Islam and the Reality of Women’s Power

Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser Al Missned speaking at the U.N. Photo: Maher Attar/HHOPL

The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (RISSC) in Amman, Jordan, recently released the third edition of The Muslim 500, an annual publication highlighting the movers and shakers of the Muslim world. From Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan to Sufi scholar Seyyed Hussein Nasr, the list compiles a wide range of personalities from all corners of the globe. Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud topped the list, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an placing third and Iranian Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei taking fifth.

As usually happens when anyone tries to quantify popularity or prestige, there was disagreement on the blogosphere over the rankings, compounded by the fact that  Muslim 500 does not clearly define its exact criteria. But my primary concern with the list is that only 13% of those featured are women, with a mere three making the top 50 most influential.

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Islam does not support “honor” crimes

The Shafia daughters and their stepmothers from CBC News

On January 30th, Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya, and their son Hamed were convicted of first degree murder in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. In June 2009, they planned and carried out the murders of Zainab Shafia, Sahar Shafia, and Geeti Shafia, as well as Rona Amir Mohammed. Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti were Mohammad and Tooba’s daughters and Hamad’s sisters. Rona was Mohammad’s first wife. The three daughters were considered by their parents to be “shameful” because they had boyfriends and did not dress the way their parents wanted. Rona, a victim of domestic abuse, was killed because she supported the daughters’ behavior. Their crime, which is being called an honor killing, has no support within Islam. Continue reading

Important Figures: Sumayyah bint Khayyat

Women have played an important role in the history of Islam from its beginnings. One woman who is well known by Muslims but does not always receive that much attention is Sumayyah bint Khayyat. Sumayyah was the first martyr of Islam and will be the focus of this post, the sixth in a series on important figures.

There is little known about Sumayyah before she became Muslim other than that she was a slave. She then married Yasir ibn Amir and they had a son, Ammar. All three were among the earliest converts to Islam. Yasir, like Sumayyah, was also killed. Ammar went on to be one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad and eventually died in the Battle of Siffin. Continue reading

Mixing in Mosques: An Influence of Neighborhood Norms

Tamil Muslim Children Photo: Dennis McGilvray

A few days prior to my departure from India in August, I ventured south from Hyderabad to the old French colony of Puducherry (Pondicherry), situated on the Bay of Bengal. I had a few minutes before my overnight bus journey back to Hyderabad and I decided to take a quick tour around the neighborhood to get a flavor of the area. Upon turning the corner of an old Hindu temple and noticing posters of Hindu gods transitioning to signs in Urdu and other objects marking the Muslim section of the neighborhood, I came across a typical 3-story white and green mosque.

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Niqab-Clad Woman Runs for French Presidency

Kenza Drider in front of her campaign posters

At the end of September, Kenza Drider, a French citizen of Morroccan descent, announced that she would run in the next presidential election against Nicolas Sarkozy. Drider, a mother of 4 who wears a niqab or face veil, has become a well-known opponent of the French ban on the veil that went into effect in April. She was the only woman to testify before an information commission of lawmakers before the ban was passed. She was also one of the first women to be fined under the new law. This ban affects less than an estimated 2000 women and can result in a 150 euro fine and in some cases citizenship classes. Continue reading

Women Driving and Voting in the Kingdom: Two Saudi Male Perspectives

Thousands of Saudi Arabian students are learning English in the U.S. under the King Abdullah Scholarship Program.

Sally Jolles is a PhD candidate in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is currently researching Saudi students living and studying in the United States. Jolles interviewed two Saudi men in their 20’s and 30’s studying English in Madison, Wisconsin, through the Saudi Arabian King Abdullah Scholarship Program. The following statements are unedited transcriptions from their recent conversation related to women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The names of the speakers have been changed at their request.

Sally: So, recently King Abdullah said that he was going to give women the right to vote and also to be on the Shura Council. What do you think about that? Continue reading

On Polygamy

A recent radio program on Asian Network Reports Special focused on the increase of polygamy among British Muslim men. Although bigamy is banned in the United Kingdom, according to Islamic Sharia Council, there has been a noticeable increase in the rates of polygamous marriages in the last 15 years. Continue reading

Yemeni Woman Wins Nobel Peace Prize

On Friday, October 7th, three women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: Tawakul Karman from Yemen and Ellen Johnson Surleaf and Leymah Gbowee from Liberia. Tawakul Karman is a Yemeni journalist and activist. Karman, 32, mother of 3, and the first Arab woman to win the prize, has been a central figure in Yemen’s revolution to remove President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Referred to by some as the “Mother of the Revolution,” she began her activist work several years ago. Continue reading

Is Voting Enough?

Many people associate Islam with Saudi Arabia, assuming that what happens in the Saudi Kingdom reflects the law and spirit of Islam. While it is true that the Arabian Peninsula is the birthplace of Islam, the Saudi Kingdom and its specific interpretation of Islam does not represent the faith more broadly. Continue reading

It’s Not The Law, But You Really Shouldn’t Drive, Miss

Saudi Citizen Manal al-Sharif Driving in Saudi Arabia

The western media seems to have a field day with reports of Muslim peoples’ and Islam’s “repression” of women. It’s often overstated or even completely fabricated, but some of Saudi Arabia’s cultural practices and laws are clear examples of plain and simple repression of women.

Although nowhere in the Qur’an does it speak of women’s being prevented from operating any sort of transportation, the Saudi Government has never allowed women to drive within the country. The mobility of women is strictly controlled and limited to specific public and private spaces, and the inability to drive is symbolic of this reality. It’s ironic that a woman may hire a taxi, driven by a male stranger, but is not able to drive herself. Continue reading