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Separation of men and women in lecture theatres: another Islamic controversy?

Last week, there was a troubling news item about possible gender-based “segregation” at an event held at the University of Melbourne. The event was held by an external Muslim group, on the university campus…

While it is not demanded by Islamic tradition, many Islamic countries practice gender segregation in public places such as universities. Richard Roche

Last week, there was a troubling news item about possible gender-based “segregation” at an event held at the University of Melbourne.

The event was held by an external Muslim group, on the university campus, in which women were designated an area at the back of the lecture theatre, while men were seated at the front.

The issue now seems to have reached the federal parliament, with a number of politicians commenting on the issue.

For those fearful of Islam and Muslims, this is yet another example of out-dated Muslim views being stealthily imposed on Australian society; or even the sign of an imminent take-over of our higher education institutions by “extremist” Muslims.

Segregation and religious observance

There is no gender segregation for the activities such as classes or seminars at the university. If there were, it would be against the universities own policies.

But over the last few years, there have been some events, organised by some external Muslim groups that use university’s facilities, where the separation of men and women is practised. These are usually organised by Muslims who believe that such separation is a necessary part of their religious observance.

One question that then arises is whether this separation is one of the fundamental teachings of the religion, or if it comes from the cultural norms of the very few Muslim societies around the world that require the segregation and separation of women.

In fact, of the 57 or so Muslim majority countries around the world, only a handful practice or officially condone strict separation of men and women in public events and spaces. Where it is practised, this is based on cultural norms and values that are often demeaning to women, including the restriction of women’s roles and visibility in public life.

Unfortunately, such cultural norms and practices are often justified using dubious interpretations and selective reading of some religious texts.

Going to the source

In order to justify particular values, practices and ideas, Muslims often go to the Qur’an or the well-known practice of Muhammad.

However, there is no Qur’anic text that requires Muslims to keep men and women separate in public places. Nor does Muhammad’s own practice suggest that he required Muslims to practice such separation, let alone segregation. What is required by both is the need for Muslims — both men and women — to be modest and respectful towards one another in their behaviour.

In one telling Qur’anic text, the Qur’an asks men first to be modest and to lower their gaze, only then asking women to do the same. Modesty is not just for women.

In those few Muslim societies where practices such as gender segregation and separation are prevalent, any public mixing of men and women (even listening to a lecture on Islam by a respected Muslim scholar in a lecture theatre) would be considered an anathema and deeply offensive to the religious sensibilities of men in particular.

There are some Muslims who do not believe that men and women are equal, and who assert that women should not have a public presence. Muslims in such societies in many cases grow up with the idea that segregation and separation are normal.

Occasionally, Australian students who travel to such countries for their Islamic religious education sometimes come back with these ideas as well.

Some Muslim countries do practice forms of gender separation. Bismika Allahuma

Separating culture and religion

For most Muslims, however, such ideas have little to do with Islam and more to do with cultural factors. There are many religiously observant Muslim women who are very active in the community, and interact with men from all walks of life.

There are observant Muslim women academics, politicians, police officers, soccer players, factory workers and comedians, who see no difficulty - from an Islamic point of view - in doing what they do in mixed settings.

Neither the Qur’an nor Prophet Muhammad asked Muslims to keep women out of public view. Nor is there any religious requirement for gender separation when women and men are together in a public space, and certainly nothing to indicate that women should be relegated to the back of a facility.

More telling is that in the most sacred place on earth, the sacred mosque in Mecca, there is no separate section for men or women. Millions of Muslims visit the mosque and pray each year without the need to separate men from women.

In the second holiest place, Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Medina, a part of the mosque proper is reserved (divided from front to back) for women and the other for men. Outside the mosque, in the large shaded courtyard, there are no separate areas for men or women.

If separation was such an important issue, it would have been maintained in the most sacred places of Islam.

Religious freedom

In Australia, a minority of Muslims do believe in separation, and as a society that respects people’s religious freedom we should perhaps accept that it is their right to that opinion.

In their own spaces, where there are men and women who share the view that such separation is important, they should have the right to follow what they consider to be important religious requirements.

However, the event at Melbourne University was held at an institution that is publicly-funded and where participants may have come from a range of Muslim and non-Muslim backgrounds. As such, participants should be left to decide where they want to sit, regardless of their gender.

Historically, an important part of Islamic tradition has been respect for others. Muslims who live in a non-Muslim majority environment are to respect the right of others to hold different views and beliefs and to not attempt to impose their views on the majority.

Gender equality and associated values are fundamental to Australian society and those values must be respected by all, including those few Muslims who may not necessarily agree with them.

A troubling development

I find it very troubling that there are some who feel that they have a right to send women, whether Muslims or not, to the back of a lecture theatre as though this was the most natural place for women in such a setting.

For the men who organise public events to require women participants to go to the back of the facility is a breach of trust and a misuse of the facilities of the university.

It is also demeaning to women. I’m sure most Australian Muslims would also be deeply offended by such practices and would indeed question the connection between the practice and their understanding of Islam.

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99 Comments sorted by

Comments on this article are now closed.

  1. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    What Islamic (non secular) countries in your view offer women the opportunity to live as men do - equal in education, non-segregation, politics etc.

    Do they really exist.

    Could you comment on the supposed 209 Qran verses that incite violence, mutilation and murder upon non-believers.

    Islam does not have a good image around the world - from mt point of view this image seems totally justified.

    Why should I change my mind because a few moderates say "we get bad press".

    You have an association with Oman - that is an absolute monarchy where there have been instances of purges against liberals - how do you see this as being a benign influence on the image of Islam.

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      Let me ask you a question -

      would you rather your sister/mother/wife/daughter grew up in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iran,
      Algeria, Sudan, etc OR Australia.

      You talk absurdities when you question women's right in Australia.

      We have a woman as P.M., as G.G, as a premier of a State,
      as multi-million dollar salaried CEOs of many companys.

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    2. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      lol, context my friend. it seems that you can't differentiate between muslims here and muslims there.

      The issue in this case is unenforced segregation of men and women in a classroom. If you pointed the finger at them for killing women in the streets because they showed the knees I'd be right there with you. What about my rights to a clean toilet because of MY gender? Where the cries for that? Am I illustrating my point.

      It is very clear, this is just a political tool used effectively on people…

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    3. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ron Chinchen

      what people don't realise is we just made a backwards step towards something like the inquisition. just to re-iterate my above point:

      Fact #1 - People separated in a classroom. Reaction: So what?
      Fact #2 - Separated by gender. Reaction: Possible concern?
      Fact #3 - Not enforced. Reaction: So who cares?
      Fact #4 - Muslims. Reaction: HYSTERICAL OUTRAGE!

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    4. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      You may have been talking (and laughing) about this incident as a trivial occurrence, but it may be the tip of the iceberg, or the thin end of the wedge - who knows. As you say context is everything.

      Should we feel threatened by religious behaviour that to most Australians seems extreme or undemocratic - not by one incidence such as this, but sooner or later we must make a stand about what we as Australians see as unacceptable. This is not jingoistic - it's protecting the rights and freedoms of ALL Australians.

      We should make sure that women (and anyone) can feel they are an equal partner in this country.

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    5. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      On the other hand, Oman has a reputation for employing and educating women, and these women are able to choose careers unheard of in many other Muslim countries. Under the the present monarch, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, "Oman has become a a modern, well educated, conservation minded, arts, opera and sports mad country, where women are valued as highly as men and where both sexes have free education up to tertiary level." Crikey, Back in a Bit. Where dolphins....... VJBA 30 Oct 2011."

      Things may not remain this way as the Sultan has no children, but that is another issue.

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    6. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      Again quoting from the world's favourite source W(w) ikkipedia -

      The upper chamber has 71 members, appointed by the Sultan from among prominent Omanis; it has only advisory powers.[35] The 84 members of the Consultative Council are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms, but the Sultan makes the final selections and can negotiate the election results.[35] The members are appointed for three-year terms, which may be renewed once.[33] The last elections were held on 15 October 2011.
      Sultan Qaboos bin Said is the de facto prime minister and also controls the foreign affairs and defence portfolios.[36] The sultan has absolute power and issues laws by decree.[37] He is the longest-serving ruler in the Middle East.[34]

      Don't you love democracy.

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    7. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I don't feel threatened by muslim's blowing me up when I walk down the street, I feel threatened by people who would push to give power to those who would exploit me due to my financial resources simply to maintain their incomprehensible level of wealth, all in the name of the economy/the greater good, etc. Pointing out the animalistics of another culture has been used time and time again in history to justify exploiting such cultures, even now when we are all meant to have learned our lessons. Using…

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    8. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      Tell me Venise, did Oman become "civilised" by denouncing their faith, or was it because they were sitting on oil?
      Maybe, just maybe, there is correlation between wealth and all the bad stuff?

      No, I'm sorry, let's go the other way and employ eugenics. (See, no Godwin's Law...)

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    9. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      I grew up gay in the 1950s.......I know a thing or two about prejudice and violence - and that was my school comrades, let alone adults.

      There are many countries in the world where I could be executed or imprisoned for my "predilection".

      And a few more where in some areas I could be bashed and vilified.

      I'm not making a big deal of this - but just thought I'd let you know.

      For the most part I don't blame the individuals - I blame history, religion and social mores.

      Thank goodness things are changing - in SOME countries at least.

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    10. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      My, my, aren't we weak-witted? Oman doesn't have the vast oil reserves of the rest of the Middle East.
      If I used the word civilised it would have been in relation to the fact that education in Oman is both free and mandatory for BOTH sexes up to university level.

      Please, before running off at the mouth try researching the subject matter, then attack me.

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  2. Geoff Sharrock

    Program Director, LH Martin Institute at University of Melbourne

    Thanks for this article, which offers valuable context for thinking about the case in question, and the cultural meanings that may be attached to it.

    It would be useful to know if the women attending in this case felt they were being treated as second class citizens, or whether they were more interested in the speakers and discussion than in where they sat.

    From a practical point of view, for the university to offer facilities to an external group to hold such a forum there appear to be two…

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    1. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Geoff Sharrock

      I'm sorry is the Montgomery Bus Service? Were the exits at the front so it would be inconvenient to leave if you were at the back? Shall we have a Melbourne University boycott to demand equal rights for men and women?
      We truly should - men are clearly the victims here, subject to crappy seating, they miss a good view from up the back and as such have been discriminated against...
      Oh I know, perhaps he should put men on the right side and women on the left side? No, wait... left equates to sinister…

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    2. Geoff Sharrock

      Program Director, LH Martin Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      My main interest here is the question of what the university should do, what it should allow or disallow in principle, in policy and in practice.
      Our universities should promote equal rights and equal respect as mainstream Australian values; they should also tolerate religious and cultural differences in what is also a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society.
      Obviously this means that universities will face dilemmas, where it is possible to make good arguments for and against a particular position…

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Geoff Sharrock

      I know I have criticised religions left right and centre in this forum, but on the question of the University's position, it is faced with a dilemma.

      There are other instances of segregation as have already been mentioned.

      As Australia is a multi faith and multi cultural country there will always be the need to embrace the differences both will bring.

      But the bottom line for me that this is Australia, we have our laws, but more than that we have an expectation of what is right and what…

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    4. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Geoff Sharrock

      "It would be useful to know if the women attending in this case felt they were being treated as second class citizens, or whether they were more interested in the speakers and discussion than in where they sat."
      In what way would this be even remotely "useful"? I think these women have been pored over enough over this trifling incident as it is. To go any further turns towards harassment. It is a very, very simple commercial exchange agreement to rent out an otherwise unproductive space for a few hours to a lawful civil association. Big deal.

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    5. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Geoff Sharrock

      The way I see it Geoff is that what ever 'principal' you apply to islamic community groups should be equally applied to catholic and jewish community groups etc.

      There should be no privileged groups here.

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    6. Geoff Sharrock

      Program Director, LH Martin Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      My perspective on this, which is an ambivalent one, comes in part from my own (limited) experience of lecturing to different groups attending programs at the university. I teach policy and management to groups of university scholars and administrators, usually in a seminar/workshop format that may last two or three days. Some groups are drawn from Australian institutions, some are visiting groups of university leaders from different countries.

      Seating arrangements are usually free range; but…

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    7. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Geoff Sharrock

      Geoff, can you comment on the idea that perhaps The Australian is using you're own principles on tolerance to vilify your institution in an effort to maintain its hold on its uninformed audience by using the very type of spin and misinformation that we aim to combat at this very website?

      If you need a reference, you can always start by checking out ABC's Media Watch... (specifically the Tristan Barker case even?) ...oh that's right - the uni doesn't need another uninformed backlash coming at you again does it...?

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    8. Ron Chinchen
      Ron Chinchen is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired (ex Probation and Parole Officer)

      In reply to Geoff Sharrock

      Your points seem quite reasonable and I dont think anyone is objecting if you are trying to get a good mix in a discussion group. And if most of the women want to sit up the back of a lecture hall, or most of the men to one side or in a group, there's no problem as long as seating is not denied people on discriminatory grounds. The issue here is about choice and the right for all to have that right to choose

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    9. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen I am happy to note that your views are those of moderate Australians, not the views of zealots of various religions. That we now have separate swimming times for Muslim women in certain public pools (men are barred on those days/times) is a total disregard to our values of equality. That we also have female genital mutilation taking place in Australia under 'religious' covers, is another travesty. That we have allocated back seats to women at lecture theatres is not surprising to me now…

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    10. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      Raine agree wholeheartedly with your comments.

      I found the comment from your Muslim friend interesting.

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  3. David Thompson

    Marketing Research

    "I find it very troubling that there are some who feel that they have a right to send women, whether Muslims or not, to the back of a lecture theatre as though this was the most natural place for women in such a setting."
    Abdullah, while I cheer you starting a conversation more generally, but also over the heads of most, to address you fellow Muslims, I have to say, nobody - Muslim or otherwise - is claiming a "right" to send anyone anywhere. Nobody is forced to attend this lecture. There are all sorts of venues I decline to enter once I see what the ground rules are, others I enter out of intrigue, and play along.
    Most young Australian women - the sort who would be attracted to this lecture - are educated and make their own minds up. Unless some of the feminist academics here want to watch electronic anklets on all Muslim women to make sure they only ever sit down, when at least 50% of people within 100 metres of them are men, I'd suggest it's none of their business.

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    1. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Riddley Walker

      On that insightful piece of intellectual commentary I propose we round up all the religious books and have a big bonfire a la Nazi style. Or maybe we'll have a cultural revolution Chairman Mao style?

      This supposedly clever perspective is typically employed by the same layman who would usually fail to acknowledge its fascist undertone - if I want to believe in the Santa Claus and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who are you to stop me?!

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    2. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Adam Richards

      bahaha! you really learn stuff on this website.

      regardless my point remains valid - not just on the grounds of imposing one's view on others and enforcing it, but on the grounds of the idea that people can believe what they want to believe regardless. as such, a fascist approach is more likely to oppress people.

      in making that comment, Riddley merely wants to employ the same level of control over them, as they would us. we want to make sure that control is used over EXTREME's, so we can all live together as well as possible.

      you can't take the irrationality out of man. I mean, we all kicked Germany's ass after WW1 and look what happened? (trololol - bad example for lulz, don't quote me)

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    3. Ron Chinchen
      Ron Chinchen is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired (ex Probation and Parole Officer)

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      Bao-Luo this is about freedom of choice not religion. Its about the right of a person to choose...in this case where they sit in a lecture hall. As soon as you say that the women agree to sit in the back and men at the front, you've immediately crossed the line because you've segregated. What happens if just one female chooses to sit at the front. Do you say no because the majority has agreed to segregation.

      Dont for one minute identify this as just a Muslim issue. Australia has been struggling…

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    4. Adam Richards

      Teacher

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      Sorry, but in your efforts to denigrate someones else's opinion and sound witty while at it, you put freedom of religion above freedom of speech. By comparing Riddley's statement that we should get rid of, not ban, not legislate against, religion to that of fascists and China's cultural revolution you are guilty of hyperbole.

      In your own words "if I want to believe in the Santa Claus and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who are you to stop me?!" So, if Riddley believes we would all be better off by getting rid of religion, who are you to stop him? Though it appears you are, by comparing him to Nazi's. This call to the lowest denominator is why Godwin's law exists. From Wikipedia,
      "Godwin's law applies especially to inappropriate, inordinate, or hyperbolic comparisons of other situations (or one's opponent) with Nazis – often referred to as "playing the Hitler card". "

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    5. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Adam Richards

      this is not about freedom of religion vs freedom of speech, these are concepts we may once have thought about to try to understand why the world is crap.
      when you delve further into this whole argument it is about victims and victimisers and ultimately what we want to achieve is far less victimisation (being closer to equality). Ending religion will not solve the real issue, because abuse comes in many forms. There are plenty more pseudo intellectual beliefs in the world the world that are impacting…

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    6. Adam Richards

      Teacher

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      Incredibly long comment not related to anything at all. I will choose one sentence from your ramble simply for the purpose of exposing hypocrisy.

      "i (sic) would suggest moving towards less extreme measures in order to achieve our goal." Extreme measures, you mean like Hyperbole and referring to people's opinions as fascist? Practice what you preach brother.

      Wait, I must do this, another of your sentences "Godwin's principal only works in extremes, not on a debating forum - your argument in…

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    7. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Adam Richards

      I am quite amused at you're attempt to use the same cheap troll tactics I employed yesterday against me in regards to my use of capitalisation against someone I didn't agree with. You're post entirely revolves around exposing my hypocrisy instead of trying to understand my (admittedly somewhat mis-communicated) arguments that led to a conclusion that I acknowledge the hypocrisy but that it is a moot point in terms of a conversation which will not lead to hate against the individual/minority and the…

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    8. Adam Richards

      Teacher

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      Of course I exposed your hypocrisy, it was the only thing that could be engaged with. Your self-admitted miscommunication resulted in a meaningless ramble that stumbled from one irrelevant talking point to another.

      In your next post you have done the same thing. It seems you are aware of it, yet are incapable of correcting it. Except you have now sprinkled it with a level of passive-aggressiveness that is truly epic.

      I will no longer reply. It is a waste of my time.

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    9. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Adam Richards

      lol, i admit, i did have an agenda to expose you as the troll you are, but can't be bothered either. its clear that i tried to cater for your misunderstanding, but you haven't bothered to meet me half way, just been dismissive. and yeah, i did make the passive aggressiveness i used obvious; i guess if you can read the subtext but not the content, you're blinded by your own agenda - to troll me for my own nasty tactics. if you are going to be altruistic, at least try and be constructive about it... you just defeated the purpose of your efforts. will be using this fine example of argument for my studies (no names, don't worry)

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  4. Comment removed by moderator.

  5. Jane Maree Taylor

    Teacher

    Thank you for your article. I am concerned at the growing number of sex segregated events I see advertised in Auburn, Sydney. I am wholly in favour of One Secular Law for All. In Australia there is recognized equality of the sexes and any event that insists upon sexual apartheid is contary to secularism.
    And especially an event in a public place i.e. a public university should not allow sexual apartheid. In Australian public spaces, all citizens are equal and seating is not accorded on skin colour or sex. it is time for citizens , their elected representatives and those in charge of public buildings bookings to clearly deter those who wish to hold sex segragated seating events. To this end I would support not allowing sex segragated seating events in all public facilities.

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Jane Maree Taylor

      Jane, it is even worse in Parkville, Melbourne. Could you direct me to any organisations you belong to that are challenging this appalling gender iniquity? Presumably you'll also need allies to get the Uni of Melbourne permanent space for Melbourne Uni's most privileged group closed down - the 55% majority women population. The "sunlit Wom*n’s Room" won't even allow men to sit in the back. They're not allowed at all.
      http://union.unimelb.edu.au/womens/about
      No doubt you are outraged, given "it is time for citizens, their elected representatives and those in charge of public buildings bookings to clearly deter those who wish to hold sex segragated seating events. To this end I would support not allowing sex segragated seating events in all public facilities.."
      Let me know how I join the fightback against these misogynist outrages at Melbourne Uni.

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    2. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      Thank you. I presume that by the end of the day, there will be dozens of women posting me details to their organisations, so I can support their campaign against gender privilege, abuse of university property, and gender exclusion clearly rampant at the University of Melbourne. ;)

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    3. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Jane Maree Taylor

      @Jane Maree Taylor

      Calling segregation of men and women for what it is:

      Sexual Apartheid.

      I try to be tolerant; not easy and when tolerance becomes synonymous for behaving like a doormat, I draw a distinct line.

      Public means just that; men, women, children, all races, all religions or not religious at all, being together and not subject to the prejudice of a few against at least half the population plus men who actually like women (yes, they do exist and I wish I lived in a world where I could just take it for granted).

      For institutions such as Universities, perhaps what is needed is revision of the meaning of the word 'university':

      http://handbook.uark.edu/meaning.php

      It is a place where differences are put aside for differences create barriers and are, therefore, inimical to learning, discovery and enlightenment.

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    4. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      I agree that in terms of Australia and Australians that it what we should always expect.

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    5. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to David Thompson

      @David Thompson

      When we achieve a world where women can freely walk alone at night, are not dictated to regarding their appearance, can join the Melbourne Club (although I agree with Groucho Marx on this; why would I want to join such a club, if they'd have me?) have equal representation in all human endeavours, then there might not be a need for a "Woman's Room", however, this would mean there is no need for a Men's Shed either.

      ;P

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    6. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      If we all want equality, we must abolish at least the concept of gender as it is. We talk about the rights of men and women... there are more than 2 genders you know, and even still we may not identify with their associations. Even then, the idea of gender is a very broad classification that we use to generalise our identities.

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    7. Adam Richards

      Teacher

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      "Calling segregation of men and women for what it is:

      Sexual Apartheid."

      Considering your above opinion, I would be interested in your view of women's rooms in universities. Rooms in which men aren't relegated to the back rows as they are banned altogether. I agree, Sexual Apartheid is a good word for it.

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    8. Adam Richards

      Teacher

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Men's Sheds - Private buildings on private land.

      Women's Rooms - Public building on public or university land.

      See the difference.

      I agree equal representation in all human endeavours would be great, except women only want equal representation in high paying, high powered jobs. When they start demanding equality of access and outcomes in dangerous jobs (some of which are quite high paying by the way) with the same enthusiasm they do for the office jobs, then we shall be much closer to having equal representation in all human endeavours.

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    9. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Adam Richards

      Have to say it - men's sheds are very often on public land and are set up by councils.

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    10. Adam Richards

      Teacher

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Of course, you are right. Many sheds are on public land. I was in a rush whilst tying that comment and failed to elaborate. The primary purpose of Men's Sheds is to provide health services, particularly mental health, to men, something which is still lacking. The funding they recieve in relation to women's services is tiny.

      But that wasn't the main purpose of my comment. What I tried to say was women's rooms, women's clinics, women's refuges are predominantly funded by the public purse, where as services like men's sheds rely heavily on private contributors, even though something like 6 times as many men commit suicide as women. If there was a cause of death that took 6 times as many women as men, millions would be pumped into it from the government.

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    11. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Adam Richards

      I think that men & women are entitled to their own spaces and should be encouraged to "bond".

      I think men in particular need to develop skills in allowing their "inner" man come out to other men - in the nicest possible way of course. And women need a similar experience.

      And I'd hope we are at the stage where we can decide what is against the "public" interest and has a gender bias, and what constitutes a genuine respite space.

      I suppose for parents the next step is a kids free shed.

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    12. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Adam Richards

      As Stephen has pointed out, Men's Sheds are frequently publicly funded and, in addition, do help many men who have issues of communication and often feel marginalised.

      Looking forward to a world where neither sex feels the need to be shielded from one another.

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  6. margaret m

    old lady

    I think the idea in some church and can only assume mosque separation of the sexes is to minimise distraction from worship and or prayer no big deal if that was the idea.

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    1. J O'Rourke

      Community Worker and Student

      In reply to margaret m

      Yes, i attended a Buddhist meditation retreat that enforced segregation for this purpose and i don't recall it making the news. Of course there is perhaps a concrete difference between that case and this. Nonetheless the danger of writing an apologetic from a moderate Islamist perspective is that you end up pandering to Islamaphobia rather than addressing it. I think this is evidenced by some of the silly posts above. Personally, i'd be more interested in an article by Professor Saeed detailing in what ways Islamic thought, theology or philosophy, might be useful in addressing some of the ills of the contemporary west. Such an article might be rather unpopular around these parts, however.

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    2. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to J O'Rourke

      I'd be very interested - I did pose some questions but these have remained unanswered.

      So please do enlighten us all on theology and philosophy of Islam as it is today and not a romantic version of what it was or might be.

      And as to why vast number of Muslims seem dedicated to such a violent and misogynist creed.

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    3. J O'Rourke

      Community Worker and Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      “So please do enlighten us all on theology and philosophy of Islam as it is today and not a romantic version of what it was or might be. [?]”

      Are you asking me that, John? Unfortunately I’m not an expert in Islamic thought, which is precisely why I would benefit from hearing what an expert on Islam has to say about the benefits of it’s theology and philosophy on contemporary western life. Of course, it would be foolish of me to assume that the answer to such a question would be simple, or completely…

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  7. ernest malley

    farmer

    A tolerant society must tolerate the intolerant but NOT the intolerable actions they want to perpetrate. Islam is only 1500 years old, about the time Christianity had become so sclerotic & obfuscatory that the reformation was necessary.
    Muslim societies have the future ahead of them. Goo luck.

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    1. Miles Ruhl

      Thinker

      In reply to ernest malley

      Hear hear Ernest.

      At the same time though who cares, don't go if you don't like it, there is still a choice for all attendees.

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    2. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to ernest malley

      and look how wonderful the reformation turned out -
      the West as a model of the way how not to run the world

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    3. ernest malley

      farmer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Like Churchill's quip re democracy, (I paraphrase) "crook, but look at the alternatives" or would you prefer to be under a theocrat?
      I'm stunned by the number of comments removed by the Moderator - is this a record?

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  8. Mohamad Tabbaa

    PhD candidate, Criminology at University of Melbourne

    Honestly, these same arguments have been recycled for the past decade; they're so tiring and unconvincing.

    It's so ironic that the Vice-Chancelor of the university in question would come out and the defend the actions of the Muslim group on his own campus, and yet a Muslim leader would come out to do the exact opposite. The claim that such seating arrangements are rare in the Muslim community, either here or worldwide, really make me question whether the author has actually visited a mosque…

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Mohamad Tabbaa

      I hear what you say.

      But in the hope of getting some clarity, how do you see your religion (and I'm assuming a lot here of course). Do you Islam as a cohesive force for good.

      Do you make acceptance of the apparent "evil" that gets perpetrated in the name of Islam.
      Do you even acknowledge it?

      Can you see why people in Australia get very frustrated at one image of Islam, and get condemend for thinking that it is the right image. because it is the "terrorist" image of Islam that seems very powerful. And as an educated man, do you have any criticism of the perceived way Islam treats women?

      I am not singling out Islam, I attack Christianity in the same way, but as an Anglo-Saxon I have a greater understanding of the hypocrisy that the Christian religion can perpetrate.

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    2. Mohamad Tabbaa

      PhD candidate, Criminology at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Good questions Stephen.

      Of course there is violence perpetrated by Muslims around the world; only somebody living in an insulated bubble would deny that. My problem with the above common responses is that, rather than trying to understand that violence and why it occurs, such authors seem more interested in simply placing blame and distancing themselves and an abstract idea of Islam from everything. It's quite a selfish model actually. They're content with proving that they are the 'good Muslims…

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    3. Leigh Burrell

      Trophy hunter at Trophy hunter

      In reply to Mohamad Tabbaa

      "Constantly putting any and all differences down to evil Muslim men who misappropriate religion for their own end, is poor academic practice and also perpetuates a racist narrative ... For all the claims of a supposed imposition of Muslim views on the majority, it is articles like this that serve to do the exact opposite: namely to impose the will of the powerful in society upon a minority group."

      1. Muslims are not a race and cannot be the subject of a racist narrative.

      2. The article imposes nothing on them. It doesn't even impose the opinion of the author. They aren't compelled to read this, agree with it nor respond by changing their seating arrangements.

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    4. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Mohamad Tabbaa

      Mohamad, indeed. My very Protestant, (and I must admit, anti-semitic) grandmother can spend weeks on the gender placing arrangements for a dinner party, let alone a wedding! People do it all over the world, in all cultures, and always have. I say that if Aussie chicks are cool with attending a lecture where there will seating arrangements, big deal!

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    5. Mohamad Tabbaa

      PhD candidate, Criminology at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Leigh Burrell

      Muslims are not a race, and neither are blacks, whites and so on. Race is a social construct, so in effect there is no such thing as a race group existing outside of discourse. It perpetuates a racist narrative as Muslims are construed and categorised in the same way as other races are/were, as are the dominant races who they're being juxtaposed to.

      The author most certainly does attempt to impose: "Gender equality and associated values are fundamental to Australian society and those values must be respected by all, including those few Muslims who may not necessarily agree with them". If this is not an attempted imposition then I'm not sure what one would look like.

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    6. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Mohamad Tabbaa

      "Race is a social construct, so in effect there is no such thing as a race group existing outside of discourse."
      Well outside of discourse there are bombs, guns, ropes and nooses, fists, and so on. So, while you are arguably right no such "thing" as race exists outside of discourse, that does not negate the incontrovertible material evidence that race DOES exist.

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    7. Mohamad Tabbaa

      PhD candidate, Criminology at University of Melbourne

      In reply to David Thompson

      I'm not following your logic there, Dave. If you mean that, despite the fact that it only exists in discourse, the idea of race has material effects, then that was precisely my point in the response above which you objected to.

      If that's not what you mean then please kindly explain again.
      Thanks

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    8. Leigh Burrell

      Trophy hunter at Trophy hunter

      In reply to Mohamad Tabbaa

      "Race is a social construct, so in effect there is no such thing as a race group existing outside of discourse."

      That doesn't give you a license to appropriate and misuse the word.

      "The author most certainly does attempt to impose: "Gender equality and associated values are fundamental to Australian society and those values must be respected by all, including those few Muslims who may not necessarily agree with them". If this is not an attempted imposition then I'm not sure what one would look like."

      Think you need a lesson in reading comprehension. He claims no authority to compel them to adopt any particular seating arrangement. He's just expressing his opinion.

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    9. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Mohamad Tabbaa

      Mohamad, white/black/Asian/Zoroastrian/libertarian people being tragetted, and strung up to a tree branch by white hooded folk for being white/black/Asian/Zoroastrian/libertarian is not a discourse. It is the end of your life. You are murdered. No more discourse for you. The white hooded ones decided to pick you out, instead of the person next to you for a reason. That reason was you were chosen was because you were white/black/Asian/Zoroastrian/libertarian, while the person next to you was not. A discourse does not die. You do. A discourse did not kill you. A racist did. You were not chosen for your discourse. You were chosen for your race.

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    10. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Mohamad Tabbaa

      I'd be pleased to read what you send me....

      stepjohnralph@gmail.com.

      One further question, as a gay man I note that in "many" Islamic countries I would either be executed or imprisoned - given that it may not have been that long ago the same might have applied in Christian country, I am not being sensationalist, but would like your opinion of homosexuality.

      Thanks in anticipation of the literature.

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    11. Ron Chinchen
      Ron Chinchen is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired (ex Probation and Parole Officer)

      In reply to Mohamad Tabbaa

      The problem as I see it is that we have lived under the yoke for much of the past two millennia of a paternalistic bent of the Judea-Christian-Islam belief systems. Each belief has tended to down grade women to a subservient role through various probably intended misinterpretations in the various scriptures to maintain control..

      We are only in the last century or so breaking away from that misinterpretation (along with other misinterpretations) and to recognise that women are human too and have…

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    12. Baz M

      Law graduate & politics/markets analyst

      In reply to Mohamad Tabbaa

      I couldn't agree with you more that Islam is represented by many, specifically Muslims in a manner that is way too simplified, and politically correct. Many Muslim associations in Australia practice such policies, perhaps out of fear of populist anger, caving etc , who knows.

      However, first and foremost, I don't think this article is of such a nature, and is actually quite thorough(considering available space). On another note, without doubt, certain foreign policies from Western nations have…

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  9. Miles Ruhl

    Thinker

    Ahh, you can always rely on one word to bring attention.

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  10. Garry Baker

    researcher

    Whilst a discussion of the too-ing and fro-ing about the Muslim faith is all very well - perhaps a larger point has been missed.

    On the face of it, it would appear that a private group not connected to the University hired the hall - Thus for all intents is was a closed affair. Indeed, as with any other group renting such premises, it may well have conferred the right to lock the doors to outsiders, then do as they please within - Maybe even accommodate a different sort of band - perhaps…

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  11. David Thompson

    Marketing Research

    While I don't give a hoot over gender seating in extra-curricular lectures, has anybody else noticed that perhaps Professor Saeed doth protest too much? Look who funds him. He is the Sultan of Oman Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies..Professor Saeed's paycheck is paid from the $2.4 million the Sultan of Swing gave to Melbourne Uni to set this place up. Is the sultanate a light on the hill for gender equity evangelicals? If Wiki is incorrect, perhaps the professor of Gender (oops) Islamic Studies…

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  12. Ron Chinchen
    Ron Chinchen is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Retired (ex Probation and Parole Officer)

    Religion is for the home and personal values. Not for public institutions. If certain adherents to Islam want to segregate women in mosques, that's their business, though we may not like it. But certainly not for educational institutions of any type in this country. Sorry but religion is a private issue, not a public issue in this country. We have values of equality which we are fighting hard to develop in Australia. This would be a serious backward step. Any agreement to allow this folly, sets a very serious precedence, which we cant afford to be allowed. Like I said these quaint archaic religious practises, and this includes other religions, are private affairs and should NEVER impinge on the public laws, values and institutions.

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  13. Olav Muurlink

    Research Fellow, Griffith Business School at Griffith University

    Thanks for this article, Abdullah. While on a visceral level I dislike religions, if we are to have them, let's keep the debate calm, and realise that the real differences, as you point out, are based more on culture and human habits (and perhaps finding justifications for behaviours we'd like to do regardless), and less on religion.

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Olav Muurlink

      Whilst the rational side of me says you are right, I just can't help myself getting angry at the perceived goodness apparent in religions, but the complete opposite demonstrated by many followers (of many religions).

      Many wars have been fought over religious themes in the long and not so long distant past.

      The morals and mores promoted by many religions are often ignored or modified to suit a particular leaning. Many professed ******* (insert the religion of choice) cherry-pick a verse or sentence out of a text to demonstrate a lifelong prejudice or belief - and often this prejudice/belief has dire consequences for a minority or sector of a society.

      Religion has offered up the best and worst of human behaviour.

      I

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  14. Jason Only

    Interested Bystander

    Hello Abdullah

    Regarding the comment .....
    "In Australia, a minority of Muslims do believe in separation, and as a society that respects people’s religious freedom we should perhaps accept that it is their right to that opinion."

    Unfortunately I agree with you, as a lot of the catholic churches discriminatory practices are current accepted.

    But as Patrick Stokes mentions in the linked article:
    https://theconversation.com/love-thy-neighbour-religious-groups-should-not-be-exempt-from-discrimination-laws-11634as

    ' if these faith-based organisations want "freedom of religion", we (the people through our governments) should be free not to fund their discriminatory practices.'

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  15. Henriette Vanechop
    Henriette Vanechop is a Friend of The Conversation.

    retired

    Imagine instead such people did what an academic was supposed to do: explain things rather than cave in to political correctness. When I explain to my students that terrorism is born out of political and historical processes of oppression, about understandings of self and other, about anxieties coming out of the rapid changes of modernity and post-modernity, rather than out of a blind hatred or psychological condition of a madman, then that same violence becomes much more intelligible. It's no longer…

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Henriette Vanechop

      Sometimes "terrorism" is a hand-me -down from an older generation, and not a symptom of oppression.

      Where a limited"'education" (and here I mean learning religious texts and not much else) is part of a culture, then the mindset will be very narrow and constrained.

      In times gone by Islam was a very broad church of learning, and in many ways outshone Christianity in terms of culture and learning.

      Religion as a teacher and educator nearly always narrows the learning process and in many ways "poisons" the mind.

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  16. margaret m

    old lady

    I wondering if we have all the information?
    Having said that if I was in a Muslim country I feel confident I would have to adhere to strict rules I may not agree with. As a believer in Jesus Christ I do not want to see our country touched by sectarian violence, religious violence from any group no matter what the label. I want our country to maintain it's freedom to choose without imposing but I also do not want to be naive.
    If this was a cultural lecture possibly it was just replicating what would happen in some Muslim Countries.
    If there are no circumstances that we are unaware of Australian Universities do not have a segregation policy and the Australian Society does not have one I am surprised that the students have not organised a protest. Which also makes me wonder if there is more to this story.

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  17. Babette Francis

    Coordinator of Endeavour Forum

    While Abdullah Saeed does not support the segregation of the sexes at university lectures, he does not deal with the far serious aspects of women's oppression under Islam: polygamy which allows a man to have four wives - I know Muslims obey the monogamy laws of non-Muslim countries but I am referring to what is allowed in the Koran and Sharia law. Then there is the requirement that a rape victim has to produce four honourable male witnesses or she could accused (and stoned) for adultery. The laws…

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  18. Baz M

    Law graduate & politics/markets analyst

    An excellent excellent article.

    I couldn't agree more with you sir, regarding the dramatical changes in thought required by the Islamic world. As I tell my friends, unfortunately due to the personal interests of majority Muslim governments, and "adventures" nations like the US have taken upon themselves, ie Iraq, the Islamic world has in a sense fallen into a sense of chaos where pan Arab nationalism has given way to extremist appeal and sectarian conflict.

    Hopefully we have more highly knowledgable about the din, wise men like yourself representing Islam in a manner that 80% of the Islamic world practices. In contrast to the louder, self righteous 20%

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  19. Albert Rogers

    logged in via Facebook

    You mean segregation by sex. Gender is a property of words, not people. I suspect it's a euphemism, which is something that indicates disapproval for the thing itself.

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  20. Albert Rogers

    logged in via Facebook

    I have been led to believe that the people who introduced the Spanish Inquisition destroyed a culture, in Al Andalus, that was Muslim, enlightened, and more tolerant than the patrons of Columbus. I suspect that the rest of Islam swung over to intolerance because of the loss of their civilized branch in Spain.

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  21. Ron Chinchen
    Ron Chinchen is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Retired (ex Probation and Parole Officer)

    One of the obvious consequences of confrontation, is the conservatism and fundamentalist positions even the moderates of a society of a belief system increasingly take, leaving aside rationalist thinking, and holding more to symbolism and superstition. Both the Christian and Muslim worlds have gone through phases of rationalist intellectualism and tolerance, and superstitious extreme fundamentalism. It is informed conciliation that encourages the former, war like confrontation that encourages the…

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Ron Chinchen

      Ron great comment.

      Your insight into these issues is very compelling.

      thanks.

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  22. Albert Rogers

    logged in via Facebook

    It puzzled me for a while that the most rigid oppressors of sexual activity would accept polygamy, until I realised that polygamy does indeed diminish the opportunities for sexual activity. Presuming that the banning of other males from the harem is successful, one must conclude that not only are the wives obliged to accept only a share in the man's sexual capabilities, but for every man with four wives there are three men forced to be celibate. And they are probably mostly young and "hungry".

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