After listening to an “enlightening” oration of a young Moulana educated in the United States, who was speaking at my university on the status of women in Muslim societies, a student asked him why all the prophets were men? To my surprise his response was, “As women are unable to think rationally and make correct decisions because of their physical conditions different from men, they lack the ability to become a prophet.”
The young Muslim clergy was reflecting the existing myth in some Muslim societies that women are created less than equal to men and therefore they are at the mercy of men in all social, cultural, professional and economic domains of life. The myth, unfortunately, is strengthening with a surge in extremism in these societies these days.
The myth and the associated stereotypes about women have led to the worst kind of discrimination, an inferior social status and maltreatment of women in most of the Muslim world. Women’s basic rights accepted all over the globe are still alien to these societies.
Saudi Arabia is a case in point where women are not even allowed to drive cars, let alone having equal rights to work, property ownership, inheritance and the legal status. In a society where women are subjected to a strict dress code and cannot go out alone, the overall moral justification to keep women away from driving seats rests on the myth that being a weaker member of the society women need to be protected by men, and therefore cannot drive cars.
A recent article on the situation in Saudi Arabia highlights the following related issues:
- The government is urging private businesses to hire more women-under conditions designed to prevent mixing between unrelated men and women-but it is hard to see how that will happen if they can’t drive to work.
- At present, Saudi women cannot leave the country without permission from a male guardian. They cannot take out loans without having two men vouch their identity, even if they carry government-issued IDs. Custody laws automatically favor the father.
- In 1990, 47 women drove through Riyadh in a formal demonstration. They were all arrested, they all lost their jobs, and they-and their husbands-were barred for a year from leaving the kingdom.
(Aryn Baker, “Road Warriors” Time magazine, June 23, 2011)
True, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran might not represent the Muslim world entirely as they are the most extreme Muslim states while women have more basic rights in other Muslim countries such as Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia and even Pakistan. However, the overall status of women in the contemporary Islamic world is still defined as subservient to men.
Here are some examples of how we define women’s legal status in Muslim societies:
- Brothers receive substantially more property as inheritance than their sisters
- Women’s witness is legally considered half as compared to men: 2 women-one man
- According to the Sharia law in Pakistan women need two witnesses to prove rape
- Husbands have rights to easily divorce their wives verbally but wives do not have similar rights.
When it is argued that Islam provided more rights to women as compared to the pre-Islamic societies, it might be true. Islam might have been ahead of Arab societies when it was introduced, it is way behind the demands of our time in this century when it comes to the status of women.
When most societies are embracing women as equal human being, Muslim societies are still struggling to define the status of women in their social structures. The prevailing, orthodox sociocultural practices in today’s Muslim societies do not match with expectations of working and educated women in some other societies where women have practically equal rights legally, socially and economically.
Here are some emerging issues of today’s women in Muslim societies that need to be reassessed:
- Free and relevant education to a large population of women in Muslim societies
- Financial stability of women to ensure their economic independence
- Prevention of sexual harassment of women at work
- Legal protection to women in marriage, inheritance, divorce and custody of children
- Better health facilities for women
- Recognition of women’s contributions as a vibrant labor force in rural and urban areas
- Prevention of salary inequalities for women
- Better working conditions for women in rural and urban areas
- Projecting a positive image of women as an equal and vital asset of our society not just as a sex symbol to sell consumer goods.
Muslim societies are increasingly isolating almost half of their population who is disenfranchised and extremely frustrated of how they are treated by their social, cultural, political, legal and economic systems created by men to maintain their dominance, power and control.
Utilizing historical legacies that provided more rights to women when Islam came to the Middle East, contemporary Muslim nations have to look forward to further refine the status of all women generally and educated, working women specifically in their societies.
To the contemporary Muslim clergy who is actually 1400 years behind his time mentally, the myth that women are creatures of a lesser God might be the only reality. To the contemporary world of the 21st century, however, women are created equal to men physically, mentally and intellectually.
It is time for Muslim societies to invoke Ijtihad and recognize the better half of the society as equal to the other half!
(From Viewpoint Online)