Women in Islam: An Inside Islam recap


Farah Pandith, a former radio guest on Inside Islam. Photo: www.state.gov

One of the most popular topics here on Inside Islam has been gender, primarily focusing on women. That’s no coincidence, given that Islam’s attitude towards women is generally portrayed in Western media as retrograde and repressive.

And there’s certainly plenty to criticize. Over our four years, we have highlighted cases like that of Amina Filali, a Moroccan girl who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, and Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned for adultery. We have also addressed issues such as domestic abuse and how key texts have been interpreted to discriminate against women, to ban women drivers, and to justify practices like child marriage.

But while our goal has never been to whitewash problematic issues, at the same time the standard mainstream rhetoric regarding Muslim women oversimplifies things and only further disempowers them. There has been a general inability to look beyond the veil when discussing Muslim women. Non-Muslim women or men who preach to Muslim women because they choose to cover their heads or accept certain circumstances tend to fall into the trap of portraying all Muslim women as a single entity without agency. They miss the movement within Islam itself to empower women.

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Muslim women in India seek equal rights under personal law

Zakia Soman, founding member of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan. Photo: CivilSocietyOnline.com

Muslim women in India are organizing against what they see as unfair laws regarding marriage, divorce, and property rights. Although the Indian Constitution offers all citizens equal rights irrespective of gender and religion, these rights do not extend to personal law. India does not have a uniform civil code; in family matters, legal decisions are based on religious law.

Muslims in India are governed by the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937, which defines the scope of Muslim personal law as including all affairs regarding succession, marriage, dissolution of marriage, guardianship, and property rights. Muslim personal law is largely uncodified, and legal decisions are made by courts on the basis of the Qur’an and hadith. Organizations like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (JUH) see themselves as spokespersons for the Muslim community, and lobby the government in cases where they believe Muslim law is being impinged upon.

Women’s groups have criticized the AIMPLB and JUH for their retrograde views regarding women’s rights. Continue reading

Helping or Hurting Muslims?

On Tuesday night, I attended Ayaan Hirsi Ali‘s talk “Refuse to be Silenced: Feminism Today” as part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Distinguished Lecture Series. This series aims to generate constructive dialogue around controversial issues. I was hesitant to go to the lecture because I was aware of her story and her attitudes towards Islam; however, I decided to go and listen to hear what she has to say.

Ali is a Somali and Dutch writer, politician, and critic of Islam. She was born to a Muslim family in Somalia and in the early part of her life was a practicing Muslim. In 1992, she arrived in the Netherlands and was granted political asylum. She has written that the reason for her fleeing to the Netherlands was a forced marriage. However, it came to light in 2006 that she had given false information on her asylum application, so the exact events that led to her arrival in the Netherlands are unclear. She was voted into the Dutch parliament in 2003 and later resigned as a result of the asylum controversy. In 2002, Ali left Islam and became an atheist. Continue reading