Saudi TV Host's Beating Raises Taboo Topic: Domestic Violence against Muslim Women

Article excerpt

The news about the brutal beating of Saudi Arabian television host, Rania al-Baz, by her husband last month, serves as a wake up call to all Arab and Muslim women in the Middle East and the West.

Ms. Baz was married for six years to an abusive husband. In her husband's last violent tirade, she says that he told her he'd kill her, and forced her to recite the last rites. And he did almost kill her - her pretty face, loved by so many who watched her morning show daily, was pounded almost beyond recognition.

After days in the hospital and multiple operations, Baz has recovered enough to tell her story and denounce violence against women in her country.

Her case is significant because open debate about such issues is rare in the Middle East, especially in conservative Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi kingdom is known for its harsh treatment of women, who are prohibited from driving or leaving their homes without their husbands, fathers, or brothers. In public, they are forced to wear suffocating black veils that cover them from head to toe, turning them into shadows of the men they walk behind. Baz wore a head scarf on her show, not a veil covering her face.

While violence toward women is not the norm in the Middle East, it does exist and there is strong bias against women.

In parts of the region, women are second-class citizens. In Kuwait, a 1963 law prohibits women from voting or running for office. Recent attempts to change this law have all failed. In remote areas of Jordan, honor killings (women murdered by family members for perceived sexual indiscretions) still take place. Some observers attribute the poor treatment of women to Islam, saying the religion allows for it. But Islam prohibits violence and discrimination against women.

More than 1,400 years ago, Islam honored women. The Koran repeatedly emphasizes equality between the sexes, stating "and for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women."

Islam gave women equal rights to engage in commerce, earn an income, and own property. Women also have the right to divorce their husbands. They can ask for divorce if physically, mentally, or emotionally abused. They can even divorce husbands who cannot fulfill their sexual needs.

The prophet Muhammad told his followers to take half of their religion from his wife Aisha. He taught that women are the twin halves of men. These were progressive ideas at a time when women were considered such socioeconomic burdens that girls were often buried alive at birth. Islam prohibited this savage practice, restoring women's honor and place in humanity. …