the times to come. Moderate Muslims will have to take the lead in showing the right way to both follow Islam while not embracing radical view points. Long way to go for Islam dominated societies hope the path is taken.

Harish May 15, 2014 10:29am

Hats off to you my brother for voicing the truth.

SmellCoffee May 15, 2014 11:28am

Fact: There are far right exteremist groups in EVERY relegion and society. Please stop being embarraced by Islam.

Vince V James May 15, 2014 11:47am

Murtaza Haider, yours is the worst piece of generalization that I have ever read. There are self-loathing Muslims like you around in every Muslim country I guess. In the West we have mercenaries who go to others countries to kidnap / kill for money or some idealogical reasons, but you won't see any such 'self-important' article like yours written about these mercenaries killers.

Ahmad May 15, 2014 11:58am

@Usman Tariq Brother you are not alone in denying the reality. A lot of people like you try to create smoke issues or try to hide behind traditions to wrongly justify these atrocities. I hope people like you at least try to use an open mind.

K G Surendran May 15, 2014 12:19pm

It all starts with glorifying conversions as a righteous path before it takes a violent turn even before societies or communities can come to grips with the menace. Christianity went through much the same upheaval during the dark ages/middle ages and it seems it is the turn of Islam.

abdul May 15, 2014 12:33pm

thank u ' (Western) guided muslims' to spread misconception about "every muslim society"

khalid May 15, 2014 01:26pm

Islam is the only religion which has taught the concept of eqality in genders never the less respect for all. Do not try to drag religion into this useless debate.

khalid May 15, 2014 01:27pm

@rama Hats off to you,,Look who is Talking!!

khalid May 15, 2014 01:30pm

@Usman Tariq Thanks, atleast some one is having sanity.

Sam May 15, 2014 02:27pm

The question is how come none of the Islamic scholars have raised a FATWA against this person who is using Islam to promote his agenda. Sick of the deafening silence by the entire Islamic community. The entire Islamic world was in arms when a cartoon was drawn.

Suren Singh Sahni May 15, 2014 02:47pm

Indian sub continent women are treated as third class irrespective of religion.Haider brilliant scholarly exposition on gender inequality .

Haroonfarzana May 15, 2014 02:47pm

This is totally wrong there is no such thing like this in muslim society ,,,,it is in every non educated society ether it is tribal groups in Africa or remote village in India or Pakistan Do not blame islam for this ,, Islam is a perfect religion but not muslim (whom u witnes now a days)

dks May 15, 2014 02:49pm

@Arif you have tribal mindset for sure...

Sajjad Khan May 15, 2014 02:56pm

It is time to destroy these illietrate outfits who have played havoc in the Muslim societies in the first place. No reason or justification for not acting against them without delay is needed to make moderate Muslims be accepted part of the secular societies everywhere.

Sanjeev Kumar May 15, 2014 03:24pm

Very Sorry to read this Article -- But a very Bold Move by the author !!

Ganesh May 15, 2014 03:37pm

This is a very written article. This is true in many parts of India also in Hindu and Muslim Community. But the only difference in India is we can a lot of improvement in Women rights and this again in both Hindu and Muslim communities. Hope the Sub-Continent learns to respect their women and the change is faster.

Mahmood May 15, 2014 04:05pm

@Arif Agree with you Arif, unfortunately its easier to blame religion instead of age old traditions. Also, creates more propaganda.

Umang May 15, 2014 04:14pm

@khalid lol

K May 15, 2014 06:20pm

Kudos Murtaza...Hats off. Another brilliant piece of work

illawarrior May 16, 2014 09:00am

If you go back a few hundred years, even Britain had arranged and forced marriages, especially among the wealthy and aristocracy.

matteroffact May 16, 2014 09:48am

Mr. Murtaza Haider, get out of your village (tunnel-vision) and look around and you'll find scores of muslim women excelling in various fields....BTW a muslim woman just won an oscar!

sahaj May 16, 2014 12:16pm

@Arif your religion comes from tribal culture... but modern education which is secular and above religion does change your viewpoint.....just think when did religion come....was that modern civilisation or Tribal culture.... Plese grow up and think beyond religion..

Kabeer May 16, 2014 02:14pm

@Kamal Gupta Yes KG you are right it all started in the dark era of Zia Ul Haq who destroyed the Pakistani society deliberately to achieve his ulterior motives

Vinod May 16, 2014 05:49pm

Brave writer.. Appreciate your courage and good mind..

Anjali May 16, 2014 09:10pm

@catherine ....the problem with a large part of the west unfortunately is that it believes it knows what is best for the whole world... and 'tells' that with its military and economic might... often

Human May 16, 2014 11:54pm

Dear Mr Haidar

I assume women arent treated in the way you described in your home. I can reassure you they are not in mine.

Would you kindly do us a GIANT favor by ceasing with your "The Muslims" theme ?

"The Muslims" also elected a women prime minister in 3 countries - Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey.

It isnt "The Hindus" that demand dowry.. Its rogue elements that do it and creditably India has strictly implemented laws that empower the elimination of this evil.

It makes very little sense to generalize like that because its counterproductive to your central objective to better the condition of Muslim women. If you genuinely wish to help Muslim women then please join some NGO's on the ground that work day and night to combat extremism.

The only thing you achieve by consistent Muslim bashing is securing your job, and winning other plaudits... you do nothing to help progressive muslims try to change our society at ground level.

Believe me I would love for our society to be as egalitarian as Swedish or Swiss society .. It just wont happen by making sweeping patronizing lectures from a bully pulpit.. I stand shoulder to shoulder with you for removing our fundamentalism, lietralism, and intolerance from our society.. Im just not convinced that shouting names from Toronto is going to achieve that.

Kabeer May 17, 2014 04:24pm

And dangeours thing about this phenomena is that more and more "educated" and urban people are becoming Boko harams or you can say Taliban

Muhammad May 19, 2014 02:07pm

@illawarrior So you are saying that Islam is also a man made religion as man made laws / religions are not prefect so Islam is also not perfect ?