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Unleashing Muslim Women -Part II

April 25, 2009

muslimhate4501In order to establish the arguments for Muslim women’s rights today, it would prove vital to go back in time and analyze how women’s secondary status was instituted within the Islamic societies.

Whether it is highly acclaimed religious theologians or experts in the field of law, it is impossible to formulate a completely authentic interpretation of the Quran, since no interpreter can entirely separate the sociological, cultural and personal influences from affecting their work. Hence, Islamic scriptures that were interpreted in the early Islamic period cannot be used to dictate the political, labor and social rights of Muslim women today, since they were suited to the ethos, values and requirements of that classical time. On the same note, modifying these historical laws according to the changing requirements and values of the time cannot be considered a violation of the Shari’ah, since the Quran was first interpreted in an era, which was very different from today and the principles of the Shari’ ah are flexible to these changing societal values.

Islamic states which disqualify the international human rights standards on grounds of being manifestations of the western culture seem paradoxical in light of their rising trade with the west; oil exports. Thus, arguments by these states against the adoption of the international conventions could only be legitimized had these Islamic societies homogeneously practiced their Islamism across all levels of the society, ensuring its equal horizontal and vertical application. This, however does not seem to be the case.

As a consequence, women are still being denied many of their rights on the basis of religion within these societies. For instance, women in Saudi Arabia are still restricted to exercise their full rights to the freedom of movement.

According to the U.S Department of State:

Women considering relocating to Saudi Arabia should be keenly aware that women and children residing in Saudi Arabia as members of a Saudi household (including adult American-citizen women married to Saudi men, adult American-citizen women who are the unmarried daughters of Saudi fathers, and American-citizen boys under the age of 21 who are the sons of Saudi fathers) are considered household property and require the permission of the Saudi male head of their household to leave the country.  Married women require their husband’s permission to depart the country, while unmarried women and children require the permission of their father or male guardian.  The U.S. Embassy can intercede with the Saudi government to request exit permission for an adult American woman (wife or daughter of a Saudi citizen), but there is no guarantee of success, or even of timely response.  Mothers are not able to obtain permission for the departure of minor children without the father’s agreement.

In the past, certain travel restrictions were imposed on women due to the sociological necessities of that time, yet recent improvements in travel facilities no longer warrants the exercise of such historical restrictions. This reinstates how mullahs have ingrained the sociological, as the theological within the Islamic societies. Why else would such practices still prevail, when both men and the women are equally educated and independent to live, work and travel alone.

Similarly, various laws in Iran, like the Family Protection Act (FPA) and the mandatory veiling practice, which directly affect women’s social status and their freedom, have been repeatedly modified with the change in governments. First it was Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, who in a quest to bring about a social reform and modernize Iran, abandoned the practice of veiling and enacted the FPA. Both of these formulations were later challenged in 1979 by the religious opposition leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who abolished the FPA and made veiling a mandatory practice in Iran. This highlights how laws are commonly skewed towards fulfilling the political agendas of the statesmen. Had these laws been derived from the Shari’ah they would not undergo such extreme modifications.

It does not seem shocking then how Fitna (chaos in Arabic), is often used in certain Islamic societies to refer to a woman, similarly, in Iran a common name for a wife is manzel (the home).

It is because of this false assumption of chaos that women are restricted from participating at the public front and secluded to domesticity. It is feared that gender desegregation and the resulting increase in male-female interactions could lead to a rise in Fitna crimes. However, this chaos could be a result of the male intolerance of women’s higher social status, which could prove threatening to some when faced with the increase in the competition at the workforce. Thus, there seems to be a hidden agenda embedded within certain Islamic societies; male domination over the female, which is being falsely marketed under the religion, such that it has taken the shape of national laws, which are in turn used to fulfill political agendas favoring the male over the female.

As stated by Haideh Moghissi in Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism:

It was only the male who became individuated outside the family, and thus it was males, and male activity, that constituted the public sphere of society.

To be continued.

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