The Rights of Muslim Women
Middle East Quarterly
December 1997, pp. 83-84
Under the title of "A Declaration of the Rights of Women in Islamic Societies," a group of born-Muslim intellectuals primarily from Iran and South Asia, put their views on the record. These stand out as remarkable in an era when most of those concerned with the status of Muslim women argue that "gender discrimination began despite Allah's words and Muhammad's intentions."1 The latter reinterpret sacred texts to make Islam compatible with current notions. In contrast, the statement bellow, which originally appeared in Free Inquiry ("the international secular humanist magazine"), Fall, 1997, pp. 28-29, presents Islam as "a major obstacle to the evolution of the position of women."
We, the undersigned, believe that the oppression of women is a grave offense against all of humanity and that such an offense is an impediment to social and moral progress throughout the world.
We therefore cannot ignore the oppression of women by orthodox and fundamentalist religions. We cannot deny history, which shows that these religions were devised and enforced by men who claimed divine justification for the subordination of women to men. We cannot forget that the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, with the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Koran as their respective holy texts, consider women inferior to men: physically, morally, and intellectually.
We note also that whereas women in the Christian West and Israel have ameliorated their lot considerably through their own heroic efforts, their sisters in the Islamic world, and even within Islamic communities in the West, have been thwarted in their valiant attempts to rise above the inferior position imposed upon them by centuries of Islamic custom and law.
We have watched as official Islamization programs in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, the Sudan, and Afghanistan, among others, have led to serious violations of the human rights of women. Muslim conservatives in all Muslim countries, and even in nominally secular India, have refused to recognize women as full, equal human beings who deserve the same rights and freedoms as men.
Women in many Islamic societies are expected to marry, obey their husbands, bring up children, stay at home, and avoid participation in public life. At every stage of their lives they are denied free choice and the fundamental right of autonomy. They are forbidden to acquire an education, prevented from getting a job, and thwarted from exploring their full potential as members of the human community.
We therefore declare that ...
- The subordinate place of women in Islamic societies should give way to equality. A woman should have freedom of action, should be able to travel alone, should be permitted to uncover her face, and should be allowed the same inheritance rights as a man.
- She should not be subject to gruesome ritual mutilations of her person.
- On reaching the legal age, she should be free to marry a man of her own choice without permission from a putative guardian or parents. She should be free to marry a non-Muslim. She should be free to divorce and be entitled to maintenance in the case of divorce.
- She should have equal access to education, equal opportunities for higher education, and be free to choose her subject of study. She should be free to choose her own job and be allowed to fully participate in public life — from politics and sports to the arts and sciences.
- In Islamic societies, she should enjoy the same human rights as those guaranteed under International Human Rights legislation.
Islam may not be the sole factor in the repression of women. Local, social, economic, political, and educational forces as well as the prevalence of pre-Islamic customs must also be taken into consideration. But Islam and the application of the sharia, Islamic law, remain a major obstacle to the evolution of the position of women.
To achieve these basic human rights for women, we advocate that the question of women's status be removed from the religious sphere altogether, that governments institute a separation of religion and state, and that authorities enact a uniform civil code under which all are equal.
In the name of justice, for the sake of human progress, and for the benefit of all the wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers of the world, we call for all societies to respect the human rights of women.
- Reza Afshari, Iran, Political Scientist
- Sadik al Azm, Syria, Philosopher
- Mahshid Amir-Shahy, Iran, Author, Social Critic, and Founder of the Defense League for Rushdie, France
- Masud Ansari, Iran, Physician, Author, United States
- Bahram Azad, Iran, Scholar, Physician, United States
- Parvin Darabi, Scholar, Homa Darabi Foundation, United States
- Khalid Durán, Professor of Political Science, Editor and Founder of TransState Islam, Founder of the Ibn Khaldun Society, United States
- Ranjana Hossain, Executive Director of the Assembly of Free Thinkers, Bangladesh
- Mustafa Hussain, Sudan, Advisory Board, Ibn Khaldun Society, United States.
- Ramine Kamrane, Iran, Political Scientist, France
- Ioanna Kuçuradi, Philosopher, Turkish Human Rights Commission and Secretary General, International Federation of Philosophical Societies, Turkey
- Luma Musa, Palestine, Communications Researcher, United Kingdom
- Taslima Nasrin, Bangladesh, Author, Physician, Social Critic
- Hossainur Rahman, India, Social Historian, Columnist, Asiatic Society of Calcutta
- Siddigur Rahman, Bangladesh, Former Research Fellow, Islamic Research Institute
- Armen Saginian, Iran, Editor, Publisher, United States
- Anwar Shaikh, Pakistan, Author, Social Critic, United Kingdom
- Ibn Warraq, India, Author, Why I am Not a Muslim, United States
Identifications include countries of origin and current residence. Affiliations listed for identification only.
1 Reza Afshari, "Egalitarian Islam and Misogynist Islamic Tradition: A Critique of the Feminist Reinterpretation of Islamic History and Heritage," Critique, Spring 1994, p. 16.
Related Topics: Islam, Middle East patterns, Sex and gender relations | December 1997 MEQ
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