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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

From :

  • www.islam-watch.org
  • 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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