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Updated 19 Mar 2007
Women have achieved full equality with men in very few places on Earth. To be sure, the ills ascribed to Islam are shared by many other societies. There is a great deal of radical opinion, misinformation, and disinformation on the subject of women in Islam. History has a bearing on why women have been discriminated against since record-keeping began. Fortunately there are many women today doing their best to balance the scales.

Some of them are in politics or business, others actively seek to change the social order of things, and still others simply demand their rights. Among those in the second group is Irshad Manji; Canadian broadcaster, author, free thinker, and President of VERB, a TV channel being developed to engage youth on issues of global diversity. She is also the author of "The Trouble With Islam."

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Irshad Manji

According to Entertainment Weekly, Manji asked Salmon Rushdie, "'Why should I write a book that may invite all this danger?' and he said, 'Because, Irshad, a book is more important than life. Once you put a thought into the world, it can be disagreed with, but it can't be unthought.'" Manji's book has spirit almost beyond spirit. For example:

"I have to be honest with you. Islam is on very thin ice with me... Through our screaming self-pity and our conspicuous silences, we Muslims are conspiring against ourselves. We're in a crisis and we're dragging the rest of the world with us. If ever there was a moment for an Islamic reformation, it's now. For the Love of God, what are we doing about it?

"...reform isn't about telling ordinary Muslims what to think, but giving Islam's one billion devotees permission to think."

In one of her articles, Manji wrote:

"...I summarized my challenge to fellow Muslims this way: Will we remain spiritually infantile, shackled by expectations to clam up and conform, or will we mature into citizens, defending the very pluralism of interpretations and ideas that makes it possible for us to practice Islam in this part of the world?

One response from an intelligent male respondent made her think:

"Did I know about ijtihad? he asked. Not J-i-h-h-a-d, but i-j-t-i-h-a-d.... Ijtihad, he told me, was the Islamic tradition of independent reasoning, which he claimed allowed every Muslim, male or female, straight or gay, young or old, to update his or her religious practices in the light of contemporary circumstances."

"...Reflecting further, I recalled coming across the word ijtihad in my post madrassa readings... Learning more about ijtihad spurred me to ask: "Who are these religious authorities? I mean, does the Koran recognize a formal clergy? Nope. Do the Koran's wild mood swings make any interpretation of its text selective and subjective? Yep. So, could it be that the right of independent thinking, the tradition of ijtihad, is in fact open to all of us? That, by arrogating this right to themselves, the follow-my-fatwa ayatollahs are the actual heretics?"

Powerful and insightful stuff. Manji has received death threats for her forthright reporting, which prompted her question to Rushdie. Not only was a sensitive nerve touched, but a woman did it, and a gay one at that! Fundamentalist Islam can hardly take her lightly. See also our book review. Male dominance supports or underlies religious fundamentalism whether explicitly stated or not.

A prime example appears in the Qur'an:

66-5 "Maybe, his Lord, if he divorce you, will give him in your place wives better than you, submissive, penitent, adorers, fasters, widows and virgins."

A recent excerpt from Manji takes on the Muslim leadership:

"What makes them sound so sure is literalism. That's the trouble with Islam today. Muslims everywhere, including here in West, are routinely raised to believe that because the Qur'an comes after the Torah and the Bible, it is the final - and therefore perfect - manifesto of God's will. Which means that even moderate Muslims accept, as an article of faith, that the Qur'an is the untouched, immutable word of God.

"This is a supremacy complex. It's also dangerous. First because of what it does for the radical fringe, giving them more legitimacy than they deserve. And second because of what it does to the moderates. This supremacy complex inhibits us from asking hard questions about what happens when faith becomes dogma. Mainstream Muslims need to face those questions, just as the moderates in Christianity and Judaism have been doing for the past century. [Authoritarianism in the language of this site, and the problem is not just Islam. It permeates many societies, the US in particular. -- Ed]

"Instead, our leaders are exploiting Islam. Not as a sword. As a shield. They're using the sensitivity of religion to protect Muslims from serious introspection. Well, I don't consider this a favour -- to anyone. I say it's time to lay own the shield and accept the birthright of an open society: that there's no crime in asking questions. Sometimes pointed questions. Sometimes in public.

"So here's my question for Muslim leaders in Britain: How do you know that religion is a victim and not, even partially, a perpetrator in these crimes? For the sake of honesty and change, let's get that discussion out of the underground and into the full light of day."

Women in Afghanistan and Iraq have had a setback -- obviously the result of poor post-war security.

Leila Ahmed

Leila Ahmed has written from an historian's view, see her "Women and Gender in Islam." Ahmed writes:

" When Aisha was no more than nine or ten, Abu Bakr, anxious no doubt to create the further bond of kinship between Muhammad and himself, asked Muhammad why he was delaying consummation of the marriage. When Muhammed replied that he was as yet unable to provide the marriage portion, Abu Bakr forthwith provided it himself (Ibn Sa'd, 8:43). ...As Aisha recalled the occasion (Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 6:211): 'My mother came to me and I was swinging on a swing... She took me in, and the prophet was sitting on a bed in our house with men and women of the Ansar [Medinians] and she set me on his lap, and said, 'These are your people. God bless you in them and they in you.' And the men and women rose immediately and went out, and the prophet consummated the marriage in our house.'"

Islam, notably in comparison with Western religious practice, has hardly changed its treatment of women for 1,400 years. Stoning women to death happened before Islam, (see the New Testament), and it is happening today, even in a relatively progressive Turkey. There are few bright spots, and there are some very dark ones, like Nigeria,where Sharia Law is once again marching forward in handing out harsh justice (injustice really) for all Muslims, most especially for its women. In the fundamentalist sectors of Islamic society, women are hardly better off today than they were two millennia ago. The history of women in Islam is a snapshot continuum frozen in time.

Women are finding trouble being heard in Afghanistan, proof that a liberalized society takes time to develop. Women in Baghdad are more at risk for abduction and rape now than they were under Hussein [Dec 2003].

We begin with some links for historical precedents as a backdrop for the discussion of women in Islam.

Women & Islam, Dalhousie Libraries.
Woman's Status In Bible & Qur'an, A table of comparative quotes from the Bible and the Qur'an, showing strong parallels. Since Islam derived from Judaism and Christianity; they omit specific passages that define the relative worth of the male and female in Islam.
Muslim Women In History,

Compared with prior times, Seventh Century Islam seems to have been an advance. Islam's problem is that since then, the situation for women has not improved to anywhere near the degree that their non-Islamic sisters have.

Abdul Kasem

Abul Kasem describes the status of women in Islam.

From a site that is now unavailable, Kasem described himself as a 'murtad,' literally 'one who turns the back,' an apostate in English. A free lance writer from Sydney, Kasem was born a Muslim in Bangladesh. He and others like him are authoritative sources about what is wrong in Islam. Kasem wrote this about women in Islam:

"My introductory remarks on this series can be found in part 1 or part 2, [see above link] which were published earlier in NFB and other e-forums. Most ...religions, including Islam, oppress women. However, except for Islam, other religions have no teeth to bite any more. They follow secular rules on treatment of women. Today's modern women (in [non-Muslim] lands) enjoy their unbridled freedom and rights due not to any religion but to the lengthy struggle and sacrifice for women's rights fought by women as well as by men. The exception, however, is Islam. Subjugation of women to sexual slavery is fully entrenched in the Islamic Sha'ria that is alive and kicking with its poisonous tentacles. Thus comparing the treatment of women in Islam with other religions is simply spurious... If any comparison is to be made, then that should be done with the current secular laws.

"...Whenever Islam bashers' [read secularists] point out the despicable act of wife beating as per Qur'an, Islamic apologists spare no pain to exhort that Islamic wife beating is really no beating at all but simply a light touch with a tooth pick! They will even tell you that a man cannot do this light touching' without a valid reason. Sometimes, they will even go to the extent of proving that Islamic beating of women is actually very good psychologically for all parties. They reason that this beating satisfies the human desire of sadomasochistic' role-play. What a load of rubbish! The truth is that a Muslim man can beat his wife/wives for no reason or no good reason..."


Mukto-mona leads the way [an essay] provides more insight from Abul Kasem.

Mukto-mona is a website with a forum that emphasizes free thinkers from Muslim Bangladesh.

"During those initial days of contact most of the communications were via private e-mails. Soon these traitors realized the immense potential of reaching out to a wider audience, if only they could form some kind of a loose web group. This was how a site like Mukto-mona was conceived. The most energetic, efficient, innovative and erudite murtad Avijit Roy (later with Lopa Tasneem) and his equally efficient team of moderators launched it. To my mind it was one of the first (if not the only) website where I could openly express my heretic' views without being censored savagely. I fondly remember those early days of MM when we had heated exchange of arguments with the pious adherents of religion and their kafir [a person who refuses to submit himself to Allah (God), a disbeliever in God] counterparts like me. I still have great respect for those Muslims who engaged in debate with me in a very civilized and decent manner. Although we differed on each other's perception on matters of religion, each party upheld the right of the other party to express dissenting views. It was good to learn that a murtad' could, in fact, engage in a meaningful discussion with an Alim' [a learned person in Islam, scholar] without the fear of being beheaded. It was good to learn that it is possible to dig the core of a religion and question everything and anything. All these were possible because of the revolution in information technology and because there are sites like MM."

Mukto-mona is a website with a forum that emphasizes free thinkers from Muslim Bangladesh.

The Western news media commonly report the plight of women in Islam. When "justice" becomes injustice; it is newsworthy. When women are left uneducated, they are at an obvious disadvantage. When a woman is stoned to death for getting pregnant via rape, the world is appalled. When multiple wives are taken by a man, every such wife cannot possibly be equal to her spouse in-common either economically or in sexual activity. When the Qur'an states women are equal to half a man in inheritance, and directs a man to beat his wife if he fears she will desert him, how can there be any equivalency of women to men in Islamic society? It is beyond belief when a young girl is multiply raped by order of an "Islamic tribal court." Her only "sin" was being the sister of a male who reportedly had relations (whether forceful or not depends on the media reporting) with a female in another tribe without benefit of marriage. The following was posted by Pravda (2002-07-02):

"Criminal proceedings were instituted in Pakistan against representatives of the Mastoi tribe over an act of vendetta. People from [the] Mastoi tribe arranged a 'public' rape of an 18-year-old girl in the village of Mirvala, the Penjab province. The girl belonged to Gujar tribe of lower rank, and she was raped 'in return' [for] the same crime which [sic] had been committed by her brother against a female resident of Mirvala.

"The girl was also forced to walk around naked in front of a huge crowd in order to 'wash away' the shame from her tribe. The girl's family was ordered to deliver the vic tim for the public punishment. Mastoi peasants threatened to rape all women and girls of the Gujara clan otherwise.

"The Office of the Public Prosecutor instituted criminal proceedings against the judges and executors of the sentence. There are hundreds of different tribes living in Pakistan; a lot of them still stick to the tribal code of honor, which includes the notion of vendetta and tit-for-tat punishment."

Mukhtaran Bibi

The young woman described above was, according to tradition, expected to kill herself. But Mukhtaran Bibi was made of much sterner stuff. She complained to the authorities who took the rare action of trying the violators and sentencing them to death. Mukhtaran Bibi won a settlement of $8,300 which she promptly spent to establish two schools in her town. She is illiterate, but she understood the consequences when a higher court freed all but one of her attackers. How this one will end up is still not known. Mukhtaran Bibi has filed an appeal with the Pakistan Supreme Court. Her comment: "Yes there is a danger. We are afraid for our lives, but we will face whatever fate brings for us."

Jehan Mina

Another similar event was posted by Amnesty International. News Release on Pakistan,10 June 1997:

"Fifteen-year-old Jehan Mina became pregnant after being raped by her uncle and cousin. Her family filed a complaint of rape but since there were no witnesses, the alleged rapists were acquitted. Yet her pregnancy was proof that 'zina' [extramarital sexual intercourse] had taken place and she was sentenced to 100 lashes in public. The punishment was later converted to 3 years imprisonment and 10 lashes."

Fundamentalism in Islam is alive and well. And it treats women abominably. For a description of female circumcision see: Childhood Origins of Terrorism; this link goes farther afield, a little too far perhaps, but it is an insightful read about the fundamentalist quarters of Islam.

After the Qur'an, the primary sources of "law" guiding women's rights and lack thereof are the Hadith, Sunnah, and the Sharia. The Hadith narrates the traditions of the Prophet, his life, and the actions he approved of. The Sunnah denotes the actual life of the Prophet, a biography. Muhammed not only taught, but he put his teachings into practice in all the important affairs of life, and he applied them to himself. The Hadith sayings reflect the personality of the Prophet, who is to be obeyed at every cost. The Hadith, based on the Sunnah, both supplement and complement the Qur'an. The Hadith also affects the role and dress of women.

The Sharia (Islamic law), is yet another source important to the position of women in Islamic society. The Qur'an does not address certain topics and on others is not definitive. These areas are where the Sharia comes in. The Sharia is the body of Islamic Law that governs the daily affairs of Muslims, much like the civil and criminal codes of Western cultures. There is one important difference: the Sharia draws from the Qur'an, the Hadith, and other traditions for political governance. Therefore Islam has more "secular" influence in its sphere than Christianity does in its. See Hadith / Sunna Rules and Regulations .

The Old Testament does not describe women as equals of men and rarely accords them any explicit rights while the Qur'an, the Hadith Sunnah, and Sharia (Islamic law) explicitly guide Islam in all gender matters. This ancient contrast is held up by Muslim clerics to prove that their way is the better way as if time stands still. Few of us can take the Old Testament literally, as, for example, the admonition to beware the crooked, the flat-nosed, and the dwarf.

However, not all Islamic cultures interpret the prophets of Islam or the Hadith and Sharia in identical ways. The Taliban, for example, were repressive in the extreme, going well beyond what is in the Qur'an. Some local communities in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and elsewhere are similarly extreme.

From Amnesty International:

"The lives of women in Saudi Arabia are regulated by a web of mores, rules, and Fatawa. It is the will of the state that controls almost every aspect of women's daily life, from their right of movement to the right to redress for violent assault."

More from AI:

"Nieves [a Philppina maid working in Riyadh] denied the accusation [of soliciting prostitution], but was deceived into signing a confession written in Arabic which she understood was a release order. That confession was the sole basis of her conviction and sentence - 25 days' imprisonment and 60 lashes which were carried out. "

"Al Ahram" weekly online in an article (now archived) by Dina Ezzat reports some improvement:

"In Egypt's case, the report [Human Rights and Human Development by the UN] noted favorably the legislature's commitment to the principles of human rights. The report also says that Egypt is one of the countries signatory to the core covenants and conventions on political, economic, social and cultural rights." "Qatar empowers its men and women in first municipal elections [March 1999]." Qatar is among the leaders of Islam in freeing its people and moving toward gender-blindness.

Bahrain is also liberating its women, and men as well:

"August 23, 2001, 10:23 AM; MANAMA (AFP) - Bahrain has established a council to promote the role of women in society on the orders of Emir Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa, newspapers reported Thursday"

Thomas Friedman of the "New York Times" quotes Mansoor al-Jamri (editor of "Al Wasat," Bahrain ):

"...and the root [of 9/11] is that if you squash freedom, if you stop freedom of expression, insult this person and just give him money, he transfers all this money into revenge, because of having lost his dignity...that just does not fulfill his aspirations as a human being. He has some objectives. He has feelings. He is not fulfilled. ...This lack of respect has resulted in a bin Laden phenomenon."

Bahrain is giving their people more responsibility, a freer press, and more ability to control their future. An extraordinary number of women voted in the October [2002] election.

CNN News: Thursday, October 24, 2002 Posted: 4:39 AM EDT (0839 GMT); MANAMA,Bahrain (AP):

" Bahrainis voted in their first legislative elections in nearly 30 years in a ballot hailed by supporters as an important step toward democracy but criticized by Shiite Muslim groups for not going far enough. ...Early turnout on Thursday indicated that many Shiites, especially women, were ignoring the boycott call. ...Among the candidates were eight women the first time women have run for national office in an Arab country of the Gulf."

Shirin Ebadi

Also known as Shirin Ibadi, Ebadi is a woman lawyer, writer and university lecturer who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. She is a consummate conciliator via dialogue and the first Muslim woman to win the prize. We offer our congratulations. We also admire her courage in an environment often hostile to her ideas.

If you call her to offer congratulations, her name is pronounced: SHEEREEN eh-baw-DEE

Even as Ms Ebadi called for the release of political prisoners in Iran,she pointedly cautioned the US not to intervene in Iran 's domestic affairs.

As a lawyer, writer and lecturer, she has been advancing the cause of human rights in Iran for three decades. Of course, she gets flack for her thoughts and efforts in promoting these rights, See: Nobel winner refuses Iranian court

Iran is slowly but not so surely loosening its control over the lives of women. Faranak Seifolddini left Iran to get a Western education, returned home in 1994 to a real culture shock ( Science, 24 November, 2000 ). She became an Assistant Professor at Sharif University of Technology. Women made up nearly 60% of the incoming classes in 2000. Yet, while there is still discrimination, there is also a great hope. An Irani bureaucrat noted: " Young women have fewer options than men, so they are devoting more time to their studies."

Saba Valadkhan

Valadkhan is an Iranian woman who has chosen to become a scientist, and a good one at that. To illustrate, we quote from the web site of The American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS:

Saba Valadkhan of Case Western Reserve University Wins Young Scientist Award for correctly identifying "a relic from the RNA world" and proving its catalytic potential thus, solving a molecular riddle that has baffled others for two decades Saba Valadkhan today was named to receive the $25,000 Young Scientist Award, supported by GE Healthcare and the journal Science.

Saba Valadkhan is an inspiration to us all. She is a prime example of what Islam is missing out on by preventing Muslim women from having their rightful place in society. Saba Valadkhan solved a riddle that had gone unsolved by a generation of biologists. Her solution not only showed a catalytic effect of the spliceosome in gene splicing, but that it also usually deletes junk DNA. The spliceosome is a complex structure that exists within each cell that is required for organisms to mature and live normal lives.

Her findings are fundamental and will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the field of gene splicing, and thereby on the future of humankind.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is extreme in its strict practice of Wahhabi Islam. See Wahhabism.

In Mecca, Saudi Arabia,religious police forced 15 girls back into a burning school to their death in March 2002. Their crime? They tried to flee without their scarves. In Saudi Arabia, devotion to religious practices comes ahead of life itself, if you are a woman.

This heinous crime was committed in an extreme of piety. We find no support for such behavior in the Qur'an, the ultimate for Islamic truth. The Taliban did not allow girls to be even in school. These are some of the most extreme expressions of Islam. See Extremism and Fundamentalism. . On the other hand, extremism permeates all societies just as fundamentalism penetrates all monotheisms.

Wahhabi Islam attaches political importance to the idea of a unitary God and Islamic Law that must be integrated into governance. Saudi Arabian Mullahs reportedly preach hatred of the so called "infidel" and reinforce the harsh treatment of Saudi women through their mutawa'een (religious police.) The men don't have it so good either, but the treatment of women is more strict and harsh.

Amina Lawal suffered from harsh Sharia Law

Amina Lawal, a Nigerian woman, gave birth to a baby girl more than nine months after divorcing. She insisted that the man who fathered her child promised to marry her. Instead he abandoned her with no support. A court stayed her execution for two years to allow her to care for her baby. Under Shariah law, pregnancy outside marriage is sufficient evidence to convict a woman of adultery, a crime punishable to death by stoning.

After drawing world-wide attention, the Nigerian Government took note of the international climate. The Shariah Court of Appeal eventually overturned Lawal's conviction because she was already pregnant when Shariah law was implemented in her home province

Lawal now lives with her father, his two wives and their numerous children in the tiny village of Kurami, deep in Nigeria's Islamic north. Her home village is too small to appear on a map.

These samplings in the news do not reflect the whole of Islam. They do reflect an extreme quarter that persists in many places and too often with official sanction based on religious grounds. The Taliban did not hide, and the Saudis are not hiding now. Islam must reform itself if it wants parity with and the respect of the rest of world.

Ali Ahmad

To Quote:

"Shariah law is undoubtedly controversial. Its severe punishments fly in the face of Western legal canons. I have mixed feelings about these penalties. In theory, I accept the death penalty and even amputations, though in practice I believe that implementers of Shariah show little understanding for the reality that much crime stems from poverty and desperation. In my view, amputation for thieves should not be carried out unless and until society's poor are better provided for."

Netherlands is one popular home for Muslim refugees. Some have the courage to speak out. An example from this link:

"Ms [Ayaan] Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born immigrant who has lived in the Netherlands since she was nine years old, is an outspoken critic of the treatment of women in Islamic society, and particularly within tight-knit fundamentalist groups in Western immigrant communities. A member of the scientific panel that advises the Dutch opposition Socialist party, she has accused Islamic groups in the Netherlands of covering up the problems of domestic violence and child abuse.

Hirsi Ali

"In a popular talk show in the Netherlands, Ms [Ayaan] Hirsi Ali made a plea for full women's rights, including "complete personal freedom and individual choice." Muslims deny 'the serious imbalance that exists in relationships between Muslim men and women,' she said and added that, in this context, Islam could be called 'a backward religion'".

Regarded as an apostate, Ms Hirsi Ali has received death threats from the fundamentalist community. For more on this lively and courageous woman see: Hirsi Ali.
An online interview with Ms [Ayaan] Hirsi Ali

According to the "New York Times:"

"Ms Ayaan Hirsi Ali was forced by her father to marry a distant cousin against her will. A friend helped her escape and find political asylum in the Netherlands. Working as an interpreter for Dutch immigration and social workers, she discovered terrible suffering among women refugees from Islam. Girls suffering incest, beatings, and abortions followed by suicide were an all too-frequent pattern."

Fadime Sahindal

Upscale Sweden,23 July, 2002, "New York Times."

"Fadime Sahindal, 26, of Kurdish descent, was killed by her father because she had broken traditions to pursue an independent life. She became a symbol of the failure of immigrants to bridge the cultural gap between them and European society. Her crimes? Refusal to marry a cousin, and dating a Swedish man instead, and after many difficulties, including a trial of her brother and father for threatening her, she went on television to explain. "Honor killing" has ancient roots that survive until this day."

A recurring feature of Islamic history also bears on the role of women. Karen Armstrong, in her "Islam, A Short History" catches it well:

"If state institutions did not measure up to the Qur'anic ideal, if their political leaders were cruel or exploitative, or if their community was humiliated by apparently irreligious enemies, a Muslim could feel that his or her faith in life's ultimate purpose and value was in jeopardy."

Since the Qur'an aimed to create and secure a just community, all the trials of Muslims from that point forward were and are the essence of Islamic vision for both men and women. What the Qur'an ordains for women is part of that vision and is not to be tampered with. Submission to the will of Allah is part of being a Muslim. This is Allah's command. For this very reason, many devout Muslim women may oppose any change.

Western women were equally unaware of being discriminated against until the Feminist Consciousness Raising Movement came along. There were always a few perceptive and courageous women who tried to break the gender barriers, but as a nation, American women were commonly unaware. It is just not easy to question the society (or religion) one is born into.

Rarely does a year go by without reports of isolated polygamous practices in Utah that too often oppress and trap women in abusive situations. One such recent event involved the kidnapping of a young girl from her own home by a self-styled cleric, aided and abetted by his wife.

A current case, begun by Mary Ann Kingston, accuses her own family of forcing her to become the 15th wife of her uncle at the age of 16. Her father beat her when she tried to flee. Her clan consists of a secret religious society and economic organization.

Most Mormons, like most Muslims, are fine people, but each movement has its extremist fringes. The issue involving Ms Kingston reveals a glaring weakness in the way things are done in Utah. She had to resort to a law suit in civil court for redress. This is a festering sore and embarrassment in today's America .

Nicholas Kristof

A columnist for the "New York Times," Kristof went to Saudi Arabia to investigate this and other matters for himself. His column in the 25 October 2002 issue includes:

"In Riyadh, several Saudi women offered [a] scathing critique, effectively arguing that Saudi women are the free ones, free from sexual harassment, free from pornography, free from seeing their bodies used to market cars and colas. It is Western women, they say, who have been manipulated into becoming the toys of men."

"Saudi Arabia is a bizarre place. It has McDonald's restaurants that look just like those at home except that there is one line for men and one for women. Al Riyadh newspaper has women journalists, but they are kept in their own room; when a male editor must edit a woman's copy, he does it by phone. Saudi women wear bikinis but only in home swimming pools or all-women pools. They claim all this represents not repression but a culture they cherish."

Nevertheless, women in Saudi Arabia at the mercy of fundamentalist interpreters of faith were those who were forced back into a burning school house to be burnt to death. Saudi Arabia is indeed a complex place. There is something about it that is both deeply wrong and deeply right. Muslims themselves recognize this. See Extremism and Fundamentalism.

It is obvious that it will take much time for Saudi Arabia to emerge from the fourteenth century. Kristof asked two female physicians for their take. One of these educated women contrasted the lack of education of her mother with her own and the even-better prospects for her daughter to become president or an astronaut. The other said: "But you have to look at the context of development. Discrimination will take time to overcome."

A woman president of the United States is still only a thinkable prospect any time soon. In the world's most powerful nation, women are still not taken seriously enough.

Women of Islam

Certainly, women of Islam are less free to express themselves than men are. As a human resource, their contributions to their societies are behind those of their counterparts in most of the non-Islamic world.

Islam has no women to compare with:

Elizabeth I | Marie Curie
| Joan of Arc | Lisa Meitner | Toni Morrison | Maya Angelou | Jane Goodall | Margaret Mead | Eleanor Roosevelt

Recent events seem to be a mixed bag. Pakistan is beginning to face up to its backwardness toward women while Iraq's new constitution may in the end leave women less free than they were under Hussein.

Islamic pronouncements about women in Islam usually emphasize the equality of men and women in the Qur'an ; unfortunately we cannot find any such written basis for equality. It may be that some areas in Islam provide more equality than the Qur'an, Hadith, and Sharia ordain. If so, Qatar and Bahrain may be in the vanguard of a Reformation.

Compared with the above, Western women have made great strides until now. What follows is excerpted from a New York Times 12 Jan 2003 Editorial.

The Bush Administration:

Declared war on any sex education that discusses ways, beyond abstinence, to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Removed scientifically accurate information about contraceptives and abortion from government Web sites.

Backs a radical measure called the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act in Congress, which would in fact further reduce limited availability of abortion services.

Is trying to criminalize certain abortion procedures which would actually restrict a woman's right to elect the safest procedure possible throughout her pregnancy.

Bars foreign health providers receiving American family planning assistance from counseling women about abortion, engaging in political speech on abortion or providing abortion serviceseven with their own money.

Opposed special efforts by the United Nations to help young girls who are victims of war crimesusually rape.

Froze millions of dollars in financing for valuable programs run by the World Health Organization of the UN Population Fund to advance reproductive health and combat HIV and AIDS.

"What is important is the actual impact of the presidential assault:
  • women's constitutional liberty has been threatened,
  • essential reproductive health care has been denied or delayed, and
  • some women will needlessly die."

History shows a couple of features:

  • If the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs Wade, several states are poised to tighten prohibitions against abortions. Poor women with no options risk death (even when informed) and too many die in basement or garage clinics.
  • When information is withheld and restricted, and when women are disadvantaged, cultures decline. Islam itself is a prime example.

Of course the other religions are not blameless in their treatment of women; See Witch Hunts and Malleus.

There is also Hope in the largest Muslim nation in Islam.

Quite by accident a poor girl, Inul Daratista, in eastern Java drew a line in the sand between the secular and religious in Indonesia. Dancing and singing for a dollar a song, she made such a hit that she became big time on national prime-time TV in Jakarta. The fatwas flew fast and furious. Her sponsors cut her off and she returned home humiliated.

But a funny thing happened. Her fans urged her to stand up for her rights and not to give up. They also created a nationwide uproar joined by millions, including many in Parliament. Two months later she was back on prime time including a serial patterned after her life. She became more popular than ever. The fatwa issuers fell silent. Or was it Freedom, like they said, that spurred Indonesia's populace into action in support of one of their own?

The poor people and the middle class, her fans, made democracy work. Inul is a devout Muslim and continues her religious activities. She just doesn't go along with being the second-class citizen that Muslim hard-liners would have her be.

Have we heard the last from Inul? Hopefully not. But Mr. Bush has neglected all this so that his approval rating in Indonesia is now only some 25% of what it had been earlier.

In researching the links on this page we found a few that misquoted their sources too often to be explained as typos. In another case, a site went to great lengths to accurately portray the plight of non-Islamic women, while providing no rendition of what is comparatively better or worse about the role of women in Islamic society. Still other sites were obviously political or commercial, with consequent bias. As with every site, check the sources before deciding what or whom to believe. We could not be exhaustive in our evaluations and cannot vouch for the veracity of any of these or other links on our site.

For a site oriented for women and peace see Sandy miranda, Women, Spirit and Peace.


Islam in the Sultanate of Oman

Posted by oommaan on Friday, May 27, 2011 at 16:07:32

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