Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda: Islam as Rehab for Women

British novelist Martin Amis has expressed regret that his late sister did not embrace Islam to save herself from self-destruction. Everyone is understandably confused.

To begin with, Amis is not a neutral figure on Islam and women: he thinks that Muslims should be masterminded into becoming “more like human beings.” He likes the idea of being a “gynocrat,” a feminist self-styling so unconvincing even the most naïve will feel cynical about his political predilections. In an interview with Abu Dhabis’ The National, Amis revealed that his sister Sally, who died in 2000, was “pathologically promiscuous” and had severe depression and alcoholism. Amis believes that Islam would have come to her rescue, despite her conversion to Catholicism.

There are many problems with Amis wishing that his late sister had been a Muslim. First, despite his negative views of Muslims, Amis views Islam as a rehab program for troubled souls who needs to be “fixed.” According to him, “The continence of Islam, the austerity, the demands it makes” on Muslims may prove to be an excellent regimen for “such an uncontrollable girl” like his sister. Amis is perhaps unaware or refuses to acknowledge the fact that an overwhelming number of Muslims make a conscious choice about practicing Islam, rather than seeing that Islam makes demands of its adherents. The Islamic austerity that he cooks up in his imagination is partly mythical and wildly unrepresentative of any religious group.

His opinions about Islam only thinly veil his wish that his sister would have been better off subjected to intense control rather than making a healthy recovery on her own terms. Had his sister been a well-adjusted and sober woman, would he recommend the Islamic life to her? Most likely not. After all, a happy woman should not have to live under such an oppressive religion!

Had he a brother, hypothetically speaking, who was enduring similar circumstances, would a dose of the strictest interpretation of Islam be a way out of a turbulent life? Unlikely, as Amis is quite aware about what Islam can do to disaffected Muslim men (hint: they become terrorists!).

It doesn’t help that Amis has made condescending remarks about Islam in the past on the one hand, and has turned to making cryptic (but spun as positive) ones on the other. When gender is thrown into the mix, a deeply unsettling picture emerges from the mind of a writer who not only enjoys speaking his mind, but who obviously revels in the controversy that he courts. His new, “very feminist” book, The Pregnant Widow, was motivated by the life of his sister—who he describes a “victim” of the sexual revolution in the 1960s. I have not read his book, but judging by the novel’s premise about a group of youth carrying on in Italy during the Sexual Revolution of the ’70s (which screams out “every heterosexist male fantasy”), his book will not find itself on my bookshelf anytime soon.

Giving Martin Amis the publicity to air his provocative views about women and Islam illustrates not only the media’s outmoded fascination with highbrow enfants terrible, but also the dividing of public opinion about the issue of women’s conformity to a certain moral code and Islam. Whether you think Amis is ignorant about Muslim women and Islam in general or not, he has certainly stirred a perennially angry beehive.

  • Shan Shortcut

    I cant believe someone can be so ignorant about a religion. I mean, honestly, portraying Islam as a rehab?!

    WHY is he even allowed to be published?

    His poor sister, having a nasty brother like him.

  • Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist

    haha, WTF. That was the weirdest article I’ve read all week.

    but yeah, dude, this is sexist for all women and offensive for Muslims, especially for Muslim women.

    sometimes I feel tempted to make a “HIJABIS GONE WILD” video just to shut up everyone and show them that Muslim women ain’t saints and are just human as everyone else.

  • candice

    It’s *almost* funny except for the fact that he’s trying to talk seriously.

  • M. Lynx Qualey

    I had thought Dubai was jealous of the popularity of the Abu Dhabi book festival, so invited Martin Amis to make some controversial comments. (The National had reported that festival organizers were expecting “fireworks.”)

    Unfortunately, this statement of Amis’s is not as prime-time as his “kill all old people” or “Muslims are terrorists”—no real “fireworks.” Although this one does highlight, uh, interesting conceptions of women and Islam, as Alicia points out. And worth talking about not because they emanate from Amis, but because of what they reveal about popular opinions of women and of Islam.

  • Yakoub

    Amis’ puff piece about Iran for Guardian G2 was HILARIOUS. Unintentionally, that is.

  • Ellen Keim

    To be fair, sometimes Islam IS portrayed, if not as a kind of rehab, as a morally superior lifestyle which saves its adherents (usually converts) from a life of drugs, alcohol and promiscuity. I heard a mother say that, although she’s uncomfortable with her daughter’s choice of Islam, she feels relieved that her daughter is now “calmed down” and living right. I’ve also read of converts saying that Islam has “saved” them from immoral living and given them security, protection and direction. Not that these are misguided viewpoints exactly, but they do point to a popular view that Islam–like many religions–rescues its converts (in particular) from lives of dissolution.

    I don’t disagree that Amis’ remarks are suspect because of his general dislike of Islam. But I can see where he is coming from. I wish more “religious” people would see their religion as a way of becoming closer to God rather than primarily as something that keeps them from making any mistakes in life. The relationship with God should come first; the moral behavior comes as a response and outgrowth of that. That’s what I object to about Amis’ statement: he totally ignores the spiritual benefit of becoming a Muslim (or an adherent of any religion).

  • someone

    i love Islam but feminist topics have a root n cause turning
    a blind eye or bring cruel n insensitive towards them might
    not change our religion but will make women indifferent .
    as much as the theory of rights of women r concerned they r
    fantastic but look around you we r mistreated n held back
    every where. neutral topic education Islam says women should
    have it our schools r being burned by Islamic extremist a
    few educated have only education in deen. others defend this
    action by turning a blind eye. where is Islam permition to
    marry by choice or do a job decently.
    we have collectively killed Islam in our daily lives in the
    name of Islam. where is justice fairness respect n
    compassion for woman. has our Prophet PBUH ever said
    woman has a half brain as so frequently said by man.
    i know this will be dismissed as offensive but may
    be if we r fair respectful to Muslim woman our general
    image will change too otherwise Allah help us we as
    Muslims r being treated as we treated our own suppressed
    with no rights n no voice.

  • Amber

    Agreed to Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist, “that Muslim women ain’t saints and are just human as everyone else.” really really true!

    They are just the same to us christians, and how come “ISLAM” as rehab for women? geez! crazy idea!

  • henna

    I understand that point of contention is “Islam is religion, respect as religion not as Rehab” But Islam does have some strict rules and if those things are taken out then Islam is not that much different from any another eastern religion. And these rules make Islam special for some or suffocating for some. Like when I browse videos realted to Islam on You tube they will show how “tight/short/any little skin show” provokes men,so embrace Islam. Then there are videos which show how as teenager if you embrace Islam you ahve special friends who will neither booze, nor take drugs nor be dress consious. these are qualities which children should either imbibe themselves or through parents or through society. since society fails to do so , islam comes to rescue and for some that would be like rehab.

    If Islam is to be promoted as spritual journey to God then these videos are far from that, but will take you towards that(except Hijab since I do not comply to that and have various reasons to not comply)as you leave attachment towards 2 minutes wonder feelings and try to strive for eternal peace.

    This message looks so similar to Buddhism or Hinduism and there I find all religions talking same thing if the rules are taken out.

    If we have rules then ofcourse we will have people who can call religion by some other name depending upon their opinion and personal experience.