But We Want Gender Segregation

There is a line between Islamophobia and genuine criticism. The problem is Islam doesn’t take criticism well. In response to criticism Islam tends to label ALL criticism as Islamophobic.


Let’s take the usual one. There is a rising problem with radicalisation of young Muslims and a fetishisation of Jihad alongside a literal translation of Islam. To many Muslims the reaction is “All Muslims are Terrorists”. There is an unwillingness to listen to reasonable criticism and ignoring genuine problems and tarring all criticism as racism or islamophobic.

Around 150 Muslim women attended a community event last Friday evening, organised after the attack by politicians and the media on the Islamic practice of gender segregation.

No. We have not attacked the practice of gender segregation, we have told you that it’s unacceptable in our egalitarian universities. If you wish to segregate by gender you can do so in your private spaces but NOT in our public ones. No one is stopping Muslims from practicing gender segregation in their own homes or in their Mosques.













This is something I have had to repeat over and over again and that to this day not one Muslim proponent of gender segregation has grasped this.

And this is without the fact that this practice is used to differentiate and exclude women from Islamic society both via “actual” segregation and choices in culture and social pressures.

I am told that the choices Muslim women make are precisely choices. And that’s fine, yet I am also surrounded with reports of women who don’t have these choices and that the choices are not really choices.

All the panellists addressed an attentive female audience, on the issue which has received much media attention in recent weeks. They all discussed how this attack was part of the wider agenda against Islam, as gender segregation was nothing alien to the current society in toilets, changing rooms, hospital wards.

Toilets, Changing Rooms and Hospital Wards involve nudity and/or ablutions.

A university lecture hall involves sitting and paying attention to the people on the dias and their powerpoint slides.

Notice the difference in usage of these two sets of location. We may as well demand segregated coffee shops for all the sense that makes.

They all iterated the need to unite as Muslim women in order to respond to the attack as there is a concerted effort to silence their voices. The responses included first and foremost having a unified voice, and then dispelling the myths the media perpetuates about the Islam’s view of women through practices like gender segregation and niqab.

This simply ignores all the Muslim women who do not support the usage of universities for gender segregation.

And in every single instance of gender segregation that we have on record it has not worked. In no culture, in no religion and at no point in history has gender segregation every resulted in a good deal for women.

The Niqab is the same. It’s an open choice but doing so is encouraged and Niqabi are held up as prime examples of “Islamic femininity” and many women do not have this choice. The usage of the Niqab makes women into anonymous and faceless beings and it’s no different to the Purdah. Why must the Purdah be considered horrifically sexist but the Niqab be entirely empowering?

Across the Islamic World the Niqab is NOT a choice in many areas.

In an ideal society you can wear whatever you liked but if we are in the situation where we have to make women sit in separate areas, then we still haven’t reached a situation where a woman can wear what she likes without criticism from the majority of Islam. The fact remains that “being a good Muslim” woman is linked to the clothes she wears.


Aisha Azri gave a heartfelt account of how the Islamophobic atmosphere on campus has negatively affected Muslim students. She said: “This ban is not about gender segregation, it is about our beliefs”.

Your beliefs are fine in your Mosque or in your private lectures on non-university property or private property. This would be like my parents banning the NHS from serving Beef when they are in the canteen.

It is a discriminatory practice. It’s a discriminatory practice in Hinduism why the hell should we consider it the height of inter-gender interaction in Islam?

This particular belief never comes up at any other point of interaction in the University. The Muslims who INSIST that gender segregation is vital to their lifestyle seem to have no problems during normal classes and university life. They do not demand this in cinemas or buses.

And if your belief runs contrary to University guidelines on equality of gender then it’s your belief that has to adjust.

Yvonne Ridley told the audience how ludicrous and unfounded the entire attack was, “We cannot allow secularists to hijack this issue…we must defend our beliefs”.

Which you can.

On your own turf. Not in a taxpayer funded universities and not using money given for Student Union Society activities. If you want to do that in your homes you can do so.

Zara Faris gave a thoroughly thought-provoking account of how liberalism is “hell bent on imposing its own views on the world”.

Actually our social view is that men are equal to women and that men and women should be allowed to sit where they want to. And that we shouldn’t segregate by gender.

If it were not for liberalism Zara Faris would not have a platform to speak. Islamic society is notorious for not giving women a voice and in fact in most countries with Islamic Majorities there are strong oppositions to progressive women’s movements. If the Niqab is choice then so is the Bikini. While we see a lot of flag waving for the Niqab we don’t see people defending the choice of the Bikini.

And is Zara Faris planning to tell us that Islam’s track record in the Middle East, Africa and Asia is one to be proud of? Or that we keep misrepresenting what women in these places go through? Which is funny since I have worked in some of these places.

For those who do not remember Zara Faris her arguments were utilised by the MRA at A Voice for Men to oppose women’s attempts at equality in Afghanistan.

The complement of vocal power, earning potential and domination in all aspects of society (that matter. Being the king of housekeeping pales in comparison to not being eligible for participation at the highest levels of society unless coming from a liberal family and indeed at the indulgence of men) is not silence, clothing restrictions and inability to be a part of the public space.

Now these may be rules in the idealist Islam that she lives in but the reality is far far removed. The majority of the world’s Muslims do not have the opportunity that she has. Zara Faris’s view is woefully naive and far removed from reality of Islam in most of the world.

Fatima Barakatullah urged the Muslim community to unite and speak out to defend Islam, “In Islam silence is consent; if you are silent you are consenting”.

It also reads that “If you don’t agree with us you are not a real Muslim”. All the people remaining silent are consenting against Islam. And that we should all be united and stand behind a clearly discriminatory practice.

If a plan doesn’t work anywhere else, why do you think it will work here?

And in every single usage of this plan women are relegated to inferior seats and even excluded from the conversation. If this was such an amazing system then why are women constantly being placed at the back rather than at the very front? Surely if segregation were so great the lads wouldn’t have any problems being treated like women?

Shohana Khan explained that these attacks as being part of a wider agenda, which is aimed at deeming orthodox Islamic practices as extremist. She said: “There is a narrative that abiding by these Islamic practices will lead you to commit the unIslamic act of violence. Make sense?”

Yes and No. It is these practices that HIDE the extremist. The extremists came to the UK under the guise of being orthodox Muslims so now we are in a problem where we want Orthodox preachers but not too Orthodox lest they lead our children to think Jihad’s great. We want our kids to nod at the Jihadis and tut at them but not oppose the material and ideology that creates them?

What we are seeing here is the desperate argument of someone whose script has been changed.

In every single application of these Islamic Principles of Orthodoxy we see a loss of women’s rights and a preponderance of recruitment to Jihadi cultures. The orthodoxy creates an ethos of applied theology rather than science and progress is eschewed and ignorance is inculcated. This is seen in EVERY rigid orthodoxy. Judaism’s zionists find their Hawks from the Orthodoxy. Hindutva come from the Hindu Orthodoxy. The return to Biblical Literalism is a driving force for Christian Fundamentalists.

Are we to assume Islamic Orthodoxy is somehow a progressive force that is compatible with secular society? I noticed a lot of silence when it came down to the Islamic school and it’s orthodox segregation of pupils and it’s unwillingness to provide a genuine education bereft of Islamic influence.

Members of the audience engaged with the panel, offering comments and questions during the Q&A session. The event ended with a strong feeling of unity, with a will to stand up against the Islamophobic pressure with a clear message – Muslim women would continue to speak out and adhere to their values and practices.

Which is fine if these values and practices were open choices. An open choice being a choice that has no social pressure for you to adopt a choice. The fact that people are insisting on defending a system that is biased towards women as “cultural” is indicative of the fact that women do not have a free choice in Islam and that in order to be a good woman you have to place yourself in a position where you can be discriminated against.

Zara Faris may live a life where her husband is nice enough to let her do what she wants.

The reality for many women in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Middle East and Africa is that those choices do not exist and that the only reason Zara has the ability to deny other women their struggles for equality is due to the fact that there are people who have struggled and fought for Zara’s right to speak.

As one audience member said, “The secular media are not interested in what we have to say, so sisters we have to be our own media”.

Actually? Pro-Gender Discrimination have had a louder voice than liberals who opposed segregation. I had the joys of being issued death threats by Islamists and being told I had no idea about Muslim Culture.

And yet again, the Islamicist and Islamic Apologetics have not gotten the damn point.

Segregate in your house, segregate in your private schools (and we will criticise it still) and segregate in your Mosques. Segregate in private halls.

Do not segregate on  University Campuses that have secular stances and a dedication to the equality of women. Segregation does not give women an equal footing in any such instance. And frankly we should oppose segregation irrespective of faith. If it’s orthodox Islam then it must change. It honestly should not be tolerated. It should not be held sacred. If your sacred belief is harmful and bad we must not hold it sacred. The Niqab and segregation is as bad as the Purdah and Hindu segregation. It’s no different from homophobia among the Christians. And we do not tolerate those, so why must we tolerate the Niqab or gender segregation.


  1. says

    I don’t think you’re being fully honest. We are attacking segregation because it is discriminatory. That’s what “egalitarian” in “egalitarian university” means – discrimination is unjustified and it’s wrong.

    We have better arguments than the religious people do. They say “deus vull’t!” but we point out in return that not everyone believes that and it’s unfair to project your faith onto others and demand they change their behavior because of your beliefs. There are, in fact, plenty of perfectly legitimate arguments that can be made against many of the behaviors various religions demand of their believers let’s stick with the intellectual high ground and turn egalitarianism into a circular argument. That’s a bad strategy.

  2. smrnda says

    There seems to be either an inability of an unwillingness to make the clear distinction between the public sphere and private religious domains. You get the same in the States where anti-GLBT types seem to pretend to not understand the difference between a non-discrimination policy that applies to for profit businesses (public sphere, discrimination illegal) or individual houses of worship being allowed to choose who can get married in their particular denomination or not.

    Do these people realize that by demanding segregated seating they’re imposing their views on people who disagree with them? Or do they even care? Like you said, Muslims make do without gender segregation in many settings, so why is there some insistence on this particular event in a public venue?

  3. says

    There seems to be either an inability of an unwillingness to make the clear distinction between the public sphere and private religious domains

    They’re still fighting that idea. It’s been a couple hundred years…

  4. says

    Are we to assume Islamic Orthodoxy is somehow a progressive force that is compatible with secular society?

    Well, they learned the language well. The other day I was in a Twitter conversation with some pro-seggregation Islamists (all guys) and they threw at me my own fucking language. They twisted and turned it, accusing the guys who broke the segregation at the Hamza/Kraus debate* as “forcing themselves on muslim women” and framing it as “taking away the choice and agency of muslim women”.
    They are wrong, of course, but unless you have a very clear head on these things their arguments seem appealing, because they make it look like our own arguments.

    *Should this happen again it would be brilliant if it were the atheist women who seated themselves in the men’s section. Because, yeah, guys forcing their company on women is a problem we actually realise exists.

    Aisha Azri gave a heartfelt account of how the Islamophobic atmosphere on campus has negatively affected Muslim students.

    Appropriation of actual discrimination and prejudices. You know, they and the Islamophobes agree on this point: The Islamophobes say that it’s OK to dislike everything Muslim because reasons and the Islamists say that every criticism is Islamophobia.

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