I disagreed entirely. I didn't want to hijack her comments section so I am writing my own blog post in response.
Blogger Victoria states she was "surprised" that "there are two revolving doors… and on one it says 'Male' and on the other 'Female'" and "that the lifts have the same thing." Also "the library study areas" have "one side… for males and one for females. And the same thing in the cafeteria."
I don't exactly understand the surprise though perhaps our shared non-muslim expat readers might or women commonly confounded by the weight of Dhofari/Omani culture?
Before you disagree with me on how you think things should be according to what you would want for yourself…
No. 1: dear non-muslim readers, please, Muslim women are in general, very tired of you trying and tell them how they should live and what is right for them. Even the most suppressed of women already know how they want to live… that is usually NOT their problem.
No. 2: dear Dhofari women (or Omani woman---but usually from those I have spoken to, women immersed in Dhofari culture) oppressed by your patriarchal family society. Live according to Islam not your tribe's ways or culture alone, ect. Stick up for yourselves! Do not, because you are unable to fight your own father to take off your niqab, have it banned for Omani girls who fight their tribe to be allowed to wear it. Indeed, where my Omani in laws are from, niqab/facial veiling is not part of the culture, and we have to be brave still to wear it.
If you family is so wrong in Islam, and so backwards, go forwards without them. Sultan Qaboos' government does support you in this. This could be your time.
[and before anyone says, you don't know what you're talking about: I personally left my family and what was bad in my culture behind and suffered for it but won myself a life I feel proud of, and freedom to live according to what I believe is right. My husband, Omani, is doing the same. Until you are willing to change yourself, and then, where you live and come from, that means, from the home, before the street… You're simply not able to comprehend a change anywhere more significant without taking others backwards or being ill-equipped to speak for the rest].
Now that's dealt with…
As one blog commentator, Rebecca, aptly responded on Victoria's post, SQU is an institution built for Omanis, to accommodate Omani students in their studies, and to be thus accommodating, takes their culture into consideration. Whether agree with Islamic culture or not, Omanis, on the overwhelming majority, do.
Rebecca: "When SQU was being planned in the early 1980s it was the sultan's wish that girls from all over Oman should have equal access to the nation's first university. In the 1970s it was not unheard of for families from more conservative areas to refuse to allow their daughters even to attend single sex schools, let alone entertain the idea of them leaving home to attend a co-ed university. It was therefore decided that by designing SQU in such a way that the sexes could be taught together but move around the university completely separately was the best way of reassuring conservative families that it was 'safe' to send their daughters to university in Muscat. That is why the university has walkways on two levels, two lots of lifts, etc."
I do want to add one thing to Rebecca's comment. It was NOT JUST OMANI PARENTS, but also quite a few intelligent Omani girls of more religious backgrounds, who desired an institution that would also include them.
There are STILL girls at SQU, who qualify for study abroad in Western Universities with scholarships WHO PREFER to stay at SQU, because they do not want to leave the more Islamic environment of SQU. It is a simple fact. Should these girls, who often become the teachers in Omani girl's primary and secondary schools and doctors for Omani women, as well as designers and even civil servants, be excluded despite their academic and future employment potential simply because Oman must cater to a Western idea of what an "enlightened institution" is?
I say no. Victoria sounds to say YES, reasoning, "[SQU is] teaching young adults to be incapable of being in the same space together. So what's going to happen when they have to get a job and actually have to?!"
Well, if you exclude Islamic women (who DO believe men and women should refrain from socializing together for anything other than work and learning) you are in turn relegating them to suppression and ignorance, and the career of sitting at home all day wasting their potential, not they, who desire an academic background so long as it does not compromise their beliefs and principles.
I am not saying that girls who don't believe socializing without a real purpose behind it with men would not be able to ignore the boys as they walk down a shared corridor in SQU. Not at all. What I am saying is, TAKING AWAY THEIR PREFERRED OPTION OF HAVING A SEPARATE AND MORE PRIVATE SPACE OPTION IS POINTLESS. The religious of them would not socialize or walk with the male students ANYWAYS, as they DO, intelligently, but still productively, in their workplaces upon graduation.
My sister in law is one such woman. She is not friends with men. She does not socialize with them. But is she is very professional in her career with male coworkers, gets her job done effectively, communicates what needs to get done effectively and in a friendly but not overt way to male coworkers, and even feel comfortable delegating tasks and being the boss of men. She learnt this at SQU, in a classroom that men and women learn together, but don't necessarily have to sit together.
So in her example, and many such female graduates of SQU, I find Victoria's argument of the SQU layout hindering Omani women from being able to function in a work environment, moot. Besides, women who don't desire to work with men at all, WILL choose a profession, a private at home business, female teacher, female doctor, where they don't have to so much.
I guess Victoria is offended that the students "can't be trusted to go through a door together" that the layout is kind of like "treating is as a sin… encouraging people to be unable to act normally among members of the opposite sex, or if they can riddle them with guilt about doing so."
Actually, the layout has nothing to DO with not trusting the students. Afterall, they sit in the same classrooms and lecture halls together, are allowed to share notes, and debate eachother. Male teachers have female students and likewise. SQU IS NOT segregated. And she does fail to understand the concept of how the Islamic female students use the corridor.
Islamically, female students will NOT allow male students to overhear their private conversations or them laughing, while they will not hesitate to share in the learning process or share notes from lectures, ect. They do not believe it is necessary for the betterment of themselves or society to share these things with strangers who are not part of their personal advancement, so they keep their personal lives separate from their academic and work lives.
And in the more public areas of SQU? There ARE shared corriders, SQU teaching Hospital for one was MANY. Guess what? Religious Omani med students won't be chatting and laughing with the boys in this mixed hall ANYWAYS.
This is not treating any kind of personal mixing as a sin… discouraging these young women from being themselves among men of the opposite sex AT ALL. These women would ISLAMICALLY and PERSONALLY consider it inappropriate behavior for themselves whether you have the separate walkways or not. What these occasional private areas allow the girls to do is have the freedom to be young and themselves where they believe it is okay to, maybe rearrange their headscarf or show their girlfriend her new jeans under her abaya, sing a song, laugh, tell a funny joke.
Let a Muslim woman have her comfort zone and privacy. This is something that we actually desire. The religious Omani male students too. They don't want to overhear about Fatimah's period and Bedriyah's hot new outfit to wear to Fatoum's wedding ;;; (note, I said the RELIGIOUS Omani guysJ).
And to be honest, I've walked all over SQU this last year 2010 and if I was on a boy's corridor or happened to speak to a male student (I occasionally got lost) nobody at ALL tried to tell me "the girl's side is over there". Really. I didn't feel separate at all.
For Omani students… Their Islamic beliefs and principles are part and par of making them comfortable.
SQU was designed with that in mind.
Blog commentator Balquis De Cesare says of social separation of the genders [not educational, or professional environments] is an Islamic principle that "aims to protect both genders" to which Victoria, no Islamic scholar of women's role Islamic history, responded " Which Islamic rule is that? Because I have no knowledge of it. And in what way does it [separation of informal personal lives for SQU sexes] protect both genders?"
Well, I am no Islamic scholar either, but ask ANY OF THE FEMALE ISLAMIC STUDIES STUDENTS at SQU if they want you to get rid of their private corridors, I dare you. THESE WOMEN are studying WHAT the women of their religion would do, and they support having their own private spaces.
For those unaware, I will give you a little Islamic education from the history of the men and women of the Prophet Mohamed's time. Saudi Arabia's gender segregation and enforcement of such is severe and beyond what is called for and exampled in our Muslim histories. I would never want that for Oman or call for it as a Muslim woman who knows the history of the Islamic female nation.
In our Muslim Islamic beliefs, the mixing of men and women is generally for the benefit of society, such as in education, and work. Women in the Prophet Mohamed's time held shop next to the men in the market selling. They attended educational events together at the same time. They lectured eachother educationally, sharing knowledge. Women taught men. Women were taught by men, and this was okay. Women and men debated eachother, they were also allowed to speak to encourage eachother to any good thing, inform eachother, ect.
For example, the most Islamic of ALL teaching institutions and the teaching institution ie university of the Prophet Mohamed's example: the Mosque. It was here that men and women learned to read and write and their histories, and sciences. Women asked questions, women told men things they knew better than the men, or remembered more of [Yay, go Um Salamah aka Hind, one of the Prophet Mohamed's wives, totally AWESOME woman that you were:D].
They mixed in this way, very common to how SQU universities lectures and classrooms are arranged.
But the mixing wasn't them sitting in between eachother, girl boy girl boy boy girl. The women had a section and the men had a section. They started out together but the Prophet Mohamed saw that the men were distracted by a few beautiful women and so he then forever since appointed men and women in these gatherings, that they should stay in groups, men with men, and women with women. So it IS actually an Islamic rule, for anyone who previously had "no knowledge of it".
Additionally, the women didn't laugh or talk or their personal matters in front of the men, nor did the men a great deal, in front of the women, outside of family members and husbands and wives, in such communal spaces. They talked of things that would benefit both sexes, things they could learn from.
Actually, I find SQU to be a very commendable institution in how it is set up according to Shariah without excluding men OR women and giving them the ability to learn and teach eachother.
Apartheid is based on the principle of excluding a social set, or of a party of persons being lesser than another part of persons. SQU does neither.
P.S. Women who wear the face veil for religious reasons should have the right to wear it ANYWHERE there are male students or teachers if that is what they believe in. What one wears does not limit their academic potential. If cheating is the true AND sincere problem, female students should be ID'ed by having to lift their veil for a female teacher or exam attendee before being allowed to take the test. Shariah law in fact DOES allow, in fact, makes necessary, the removal of the veil for identification purposes even by a male during testament in a court of law (but after identified the woman must be allowed to put it back on) so for a legal (such as borders, customs, driver's lisence ect), or academic (for identification before an exam) I do not see why the fatwa (religious ruling) would be any different. GIVE WOMEN THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE WHAT THEY BELIEVE IN AND WHAT THEY WEAR!!!!!!!!!! The only thing about the veil that is inappropriate is peoples ignorance on how to deal with it under Islamic law, which would certainly satisfy U.S border customs, as much as it would the Montreal Driver's Licenses Board in Canada, the passport office in the U.K., or any concern of educational officials about cheating in Oman.
Some students wear earpieces or tape recorders under their turbans and hijabs as well. You don't make those banned from the University do you? And I taught English here in Oman before. Those were always good hiding places for cheaters.
No… what you do is…. Check 'em!
Why is it always women who veil their faces are always the terrorists hiding the bombs or the only most-likely cheating culprits, hmmm??? Prejudiced much [not Victoria, of Sultanate Social, I mean the perception of the majority in general]. BTW, veiled SQU speaker and rolemodel of mine late Saudi blogger (pictured in the niqab above post) Hadeel Alhodaif [google her] PROVES that niqab/face veil that doesn't stop of a woman from being useful OR genuine in an accademic environment, or lessen her ability to speak her mind and say what must be said.
Sultanate Social's article:
I went to Sultan Qaboos University recently, a friend took me on a tour around the library. So as we were going in there are two revolving doors...and on one it says 'Male' and on the other 'Female', which surprised me. Then, I saw that the lifts have the same thing. Then again in the library study areas one side is for males and one for females. And the same thing in the cafeteria. I find this ridiculous. This is supposed to be an enlightened institution, with some of the brightest people in the country...and they can't be trusted to go through a door together?! So you are teaching young adults to be incapable of being in the same space together. So what's going to happen when they have to get a job and actually have to ?! Treating it as a sin is just encouraging people to be unable to act normally among members of the opposite sex, or if they can, riddle them with guilt about doing so. It reminded me of something I heard about some people protesting to allow the burqa back at Dhofar University. I hope they don't succumb to this demand, it would be a HUGE step backwards. Really, if you want to wear the burqa at university, perhaps you shouldn't even be going to university. And its false to blame it on the way men treat women, that is just a weak person's excuse. Wearing the burqa is only going to augment sexist attitudes (for many reasons which I'm not getting into now). Rather than accept bad behaviour because "thats the way men are", they should be trying to change it. (And in actual fact from what I've heard, girl's behaviour is often every bit as bad as boy's, if not worse!) Don't get me wrong, I'm not necessarily anti-burqa. I believe in choice. But its inappropriate in certain places, and is unfortunately often surrounded by this damaging mentality about gender. What does everyone else think?
Olga K. said...
Wow, I've never noticed that about SQU. Yet, their staff facilities are not divided into girl-boy swimming pools or basketball courts, so I guess as long as they are "mingling" in their own time-its acceptable? Keeping in mind the spotlight that is being put on empowering women in Oman, I agree with you it is rather pointless to separate the genders in university as women should be encouraged to socialize and to work together with men in this society. That is the only way they will be comfortable, confident and respected in the long run. It works vice-versa as well.
Balqis De Cesare said...
it is an islamic rule which aims to protect them both genders and has nothing to do with enlightenement why one wearing burqa shouldnt go to uni ?
Hi... I've been to SQU a few times and I was surprised as well. What really got me were the male and female 'hallways' (we can't walk down the same hall?!). And when I visited in 2003, there was a 'rule' that males and females couldn't talk to each other in the halls. I was with a group of colleagues (men and women) and an employee at SQU approached me and said 'Don't you know the rules? no standing with men in the halls'. I looked at her blankly and told her I was a visitor. She still insisted! You'll be glad to know it's not the same at private colleges and universties (including Dhofar Uni) that support a more relaxed approach. At Dhofar Uni, it was normal for guys and girls to talk/exchange notes/ and even study together.
Balqis: Which Islamic rule is that? Because I have no knowledge of it. And in what way does it protect both genders? I will just name one of the many reasons I think the burqa shouldn't be allowed at uni, and that is the reason they banned it at Dhofar uni in the first place; because girls were cheating in their exams by sending someone else in their place. Susan: Strange, I would have expected the government ones to be more relaxed than the private.
When SQU was being planned in the early 1980s it was the sultan's wish that girls from all over Oman should have equal access to the nation's first university. In the 1970s it was not unheard of for families from more conservative areas to refuse to allow their daughters even to attend single sex schools, let alone entertain the idea of them leaving home to attend a co-ed university. It was therefore decided that by designing SQU in such a way that the sexes could be taught together but move around the university completely separately was the best way of reassuring conservative families that it was 'safe' to send their daughters to university in Muscat. That is why the university has walkways on two levels, two lots of lifts, etc. It the 1990s the rules were gradually relaxed, but it sounds as though they are being tightened up again.
Balqis De Cesare said...
well cheating is also more unislamic :p If not necessary, mixing with non maharam men is not permissible as it can encourage sin It can but not necessarily I find it strange that they have these rules anyway, as I dont consider Oman as a Muslim country, rather a sort of Islamic secular
their country, their rules, to be respected and abided by without complaint as a passing guest in their culture ....