Critical Podium Dewanand Islam
Arab Women: Victims of Islamic. Gender Apartheid,
Part I by Dr Radhasyam Brahmachari
Sacrificer Dr Radhasyam Brahmachari
Sacrifice code wfor0428
Sacrifice date 06 Feb, 2009
Arab Women: Victims of Islamic
Gender Apartheid, Part I
by Dr Radhasyam Brahmachari
06 Feb, 2009
On April 4, 2006, Kuwaiti women made history by voting and contesting
in a local by-election for the first time, after the parliament granted
them right to suffrage the previous year. "Today is the biggest feast
we have been waiting for more than 40 years", said Ms Khaledah al-Khadher,
one of the two female contestants, to journalists at a polling station
in suburb of the town Salwa. "This is the first time Kuwaiti women
can show the men that we are capable, it is important that we do our best
and leave the outcome to Allah", she added. In the said by-election,
some 28,000 voters, about 16,000 of them women, cast ballots to elect
a MP from eight contestants, including two women.
It may be recalled here that in the first week of December, 1999, jubilant
mullahs and their supporters in the streets of Kuwait City celebrated
the defeat of a bill in Kuwaiti parliament that sought to approve women's
right to vote and contest in parliamentary election. The incident was
enough to understand the unwillingness of the chauvinistic Arab men to
allow full citizenship to their woman folk. It may be mentioned here that,
among the conservative Gulf countries, only Kuwait has an elected legislature,
while the rest are ruled by dictatorship in one form or another. While
dissolving the parliament in May 1998, Kuwait's Amir, Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad
al-Sabah, issued a decree granting women the same political rights as
enjoyed by men. But the newly elected, parliament rejected the decree
in the last week of November, 1999, by a narrow margin of 32-30 votes.
It took another five years for the bill to be tabled again in 2004; and
fortunately, it could gather more supporters this time round as sundry
conservative members of the parliament crossed floor, joined the liberal
camp and helped Kuwaiti women win their voting right.
It should be mentioned here that Kuwait is not yet a model of democracy
either. The head of the state is still hereditary, who appoints a 15-member
cabinet and nearly half of these ministers belong to the ruling Al Sabah
family. The Parliament has 65 elected MPs, but they don't have the right
to embarrass the cabinet ministers in the Parliament with tricky questions.
They, however, have the right to use the Kuwaiti press, the freest in
the Arab world, to air their grievances.
Nearly a century ago, the arch-conservative Arab world began to rethink
women's rights issues as celebrated Egyptian author Qasim Amin published
a seminal work in 1899 blaming oppression of women as the root cause of
the Muslim world's backwardness. It should be mentioned here that, in
2001, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) appointed an inquiry
commission consisting of Arab intellectuals and scholars for investigating
the cause of the dearth of creativity and backwardness in the Arab world.
It published the finding of its year-long investigation, called the "Arab
Human Development Report 2002" (AHDR 2002), in July 2002. The investigators
pointed out that the oppression of women is one of the major causes of
backwardness of the Muslim community. "It (the Arab world) does not
treat its womenfolk as full citizens and this suppression of women is
another vital reason that makes the Arab world backward", said the
report. "How can a community prosper if it stifles half of its production
potential", the report asked.
On 13-15 June 2004, religious leaders of Saudi Arabia assembled in the
city of Medina to discuss how the lives of the women could be improved.
Although the Saudi media highlighted the meeting, called "National
Dialogue", as a free exchange of views between men and women, the
presence of women was practically invisible. However, it prepared a list
of 19 recommendations and forwarded to the Crown Prince Abdullah; they
are yet to be enacted.
The reluctance of the Crown Prince to implement those recommendations
is not difficult to understand. Saudi Arabia uses Quran as its constitution,
authored by Allah. But in pages of the Quran, merciful Allah is not so
merciful to women and opposed to giving them freedom of any kind. Who
will then plead for their freedom against the will of Allah? It is Allah,
Who in His revealed book has permitted every male believer to have four
wives, to beat his wives if it seems that they are unfaithful or unwilling
to serve sex, and finally to kick them out of his house by easy oral divorce
(or Triple Talaq), without any alimony. Allah's discriminatory and unmerciful
treatment of women becomes more clearly manifested when He denies the
entry of women into mosques in this world and severely restricts their
entry into His paradise in the next.
In fact, in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive a car, sail
a boat or fly a plane. They cannot go outdoor with hair, wrists and ankles
exposed, or travel without the permission from a male guardian: husband,
father or son. From primary schools to the universities and in banks,
restaurants and in other public places, women are kept strictly segregated.
A woman who dares to anger her husband, risks divorce or being hanged.
These suppressed women want more freedom, more education, more jobs and
more voluntary organizations to deal with their issues. Above all, they
want humane treatment from the society, not just the rights. The 19 recommendations
that went to the Crown Prince, if enacted, would uplift the condition
of Saudi women to a great extent. Many observers apprehend that the male
chauvinism, which is at its worst in Saudi Arabia today, would strongly
resist the implementation of those recommendations.
But the situation is improving. Now among the students of Saudi universities,
55 percent are girls. Female life expectancy, which was 52 years a decade
ago, now has increased to more than 70. The number of children borne by
the average Arab women has fallen by half in past 20 years. Particularly
in Oman, fertility-rate has dropped from ten births per woman to fewer
than four. The age, at which girls marry, has also risen dramatically.
A generation ago, 75 percent of Arab girls were married before 20; today,
many delay their marriages till 30. On the contrary, the percentage of
Arab women, who wear some form of hijab or veil, is on the rise and the
number vary widely, from 10-20% in Lebanon and Tunisia, to about 60% in
Syria and Jordan, to nearly 80% in Kuwait and Iraq and 100% in Egypt.
It should be mentioned here that a verse in the Quran Koran asks women
to dress modestly, while other define modest dressing by commanding them
to cover completely whole outside their homes: "O Prophet! Tell thy
wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks
close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they
may be recognized and not annoyed" [Koran 33:59; also see Koran 24:31].
On the strength of the modesty verse, when renowned Indian actress Sabana
Azmi commented against veiling of women, the Muslim clerics in India went
crazy. On 10 October 2006, while receiving the coveted International Gandhi
Peace Prize, Ms Azmi said in the House of Commons of the British Parliament
that "The Koran speaks about women wearing clothes to cover her modesty
and she does not need to cover her face".. The comment naturally
and rightly infuriated orthodox Indian clerics, who declared her a non-Muslim.
"Who authorized Azmi to interpret Koran? Her profession is to sing
and dance. She has no right to mislead Muslim women", fumed Syed
Ahmed Bukheri, the Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid.
Recently, the renowned Islamic scholar Dr. Zakir Naik, president of the
Mumbai based Islamic Research Foundation, has supported Ms Azmi's view
in an article in Bangalore-based weekly Islamic Voice (December 2006 edition).
Similarly, female circumcision was not a prominent practice amongst Muslims
during the time of the Prophet. He introduced the practice after migrating
to Medina, mainly amongst his male followers. Regarding female circumcision,
the Prophet advised in a hadith not to cut the clitoris severely. The
"Reliance of The Traveler", a classical text of sacred Shafi'i
Laws, says (Amana Publications, Bestville, 1999, p. 59):
Circumcision is obligatory (O: for both men and women. For men it consists
of removing the prepuce from the penis, and for women, removing the prepuce
(Ar. Bazr) of the clitoris (n: not the clitoris itself, as some mistakenly
assert). (A: Hanbalis hold that the circumcision of women is not obligatory
but sunna, while Hanafis consider it a mere courtesy to the husband.)
Previously, circumcision was practised by the Jews. Muhammad introduced
it amongst his followers due to his conviction that it makes a man more
brave. It is, however, a matter of great relief that, the horrendous practice
is confined only amongst Muslims girls of Egypt and Sudan and in a few
other Muslim countries of Africa.
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