Sex trafficking and Islam

May 23, 2012 | 8 a.m.

A cultural concept of female inequality is conducive to trafficking

Culture | Dana Morrison

Sex trafficking and Islam

Muslim culture allows few opportunities for women.

In Nicholas Kristof’s book "Half the Sky", one Iranian woman refers to her country as “a bundle of contradictions.”  Ninety-eight percent of Iranians are Muslim and like many other Middle Eastern countries, there is a tight bond between religion and culture.  

Separating culture and religion can sometimes pose a challenge for Muslims.  Although the religion itself does not support human trafficking, the culture, cultivated over hundreds of years of being closely attached to the Islamic religion, can support human trafficking and the degradation of women.  

Women are often seen as lesser citizens.  They are not allowed to have their own ID or allowed to make their own decisions like who they want to marry.  Rather the father chooses a husband for his daughter, often decades older than her, and then the girl is ruled by the husband and never has a voice of her own.  

The religious text of Islam, the Qur’an, has many verses that support this treatment of women.  However, the Christian Bible also has verses that degrade women.  The difference is that while the religious and cultural relationship within Christianity has evolved and separated over time, especially in Western civilization, religion and culture are still closely wed to one another in developing countries, especially in the villages where little has changed over hundreds of years.

Within these villages, the education level is low and financial success is rare.  Most families never witness the modernity found throughout most of the world.  In order to sustain themselves, supported by a poor view of women based on their cultural and religious upbringing, trafficking their daughters for food doesn’t seem culturally acceptable.  The deep cultural practices of trading daughters as a commodity for food still pervades societies that practice Islam and that acceptance has not waned because it is passed down from generation to generation.

The contradictions that Kristof mentioned lie in the fact that many Middle Eastern countries are now becoming highly developed nations.  While women, mostly in cities, are gaining more rights to get an education and become professionals, they are still seen as lesser citizens because of the stringent culture that has been acknowledged and accepted for hundreds of years.

The Islamic religion does not in itself promote human trafficking, but combined with the cultural understandings of the religion that has developed over time, women are subjected to fewer rights than men.


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