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Books and Documents

Islam, Women and Feminism

“There is a lot of brain drain here, that’s part of why I came back. I didn’t want to be a brain drainer. I wanted to fix it.” Halifa is a 25 year-old Maldivian woman, educated and living abroad, who returned to work in the Maldives for a one year contract in a highly specialised professional field. For many young people, Halifa says, Maldivian culture is an obstacle to growth and employment. “Many youth wish they weren’t even Maldivian, they don’t know why they had to get stuck here,” she says. “When I talk to one of my friends, she says she wants to get out and come back when it’s better. That attitude is actually quite common.” Although Maldivian law and society allow for equal rights between genders, speaking out is considered brash and unfeminine, and the cultural mindset of wearing the burqa means more girls are being married young without finishing their education. One woman called this shift in behavior “brain wastage: a deliberate refusal to apply the brains that one has – and this is the biggest problem that Maldivian women face today.” -- Eleanor Johnstone 

 

This was particularly striking at an “interfaith” discussion after the official panel, during which four women — three of them Muslims wearing the veil, and the fourth a Hindu — tussled with two businessmen, one from Pakistan and the second from South Africa, over the niqab, the veil for the face. “How do we want to create an interfaith dialogue if they ban the burqa, discuss the headscarves, don’t allow Muslims to build mosques and then even have a preacher who wanted to burn the Koran?” Ms. Karklina asked. “Don’t you think that it would create problems for Islam” for everyone to wear the niqab? “It is nowhere mentioned in Islam and does make our religion look bad.” “See, we would actually need an interfaith dialogue,” said Deepika Nagabhushan, a businesswoman from Bangalore, India. “We all talk about tolerance and common ground between different religions, but what’s with the tolerance inside your own religion?” “We have a tradition which says that you are not supposed to touch anyone when you have your periods,” she noted.Heeding that, or wearing the niqab, she suggested, is not just religion, but custom.-- Souad Mekhennet

Although Palestinian women are better educated than men, their job opportunities are poorer. The greatest obstacles women face in working life is cultural ones. Education paves the way for change and is held in high regard by Palestinians, so Palestinian women tend to be well educated. Development professionals like to emphasise the economic importance of women's education. In Palestine, this does not necessarily apply. Although Palestinian women perform better at school and university, men outnumber them in working life by more than four to one.-- Viola Raheb

 

Pakistan’s first military dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan, passed a new constitution in 1961 and brought in the Muslim Family Law Ordinance which gave women more rights when it came to issues of divorce and child support. Right up till the 70’s there was a surge of women in universities and colleges and many held well paying jobs. Women were active members of society. How they chose to live, interact or dress was a matter of their own choice. You even saw women riding motorbikes and bicycles. We saw an increase in parliamentary participation by women and Bhutto’s 1973 constitution guaranteed gender equality. However, freedom was short-lived. What happened you ask? Well we were set on a path of “righteousness” through the “wahabization” of Pakistani society by General Zia ul Haq. After taking power, he enacted many discriminatory laws such as the Hudood Ordinances, Law of Evidence Order and Qisas and Diyat laws that still exist today. -- Meera Ghani

Fatima, a young woman from Mecca, sent me an e-mail at the height of the Egyptian revolution: “Forget about the cries for freedom; I can’t even give birth without being accompanied to hospital by a mihrim,” or male guardian. She went on, “And the [religious police] have been given the right to humiliate us in public.” Yet globalization knows no limits, not even those set by the guardians of Islamic probity. Nine-year-old Saudi girls chat online, disregarding clerical fatwas that forbid them Internet access without male supervision. Many women remain secretly glued to satellite television, watching their peers in the public squares of Egypt or Yemen, beyond their reach but not their imagination. Last month, a brave woman named Manal al-Sharif broke the silence and apathy, daring to defy the ban on women’s driving. For the next week, she sat in a Saudi prison. But within two days of her detention, 500,000 people had watched the YouTube video of her excursion. Thousands of Saudi women, frustrated and humiliated by the ban, have vowed to stage a “driving day” today. -- Mai Yamani

 
Day against Homophobia
Robert W Gibson

Great steps have been taken worldwide towards empowering women, promoting freedom of religion, and banning discrimination based on the colour of skin. The economic and social benefits have been huge. Yet some people are uncomfortable applying this to same-sex relations, and treat this issue as an irrelevant diversion. To do so undermines the principle of the universality of human rights…

 

 It is very late at night in early 2001. Fifteen year old Mitali lies writhing in pain in the corner of a dingy room deep within one of Dhaka's overcrowded slums. She is several hours into labour. Her adolescent body, emaciated from chronic malnourishment, is not the optimal environment to sufficiently host or deliver a baby. As we edge closer to the year 2015, with Bangladesh within reach of the 4th and 5th Millennium Development Goals regarding health, it is important not to become complacent. Perhaps the ultimate tragedy lies in the fact that Mitali considers her ability to give birth an obligation, and producing living children a luxury. This is our greatest challenge. Only when our mothers realise their worth and own their power to give birth will we as a society realise the full benefits of safe motherhood.-- Christy Turlington Burns and Kaosar Afsana

 

Fatima, a young woman from Mecca, sent me an email at the height of the Egyptian revolution: "Forget about the cries for freedom; I can't even give birth without being accompanied to hospital by a mihrim (male guardian)."She went on, "And the mataw'a have been given the right to humiliate us in public." Indeed, the mutaw'a saw their wide powers enhanced even more by decrees issued by King Abdullah in March, after helping to suppress protests in the kingdom earlier in the month. Wahhabi clerics issued a fatwa that forbids women to access to the Internet without the supervision of a male guardian. "The system of confinement is justified neither by Islamic texts, nor by the nature of the diverse society that the Al Saud and their Wahhabi partners' rule," ... -- Mai Yamani

Rising above the vulgar arguments some commentators based on the rationale of “God forgive my people”, the beauty of Islamic Shariaa is that its rules are open to interpretation, which is why there is a distinction between Shariaa and jurisprudence. Second, as any scholar would tell you, human interpretation is fallible or can be influenced by motive and preference, and that there is enlightened and narrow-minded jurisprudence. In fact, the least knowledgeable are the quickest to judge. I believe that Arab Islamic culture, in terms of the overall goals of Islamic Sharia and enlightened jurisprudence, is not a major obstacle to a renaissance built on freedom, knowledge and lifting the stature of women. The main obstacle is the use of oppression and backwardness for narrow-minded interpretations in Arab Islamic cultures, to reproduce the hegemony of the few in control of tyrannical regimes. -- Nader Fergani

However, the religious group’s ant women utterances, made in the name of upholding Islamic principles, have unsettled not just liberal scholars but even traditional Ulema. “The protest against Roohi Khan’s appointment is completely un-Islamic. I am ready to debate with anyone who says Muslim women can’t work with men,” says senior cleric Maulana Shoeb Koti. A part of the relevant verse goes: “Tell believing women to avert their eyes, and safeguard their private parts, and not to expose their attractions except what is visible (24:31).” Noted London-based Islamic scholar Ziuddin Sardar, in his new book, Reading The Quran, explains this verse. “The objective of the verse is to achieve modesty and public chastity by concealing nakedness and not sexualizing one’s appearance,” writes Sardar, adding, “Modesty cannot be reduced to a piece of cloth, whatever form or fashion it might have, but rather consists of the sum total of behaviour and a distinctive moral outlook.” -- Mohammed Wajihuddin

The honourable judges also held that “girls are as much entitled to fresh air as boys and that by permitting them to go unescorted and without purdah they are fostering in them a feeling of independence, confidence and self-reliance. A substantial number of incidents of harassment occur in schools, colleges, universities and academies, as well as on the Internet. Second, the amendment has failed to address the issue of procedure and its accessibility for women in relation to the offence. -- Hina Hafeezullah Ishaq

If the goal is survival in Pakistan’s rapidly changing ideological ecosystem, my burka-encased compatriot is the adaptable, hardy lizard destined to persevere and I the dinosaur condemned to extinction. This is the Pakistan of women paraded naked, where moral calculations regarding the covering of women’s bodies are available for all to see — in Meerwala, in Vehari and now in Haripur. Once you do away with the outrage, the condemnation rendered perfunctory when a village jirga orders yet another sexual assault on a woman, the logic of the calculation begins to emerge. The more you cover, the more moral you are — a direct correlation between piety and fabric, sanctity and the unseen. These magical few yards of cloth can deliver so much: moral elevation and personal space, an escape from budgetary wardrobe constraints and even the onerous demands of physical upkeep. -- Rafia Zakaria

While news of a minority of Muslim women in Burkas continues to spread Islamophobia in the West, a growing number of Arab women (veiled or otherwise) are shedding their typical conservative image and gaining more visibility in the pro-democracy protests around the region. … Berkeley-based Women’s Global Green Action Network, explains “women are inextricably linked to issues of environmental sustainability…as mothers, as caretakers, as food producers, as consumers and as nurturers.”-- Rola Tassabehji

 

The Trust Law website states that women in the five countries included in their list face a barrage of threats ranging from violence and rape to dismal healthcare and honour killings. It further mentions that those polled cited cultural, tribal and religious practices harmful to women, including acid attacks, child and forced marriage and punishment or retribution by stoning or other physical abuse. In Pakistan’s case, Trust Law cites one Pakistani NGO representative highlighting women’s lack of protection from violence and discrimination. It quotes another statement which goes beyond criticising Pakistani laws as being discriminatory, and also points out how the judicial system condones and exacerbates the problem by failing to view violence against women as a serious violation. These statements are hard to refute. -- Syed Mohammad Ali

 

Decades ago, the Urdu poet Majaz had called upon women to use aanchal or scarf as a banner or flag. In a couplet which later became a reference point for the progressives, he said: Tere sar pe yeh aanchal khub hai lekin/Tu ise parcham bana le to achcha hota (The scarf on your head looks good/But it will be better if you turn it into a banner). Perhaps no other groups need to follow the poet’s advice more sincerely than the Muslim women. By discarding scarf or burqa which anyway is not religion-mandated but custom-commanded, Muslim women will be asserting for a right Muslim men have denied them. Fortunately, there is an increasing group of liberated women who have raised a banner of rebellion. They're not burning bras, or burqas. But a bunch of non-conformist Muslim women activists are making an attempt to free their sisters from the clutches of a patriarchal clergy. -– From a paper presented to a seminar on Islamic feminist movement in India organised by The Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla by Adab Nawaz, NewAgeIslam.com

Islam is the first religion which systematically empowered women when women were considered totally subservient to men. There was no concept of a woman being an independent entity and enjoying equal rights with dignity. Though the Quran empowered women and gave them equal status with men, Muslims were far from ready to accept gender equality. The Arab culture was too patriarchal to accept such parity. Many hadiths were ‘readied’ to scale down the woman’s status, and she, in most Islamic societies, became a dependent entity; often Quranic formulations were interpreted so as to make her subordinate to men. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

Muslim women do not form a homogenous group and, therefore, the ways in which the processes of globalization impact upon them are very varied.  Even their religious identities which are undergoing redefinition and reinvention constantly also see great variations. For example, the way in which the issue of ‘burqa’ is being used by its defenders and its opponents to, among other things, emphasize their commitment to women’s rights when, in actual fact, their commitment is suspect and their real agenda far removed, has created a focus for women’s movements which they have to engage with whether or not it is in any way a priority for them.  It is imperative, therefore, to keep bringing the focus back to the issue of equal citizenship while displaying sensitivity and involvement with the myriad issues that revolve around Muslim women. -- Subhashini Ali

There were three allegations raised against the book. The first was that it departed from the teachings of Islam because it mentions that my protagonist is reading a novel titled "Christ Re-crucified" (whereas the Koran maintains that Jesus wasn't crucified in the first place, the editor). The second allegation is that I accuse anyone objecting to my "lecherous desires" of being joyless soldiers. And thirdly, it was claimed that I offended my mother in the novel, because they consider it an autobiography and think the mother mentioned in the book is identical with my real-life mother. -- Badriya Al-Bishrin, a Saudi writer in an interview with Christoph Dreyer

King, Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia was put forth this question by a TV commentator of a US network: “Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which women are not allowed to drive. It seems to be symbolic of a women’s lack of independence. Would you support allowing a woman to drive? ”The king’s response to the question at the time was: “I believe strongly in the rights of women… my mother is a woman, my sister is a woman, my daughter is a woman, and my wife is a woman. I believe the day will come when women drive. In fact, if you look at the areas in Saudi Arabia, the deserts and in the rural areas, you will find that women do drive. The issue will require patience. In time, I believe it will be possible. Yes, I believe we can. But it will require a little bit of time… Our people are just now beginning to open up to the world, and I believe that with the passing of days in the future everything is possible. -- Tariq A. Al Maeena

The fact remains that majority of the people did not even bother to learn the basic facts of the case, yet show strong emotional reactions when encountered with a counterargument. The writer of this article himself heard a prominent women rights activist declaring on Geo channel that she and Mukhtaran would be filing a rupee 10 crore suit each, against Duniya channel for airing a counter narrative. That is the level of tolerance of our liberal class which never misses an opportunity of criticizing religious intolerance. -- Waseem Altaf

Devout women contribute to public face of piety in contemporary Indonesia. Their search for spiritual knowledge, however, and the way they spread it in their families is quite different to the religious pattern of men. The search for spiritual knowledge of these women and the way they spread it in their families, is quite different to the religious pattern of men, who, partly because they have less time, think it enough to attend the mosque once a week. -- Susan Blackburn

 

If a non-Muslim woman is forced to wear a veil or abaya in a Muslim country, no violation of her religious injunctions is involved because nowhere is it said in a Hindu, Buddhist or Christian scripture that a woman should not wear veil or abaya. So Muslims are as justified in demanding that their women be allowed to wear burqa or purdah in a Western country as they are in enforcing Islamic dress code on non-Muslim women in a Muslim country. Should not one respect the laws of the land where he/she lives? Here again Muslims can and do demand exemption.-- James Paul

Taking part in the raging debate over the ban on the Muslim veil that came into force in Nicolas Sarkozy’s France this week, a reader who identifies herself as “A Muslimah” writes: “Time and time again in ‘free, democratic’ societies women are manipulated and taught to believe that their freedom is directly linked to the removal of their clothing. Such emphasis has never been placed on men, though. It’s the removal of women’s clothing and not the choice to wear whatever they like that – women are brainwashed into believing – preserves their freedom, as is evident from this (French) ban on the veil.”  Her whole post deserves to be read by everyone, and widely shared. But I have to round it off with her closing lines: “Yet, those supporting the ban would have us believe Muslim women are the ones who are manipulated and suppressed. But it’s hardly surprising to see free societies ban women from covering their bodies. These are the nations in which women are used daily as mere commodities for buying and selling. The lands of the living Barbie dolls, where the daily objectification of women and young girls as sexual playthings has reached the mainstream. The female physique has become public property. Women must be on public display at all times.” -- Aijaz Zaka Syed

A bare few months ago, Shabana, a famous Pashto dancer, was killed and her body left to rot in the middle of the town for days. Hundreds of schools have been burnt and tens of thousands of girls condemned to illiteracy in the wake of an insurgency that shows few signs of abating. Even educational institutions in cities like Multan, considered to be far from the reaches of the insurgency in the tribal areas, have, in recent days, received threats for allowing men and women to study together. Signs have been put up at restaurants in Quetta and markets in Swat prohibiting women from the premises. Unquestionably, as the women of the world commemorate the International Women’s Day tomorrow (March 8), the women of Pakistan have little to celebrate and even less to look forward to. Given this, it is crucial to recognise that the privatisation of Pakistani women and their systematic relegation to the private sphere is not an accidental by-product of the insurgency, but an integral component of it. -- Rafia Zakaria

For Turkish women the killing never stops

A woman leading change in Yemen

Don’t try to control our lives, say Saudi women

Saudi women follow developments in Libya with concern

The 'Arab Spring': A new era of change, risk

The way forward: True gender equality

Istanbul Modern Cinema celebrates Women’s Day with special film program

Women's employment and conservatism

Something rotten about the state of press freedom in Turkey

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

Photo: Lebanese women from Hariri's Future Movement wave national flag at the seafront road where former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a suicide bombing in 2005, as they celebrate International Women's Day, in Beirut, Lebanon, on Sunday

 
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NEW COMMENTS

  • Dear sister Teresa, Thanks for this meaningful review. I hope this review will encourage both serious readers and peace....
    ( By SAJID ANWAR )
  • The Crown Prince is only strengthening the monarchy and consolidating the anti-Iran front. He....
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Taj Mahal's deterioration is symbolic of a paradigmatic shift in our values.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • This is so dumb really Turks, Arabs and Persians are not...
    ( By What? )
  • Dear Sister Teresa, You have wonderfully given the gist of the book and created curiosity among the readers ....
    ( By Rajat Malhotra )
  • An anti-reform AIMPLB gives Islam a bad name and is like a curse on the Muslim community. We need new leadership.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • ully agree with this press bulletin. Indian Muslims must reject the leadership of such regressive clerics.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Ghaus Sb says: “The way you are speaking in your comment shows you are not a Muslim.” From what I say, he can....
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • Ghaus Sb says: Those who say, fitna means “shirk” and opine that the early Muslims fought to end fitna” must have meant “to end that ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • Good article. The is only One G-d and Muhammad was the final messenger and prophet of G-d. As I write this, G-d is known ...
    ( By Lenny SB )
  • Please read my article on subject of "there is no compulsion in Religion...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Related article...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Naseer sb, Please read my comment again and again. You did not get my comment. I did not say both...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Arbitration is of two kinds - binding and non-binding. When the parties choose binding arbitration, the decision of the arbitrator is binding on the parties ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • All right thinking Muslims must welcome such a course. Academic independence of the Universities must be protected and respected. There ....
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • Referring to your comment: 7/18/2018 5:04:08 AM, to you both views are valid and fitna could mean “shirk or polytheism” also. The Quran clearly commands ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • What do I mean by acceptance? Read the Quran carefully. There isn’t any verse that calls for tolerance of the peaceful rejecter of Islam. There ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • The title question sums up the matter of the article. The answer is the course will discuss in detail how Muslim clerics and fundamentalists misinterpret ...
    ( By arshad )
  • Site Web Israel and Myanmar give more rights to muslims, than muslims give rights to Kafirs,...
    ( By Shan Barani )
  • Good article. The is only One G-d and Muhammad was the final messenger and prophet of G-d. As I write,..
    ( By Lenny SB (Shivarsi) )
  • I fully agree with Faizur Rahman sahib. Such "courts" should be called "Arbitration centers.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • A course on "Uses of religions to gain political power" would be entirely appropriate. By the way, Obama refused to use the label "Islamic....
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • بہت بہت شکریہ جناب! اللہ عز و جل آپ کے مبارک کلمات کو مستجاب کرے۔ آمین بجاہ سید المرسلین صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم
    ( By misbahul Huda quadri )
  • fve questions
    ( By hats off! )
  • بہت عمدہ ۔ اللہ تعالی ہم مسلمانوں کو صوفیائے کرام کے نہج پر شریعت و طریقت کو سمجھنے اور اس پر عمل کرنے ...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Mushrik and muwahhid, Muslims and non-Muslims all equally need to adopt the path of tolerance. One sided tolerance is not helpful. This point should also ...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Naseer sb, Muhammad bin Ishaq said that Az-Zuhri informed him from Urwah bin Az-Zubayr and other scholars that (until there is no more fitnah) the Fitnah ...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • An excellent read that contextualises many pertinent issues connected to Muslims and Islam! Your angle ....
    ( By Meera )
  • Naseer sb, Can you suggest me how many books have you read on theology? From your comments it appears you have been inspired by orientalist ...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Naseer sahib, What is theology? Why do you use theology in general term? In your comment you meant that those who follow theology are following ....
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Before I say anything further, could you please explain your questions? What do you mean by acceptance?....
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Tolerance in Muslim society earlier was because of low level of outward piety. Intolerance grows as the level of outward piety grows. Outward piety is ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • The Muslim nation (with the exception of one or two Muslim countries) as a whole has been blind and deaf to the above advice and ...
    ( By Rashid Samnakay )
  • I fully agree with Rashid sahib.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • At this rate Hats Off may soon get some insight into his unquenchable hatred of Muslims.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • This is the time when the anti-Muslim hate propaganda of the BJP/RSS is at full blast to cover up for the absence of any acchhe ...
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Excellent book review! As the reviewer says, "secularism cannot be used as a pretext to ignore discrimination on grounds....
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Very true.
    ( By Sahab Ali Khan )
  • Read Ghulam Mohiyuddin Sb's comment. He is saying the same thing. So, can you speak of acceptance rather than tolerance? Will the Muslims accept ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • Naseer sb, You always express your wrath by the word ‘bigoted’. It is your style and I should ignore it with the faith in this ...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصديقي )