There are nine regions of the world where more than 95 percent of the Muslim peoples live: the Middle East, which is the heartland of Arab culture and includes countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq and Syria; the Nile River delta; Egypt; the Mediterranean coast of North Africa with, for example, Algeria, Libya, Morocco; the largest portion of the Sudan, Northeast Ethiopia; the East African coast; the central steppes of Asia; the Indo-Iranian area which stretches from Iran to Bengal; and Southeast Asia, which includes Indonesia.
In Muslim countries discrimination against women over a wide spectrum is institutionalized, religiously based (which makes arguing against discrimination like blasphemy) and overlaid by dominant male attitudes. Altogether it totally precludes women's chances to significantly improve their economic and educational status, much less to self-determination and political power. As pointed out earlier in this book, a woman elected to power in a Muslim state is a political aberration, such as Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. If her father, former President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had not been murdered by his political opponents, Benazir Bhutto would not have become the first female ruler in the Muslim world in centuries.
The Muslim religion automatically spawns acts of negative discrimination. Of course, discrimination, like beauty and objectivity, is in the eyes of the beholder. To the African Muslim tribesman or an Iranian Muslim clergyman, these acts may not appear to be discriminatory at all. To a Christian citizen of Britain, France or the United States, they are both discriminatory and abhorrent. On October 2, 1983, a wire service report from Islamabad, Pakistan read as follows: "A widow accused of adultery cried out as she was flogged 15 times before 5,000 onlookers . . . many of those watching were women who broke into sobs."1 In New York City the average Christian would consider this a brutal, despicable act, but in Pakistan the community was merely observing accepted Islamic (religious) penal law being enacted as the holy Qur'an decrees.
A practice which generates severe criticism in the Christian world is female circumcision in the Arab-Muslim world. Although not per se a Muslim practice and not required by the Qur'an (in fact the practice predates Islam), it is nonetheless widely applied in the Arab-Muslim world. 2
Other forms of discrimination in the Muslim world are rife. Political discrimination on the basis of sex is legally entrenched in Muslim countries by the rule that women, no matter their numbers, are entitled to only 10 percent of the representatives in the legislature, the National Assembly. This