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Islam, Women and Feminism

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

 

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

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