Islam and Women’s Rights

Voula Papas

 

WarningWARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES IN THIS ARTICLE

 

“Man enjoys the great advantage of having a god endorse the code he writes; and since man exercises a sovereign authority over women it is especially fortunate that this authority has been vested in him by the Supreme Being. For the Jews, Mohammedans and Christians among others, man is master by divine right; the fear of God will therefore repress any impulse towards revolt in the downtrodden female.”
Simone de Beauvoir – The Second Sex 1949

 

Islam, Christianity and Judaism are patriarchal, monotheistic religions and are bound by one thing – their contempt of women!

When confronted with the issue of women’s plight in Muslim countries, Muslim apologists insist that their religion has been misunderstood and that Islam actually grants women certain rights. They blame tradition and tribal societies for the low status and oppression of women.

Since Islam exerts absolute power over every aspect of Muslim society, from diet to relations between the sexes, why has it failed in fourteen centuries of its existence, to eradicate injustices against half of its adherents?

Turkey’s women are the most liberated in the Muslim world. This was achieved not through Islamic reformation but through secularisation established by the founder of the modern Turkish republic Kemal Ataturk. Kemal was the product of secular education and had always admired Western culture. He pursued a program of westernisation that affected all aspects of Turkish life – women were granted the vote and veiling was prohibited. If the Turkish system were to collapse and replaced by an Islamic theocracy we can be certain that women’s progress will be reversed and women will be at the mercy of the mullahs. In countries where there has been a raise in fundamentalism and reversal to strict religious law such as Pakistan, Sudan and Afghanistan women are targeted with vengeance and brutality.

Some Muslim scholars agree that Mohammed did proclaim some rights for Muslim women. For example he abolished the pre-Islamic Arabian custom of burying alive unwanted female infants. He also decreed that women could own and inherit property, and that women have the right to enjoy sex!

However, he did enshrine women’s inequality and inferior status in immutable Quranic law accepted by Muslims as the infallible word of God.

“Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because men spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those among you who fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.” Sura 4:34

“…Women shall with justice have rights similar to those exercised against them, although men have a status above women. God is mighty and wise.” Sura 2:228

Under Shari’a – Islamic law – a man can marry up to four wives. He can divorce his wife or wives by saying “I divorce you” three times. For a wife to obtain a divorce is usually very difficult. Muslim apologists claim that Muslim women have the right to divorce and that in Islam the mother is revered and respected. Upon divorce, fathers win custody of boys over the age of six and girls on the onset of puberty. Many women would be reluctant to divorce violent or polygynous husbands for fear of losing their children. Despite the exaltation of motherhood – Mohammed once told a follower that paradise is found at the feet of the mother – children are considered the property of the father with the mother being merely the caretaker. How is it possible for a Muslim man to respect his mother when immutable religious law proclaims women’s inferiority and inadequacy?

Under the Shari’a, compensation for the murder of a woman is half the amount of that of a man. A woman’s testimony in court is worth only half of a man’s. Women are entitled to only half the inheritance of males; the reason given for these is that males have families to provide for. In sura 4:34 men are granted superiority and authority over women because they spend their wealth to maintain them, this implies that women are a burden on society and that their work in caring for children, household and livestock is insignificant and trivial.

Girls as young as nine can be married off by their father even if the mother disapproves of the marriage, often they end up as second or third wives of much older men – here is a way to instantly eradicate illegal paedophilia! Conservative clerics have resisted moves to raise the minimum age for girls. One of Mohammed’s wives, Aisha was seven when she was betrothed to Mohammed and nine when the marriage was consummated, Mohammed was in his fifties with several wives.

Any attempts by various governments to give women more freedoms, greater property and marriage rights have been vehemently opposed by conservative Islamists, who insist that the reforms are against Islam.

In the Qur’an the prescribed penalty for adultery is one hundred lashes and a year in exile – sura 24:1. However, Mohammed did condemn people to be stoned to death, in one case the rabbis brought a man and a woman accused of adultery, Mohammed ordered the pair to be stoned to death. The Jews practiced stoning for adultery and it is mentioned in the Old Testament under Mosaic Law. Today many Islamic fundamentalists advocate the stoning of women and stoning does occur in many Muslim countries.

In Muslim countries, men have the power of life and death over their women. Honour-killers usually escape punishment and the ones that are tried and convicted, receive only a few months in prison where they are treated like heroes by other inmates. Honour killings are carried out by men against women in their family for disobedience or suspected sexual transgressions. Even women who have been raped are killed for defiling the family honour.

Survivor of Honour Killing

Survivor of Honour Killing

Survivor of Honour Killing

Survivor of Honour Killing

In Jordan, the royal family has condemned honour killings but the government has not acted in repealing lenient laws for fear of enraging Islamic conservatives. The frighteningly powerful Islamic Action Front party, has declared that the proposal to introduce harsh laws against honour-killers “would destroy our Islamic, social and family values by stripping men of their humanity when they surprise their wives or female relatives committing adultery” (“family values” are certain to raise their ugly head whenever there is talk of justice for women!). Also they declared that honour killing is an Islamic duty and they justify their actions by the fact that Mohammed advocated stoning for adultery.

A 12-year old Jordanian girl returned home one evening from a walk with some friends. She was confronted by her enraged father who was shouting that she had dishonoured the entire family. He began beating his daughter with sticks and iron chains until she died. He told the police that he killed his only daughter because she went for a walk without his permission.

In Batsail, Bangladesh an 18-year old woman was flogged to death for “immoral” behaviour on the order of Muslim Clerics.
A 16-year old Jordanian girl had her throat slit by her brother after having been raped by another of her brothers.
An Egyptian father paraded his daughter’s severed head through the streets shouting: “I have avenged my honour” .

A woman that is not a virgin on her wedding night is likely to be killed by her male relatives.

Honour killings also occur among Arab Christians who claim that it is their tradition. Tradition has always been religion’s ally in the subjugation of women. Tradition and religion are the iron ball and chain that hinder women’s progress.

In countries governed by the Shari’a a woman’s testimony is worth only half of that of a man’s. In Pakistan since Islamisation, rape victims are charged with “zina” – sex outside marriage – and are sent to prison.

In 1977 a Saudi princess and her lover were sentenced to death and executed. The princess was separated from her husband and intended to leave the country with her lover. The execution was captured on camera by a British tourist and was televised all over the world. In Saudi Arabia women are subject to many harsh restrictions. They are forbidden to drive and most jobs are denied to them. The only evidence of their existence is the appearance of their name on their father’s or husband’s ID card. While women are expected to abide by a medieval and self-effacing moral code, Saudi men are importing planeloads of prostitutes from overseas and are buying sex- slaves from impoverished countries in addition to being permitted up to four wives.

The law on adultery usually applies only to women. Since men are permitted up to four wives plus concubines they would hardly have the time for “unlawful” sex! Recently there was a case in Nigeria of a woman accused of sex outside marriage. She was sentenced to death by stoning while the man she had sex with was not charged because there was not enough evidence against him!

When Afghanistan was occupied by the Russians, women’s rights were protected by law – much to the dismay of Islamists. When the Russians withdrew Islamic fundamentalists went to work in eradicating any gains made by women. The Taliban, a product of the Madrasah – fundamentalist religious school where boys spend hours every day reciting and memorizing the Qur’an – has taken the subjugation of women to new heights. Women were barred from employment and girls are forbidden to attend school. Women were also denied medical care because it was illegal for women to be examined by a male doctor. Any woman caught in the company of a male not related to her was sentenced to death and women were not permitted to leave the house without being accompanied by a male relative. Some women earned a small income by baking bread, when discovered by the Taliban they were burned alive in their own ovens.

The execution of Zarmina

In the Indian province of Kashmir, Muslim fundamentalists have demanded that all women (even those who are not Muslim) start wearing veils. When the call was ignored Muslim thugs threw acid in the faces of uncovered women.

Female genital mutilation is an African custom that pre-dates Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is widely practiced in African countries, the Middle East, Malaysia, Indonesia and also amongst certain ethnic groups living in Europe, North America and Australia. In Africa FGM is practiced not only by Muslims but also by some Christian and Animist groups as well.

Some Muslims believe that Islam mandates FGM and they continue its practice in order to ensure that their daughters will remain chaste until marriage. The doctrine of “chastity equals goodness” is nothing more than a device designed to control women’s sexuality and to reduce women into objects “new” and “used!” Sounds familiar? In the US, Christian fundamentalists have embarked on a “chastity and family values” crusade in order to curb women’s sexual freedom and autonomy.

Islam’s psychotic obsession with female chastity, modesty and virginity has rendered men incapable of viewing women as equal and worthy companions. How can we expect these men to treat women decently when their religion and culture forbids it! In fact, Muslim men can relax only when their foot is firmly placed on their women’s necks!

Veil

In Muslim societies religion governs all aspects of life and has priority over secular laws and local customs, therefore, the excuse that tradition alone is responsible for women’s oppression is untenable. Unless Muslim apologists are prepared to back their claims by a campaign to reform their religion and improve the situation of women, their assertions that Islam is blameless in oppressing women, are null and void.

There is a risk that multiculturalism and freedom of religion will ensure that tradition and religion remain eternally immutable. Should respecting other cultures mean that we should turn a blind eye to sadism, torture and brutality?

How long I wonder, will the world continue to tolerate the gender apartheid in the Islamic world and still persist in calling itself civilised?

QUOTES:

“Women are not given the right to instigate divorce because they are prone to emotional and irrational decision making. A husband, however, can divorce his wife at any time he so wishes.” Ayatollah Ali Moghtadai
Source: www.homa.org

Recommended Reading:

Amnesty International Pakistan: Honour killings of girls and women
“Broken Bangles”…. by Hanifa Dean
“Princess”…. by Jean P. Sasson
“Daughters of Arabia”…. by Jean P. Sasson “
“Desert Royal”…. by Jean P. Sasson
“Not Without my Daughter”…. by Betty Mahmoody
“For the love of a child”…. by Betty Mahmoody
“Unveiled”…. by Cherry Mosteshar
“Without Mercy”…. by Mariam Ali
“SOLD”…. by Mariam Ali
“Princess Sultana’s Daughter”…. by Jean P. Sasson
“Heroine of the Desert”…. by Donya Al-Nahi
“The Wrath of Allah”…. by Robert E Burns
“Do they Hear you When you Cry”…. by Fauziya Kassindja
“Holy Horrors”…. by James Haught
“Once I was a Princess”…. by Jacqueline Gillespie
“Mirage”…. by Soheir Khashogi
“My Forbidden Face”…. by Latifa
“Zoya’s Story”…. by Zoya with John Follain and Rita Cristofani
The Koran
The Hadith (sayings of Mohammed)

RAWA Photo Gallery