Many advocates of Sharia cite Islam’s “fundamental respect for women” as one of their religion’s greatest benefits. The prophet Mohammad is known for ascribing women a right to own property, receive education, and hold a job. When asked by an adherent whom he should give his greatest respect to, Mohammad said, “your mother,” then “your mother,” then “your mother,” only then followed by “your father” (here in the Compendium of Muslim Texts).
Islam’s detractors take the opposite view: Muslim women are forced to cover and hide themselves in public, the enforced segregation of sexes pushes women into a second-tier status, and stricter interpretations severely limit freedom in public life.
Saudi Arabia is notorious for not allowing women to drive or go out alone in public, while in Malaysia Sharia’s role is, at least officially, limited to advising on religious matters like marriage and divorce. In Turkey, the constitution bans letting any religion’s laws form the basis of public policy. In Somalia and Pakistan, serious incidents (like this woman who was sentenced to death by stoning by Sharia courts after reporting that she was raped) have drawn criticism by both critics of Islam and Muslims who say that those judgments do not reflect the spirit of Sharia. The essence of Sharia is hotly debated, going beyond just differences in interpretation between Sunnis and Shiites to cultural practices and government regulations.
We want to explore whether Islamic Law is fair and just with respect to women, and it’s a big topic. What stories about Islam and women have you heard? Is what’s respectful to women in Islamic countries a limit on their freedom in the West? We want your ideas and suggestions for our next Inside Islam radio program: “Women and Sharia Law” on Thursday, December 4th. Help us produce the program by leaving a comment here to let us know your ideas and thoughts.