The below interview was published on
Women’s eNews: Why did you label the campaign 'Fitnah'?
In the email received yesterday, you say "women are seen
to be the source of fitnah or affliction", could you
Maryam Namazie: In Islam, women are seen to be the
source of fithah or affliction. In one hadith, Mohammad,
Islam’s prophet, said: “I have left behind no fitnah
more harmful to men, than women.” [Al-Bukhari, Muslim].
This is a recurring theme in all major religions. There
is a Jewish prayer that says: "Blessed are you, Lord,
our God, ruler the universe who has not created me a
woman”. In the Bible, there is one verse that says: “Her
filthiness is in her skirts”. [Lam.1:8-9] There are of
course many examples of religion’s misogynist perception
In practice, this translates into an obsession with the
control and restriction of women in order to maintain
everything from family honour to societal order. This is
most visibly experienced for women living under Islamic
laws because of Islam’s access to political and state
power via Islamism or political Islam.
To the extent that Islamism has power, veiling is
enforced by morality police and women are imprisoned for
escaping forced marriages or stoned to death for
The extent of hatred towards women runs deep. Recently
in Marivan, Iran, a judge ordered a young man to be
dressed in women’s clothing and a hejab and paraded
around the city by security forces in order to humiliate
him. Being a woman is considered the greatest of
Whilst the term fitnah is perceived to be a negative one
if one looks at it from the perspective of religion and
Islamism, it represents something very different when
looked at from another viewpoint. It is always the woman
who transgresses norms that is deemed to be “fitnah”. It
is the woman who refuses to submit, the one who resists
and is disobedient. In that sense, the women’s
liberation movement is a source of fitnah for those who
insist on women’s oppression.
Our movement is Islamism’s worst fitnah...
Women’s eNews: What sparked this campaign? - Is it a
campaign against religion? men? religious men? a state?
Who are you specifically targeting with this campaign?
Maryam Namazie: Finah represents a new movement for a
new era. The brutal era of unbridled Islamism, US-led
militarism and free market reign is over. Today is an
era of the 99% movement and revolutions and uprisings in
the Middle East and North Africa – many of them
female-led. Whilst it may still be hard to see given the
perceived “gains” by Islamists in the region (in fact as
counter-revolutionary forces aimed at suppressing the
revolutions), the change of era is palpable.
Fitnah is a movement of women and men defending freedom,
equality and secularism and calling for an end to
misogynist cultural, religious and moral laws and
customs, compulsory veiling, sex apartheid, sex
trafficking, and violence against women.
Whilst our focus is on Iran in particular, and the
Middle East and North Africa in general, it’s an
international movement. We don’t see women’s rights as
being western. As women’s rights campaigners opposing
compulsory veiling in Iran said during a mass
demonstration in 1979: “women’s rights are not eastern
or western but universal”.
We also don’t see rights as culturally relative. Rights
have been fought for by the working class and
progressive social movements and belong to all humanity.
The right to vote is not considered western even though
the first country to have the right to vote was in the
west. This idea of rights being western and culturally
relative is stressed in particular when it comes to
women rights and freedoms.
Also, whilst all religions are anti-woman, our focus is
on Islam and political Islam given its impact on our
region and the world.
US suffragette and abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton
said “The Bible and the Church have been the greatest
stumbling blocks in the way of woman's emancipation”.
This is true in particular with regards Islam and
Of course when speaking of Islam or any religion, we are
not referring to religion as a personal belief. Everyone
has a right to religion and atheism but Islam today is
not a personal matter but an industry.
Fitnah represents our era - our time to shine. It is we
who are now on the offensive. Fitnah is a warning to
Islamists: it will be our women’s liberation movement
that will bring it to its knees.
Women’s eNews: Do you consider 'Islamism' as a form of
Maryam Namazie: Radicalism means going back to one’s
roots. Whilst Islamism sees Islam as a tool for the
far-Right restructuring of power structures, the
movement is not fundamentally about going back to Islam
as an ideology but about political Islam (gaining power
and ruling via Sharia law). That is why different states
and groups impose different rules and norms depending on
their access to power and in an effort to maintain
power. Some see these differences as evidence that this
movement has nothing to do with Islam but this is
because of political expediency rather than ideology.
Also, depending on the strength of the women’s
liberation and secular movement in the specific
geography they operate, their version may seem more
‘moderate’ though they are all fundamentally the same.
The other point that is important to make when
discussing Islamism is that this movement is a
contemporary one and resulted from abandoned
modernisation efforts and the decline of the
secular-left. Islamism, however, would have remained
marginal had it not been an integral part of US foreign
policy during the Cold War, i.e. to create a “green”
Islamic belt around the then Soviet Union. Of course
Islamism’s coming to power in Iran via the suppression
of a Left-leaning revolution helped to strengthen this
movement and make it into a global power source.
Women’s eNews: Some Muslim women would not be against
the fact of having their rights within the framework of
Islam if the religious law was properly interpreted.
What is your take on this point?
Maryam Namazie: Islamic “feminists” like Shirin Ebadi will say that
women have full rights under Islam and if they don’t it
is because of the practice and interpretation of states.
There are several problems with this position. Firstly,
the Koran and Hadith (which are the saying and actions
of Mohammad, Islam’s prophet) upon which Sharia law is
based are full of anti-women rules and regulations (even
if you choose to leave Islamic jurisprudence to one
side). Stoning to death for adultery, for example, is in
the hadith whilst wife-beating is in the Koran.
Secondly, often when there is a discussion about women
having full rights, you must ask what is meant by
“rights”. Even Islamists will say women have full rights
under their rule but that is because to them women and
men are not equal but complementary thereby justifying
difference in “rights”.
Also, the problem with interpretation is that yours too
is just one of many. Even if you have a “good”
interpretation, it is usually a regressive imam or
Sharia judge deciding for you. But more importantly I
question whether a “good” interpretation is possible. If
you follow the arguments made by the “good”
interpretations you will soon realise the absurdity of
this line of defence. Take Sura al-Nisa (the Women) in
the Koran 4:34 where it says: “As to those women on
whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish
them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and
last) beat them (lightly)...” You have Islamic feminists
saying that men are only meant to beat their wives with
thin sticks or feathers. For Sharia judges (at least in
the UK where domestic violence is a crime), as long as
it is not on the face and genitals and leaves no mark,
this does not constitute violence. The point is though
that no woman should be beaten. Full Stop.
Clearly, one cannot leave women’s rights and lives at
the mercy of religious rules and forms of
interpretation. Religion is a personal matter. When it
comes to religion in the state and law and educational
system, then it becomes a matter of political power and
The separation of religion from the state and law is an
important step in improving the status and rights of
women. Looking at things on a large social scale, a
majority, even if they are Muslim would prefer to live
under secular rules. The conflation between Islamism and
Muslim in order to enable Islamists to feign
representation has meant that Islamist demands are seen
to be the demands of those living in the Middle East and
North Africa. But this is not the case. None of the
revolutions in the region had Islamist demands, which
are compulsory veiling, sharia law and Islamic states.
In reality, people who have lived under Sharia law or
its threats are its most ardent opponents. Finally if
people really wanted to live under medievalism, if it
was really people’s culture, Islamists would not need to
impose their rules with such sheer brutality. The fact
that they must control the streets and arrest and fine
people for what they wear and what they think is
evidence enough that their rule is an imposition.
Of course there might be those who prefer Sharia law to
secular law as there might be people who prefer to bring
back slavery or racial apartheid but that is irrelevant
here. Sharia law and Islamic states are oppressive.
There is no “right” to oppress.
Women’s eNews: What are you planning on doing?
Maryam Namazie: Our movement plans to bring an end to
Islamism. Whilst misogyny will not end with Islamism,
the situation of women will improve greatly across the
world as one of the leading proponents of feminicide is
brought to its end.