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Books and Documents

Islam, Women and Feminism

It is as though life is imitating art and these terrorists are acting out the Danish cartoons that prompted violent, sometimes deadly riots in more than a dozen Islamic countries in 2006. At the heart of the violent fury was an offensive representation of the turban. Some of the 12 controversial cartoons conjoined the turban with the sword, or with its modern counterpart, the bomb. This was identified by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, then the Danish prime minister, as his country’s worst international crisis since World War II. The turban, like the veil, predates Islam. Never mentioned in the Koran, it appears more than 20 times in the Old Testament as a symbol of prophecy among the Israelites. “He set the turban on his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden plate, the holy crown, as Yahweh commanded Moses” (Leviticus 8:9). Putting on the turban, however, evolved into a synonym for conversion to Islam. For centuries, Muslims identified this headgear as a symbol of honor, dignity, piety and distinction. According to a number of authoritative Islamic narratives, all major religious figures, beginning with Adam, were turbaned. So were the angels. Islamic painting abounds in depictions of prophets, kings, and political dignitaries whose crowns of hair are fully covered. -- Farzaneh Milani

The war in Afghanistan costs US taxpayers two billion dollars a week. However, these phenomenal figures have not translated into anything tangible for Afghan women. Ten years ago on October 7, the NATO troops, captained by the USA, landed in Afghanistan. This UN-mandated invasion was coached in beautiful slogans like liberation of Afghan women from misogynist Taliban. Ten years on, the situation in our country, however, remains grim. Widespread violence, lack of health care and poverty make Afghanistan the worse country in the world for women, according to a study by the Thomson-Reuters Foundations. Such studies, by the way, have become common place. The Thomson-Reuters study was based on interviews with 213 experts world-wide. This study placed Afghanistan on top of five worst countries for women. -- Sahar Saba

 

Now we have women in government and prominent positions in civil society, with 69 female MPs in parliament, 27 percent of the total – some achievement when you consider that only 22 percent of UK MPs are women. Of the 7 million children who go to school, 40 percent are girls. But Afghanistan remains the worst place to live as a mother and as a woman, according to UN studies. Any Afghan will tell you that security is their primary concern. Without security you cannot implement an economic strategy, expand education and health or tackle deep-rooted problems such as corruption, drug trafficking and violence against women. -- Fawzia Koofi

Ten years ago the West closed down the debate on Afghanistan with stories of oppression. The reality is far more complex still. This isn't just history, the conflation of western aggression and women's rights has underpinned the last 10 years of conflict. Laura Bush has expanded on her 2001 themes at regular intervals ever since. In 2010, Time ran a cover photo of a girl, Bibi Aisha, whose nose had been cut off, and used the headline: “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan.” As my colleague Jonathan Steele points out in his fascinating new book, Ghosts of Afghanistan, Bibi's story didn't quite fit the template of brutal Taliban. But it didn't much matter. The plight of Afghan women was a rallying cry that didn't allow for discussion or nuance. There was enough truth — such as the worst maternal mortality in the world — to silence any doubt. This simplistic morality tale of how American soldiers would advance the rights of Afghan women fits neatly into the thesis put forward by Susan Faludi in her book, The Terror Dream. Here she analysed how, after 9/11, Americans used historical myths, of cowboys rescuing and protecting weak women, for instance, in a bid to make larger sense of the attack. -- Madeleine Bunting

IF the US is the 800-pound gorilla that stamps on itself, Pakistan is like a python which thinks it’s crushing its prey but is really asphyxiating itself. Pressure will mount, pressure will subside, and there’ll be paroxysms at times of unhappiness, circumspection at times of measured success and the ungainly and clumsy contraption that is the American policymaking apparatus will continue to make life for itself even more difficult when it comes to Pakistan. As for the Pakistani side, expect more of the same, i.e. the same cockamamie nonsense that it has propounded for decades. Mullah Zaeef has memorably said: “Pakistan … is so famous for treachery that it is said they can get milk from a bull. They have two tongues in one mouth, and two faces on one head so they can speak everybody’s language; they use everybody, deceive everybody.” -- Cyril Almeida

 

“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



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NEW COMMENTS

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    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
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    ( By Sultan Shahin )
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    ( By Sultan Shahin )
  • disprove my statement instead of frothing at the mouth. keep calm and refute statements.did or did not the prophet ban jews and polytheists from ...
    ( By hats off! )
  • What a vicious and narrow-minded comment from Hats Off! He is seething with hate against the Prophet and finds a venue to express his ...
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Hats Off is projecting his own mendacity on to others. By the way, it is the Notre Dame Cathedral which is in Paris.  The ...
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • we can emulate the prophet, but we do not have any jews here to drive out.also in these days of human rights and whatnot, ...
    ( By hats off! )
  • whatever answers we need for our times can be better given by honesty and frankness. not by emigrating to france and undertake exegetical gymnastics.and ...
    ( By hats off! )
  • While Naseer sb. is busy identifying kafirs amongst us, let me post some of the thoughts of the best known writer on Progressive Islam, ...
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Why can't modern Muslims conceptualize an idealized modern state themselves rather than go searching for models in history?
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • He would take us further forward from where we are today.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • This is not the time for Muslims to flex any muscles. We need to maintain a low profile.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Dear Sultan Shahin sb, You have given good suggestion.
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصديقي )
  • We should also tell Tablighis and other Muslim organisatios to avoid gathering Muslims even in small numbers at one place for the next six ...
    ( By Sultan Shahin )
  • Janab Ghaus Sb, Please share with me some quotings about Istiwa alal arsh as I need them, specially from classical scholars on whom all can ...
    ( By Kaniz Fatma )
  • Excellent questions in the last paras!
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصديقي )
  • Necessary steps should be taken to reach what actually inspired this mob violence. Was it inspired by hate? From where did it come? And what ...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصديقي )
  • “lists 63 rules for determining Diyat"....
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصديقي )
  • This article has raised some striking questions. What might be the answer in the mind of the Pakistani PM Imran Khan with the concept of ...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصديقي )
  • نعم يا أخي عبد النور الشيخوني ، معك حق أن أهل المذاهب الأربعة بأسرهم اتفقوا على كون القرآن الكريم غير مخلوق، ولكن أريد أن أضيف ...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصديقي )
  • اتفق أهل المذاهب الأربعة وغيرهم من السلف والخلف على أن القرآن كلام الله غير مخلوق فما الفائدة في مثل هذا البحث الذي لا يتفق معه القرآن الكريم ...
    ( By عبد النور الشیخونی )
  • GM sb has no understanding of the meaning of  Islam. It is the religion of Allah that all His creation follows without having any ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • Naseer sb.'s explanation of "no compulsion in religion" is as follows: "The test is to see if given full autonomy does man choose to ...
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • What I write cannot both be authentic 7th century Islam  and shallow views. Another proof of GM sb being a windbag not knowing what ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • Naseer sb. is back to his abusive gutter-level language. He must feel weak and defeated. As per his habit, he is asking me to ...
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Who is asking you not to follow the truth or the five pillars or whatever? You are the one who is twisting matters.   Asking you to ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • GM sb,"There is no compulsion in religion". The Quran gives full autonomy. Do as you please.The test is to see if given full autonomy ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • Shahin Sb,There is no verse in the Quran that says "enslave" but there are verses that say "free the slave". The Quran also explicitly ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • Mullah Ghulam Mohiyuddin's concept of Islam is that of the bigots. Hats Off's concept of Islam is the same since Islamophobia is impossible if he accepts ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • It is good of Maulana Hats Off to tell us what Islam teaches. He is basically saying the same thing that Nasir sb. has ...
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Aayina,If progressive Muslims try to promote  rationality and universal brotherhood, would that be too upsetting for you?
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • There are so many references to Jihad as a military struggle in Islamic writings that it is incorrect to claim that the interpretation of ...
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Gulam Mohyuddin when told it was based on some truth here is example of too Muslim attitude and behaviour with us Hindus.It is simple ...
    ( By Aayina )
  • according to islam, muslims cannot hold any other idea or concepts or whatever except that which is in its holy books. no two muslims ...
    ( By hats off! )
  • Allah Almighty has revealed the holy Quran in order to guide and test the mankind, “He misleads many by it (the Quran), and He guides many ...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصديقي )
  • is there any verse which says by misunderstanding Quran some get misguidance and by understanding well the Quran some get guidance?
    ( By Khalid Hasan )
  • Aayina is repeating the same nonsense that Hats Off spouts!
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Gulam Mouyddin lies easily.There is nothing like moderate or progressive Muslim.Orthodox play game of Jihad, moderate play victimhood, and progressive play game of decisiveness.If ...
    ( By Aayina )
  • Hats Off's litany of past evils is of  historic interest only. It does not prevent progressive Muslims from keeping pace with progressive Christians, progressive ...
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Hats Off's hate war against moderate Muslims continues. He just can't stand the thought that liberal, progressive and modernistic ideas can be held by ...
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )