Books and Documents

Islam, Women and Feminism

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

This paper argues that dominant norms and practices of gender relations of the Muslim community, far from being rooted in the divine commandments of the sacred text, are actually functions as well as strategies of both traditional and patriarchal interpretation of texts and cultural contexts. The issue of misogyny prevalent among Muslims is surfaced again and again in the Western media, as if everything is perfect among Christians, Jews, and Western civilization. Even though such criticisms are more often emotionally motivated, lacking logic and rationality, and, also, part of a cultural war, some areas of the general Muslim gender perception requires closer scrutiny and re-evaluation. This includes gender differentiation in witnessing and the permissibility of sexual slavery. The verse 2:282 is frequently used by many antagonists of Islâm to exemplify the clear sexism of the Qur’ân. Further, there is a general consensus among classical theologians that slavery and concubinage are allowed in Islâm. -- V A Mohamad Ashrof

In order to elevate the spiritual atmosphere, create proper psychological conditions and tranquility of mind, the Province of the Quds'eh-Razavi of Khorassan has created centers for temporary marriage [just next door to the shrine] for those brothers who are on pilgrimage to the shrine of our eighth Imam, Imam Reza, and who are far away from their spouses.

To that end, we call on all our sisters who are virgins, who are between the ages of 12 and 35 to cooperate with us. Each of our sisters who signs up will be bound by a two year contract with the province of the Quds'eh-Razavi of Khorassan and will be required to spend at least 25 days of each month temporarily married to those brothers who are on pilgrimage. The period of the contract will be considered as a part of the employment experience of the applicant. The period of each temporary marriage can be anywhere between 5 hours to 10 days. -- Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Linda Mattar, President of the League for Women's Rights: "Many women don't even know what rights they could have". "Many women here have everything they want and don't care at all about politics," she says. "Others don't have anything and don't even know what rights they could have." But she will continue as long as she remains healthy and clear-headed. Najlaa, by contrast, is concerned only with her personal struggle. The energetic woman with a successful career and family provides an example to other women in Lebanon considering following the same path. For the most part, this has earned her a great deal of respect. Yet, Lebanese society is very schizophrenic. "There are many taboos and you are never truly free. That is, unless you make yourself free. And you can't care what other people think or how they treat you," she says. This requires a great deal of strength. A strength that Najlaa Jaber possesses. -- By Birgit Kaspar


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

Deconstructing Burqa
Bushra Khaliq

Before quick jumping onto the subject of burqa better we understand the cultural aspect as well. Social assimilation is a problem with Muslim immigrants in Europe and west. Therefore, assertion of religious identity is perceived as only option for many. Since modern Western civilization is dominating phenomenon, leaving little space for rest of the cultures and civilizations to claim their space, therefore retaining and promoting religious identity is considered as last ditch effort to resist western civilization. -- Bushra Khaliq

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


The Taliban pounded on the door just before midnight, demanding that Aisha, 18, be punished for running away from her husband's house. Her in-laws treated her like a slave, Aisha pleaded. They beat her. If she hadn't run away, she would have died. Her judge, a local Taliban commander, was unmoved. Aisha's brother-in-law held her down while her husband pulled out a knife. First he sliced off her ears. Then he started on her nose. – An article in TIME magazine

It would be worthwhile to view the issue of the burqa within a larger social and historical context. Patriarchal societies, across time and space, have had a long tradition of making women conceal their faces through the use of the veil. The nature and style of the veil has of course varied from society to society. There are references to the veil for instance in Shakuntala, and to its use by women of the aristocracy in Europe in the 19th century, in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. In several parts of north India even today the custom of covering the face with purdah or ‘ghungat’ is widespread, and not confined to any particular community. -- Sehba Farooqui, General Secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, New Delhi

According to a special "religious decree" issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, virgin women prisoners must be raped before execution to prevent their going to heaven. A Guard conducts the rape the night before their murder. The next day, the religious judge at the prison issues a marriage certificate and sends it to the victim’s family, along with a box of sweets.

Tens of thousands of women have been subjected to cruel torture and execution. One method is particularly revealing: the Revolutionary Guards fire a single bullet into the womb of women political prisoners, leaving them to bleed to death in a slow process of excruciating pain. Even pregnant women are not spared, and hundreds have been executed with their unborn children. Many defenseless women prisoners are held in what are euphemistically referred to as "residential quarters" in prisons, where the Guards systematically rape them in order to totally destroy them. ..

Contrary to all of Khatami’s attempts to put a positive spin on the mullahs’ misogynist treatment of women for international consumption, his cabinet does not include even one woman. The appointment of a woman, Massoumeh Ebtekar, as deputy for environmental protection, was supposed to reflect "moderation" and Khatami’s attention to women’s rights. But this woman vice president is no "moderate," and is notorious as a staunch advocate of suppressing women’s rights. As a Spokesperson for the hostage-takers who captured the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, she once told an ABC Television correspondent that she was personally willing to take a gun and kill the hostages. (The New York Times, January 28, 1998). In an interview with Die Tageszeitung on October 18, Ebtekar defended discrimination against women and medieval punishments, like stoning. In response to a question on stoning to death, Ebtekar said: "One should take the psychological and legal affairs of the society into consideration as well. If family rules and regulations are broken, it would result in many complex, grave consequences for all of the society." -- Sarvnaz Chitsaz and Soona Samsami

The Saudi regime, controlled by salafi ulama in religious matters who are adamant on retaining strict control over women in the name of Islamic traditions. Women are denied their rights and free choice according to their conscience.  This may not be the condition in all Islamic countries but traditional Muslim societies impose several restrictions and still are not ready to relax. the kind of hijab many Muslim women wear covering their faces and looking at the world only through two eye holes remains controversial among Muslim scholars, theologians and modern intellectuals. Question is what is to be done. ...

Let Muslim jurists and scholars realize that Arab ‘adat are far from divine and should not necessarily form the basic structure of the Shari’ah law. Today we must change this cultural base through direct reflections and fresh understanding of the Qur’anic verses relevant to women. This attempt would establish individual dignity and freedom of choice for women. Freedom of conscience is an important doctrine of the Qur’an and so is the individual dignity. Qur’an is far more in harmony with human dignity and freedom that the traditional medieval cultural practices. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

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

Why burqa is wrong
Nadeem F Pracha

Reacting to the forced veiling practised in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and in some parts of Pakistan, Prof Ziauddin Sardar says that modesty should not be reduced to a piece of cloth, rather it should be a total package of behaviour and a distinctive moral outlook. Most progressive Muslim scholars have accused traditional and literalist interpretations of Islamic customs that deal with the issue. They believe these interpretations propagate that unveiled women alone are responsible for a lack of moral modesty, not to say sexual obsession of men.

They say that Islam clearly talks about how men too should behave in front of women, so how come, over the centuries, it is only women who were asked to dress properly? There have been cases in various Muslim countries where men, after assaulting or raping a woman, said that they did so because ‘she was asking for it’; meaning that not adorning the veil amounted to an invitation to assault.

This begs the question: is it really liberation that a woman feels behind a veil, or is this liberation only about freeing oneself from the thought of ever daring to challenge male-dominated interpretations of exactly how a Muslim woman should dress and behave?—Nadeem F Paracha

Temporary marriage, or “sighah”, is an accepted custom in the Shia branch of Islam. Under sighah, a couple can contract to live together for a specific period of time – anywhere from one day to a lifetime.The practice is a low-cost alternative to the standard form of marriage, which requires the groom and his family to come up with money, sometimes thousands of dollars, for the bride price. Those who cannot afford a permanent wife but want the comforts of marriage can go the temporary route. -- Sayed Yaqub


Recently, I had the opportunity to attend one such workshop—in Mumbai—organized by the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism. The Centre is headed by the noted Islamic scholar, Asghar Ali Engineer, who has played a key role in the development of what is called ‘Islamic Feminism’, or what others, having problems with the word ‘feminism’, call a gender-sensitive understanding or interpretation of Islam. The intensive three-day workshop brought together almost fifty social activists, mostly Muslim women, and a sprinkling of journalists and academics from across India.  The first few sessions of the workshop were conducted by Zeenat Shaukat Ali, who teaches Islamic Studies at Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College. Author of two important books that spell out a gender-egalitarian understanding of Islam, namely ‘Marriage and Divorce in Islam’ and ‘Empowerment of Women in Islam’, Dr. Ali is a prolific writer whose articles regularly appear in various newspapers and journals. -- Rehana Khan


The Prophet Mohammed married Ayesha Siddiqa after the death of his first wife Khadija. One account claims that she was betrothed at the age of six and married when she was nine, but later studies have established beyond doubt that she was more than 19 years old at the time of marriage. She lived with her husband in Medina till he breathed his last; a period of ten crucial and formative years in the history of the new religion.

All biographical accounts of Ayesha show that her personality was a rich combination of beauty and brains. She possessed an inquisitive mind and showed great aptitude for learning not only the religion and its laws but was equally interested in literature, poetry, history and medicine. Islamic law recognise Quran and Sunna, including Hadith (Prophetic actions and saying), as the main sources of religious law and morality and Ayesha is reputed to have been proficient in both. -- Arif M. Khan

Dr Nurit Peled-Elhanan is an Israeli woman whose 13 year old daughter Smadar Elhanan was killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem in September 1997. Nurit was invited to deliver a speech on International Women’s Day in Strasbourg earlier this month. As a bereaved mother she was expected to express her deepest pain and trauma at her personal loss and criticise in strongest possible terms the Palestinians who have been blowing up hundreds of innocent sons and daughters of Israeli women in the name of jihad and fight for freedom. But what she said proves that despite all the madness, strife and bloodshed in the Israel-Palestine region, humanity has survived. And that gives us hope. We are presenting here the full text of her speech…Editor

Since I signify to the West the image of an emancipated, modern, outspoken and Muslim Saudi woman, the questions people ask wherever I go never cease to amaze me. And I feel the responsibility to act as a self-appointed cultural diplomat to explain what being a Saudi woman means to me - and many Saudi women, in the process bridging the gap between my country and the world.

Most recently, a Saudi friend who wears a hijab, or headscarf, visited me in Vienna and we were asked: why does one of you cover your hair while the other doesn't?

It's an interesting question, and the answer is not unique to Muslims; the followers of Christianity and Judaism also have expectations about female (and male) attire that differ from one community to another, and even from one family to another. I've also been asked what we wear under our abaya, the long cloak Saudi women wear in public; what our workplace looks like; and how we interact with our families and friends. -- Lulua Asaad

It is not just the traditional ulema who, because of their excessively defensive and cautious approach to women’s social roles, have caused such damage to Muslim women and to the wider Muslim society. Even the supposedly ‘enlightened’ and more ‘modern’ Islamist scholar, Maulana Syed Abul ‘Ala Maududi shared similar views. In fact, in his widely-red book Purdah Maududi comes across as even more stern and extreme in his opposition to women’s freedom than the traditional ulema. For instance, the putative founders of the four major schools of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence and their followers all allowed for Muslim women to keep their faces unveiled, while Maududi stiffly opposed this, along with several modern ulema, claiming that a woman’s face was the centre of her beauty and, hence, a principal source of fitna or strife. It is striking to note that the classical ulema did not consider this argument as worthy of attention. However, going against their opinion, the influential twentieth century Deobandi scholar Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi even went to the extent of insisting that a woman’s name must never be mentioned in a newspaper. -- Maulana Waris Mazhari

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Freedom fighter’s daughter acid burnt

Six-month-old girl married off in Swara incident

Woman gunned down at her house by ‘brother-in-law’

Woman seeks NSHR help to reunite with husband

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Saudi women step forward smartly

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Indonesia bans ‘tight pants’ according to ‘Sharia Law’

Islam grants women due status: CII chief

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

Photo: Sumbol, 17, a Pashtun girl who was kidnapped


Muslim women must wear veil to work: Cleric

Women’s participation must for genuine democracy: Zardari

Women MPs pledge zero tolerance against violence

Women’s role vital for world peace, says Naek

Saudi woman awarded CPA license

DNA test confirms abandoned baby’s father

Pressure for female circumcision lingers in the U.S.

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Niqab for Muslim women banned in Canadian province

Search for water leads to baby’s death

54 girls’ schools closed in Nara since long

Skirts galore in Indonesia's Aceh for modesty's sake

Dutch Muslim women are really Dutch

A Muslim Century: Myth Or Reality?

“Muslim women are partners in development process”

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau


The news this week is thoroughly confusing. The famous Deobandi seminary has issued a fatwa declaring women working for wages and salaries as haram. The noted Shia cleric, Maulana Kalbe Jawad, endorsed that fatwa saying, “Women in Islam are not supposed to go out and earn a living. It is the responsibility of the males in the family.” Earlier I heard him say on television that women should not take part in politics. Their function is to give birth to politicians! That sort of wisdom I have always believed cuts across the Sunni-Shia divide. People waste a lot of time distinguishing between them on doctrinal issues, and fail to see the consensus among them on reactionary social values.

Deoband has subsequently issued a statement that its ruling had been misunderstood and Kalbe Jawad also said that he did not oppose women working if they worked separately from men as in Iran. So, for a while the ambiguity these clerics have created can conceal their real stances on women and women’s rights. The title of today’s article should now make sense if it did not at the start. Who really are the Muslim women — those who are confined within the four walls of the house, or those who sit in parliament, or those who work alongside men and make an equal contribution to society as thinking human beings? What is real and what is not? -- Ishtiaq Ahmed

Shabana Azmi: Star of India
New Age Islam News Bureau

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Veiled threat of a secular society

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Muslim says mistresses are the French way of life

Siddiqui: Picking on Muslim women smacks of hypocrisy

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M'sia's women-only trains

Let Muslim women wear head scarves

Woman prof shot dead in Pak

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Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

Photo: Shabana Azmi


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Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

Photo: Muslim Women


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