When I was at Kabul University, I studied Social Sciences and one of my classes was Islamic Civilization. The professor was a very religious man and whenever he entered the class, he demanded that the women students cover ourselves with our scarves and not wear makeup. He explained that if men saw us they would lose control, it would be our fault, and the men would go to hell.

He told us that if a man’s eyes gazed at our breasts he would go to hell. He also said that if he had the power to do so, he would separate the co-ed classes. He believed that Islam forbids the sexes from studying together because they might become attracted to one another and begin relationships. It seemed that my classmates—both male and female—fervently supported his ideas.

Arguing for rights

I, on the other hand, argued with him. I reminded the teacher that Islam gives women rights. I told him that he doesn’t have the right to insult women or to impose his personal ideas in the name of Islam. I reminded him of women’s activities and sacrifices when our religion was born. The first person martyred in the name of Islam was a woman!

I prepared a presentation on the role of women in Islam and explained that women had a very important and active role in advancing the religion. I quoted verses from the Qur’an by the Prophet of Islam. For example, the Qur’an said that wives and girls have the same right as sons with regard to property and that seeking knowledge is the obligation of both men and women. All girls have the right to pick their own life partner and cannot be forced into marriage.

No one supported me. The girls told me that since he was our professor, we must respect him no matter what he says. I felt they didn’t want to stand up for their rights because they were afraid of failing the class. 

I argued with them. I said the teacher was wrong about women’s rights and shared the views of the Taliban, but I was unable to convince them. Some women even said that they accepted what the men were saying about them, even if they insulted us as women. I felt that they simply did not want to strain their relationship with the boys and possibly put themselves in jeopardy.

Turning against me

The boys had the same ideas about girls as our professor. My male classmates called me a very loud and pushy girl, and all of them turned against me. Some of them—who knew the professor’s ideas about women were wrong—advised me not to argue with him or he would fail me on my exams. 

They said the other professors would also support him, because he is their co-worker, and I was just a student without any power. They barely spoke to me anymore but I didn’t give up. I continued to argue with our professor.

One day when he came in to the class, he asked the girls to cover their hair or leave. No girl could attend without covering her hair.

Everyone covered their hair, but I told him that while I accept hijab in Islam and respect it, he could not make me cover my hair. I told him that it is my personal decision whether I cover my hair. I said that this is my class as well and no one has the right to tell me leave the class.

Standing my ground

All eyes turned to me. Every one gave me the evil eye. Our professor got mad and accused me of working for some foreign agency that would provoke me to talk against Islam.

I only smiled bitterly and told him, “I really regret that you believe such nonsense. This was my reaction against you, not Islam. I’m also a Muslim. It’s your knowledge of Islam that I judge. I believe that you men repress women and use Islam as a tool to wield your power over us.”

Our debate continued until the end of class and then he left. One of my classmates said that I should have not disrespected him. He told me that I must go and apologize. My response was that I was only defending my rights. I had not done anything wrong, I would not apologize.

By Sitara 

This story continues in part 2.