Inside Islam, a woman’s roar
Wazhma Frogh, an Afghan, uses her religion to press for women’s
rights – and development agencies take note.
By Jill Carroll | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Just hours after Wazhma Frogh arrived in an isolated, conservative
district in northeastern Afghanistan in 2002, the local mullah was
preaching to his congregation to kill her. Ms. Frogh was meddling
with their women with her plan to start a literacy program, he told
As she walked past the mosque during noon prayers, his words caught
her ear. Shocked, she marched straight into the mosque. In a flowing
black chador that left her face uncovered, she strode past the male
worshipers and faced the mullah. Trembling inside, she challenged
“Mullah, give me five minutes,” she recalls saying. “I will tell you
something, and after that if you want to say I am an infidel and I am
a threat to you, just kill me.”
She then rattled off five Koranic verses – in both Arabic and the
local Dari language – that extol the virtues of education, tolerance,
and not harming others. She criticized local practices of allowing
men to use Islam to justify beating their wives, betrothing young
girls, and denying women an education.
The room was silent. All eyes were on Frogh and the mullah. Then the
mullah rested his hand on her head.
“God bless you, my daughter,” he said.
With that, Frogh won permission to start the literacy program that
later helped women from Badakhshan Province participate in local
government and run for the national assembly.
Where rigid interpretations of Islam relegate women to second-class
status, Frogh uses rhetorical jujitsu to turn religious arguments on
their heads and win women’s rights. Her steely determination has
earned her attention in Washington.