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Islam, Women and Feminism

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

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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

 

In the raucous crowd, she stepped on a water jug to catch a glimpse of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who had stood with the demonstrators before Hosni Mubarak was ousted as President. “I see him! I am really happy!” she exclaimed, beaming, one voice among thousands. “Raise your head high, you are Egyptian!” they chanted. Egypt's popular revolution was the work of men and women, bringing together housewives and fruit sellers, businesswomen and students. At its height, roughly one-quarter of the million protesters who poured into the square each day were women. Veiled and unveiled women shouted, fought and slept in the streets alongside men, upending traditional expectations of their behavior. The challenge now, activists in Cairo say, is to make sure that women maintain their involvement as the nation lurches forward, so that their contribution to the revolution is not forgotten. -- Sharon Otterman

 

Arab women have often been stereotyped as passive, voiceless, politically apathetic and religiously repressed. But scenes around the Middle East have complicated preconceptions, with women seen as active political players in trade unions, grass roots activism and other political organisations. On Tuesday's Riz Khan we discussed how Arab women have long been committed to fighting for a more equitable society. We were joined by Rabab al-Mahdi, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo; Frances Hasso, a professor of Women's Studies at Duke University; and Nadje al-Ali, a social anthropologist at the University of London. – Al-Jazeera

 

Video: Riz Khan hosts debate on Arab feminism for Al-Jazeera

 

The "Islamic feminist", as she defines herself, is working on a "Third Way" that is clearly distinct from fundamentalism and based on humanist ideals that she finds in the Koran. The holy book, says Lamrabet, speaks of women's autonomy and right to freedom. To date, she claims, the Koran has only been interpreted on a "patriarchal and discriminatory" basis, bringing Catholic liberation theology into the equation.

"We have to free religion from political aspects," is Lamrabet's call. In her view, it was political Islam, Islamism, that first made faith a source of oppression. For her, feminism is a universal approach, which she has adopted from within the context of the Islamic state of Morocco. -- Wolf-Dieter Vogel

Sir Syed’s perseverance with modernism and modern education caused Muslims of that time to he was “England-obsessed”; they blamed him for emulating the English and not the Arabs. Yet this great visionary was ahead of his time, and was aware of the importance of women’s education in modern India. It topped his agenda: the very first Siddons Club debate was held on the subject of female education. “The first Vice President of the students’ union was Khwaja Sajjad Husain, and the first secretary Syed Muhammad Ali, both staunch supporters of female education,” writes AMU PRO Rahat Abrar, in his book on female education. In early 20th century India, when home tuition was the best Indians could think of for their girls, AMU was producing graduate and post-graduate women. The first post-graduate women passed out of AMU some 85 years ago, in 1925. The first chancellor of the university, Sultan Jahan Begum, also happened to be a woman. – Arfa Khanum Sherwani

If you can't kill the snake, try taking out the sting. Sherry Rehman's proposed changes aim to take out most of the venom. I think a government besieged from all corners cannot be expected to even amend these laws. A government led by Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) is not likely to take up this cause. Other than PPP, Awami National Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement, no party can be expected to join hands to alter these laws. And, right now even that is not possible.”

This is a widely held view. “I don't think our federal government, which is presently hostage to ethnic and sectarian militants, would even think of preventing misuse of the blasphemy law by incorporating necessary amendments in section 295C of PPC or consider adopting administrative measures to prevent this rampant misuse of blasphemy law in Pakistan to satisfy all kinds of prejudices of the complainants in vast majority of cases. This is unfortunately a most painful state of affairs,” laments Mr. Haider who, as part of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Cabinet, had attempted to amend the law in 1994 in vain. -- Anita Joshua

Photo: Aasia Bibi

 

The case of Aasia Noreen aka Aasia Bibi illustrates how far Pakistan has to go to secure freedoms for its religious minorities. Christians and Hindus are not the only minorities who are persecuted for their beliefs but it is also Muslim minorities such as the Ismailis, Ahmadis, and Shiites who are routinely harassed, discriminated and also killed. Sadly, it is the case of Aasia Bibi that has brought some much needed attention to Pakistan’s sad state of affairs towards the treatment of its religious minorities.

Several sections of Pakistan’s Criminal Code consist of its blasphemy laws and of all the Muslim countries of the world that have anti-blasphemy laws, Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws are by far the strictest. There is section 295 that forbids damaging or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object. Then there is section 295-A that “forbids outraging religious feelings.” There is also 295-B which prohibits defiling the Qu’ran and was originally punishable by life imprisonment but has since been amended to up to three years imprisonment. -- Manzer Munir

Experts believe that violence directly contributes towards low indicators of human development including low intelligence. If today, the clergy of Pakistan accuses the women of low intelligence and calls them unfit to run the affairs of the country; they should blame themselves for it since low intelligence among the women of Pakistan is not a biological defect but a malfunction deliberately caused by the male-dominated society to enslave the women. Lack of literacy and awareness, ensuing in the wrong interpretation of Islamic scriptures, has created a society where women often live like a pariah. In the name of upholding Islamic principles and moral values, the male-dominant illiterate society often forces the women to remain secluded within the four walls of their homes and subjugated to their men folk. Many customs including honor killing which are adopted by men as social norms basically encourages crime against women.

Pakistan is signatory to the United Nations convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women which guarantees equality for both genders in the society. Yet more than seventy percent of Pakistani women continue to face violence in the form of injuries, death, honor killing, forced nude display in public, molestation, acid burns, mutilation, rape, social boycott, harassment during professional duties, denial of monetary assistance, and discrimination in educational and health institutions and businesses.[1] Women in many parts of the country continue to face death on mere suspicions of having illicit relation or daring to challenge the norms of the man-dominated society. The situation has compelled many women to abandon education and professions to save their lives. -- MEP Ryszard Czarnecki, Member, European Parliament, Vice-Chairman, Friends of Gilgit-Baltistan, speaking in  a Debate Organized by Friends of Gilgit-Baltistan (FOGB): A Caucus of the European Union Parliament, Brussels on November 30, 2010.

 

Addressing the position of women in Saudi society is a top priority for the country's king; and now his former education minister has written a book calling for equality between men and women. The debate, it seems, is well and truly underway.

Just a few days ago Saudi Arabia was elected a member of the Executive Council of "UN Women", the new women's organisation of the United Nations. Although the decision was met with some scepticism in the West, in the home of Islam itself it is being interpreted as recognition for the progress the country has already made on women's rights issues. Change is definitely in the air in Riyadh, one indication of this being the latest publication by former Saudi education minister Muhammad Ahmad al-Rashid, "Muslim women between religious equity and the comprehension of fundamentalists".-- Joseph Croitoru

Photo: Innovative religious mediation: By Saudi standards, this photograph is highly unusual. It shows an unveiled woman on holy mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia holding the Koran and reading to the men who are following her cues

Spain is a powerful symbolic site of Islamic feminism. Spanish Islamic feminism exemplifies the dissolution of the East/West binary. As poet, writer, and a lead organizer of the conferences, Abdennur Prado, emphasizes, the Islamic feminist narrative in Spain draws from two sources.  One is the gender-progressive interpretation of the Qur’an articulated by the new exegetes within the global umma or Muslim community.  The other is the enlightened scholarly, intellectual, and artistic tradition of a past in which Spain was at the center of learning in Europe and Spain was home to Muslims, Christians, and Jews.  It was a time when a rich tapestry of many threads and colors was being woven. -- Margot Badran

 

In the early 1980s, Dr. Sima Samar made her debut on the feminist stage, becoming the first Hazara woman to receive a medical degree from Kabul University. But the young doctor’s life changed dramatically after her husband was arrested by communist forces, never to be heard from again. In 1984, Samar took her young son and fled her homeland for the safety of Pakistan. During the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, and the following era of Taliban oppression, Samar lost nearly 60 family members. Many persecuted Afghans, including her fellow Hazaras, a minority Persian-speaking group of Shi’a Muslims, were forced out of the country, impoverished and lacking quality healthcare and education. – Salman Ahmed

At the Badam Bagh women's prison in Kabul, home to 150 female inmates and 70 of their children, the chief warden, Lt Col Zarafshan, lowers her voice. "Because of my pain, my hurt and my sense of injustice, I am telling you this," she says. "If we had a good justice system only about ten of these women would be in prison."

Gul-Khanum's husband accused her of cuckolding him with her own cousin. The husband shot dead the cousin then went about maiming his wife before the police arrived at the scene.

I ask if her husband's accusations were true. "How could I do something like that? My cousin was like my son," she replies through tears. Gul-Khanum has been in prison for three months with no charge brought against her. Her husband is in prison elsewhere. -- Oliver Englehart

Photo: Gul-Khanum (left) was a failed suicide bomber, sentenced to 4 years. Shahperai (right) a 22-year-old woman sentenced to 15-year for fleeing from a cruel husband.

Nazanin learned at an early age of the threat people face when their human rights are ignored and abused. This Persian star was born in Tehran in 1979 at the height of the so called Islamic revolution and a year later her family was forced to flee after her non-political father was arrested and tortured at the hands of the fundamentalists. Growing up in Canada after escaping an uncertain future in Iran, Nazanin knew not to take her freedom and good fortune for granted. Her conscience would not allow her to forget those who live in fear every day, in any country where people's basic human rights are violated.-- Amil Imani

The woman's head was covered with a sack, her hands were tied and she was tethered to the ground – while a group of turbaned, bearded men hurled rocks at her, breaking her bones and then crushing her skull. According to reports in the press, she had been walking unescorted and was presumed guilty of adultery. The barbarity, allegedly perpetrated by the Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), was shown on Dubai's Al Aan television. The same footage was televised by a private Pakistani channel on Sept 28 and the story also featured that day in the local print media. -- S Iftikhar Murshed

In early July this year, the Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak announced that two women had been appointed judges in the country's sharia Courts.

Marina Mahathir is well known as a leader in many non-governmental organizations such as SIS and the Malaysian AIDS Foundation "The appointments were made to enhance justice in cases involving family and women's rights, and to meet current needs," said prime minister Najib Razak. And while this move seems to have alarmed some of the more conservative judges in the Syariah Courts, the concerns of women's groups have turned out to be unfounded: at the end of July, a special panel decided that female judges do indeed have jurisdiction over the same cases as male judges.

It should be noted that the Qur'an enjoins judges to use their wisdom to ensure justice, stating that "if ye judge between mankind, that ye judge justly" (4:58). The verse emphasises justice without stating whether judges should be male or female. There is therefore no barrier for women to be judges in the Syariah Court system, as they have long been in the civil courts. The task now is to ensure that male or female, judges uphold justice. -- Marina Mahathir

A week ago on my way home from work, in one of Kabul's dusty and unclean streets I saw a little girl clad in a blue burka. She was hardly six and the burka was especially tailored to fit her size. She was playing with other children and was proudly displaying her burka. Her cute demeanor attracted my attention. I kept watching her for a while. The manner she was conducting her movements inside the burka made me smile. As I was leaving, the thought of this child's future made me sad too. She and millions in her age will be most likely forced under burka as me and my generation was. -- Sahar Saba

The policewomen in the Gaza Strip wear a light grey ankle-length cape, a dark grey veil that leaves the face free, and white gloves. In principle, the services of these female custodians of the law are required whenever contact with women is necessary, in all matter ranging from family disputes to the fight against the drug trade. There is a strict separation of the sexes within the Hamas police. Whenever women police are required to accompany their male colleagues on an assignment, both teams drive in different vehicles. -- Ruth Kinet

 

Islam does not place any restriction on women’s education and work.  This is what we must tell those mullahs and maulvis who issue fatwas to deny women their right to work and who consider their earnings to be unlawful or haraam. We need to tell them that Hazrat Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet, was herself a rich trader. Before he was appointed as a prophet, Hazrat Muhammad used to work for her. In addition, she had several other male employees. If (as some mullahs insist) a woman’s earnings are haraam and if it is also haraam for men and women to work together, one may well wonder if our mullahs and maulvis will now start pointing fingers at these historical facts! -- By Zahid Khan

Much has been written about the tragedy of Karbala that wiped out almost all the male members of the family of the Holy Prophet (Ahle Bayt), and the undying fame of its hero Imam Husain. On the eve of his martyrdom, the great Imam had declared that human dignity could not survive under political tyranny, and it was far more honourable to give your head to a despot than give him your hand and invite disgrace and humiliation.

Karbala is not a saga of a power struggle; it is the story of a heroic endeavour to uphold the principle of human dignity and freedom, the story of supreme sacrifice made in defence of freedom of conscience, which includes the right to reject a political regime that seeks to coerce and compel people into submission against their will. The story has become immortal as Husain refused to confer legitimacy on a despotic, hereditary monarch masquerading as caliph, and thus saved the soul of Islam. - Arif M. Khan

 

Millions of Saudis, of course, still adhere to the strict religious and social conservatism that dates to the 18th century pact made between Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab, a puritanical preacher, and the founder of the Saud dynasty Mohammed ibn Saud. And many conservatives resent the social changes the King is pushing. "Those around King Abdullah use his peaceful positions to impose secular values," says conservative cleric Mohsen al-Awajy. "But Saudi society is a special, tribal society, and neither King Abdullah or anyone else can impose his own interpretation of Islam. They can do nothing without Islam. There is no Saudi Arabia without Islam. There is no royal family without Islam." (Read: "Pope Benedict's Latest Take on Islam."). There's evidence, too, that many women don't want radical change. A government poll in 2006 — one of the few attempts to gauge women's opinions — found that 86% thought women shouldn't work in a mixed environment, and 89% agreed women shouldn't drive. Iman al-Alqeel, the editor of Hayat, a conservative magazine for girls, says most of her readers find the thought of working or studying around boys and men intimidating. -- Andrew Lee Butters

 

"NIQAB" NOT MANDATORY

While identifying the paarts of a woman’s body which should be covered, the Qur’an also gives us evidence to refute the claim of those who associate "Niqab" (Veils, face covers) as an ingredient of a woman’s dress code ordained by Allah. THE EXAMPLE OF MARY the mother of Jesus (p) is mentioned in the Qur'an as the woman chosen and purified above all the women of all the worlds. "And when the angels said: O Mary! Surely Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of all the worlds." (3:42). She has been acalled as an example for the believers and her conduct is called to exemplify: "And Allah sets forth an example to those who believe . . . Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, so we breathed into her of Our inspiration and she accepted the truth of the words of her Sustainer and His books, and she was of, the obedient ones. (66:11-12). -- Ahlul Bait News Agencya

 

Above all, to question the veil, Muslims must challenge what the US-based academic of Hyderabad origin, Muqtadar Khan, calls the “epistemological hijab”, the curtain that the male Muslim clergy has kept between Islamic scripture and women. Muslims engaged in ripping apart this epistemological curtain can see that during the lifetime of the Prophet and for a while thereafter, the Muslim woman was acknowledged as an autonomous human being. She was considered a person in her own right, not just a mother, sister, wife or daughter. Over fourteen centuries ago, it was both an obligation and a right of Muslim women to participate actively in the religious, economic, social and political life of the community. The clergy must explain how it happened that the female sex subsequently got pushed out of the common public space. The “pious burqa” is but a manifestation of this subversion of early Islam. -- Javed Anand  

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