Conversion Perversion: Gaddafi’s Attempt at Dawah

While in Rome for the U.N. World Food Summit last week, Libyan leader Muammar al Gaddafi engaged in an unusual form of dawah:  inviting 500 Italian escorts to convert to Islam.

The women, employed by Hostessweb agency, were under the impression they were attending a party. The agency advertised for “…500 attractive girls between 18 and 35 years old, at least 1.70 meters (5 foot, 7 inches) tall, well-dressed but not in mini-skirts or low cut dresses.” Those who replied were offered €60 euros ($90) to attend an evening at the Libyan ambassador’s villa for an “exchange of opinions” and to “receive a Libyan gift”, which turned out to be a copy of the Qur’an, Gaddafi’s own Green Book on the Libyan revolution, and a pamphlet entitled How to be a Muslim.

The escorts were given copies of the Qur'an. Image via

The escorts were given copies of the Qur'an. Image via Massimo Percossi/EPA.

The women were lectured for about two hours on varying Islamic topics, including the role of women in Islam, sexism in the west, and Islam’s belief about Jesus’ crucifixion. The second meeting was less formal, and the new batch of women were allowed to ask him questions.

Gaddafi has held similar lectures before and sees himself as a self-proclaimed savior of European women. Whatever his intentions, it is important to note that his recent effort was a result of individual inclination, not supported by The Arab League or any sort of Muslim council.

So aside form being a typically wacky Gaddafi publicity stunt, was there any benefit in the meetings? What did Gaddafi say? And what did he wear?

Well, according to this Times Online article (which runs a photo of him clad in a sleek beret, female bodyguards in the shadows), his message was coherent and consistent with the teachings of Islam, if not a little uplifting.

After claiming he was “for and alongside women,” Gaddafi said it was untrue that Islam is against women and then criticized the way they were treated in eastern countries, likening them to pieces of furniture:

“Women have often been used as pieces of furniture, changed whenever it pleases men. And this is an injustice.”

He pointed out that whereas there were four different Gospels, there was only one Quran. And since this is Gaddafi, he wasn’t shy about bluntly stating his objective:

“Convert to Islam. … Whoever goes in a different direction than Mohammed is wrong. God’s religion is Islam, and whoever follows a different one, in the end, will lose.”

Why an Arab leader feels the need to  preach about Islam is bizarre in itself. But consider his audience: for a report of what happened next we have to thank an ingenious Paola Lo Mele, a reporter from the Ansa news agency  who snuck into the Sunday event by posing as a hostess. She said the women, “expecting a party with gala dinner,” gathered at a hotel in Rome, where those “inappropriately attired or not tall enough were weeded out.”

If one’s intention is to convert women to religion, which in essence focuses on modesty and not outward appearance, why does it matter what they look like? Or more specifically, since inappropriately attired probably means too much skin (in this context), why care about the height?

That Gaddafi invited these women, specifically chosen for their youth and beauty, speaks volumes about his impressions of Western women. Why not preach to housewives, mid-age professionals, or men? He specifically chose beautiful young women, whose job it is to mingle and provide hospitality at social events, to make a statement. A rather disheartening one at that, because it implies Islam is mostly against women who dress up, but is only for women whose outward appearance fits within societal beauty norms. It once again puts the problem on women by focusing on the way they look.

  • N.S.

    I will never want to be associated with justifying Gaddafi’s actions, or associated with him period. But i think he was trying to convert the role models of western society (pun intended) and hoped that their conversion would inspire the masses.

  • Dude

    Regarding the last paragraph, what’s wrong with giving these women Dawah?, they probably need it more than anyone else

  • http://born-confuzed.blogspot.com Jasmine

    Why do they have to be tall though? Lol!!! This is not totally shocking, everybody knows he’s a nutcase.

  • Broomstick

    Gross.

  • http:alsultanaa.blogspot.com Salma

    Wow.
    Gaddafi has issues that’s for one thing. Secondly, the type of women is an issue because what is that about…is it PR? I don’t think that the best way to practice dawah regardless if it’s escorts or sailors is very nice or even Islamic.

  • http://cycads.wordpress.com/ Cycads

    Dude,

    “Regarding the last paragraph, what’s wrong with giving these women Dawah?, they probably need it more than anyone else”

    And what do you really mean by that? That they’re the ones who needs the most saving?; they’re the most sinned?

    Anyway, about his whole attempt at proselytising very specific-looking women sounds really dodgy and gross on so many levels.

  • june

    he was simply trying to show islam to women who are escorts-probably a dangerously close profession to prostitution..and help them see the worth that islam puts on women…what’s the problem?

  • Sobia

    I agree with Cycads. Why would these women “need it more than anyone else”?

    The whole thing is super creepy, patronizing, Muslim-supremacist, and sexist. I almost feel like he wants to convert them to add beautiful white women to the Muslim pool for Muslim men to pick from.

  • thefiftyfourth

    so wouldn’t it be awesome if this was a subtle but brilliant critique by gaddafi on the “saving” of muslim women? (ie. “saving” western women in turn). too much to hope for?

  • NiqabiSister

    I agree with June. Perhaps his methods are a bit odd, but why pick on the man for trying to give dawah… how unusual on MMW (sarcasm)

  • http://dalyax.livejournal.com Dalya

    This is absolutely the most bizarre thing I have ever heard. Wow.

    They need to do this to MEN, it’s always women that are scrutinized.

  • http://nataliaantonova.com Natalia

    he was simply trying to show islam to women who are escorts-probably a dangerously close profession to prostitution..and help them see the worth that islam puts on women…what’s the problem?

    “Hey baby. You’re a dumb whore who doesn’t know what’s good for her. Here, let me show you the path of righteousness.”

    Yeah, that’s a super-classy way to introduce someone to a religion.

    Although I can’t help but be amused by Gaddafi. He’s so kooky. Like Glenn Beck. I just want to pinch his widdle cheeks (and, um, get shot by his female bodyguards in the process, I guess).

  • Sobia

    “Women have often been used as pieces of furniture, changed whenever it pleases men. And this is an injustice.”

    Ha! And this doesn’t happen in Muslim majority countries as well?

    Ugh! I hate the way so many always try to compare Islam to the West as a way to promote Islam. You want people to learn about Islam then just talk about Islam. Stop demonizing the West in the process because I can’t think of any Muslim majority country that actually treats it’s women as equals and not as pieces of furniture. When speaking of women’s status in Islam then the conversation must remain theological because as soon as you start making comparisons between a theology and a culture then you make Muslim cultures fair game for criticism on their treatment of women – and when it comes to women there is A LOT to be scrutinized.

  • http://blog.hichamaged.net/ Hicham Maged

    “Women have often been used as pieces of furniture, changed whenever it pleases men. And this is an injustice.”

    Now I should go celebrating since this has disappeared in the glory Muslim countries whether they are Arab or not, thus it is the turn of western countries!

  • Zahra (with a Z)

    Wow, this is bizarre. I appreciate the way this piece laid out the context of “This is Gaddafi and he does bizarre things,” because I think other media outlets could put a much more Islamophbic slant on this.

    And thank you for pointing out the creepy sexism involved in singling out young attractive women of a certain height. The height thing is really bizarre, I have to say, and really blows the theory that he’s just singling out these women for their jobs.

    I agree with Sobia–that it sounds like he’s looking to recruit tall white women to the Muslim marriage pool–which further implies that women who already are Muslim aren’t desirable enough. Because they’re not tall and Italian? Or because they haven’t been trained as escorts? Bizarre.

    Lying to people is never a good way to get them to join your religion.


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