Muslim women in India seek equal rights under personal law

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

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

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

Female Fans Fight for Rights

Sihem Bouyahia is an activist and student in Algiers, Algeria, and is an alumnae of the 2009-2010 National Democratic Institute’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy, held in part by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As a girl I always dreamt of attending a soccer game instead of watching my favourite players on TV. But in the North African region and specifically in Algeria, access to soccer stadiums is limited as far as women are concerned, despite there being no national law banning such access. Nor is attending games an illicit activity in the Islamic religion. For instance, in an Arab and Muslim country such as Egypt, women are free to attend any soccer game. Why is it not the case in my country?

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Controlling women is not part of Islam

In Saudi Arabia, there is a movement to put an end to the guardianship system that controls the lives of women. Under this system, Saudi women cannot work, study,travel, or even open a bank account without the permission of their guardian–a man. Opponents of this system, like Wajeha Al-Huwaider, a Saudi women’s activist, argue that it prevents women from carrying out normal lives. Supporters, on the other hand, maintain that the guardianship system is in line with Islamic law and have even gone so far as to launch the campaign “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me.”

Arguing that guardianship stems from Islam strips women of the very rights that Islam itself gives them. For example, education is a right for both women and men. A hadith, saying of the Prophet Muhammad, that is often cited is “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.” – [Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 74] In this hadith, no distinction is made between women and men.  Also, it is well known that  Ayesha, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, played a big role in preserving many of the hadiths that directly contribute to our knowledge of him. Continue reading

One Million Signatures Wanted

 By lysanzia

2006 protest sign - “We Condemn Any Kind of Discrimination” (photo by lysanzia)

This is a guest post by Saideh Jamshidi, a journalist born and raised in Iran who is doing graduate study in journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She wrote this post to accompany the Islamic Feminism radio show.

A group of Iranian women, many of them young activists, gathered in Haft Tir square in Tehran, Iran, on June 12, 2006, to collect “One Million Signatures” for women’s rights in Iran. They were asking the government to change “unjust” laws and to stop legalized discrimination against half Iran’s population. But the peaceful demonstration was brutally disrupted. Police attacked the unarmed women and beat them with electronic batons. Forty-eight women and 28 men were arrested that day. They were detained and prosecuted on charges of “endangering Iran’s national security” and “participation in an illegal assembly.” A chain of arrests followed days later, and many more women’s activists were detained and prosecuted on vague charges. Continue reading

Islam in Iran: Interview with Saideh Jamshidi

saidehIran is very much in the news. For example, the mass protests against last year’s disputed presidential election generated tremendous support for the Iranian people. Also, Tehran’s nuclear program is causing fears that Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship with the ability to launch devastating terrorist attacks. But how do ordinary Iranians view their country and Islam? I talked to Saideh Jamshidi recently, a journalist born and raised in Iran. She came to the US in 1999, has been working for Free Speech Radio News, and just started her graduate study in journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Continue reading

“Women and Sharia” Radio Show Airs Live Today

In my conversation yesterday with Norhayati Kaprawi, the program manager of Sisters in Islam, a Malaysian women’s rights advocacy group, I got a feeling of déjà vu. So much of what she told me about the group’s efforts to educate and empower women about their rights reminded me of what American women went through in the sixties when we begat a social revolution just by talking with one another around our kitchen tables.

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Queen Rania of Jordan: “We shouldn’t judge people through the prism of our own stereotypes.”

Human rights activist and advocate for early childhood education, Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan joined Fareed Zakaria for an interview aired on CNN in October. You can watch the interview on YouTube or scroll down to see part one and two later in this post. The queen brings up a lot of interesting issues about Islam in the Arab world, but one of her most pointed arguments concerns the cultural aspects of extremism and conservatism that are often represented as part of the religion itself.

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Women’s Rights Under Islamic Law

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).

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