International Women’s Day is a day designated by the United Nations to both celebrate and recognize the achievements of women in the face of hardship and adversity, as well as, a way to recall the universal struggle of women against patriarchy, oppression and abuse. Although it has been celebrated on March 8th since the mid 1970’s, this day has actually been a recognized day since 1909 and was originally commemorated annually on February 28 of each year. Although I can appreciate the idea behind it, my personal connection to this day has never been a strong one. The primary reason for this is because I believe that we should collectively work towards the empowerment and celebration of women every day. In fact, my link to this day was so weak that until this year, I had no clue on what day it occurs.
On March 8, 2014 Abu Eesa Niamatullah, an internationally recognized instructor of al Maghreb Institute made various sexist remarks concerning International Women’s Day. His statements, which were un-coerced, initially began in a light hearted manner saying, “International Women’s Day is great, but starting tomorrow it is 364 International Men’s Days again, so stick that in your oven and cook it.” Just as quickly as he made the comments, Muslim women and men began to respond with an array of reactions; some positive and some negative. As the backlash against his insensitive joke grew Niamatullah became increasingly defensive. Rather than simply apologizing for his words, he made further statements and jokes that became increasingly violent and alarming. The following letter to the editor is in response to Niamatullah’s irresponsible actions and comments. I will argue that International Women’s Day is in fact a necessary entity within our society and why. In addition to this I will include my recommendations regarding this issue.
Dear Abu Eesa,
One month has passed since your embarrassing public outburst. It is still unclear what provoked you. Did you momentarily forget the proverb of Prophet Muhammad, where which he stated, “The most perfect of men in belief are they who are best in character. The best in character are they who are best to women.” I am still trying to make sense of your actions especially considering the birth of your daughter the following day.
As an instructor at an internationally reputable Islamic educational institute, you have abused your position. I understand that the comments you made were a joke, but honestly, your words are not funny. Especially when you take into account all of the women who are subjugated, patronized and abused on a daily basis. In the private realm you are free to say and think whatever you want. However, as you are in a position of authority, as a teacher of Islamic jurisprudence, public disclosure of this nature is inappropriate. According to a recent report compiled by Stats Canada, there were 173, 614 total occurrences of violence against women throughout Canada in 2011 alone. Although joking about women and International Women’s Day seems innocent enough to you, there are plenty of men who actually think in this perverted manner. When you make the comments such as you did, you are perpetuating and validating the idea that a Muslim women’s Islamic duty is to serve her husband and submit to his every whim. This is a fallacy that has been disproven by various examples from Prophet Muhammed’s life, including the very fact that his first wife, Khadija, was a prominent entrepreneur in a time and place where male dominance, as well as, patriarchal ideologies and norms persisted.
As a respected scholar and teacher with an online following of over 70, 000 people, I would like to remind you of your responsibility to upholding Islamic teachings in the public sphere. It is true that you represent yourself but the fact is, your name is affiliated with Islam as well as with an internationally recognized Islamic educational institution, al Maghreb Institute. This means that you must be accountable for your actions and words. Please consider the following two hadith, traditional accounts from Prophet Muhammed’s life: “A true believer is not involved in taunting, or frequently cursing (others) or in indecency or abusing;” and, “Who is the most excellent among the Muslims?” He said, “One from whose tongue and hands the other Muslims are secure.” These are but two of the myriad of accounts about holding your tongue and being respectful; and this is not only to Muslims but rather, everyone.
It is clear from the further jokes that you made regarding domestic violence, rape and female genital mutilation along with your insincere apologies that you do not see the errors you have made. The fact that you cannot understand the damage you caused is extremely distressing. Muslim women have enough issues to deal with without you spouting off making life even more difficult for us. This is particularly true for the women who choose to observe hijab; the traditional Islamic head covering. Not only do they have to defend their clothing choice and in turn their religion on a regular basis, but they also have to combat the stereotypes and unfair gendered binaries perpetuated by these types of jokes. I would suggest that rather than placing a trigger warning, a notice to people to let them know that the content on your website might trigger an emotion or memory of violence, you politely refrain from such language and hold your tongue. I would like to remind you that as Muslims we should be empowering one another as well as creating safe spaces to exchange intelligible ideas. I have not paid much attention to International Women’s Day in the past but from your actions it will be forevermore apart of my narrative.
 “UN Women Watch | International Women’s Day – History.” UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2014.  Screenshot of Niamatullah’s status via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=522670951185935&set=a.395739657212399.1073741825.283539445099088&type=1&theater  Screenshot of Niamatullah’s abusive apologies for the comments he made. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=523850907734606&set=a.395739657212399.1073741825.283539445099088&type=1&theater and https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=523876504398713&set=a.395739657212399.1073741825.283539445099088&type=1&theater  The Prophet Muhammed, upon him be peace. (Al-Tirmidhi) ED. Maire Sinha. Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trend. Minister of Industry. 2013. 38. WEB.  Yahiya Emerick The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam Pearson Education, Inc. Indianapolis, IN. 271.