Muslims urged to weed out culture of objectifying women

Sermon read at mosques islandwide emphasises need to respect women, says no gender differentiation in Islam

Muslims who attended regular Friday prayers islandwide yesterday heard a sermon that emphasised the need to treat women with dignity, honour and respect.

There is no gender differentiation in Islam, and women are not spiritually inferior to men, said the sermon prepared by the Office of the Mufti - the highest Islamic authority in Singapore.

It was read at all mosques islandwide and posted online.

Referring to an online poll that surfaced last week ranking female asatizah, or religious teachers, with a view to committing sexual violence against them, the sermon implored Muslims to weed out a culture of seeing women as objects to fulfil one's desires, adding that this culture should be prevented from claiming more victims.

While the poll shocked the community, the sermon noted that it was not the only case of this kind, and criticised those who disrespect women.

People who do so have failed to see the humanity in women, and see them only as objects that help them fulfil their desires, the sermon added.

"This culture must be weeded out to prevent it from further spreading and claiming more victims," said the sermon. "We need to seriously reflect on why this culture has spread and led to the actions of the perpetrators of this case and other similar cases in the past."

The sermon identified one root cause of the problem, saying it is the lack of awareness that words or actions can have consequences. It pointed out that the community took derogatory casual remarks or jokes about women lightly.

The poll on social media platform MeWe has been removed and police are investigating the case.

Screenshots of the poll, which asked who respondents would commit sexual violence against, showed at least 12 female asatizah being ranked by 1,005 participants. The Straits Times understands that about 20 to 30 asatizah were ranked.

Community groups, politicians and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) denounced the poll.

Several netizens alleged that students studying to become asatizah were responsible for the poll, but this has not been confirmed by Muis.

Yesterday's sermon also warned about the harm of victim blaming, in which women are constantly being blamed for the way they dress. It said men use this as an excuse for their behaviour.

The sermon stressed that no one else is accountable for one's bad behaviour and called on Muslims to reflect on whether they had contributed to such a problematic culture, whether intentionally or otherwise.

"Remember that our respect for women should be consistent both in our private and public lives," said the sermon.

"Begin with our own mothers, wives and daughters, just as we would not want actions by others in society to cause harm or disrespect to them."

Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir said on Wednesday that there was a need to re-educate the Muslim community in Singapore on unacceptable behaviour, and that Islamic religious leaders must take firm action against those with bad behaviour.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2021, with the headline 'Muslims urged to weed out culture of objectifying women'. Subscribe