Women’s Rights in Islam

Thesis Statement: Women’s rights in Islam is rather still seen to be much more liberated according to the Quran yet subjugated under Sharia Law since the enhancement of Islam.

Introduction

Since the beginning of time to today’s society, the epitome of the debatable discussions based about the status, position, and the role of a woman have been greatly indicated and reflected by culture, tradition, religion, feminism and misogyny. However, there is a high level of controversy when it comes to the issue of women in Islam that are basically caused from the many misrepresentations and misinterpretations with distortions due to having such a lack of understanding of the Quran and the teachings of Islam stating women in the Muslim societies being degraded or low and living under oppression and subjugation. This paper will discuss and focus on Women’s Rights in the Muslim world in regards to it being much more liberated according to the Quran but yet subjugated under the Sharia Law and to appropriately simplify an easy understanding to the allocated question – are women in Muslim societies really subjugated or are these misconceptions falsely fabricated from biased sources? To do this, it will begin with a brief discussion on the rights and status of Women in Islam according to the Quran and Prophetic traditions right from its enhancement through to the Muslim world today with additional information concerning its main violation of Women’s rights, followed by discussions and reasons on the many misconception of Women’s rights in Islam and distinguish the differences between the Quran and the Sharia law, and finally, this report will examine several Muslim countries that will identify the existence and sustainability of Women’s rights within some Muslim countries and distinguish any differences. Overall this paper will support and contend that Women’s rights in Islam is rather still seen to be much more liberated according to the Quran yet subjugated under Sharia Law since the enhancement of Islam.

The woman’s question based on Quranic teachings depends very much on how we or the individual understands and interprets the Quranic text. The Quran itself states in 2:228 “(women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them”. Afkhami (1995) simplifies this quote from the Quran indicating that in regards to their respective responsibilities, merits, and virtues – women and men are equal and Islam does not accept for either of them anything but good treatment and fairness. The roles of a mother within Islam possess such important status over a father according also to verses from the Quran but especially within the Hadith which comes to show how valuable a woman is. According to Baveja (1985), in early Arab traditions, woman exercised great influence over the family and the tribes due to having such a supreme authority with opinions that counted as a great deal within inter-tribal warfare. Though however, due to contradictory evidence available before the advent of Islam, women were treated worse off as men were given precedence over women, oppression was widespread, and women were degraded and considered shameful. Engineer (1940), El-Solh, Mabro (1994) and Beyer (2001) supports this position with examples such as “the killing of daughters” all agreeing to the fact that having a boy was much greater to the Arabs as they believed that females were considered as an embarrassment and regarded as a disgrace because they could not fight in wars and they were always captured by the enemy hence the custom of burying the daughters alive was practiced as a simplest way out to kill the daughters. To some extent, women were also kept as slaves; women were not given any share in inheritance and prostitution was rampant. Kurzman (1998), Sonbol (2005), Beyer (2001) and Quran itselfs points out the abolishment of such practices mentioned above due to the establishment and rise of Islam regarding women to be more valuable and treasurable and to not be mistreated or shamed. Anwar and Abdullah (2000) argue that despite the equality given towards women since the beginning of Islam, most abuse or mistreatment of women today is mainly due to cultural / traditional factors that are wrongly followed by many Muslim families within the middle-eastern countries which will be explained and looked into further in the last paragraph. Furthermore it is appropriate to also include the differences of Islamic law especially the Sharia Law applied in different Muslim societies across the world which is believed to have also caused such violation to women’s rights in Islam as a whole due to conservative societal norms and interpretations that has become one of the fundamental features to cause the lack of women’s freedom and outright abuse Middle East Quarterly (1997). Even though the role of women and men do differ in terms of responsibilities, virtues and merits, nevertheless, under the Islamic law women’s rights are empowered and protected, and is certainly no different to rights of men in accordance to the Quran which therefore supports Women’s rights in Islam is rather still seen to be much more liberated according to the Quran since the enhancement of Islam.

Ordinarily, the histories of women in general focus on western women and see their history as a way of life as models, against which the histories and lives of other women in the past and present are compared, Sonbol (2005) pg. 3-4. However, according to Kurzman (1998), Hirata (2005) and Abdul-Ghafur (2005), women in the west and their method of gaining rights has taken a long while to overcome which includes their first biggest achievement in winning the right to vote that took place in the post industrial revolution era. Yet nevertheless, Bajeva (1985), Engineer (1992) Muslim Women’s League (2003) and few other sources claim that women in Islam were given their rights 1400 years ago – these include rights pertained to inheritance, marriage, divorce, custody of children, property, evidence, rewards and punishments – these rights given to the women in Islam were only recently enjoyed by the west. To examine common misconceptions and mistruths in regards to women’s rights in Islam, it’s important to observe the Quran as well as the Islamic teachings and authentic sources in order to understand the truth behind women’s rights in Islam. According to Bajeva (1985), rights given to women directly from the Quran were curtailed and if not, trampled on by Islamic jurists who formulated the Sharia law. Engineer (1992) supports this position by giving one of a few examples such as venturing out of home alone – the Quran places no restrictions on the movement of women nor did it require them to completely hide their faces while moving out of the house. But yet, leading jurists’ interpretations on relevant verses and traditions of the Prophet required women not to move out their house except in an emergency and even then to have their faces covered. El-Solh and Mabro (1994) expresses that the jurist has placed such restriction to women in the context of their situation which paints a clear picture of how rights given by the Quran are taken away by the jurists in view of their situation and yet these sharia rules are enforced even when the context has changed. Furthermore, Afkhami (1994) and Kurzman (1998) points out the many sharia formulations are based on the human factor as well as such traditions and therefore many rules reflect cultural prejudice of the Persians and the Arabs rather than the just and liberal outlook from the greatness of the Quran. Therefore, based on the information provided above, it’s appropriate to contend and support that despite discovering that certain hadiths and the formulation of the sharia has been the reasons of taking rights away from women due to their own interpretation based on human factors and traditions – Women’s rights in Islam is rather still seen to be much more liberated according to the Quran yet subjugated under Sharia Law since the enhancement of Islam.

In the Muslim society or in fact the world, there are probably half a billion women who live in vastly different societies, lands, climates, cultures, economies and polities, Karaman (2010). Afkhami (1995) further suggests that contemporary Islamists regimes are most coherently recognized, and differentiated from other regimes by the positions that they allocate to women within the society as well as in the family. However Engineer (1992) and El Solh, Mabro (1994) points out information regarding Muslim fundamentalisms giving women negotiable solutions for domestic issues except rights for women and their position in society. Adding on, the Islam resurgence epitomized by movements as varied as the Islamic Republic in Iran, Jama’at-i Islami in Pakistan and Ikhwan al-Muslimin in Egypt , just a few to name, maintain to single out women’s relation to society according to the Islamic order. Bajeva (1995) and Papas (2009), supports this position by giving examples of different Muslim women in different countries that portray the religious fiat being often manifested alongside as discursive text and naked violence that depends on its legality on traditions that adopts based assumptions and capitalizes social structure and customs with an ethic code of womanhood suitable to Islam. These include men gaining control to an extent that include the power of life and crucial death to women within these Muslim societies. For example, men carry out honour killing (stoning, beating with chains til death, acid attacks) against women within their own family, due to disobedience, dishonour or suspected sexual transgression which were practiced in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and India just to name a few. Papas (2009) however suggest that women in Turkey are known to be more liberated in the Muslim world through secularisation as the notion of Islamic reformation did not work. It is for this reason; it is most unfortunate that in the so called Islamic states, women are seen only in their medieval image, not in the revolutionary Islamic image portrayed in the Quran. They are placed in purdah and relegated to a secondary role within the four walls of the house. Islamic jurists in these countries give more importance to certain doubtful traditions than to the clear statements of the Quran to see women in their own image Kurzman (1998), Engineer (1992) and Anwar, Abdullah (2000). El-Sohl and Mabro (1994) discuss approaches that have begun to surface in a number of Muslim countries that aim to set the issue of gender relations and the concomitant rights of women within the realm of human rights by combining social and political levels which affects women’s status in society. Yet however, the concept of human rights as laid down in the 1948 Universal declaration Of Human Rights is not easy to reconcile with interpretations of the Sharia which emphasises the hierarchical aspects of the Islamic social order, in which the free males Muslim possesses the most rights. Furthermore, given such rulings by male interpreters’ intent on maintaining the patriarchal system with women in a subordinate role, modernist Muslim feminists and human rights activists are arguing that this is not the real voice of Islam. Thus, despite discovering the use of sharia law that Muslim women are living under in certain strict Muslim societies – it is because of this, women are being oppressed and subjugated in these countries. Therefore it is important to understand and differentiate what the Quran says and the approach of the Sharia law however it is appropriate to support and contend that Women’s rights in Islam is rather still seen to be much more liberated according to the Quran yet subjugated under Sharia Law since the enhancement of Islam.

Conclusion

In summary, the Quran has emphasized many rights given to Muslim women, yet due to Islamic jurists who have formulated the Sharia Law – is the cause that has led alot of women to be mistreated, oppressed and subjugated due to cultural and traditional factors that formulate such law. Yes they have gone through phases of allowing some freedoms, yet, they have not been successful for the reason that modernisation is strictly forbidden according to Islamic teachings. This report has examined the role of women and their status according to the Quran and Prophetic traditions, it has also discussed misconceptions based on women’s rights in Islam and distinguished the differences of what the Quran states on the rights of women and what the Sharia Law says about the rights of women, and, it has explored various Muslim societies or countries with women who live under the Sharia Law. Nevertheless, this paper has discussed and considered information for an understanding that appropriately supports and contends as well as responds to the issue based on Women’s rights in Islam.

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