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Books and Documents

Islam, Women and Feminism

Proposed Amendments to Marriage Laws do not Guarantee Full Women Rights
Flavia Agnes is a Social Activist and Advocate

It is in this context that the Centre’s move to amend the Hindu and Special Marriage laws lacks clarity, transparency and is also extremely narrow in its scope, as it leaves out all women from minority communities and restricts their right to claim property division at the time of divorce. The bill was secular in character, and was made applicable to all marriages irrespective of religious affiliations. …

 

Stand Up For Religious Freedom
Sarah Posner is an author.

The contraception coverage requirement, Sweeney said in his speech, was “abnormal” and “not how things should be.” He warned of a “brand new form of bondage” due to people who “want to dip their hands into the government treasury.”  ” She told me that, as a “kid of the ’60s” she wasn’t always opposed to contraception, but that “the more we know, the more know how bad it is.”…

 
Crimes against Humanity
Hina Hafeezullah Ishaq

Crimes against Humanity
Hina Hafeezullah Ishaq is an advocate of the High Court Pakistan

Women are killed on account of honour, not only for allegedly having affairs, but also for exercising a right to choose their partner, an inalienable right guaranteed by Islam and the law. In a sizeable majority of cases, the ‘honour’ that is so dishonoured, is actually a guise for grabbing property. The Quran terms murder of one person equivalent to the slaying of the entire humanity. …

Clothe Your Women with Kindness
The writer is a journalist, writer and educator.

Every time I hear news of a man using physical force on his wife and children, I become furious. What is further infuriating is that as a man, to react the way I do is deemed strange. For some godforsaken reason it is widely accepted that it's a man's prerogative to correct women by force, especially if they are ungrateful and if they don't obey the commands of their husbands. …

Baby Scare: Motherhood can Change Your Life

I was still unable to control my sobs and cries over the unwanted pregnancy. If killing an unborn baby is a crime, then bringing an unwanted baby into the world is a far bigger crime, because you will not be able to nurture the baby the way his existence deserves to be nurtured. The system of the world is not gender-friendly anyway, unless there are enough women in the making of social policies. …

Pakistan, Women and Political Parties

Pakistan is a strange country. The importance of being out and about in politics is obvious to anyone with a passing interest in it. It is about time that political parties realise that women are a political constituency and their concerns need to be addressed and fought for,… In politics, the importance of constituency cannot be overstated. …

A Spiritual War: Rick Santorum’s Religious Fanaticism Makes Him More Like a Small-town Mullah

“Satan has his sights on the United States of America,... Virginia’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, touted as a vice-presidential prospect, also wants to drag women back into a cave. “I cannot believe that you would disrespect women and mothers in such a way,” he chided colleagues. “This legislation is simply mean-spirited, and it is bullying, bullying women simply because you can.”...

 

Women''s Rights and the Arab Spring: The Female Face of the Revolution

Given all this, one might be forgiven for overlooking the fact that it was a woman who played the central role in initiating the Egyptian revolution. Arab women not only took to the streets during the uprisings, they were also active in the media and in the organization of protests. ...

Women Education: Voices from the Debris

“Muslims have become beghairats (people who lack self-esteem) as they send their daughters abroad to acquire education and invite ‘God’s wrath’. Whether the act itself ignited God’s wrath or not, these words shook me to the core. However, the most important question, and one that needs an immediate answer, is why are women in our society kept away from education?  ...

“Don't grieve, your newborn daughter is a favourite of the Lord and will lead many Muslims to the right path. You should approach the Amir of Basra and present him a letter with a message that every night he is wont to offer 100 Darood to me and on Friday nights 400. But this Friday he did not offer Darood, so tell him that as a penalty he must give you 400 dinars.”-- Abu Tariq Hijazi

 

The Arab society, like other societies, was fiercely patriarchal society and one cannot expect patriarchal societies to empower women. In fact for women empowerment patriarchal societies are main obstacles. In Mecca women’s situation was very precarious and in initial stages women responded to Islamic mission quite enthusiastically and one of the first respondents was Prophet’s (PBUH) wives and subsequently also many women responded before their husbands or sons did. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

At a recent book reading in Oregon, for example, a male audience member asked me, “How does that even work?” These questions demonstrate some of the rigid misconceptions individuals have about Islam and feminism; many people think that they’re mutually exclusive categories. In fact, as a Muslim feminist, I have found them to have more in common than people realise, especially when it comes to social justice. Some assume that feminism is concerned only with the protection and advancement of women. But as a bi-racial Muslim woman, I can’t ignore the ways that different socially constructed categories, such as gender and race, interact and interrelate. My feminism is concerned with the dignity and rights of every person. -- Fatemeh Fakhraie

A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce – even from an abusive husband – or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that ‘dishonour’s her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.’ The tradition of honour killings are locally known as karo kari. Recently, a Pakistani family living in Belgium went on trial for killing one of their female family members. Refusing to accept an arranged marriage and living with a Belgian, Sadia Sheikh was shot dead with three bullets allegedly fired by her brother, Mudusar Sheikh. “That if anyone slays a human being – unless it be (in punishment) for murder or for spreading corruption on earth – it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind” (5:32).--  Aneka Chohan

Some Muslim scholars in Saudi Arabia exhort that 'allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia would provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce. The Saudi government, however, is considering lifting the ban of women's driving in a matter of 10 years. Hearing this decision of the government some conservative mullahs even claimed that from the day Saudi women would start driving there would be "no more virgins" in the Islamic kingdom. -- Maswood Alam Khan

 

Secular republicans saw, and some still see, the woman's headscarf -- interpreted by pious Muslims as a religious obligation -- as the wedge by which Islamic law will enter the Turkish republic. One practice, its secular critics worry, will lead to another. Mustafa Akyol, a young modernist Muslim thinker, disagrees. "The headscarf is expected from Muslims," he tells my students who have come here from New York University-Abu Dhabi, "but it is up to rational choice, like fasting for Ramadan. Forcing someone to wear it would be a sin. -- Roger Friedland

 

The viciousness of their attack took me aback. Yes, I confess, this feminist thought they wouldn't beat a woman so hard. But I wasn't just a woman. My body had become Tahrir Square, and it was time for revenge against the revolution that had broken and humiliated Hosni Mubarak's police. And it continues. We've all seen that painfully iconic photograph of the woman who was beaten and stripped to her underwear by soldiers in Tahrir Square. “The women of Egypt are a red line.” My body, and mind, belongs to me. That's the gem at the heart of the revolution. -- Mona Eltahawy

The condition of women in Iran in the wake of Khomeini’s revolution in 1979 bears living testimony to the fate of Arab women, if they make similar mistakes and fail to rebel early on and in a comprehensive fashion. For one thing, Arab women today would represent an extraordinary instrument of change, if they were to organize themselves with the aim of causing political, economic and social change, so as to form a clear response to the attempts of Islamists to hijack the idea of the secular state. Resisting subjection may force women to resort to violence, and this would require courage, boldness and initiative. Women have played significant roles within political organizations, liberationist or Islamist, yet they have most of the time been excluded as soon as the revolutionaries or the Islamists came to power. The United Nations has a role it must now boldly play through its Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who spoke boldly against Gaddafi, and must now speak with the same boldness for the rights of Libyan women, from the perspective of human rights as well as that of political participation. -- Raghida Dergham

 

“Mulk ko badnaam kiya hai!” (She has tarnished the country’s name!) Really? As if Veena Malik’s naked body is really the most controversial aspect of Pakistan’s image abroad. Last I checked it was the corrupt government, the oversized military and oh, bin Laden’s hideout that made Pakistan look bad, not Veena Malik’s curves. She is not an ambassador of Pakistan, despite the philosophy that every Pakistani is an ambassador of Pakistan. While she is clearly a Pakistani woman in Indian Territory, she is not the only one who has caused a stir there within the past year. India, and the rest of the world, knows that she is not representative of all Pakistani women. In fact, the West will experience this first-hand soon enough, with Sherry Rehman as Pakistan’s new ambassador to the US. And then Islam comes in. “She can’t be Muslim! She’s naked!” Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t. But the fact of the matter remains that her religion is her personal concern, not ours. If she is to be eternally damned to hell for baring all, then it is she that must pay for her actions. Not you, not I. Perhaps we should forget about her religious transgressions and focus on our own – tall order for a country with a blasphemy law, I know. -- Hafsa Ahmad

Some years ago, a young married girl was hounded by her family which tracked her down in Lahore and killed her husband who was from another tribe. The girl was shot and left for dead. She was taken to a hospital and finally ended up at Panah, a private shelter for women in Karachi. According to statistics compiled by the Aurat Foundation, in its annual report for 2010, Sindh province, with 266 honour killings, reported the highest number for any province. As many as 1,652 cases of violence against women were registered, including 246 cases of abduction and 308 murders. The killing of a youth who allegedly had an affair with a girl (who was later reported to be missing) sparked off violence in the Shikharpur area of Sindh, leading to the death of three Hindu doctors last month. There were protests in Hyderabad and other areas after the attack and no one really knows if the incident was related to the “honour” of the girl in question. Honour killings mostly occur in the tribal belts bordering Balochistan. Tribal traditions and the word of the archaic “jirga” (a tribal council) and panchayat systems hold sway. There is a practice of declaring any women a “kari” and the man involved “karo” meaning those who have brought disrepute to the family and this provides a “culturally condoned reason” for killing them, according to the report. -- Meena Menon 

I’ll tell you what it was like. It was sickening. It was dangerous and disgusting. Trash was piled and rotting in the open, distilled sewerage clogged the pathways, and buildings were crumbling from decay. The police don’t bother with regulating the area and if you report that you got mugged or harassed there, they’ll turn on you and question why you even went there to begin with. As we walked along the street, my husband pointed to a young man and told me he was a pimp. My jaw dropped. He could have passed for anyone; he looked like he had walked out of Eid Namaz. He had a clean complexion, full black hair, wore a black Topee and was dressed in pressed white Shalwar Quameez with a forest green Dupatta draped evenly around his neck. He looked so fresh, yet so unassuming. He had one arm resting behind his back and was discreetly scanning those passing by, most likely for potential customers or girls to employ. We walked further along and from a distance I could see a group of women gathered on a rooftop. One of the girls saw me and started waving. “Assume any girl that’s lingering on a balcony, doorway, or on a rooftop is a prostitute,” my husband instructed. -- Alina D

The Women of Karbala
Asghar Ali Engineer

Islam’s was not only a spiritual but also a social revolution. It empowered women and gave them equal rights which was unthinkable at that time. Women played at best a secondary role in any civilisation in the seventh century CE. However, Islam raised their status and assigned them an equal role in all worldly affairs along with men. Many women, like Umm-i-Ammara, even took part in various battles which the Prophet had to fight. In the Battle of Uhud, Umm-i-Ammara took the attack of a sword on her arm and saved the life of the Prophet. Hazrat Fatima, as all Muslims agree, was indeed very close to her father, and thus Muslims highly revere her. She too was brought up by the Prophet enshrining the highest values of Islam. Her sons, Imam Hasan and Husain, were equally loved. Her daughter, Hazrat Zainab, played a pivotal role in the aftermath of the battle of Karbala. Bibi Shehar Banu was the daughter of Kisra, the King of Persia who was defeated by the Muslims, and Hazrat Ali married her to his son, Husain. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

There is a line in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet: "Frailty thy name is woman." It hints at the fact that women are feeble creatures. There is a famous saying in Pushto about the status of women in society: "There are two places for women -- one is in her house and the other in her grave." Girls have no say in their marriage. Marriage between cousins is preferred so that family property stays intact. A refusal to do so is considered disobedience and against the family honour. Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) is very high in Pakistan and higher in Pashtoon society. To address the issue of the status of women in this part of the world is an uphill task. The root causes being a patriarchal society, poverty, illiteracy, cultural and religious constraints. -- Farzana Ali khan

Notions of Male Superiority, Domination and Beating of Wife Stand un-Islamic Today
Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam

The caption may shock most Muslim men who believe that God has raised their ranks over women and given them the right to beat up a ‘rebellious’ or ‘disobedient’ wife. Any Qur’anic translation in Urdu, Hindi, English or any other language for that matter, of the verses 4:34 and 2:229 will support such notions. “Men are the supporters (qawwamah) of (their) wives because God has favored each of them in different measures (ba'dahum ‘ala ba'din), and because of what they spend (for them) of their wealth. The righteous women are devout (qanitatun) and guard the unseen that God would have them guard. As for those (women), of whom you fear adulterous behavior (nushuz), counsel them, leave them (alone) in their beds and assert (wadribu) on them; but if they listen to you, do not seek a way against them. (Remember,) God is Sublime, Great” (4:34). -- Muhammad Yunus

Arab Spring & Women
Asghar Ali Engineer

What is important to note is the role of women in the political mobilisation in these male-dominated societies and, secondly, the shattering of the myth that Muslim women merely sit at home and are worth nothing more than domestic workers. Muslim women have proved that they can mobilise the people far more efficiently and purposefully. It is interesting to note that many women in Tunisia and Egypt were quite active in trade unions. They put their experience gained in the union activities to proper use to bring about change in the political structures of their countries. But post-revolution, a shadow of doubt may hang over their heads now. The question is: what will this democratic revolution offer them in terms of social liberties? Will it scrap certain rights that they gained under dictatorships? I have always maintained that gender justice is very central to the Quran, provided the Quran is read in its proper context. Today, with a greater role being played by women in public life, it is all the more important that gender justice be made equally central in the Sharia laws through the contextual and normative understanding of the Quranic verses in their true spirit. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

With this far-reaching anti-abortion strategy, the proponents of what they call personhood amendments hope to reshape the national debate. “I view it as transformative,” said Brad Prewitt, a lawyer and executive director of the Yes on 26 campaigns, which is named for the Mississippi proposition. “Personhood is bigger than just shutting abortion clinics; it’s an opportunity for people to say that we’re made in the image of God.” Many doctors and women’s health advocates say the proposals would cause a dangerous intrusion of criminal law into medical care, jeopardizing women’s rights and even their lives. -- Erik Eckholm

 
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