Frequently Asked Questions:
- What is a woman's role in Islam? What are her rewards and punishments?
- Is rape a criminal offense under Islam, or is it part of the booty after the conquest of 'un-believers'?
- How are feminists critics of Islam treated in Islamic countries and in Europe?
- What other legal inequities exist for women in Islam?
- What about in practice - is Islam as rigidly anti-woman as it is on paper?
What is a woman's role in Islam? What are her rewards and punishments?
- Here are some laws from the Hadiths:
1. The woman who dies and with whom the husband is satisfied will go to paradise.
2. A wife should never refuse herself to her husband even if it is on the saddle of a camel.
3. Hellfire appeared to me in a dream and I noticed that it was above all peopled with women who had been ungrateful. "Was it toward God that they were ungrateful'" They had not shown any gratitude toward their husbands for all they had received from them. Even when all your life you have showered a woman with your largesse she will still find something petty to reproach you with one day, saying, "You have never done anything for me."
4. If anything presages a bad omen it is: a house, a woman, a horse.
5. Never will a people know success if they confide their affairs to a woman.
According to theologians , the husband has the right to administer corporal punishment to his wife if she:
1. Refuses to make herself beautiful for him;
2. Refuses to meet his sexual demands;
3. Leaves the house without permission or without any legitimate reason recognized by law; or
4. Neglects her religious duties.
A hadith attributes the following saying to the Prophet: "Hang up your whip where your wife can see it." There are a number of other hadiths that contradict this one. In those, Muhammad explicitly forbids men to beat their wives - in which case the Prophet himself is contradicting what the Koran, enshrining divine law, permits.
- Excerpted from Why I Am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq (Prometheus Books, 1995).
- She should stay at home and get on with her spinning, she should
not go out often, she must not be well-informed, nor must she be
communicative with her neighbours and only visit them when absolutely
necessary; she should take care of her husband and respect him in his
presence and his absence and seek to satisfy him in everything; she
must not cheat on him nor extort money from him; she must not leave
her house without his permission and if given his permission she must
leave surreptitiously. She should put on old clothes and take deserted
streets and alleys, avoid markets, and make sure that a stranger does
not hear her voice or recognize her; she must not speak to a friend of
her husband even in need. ... Her sole worry should be her virtue, her
home as well as her prayers and her fast. If a friend of her husband
calls when the latter is absent she must not open the door nor reply
to him in order to safeguard her and her husband's honour. She should
accept what her husband gives her as sufficient sexual needs at any
moment.... She should be clean and ready to satisfy her husband's
sexual needs at any moment.
- al-Ghazali (1058-1111), famous and much revered Muslim philosopher whom Professor Montgomery Watt describes as the greatest Muslim after Muhammad. From his The Revival Of The Religious Sciences and Ghassan Ascha, Du Statut Inferieur de la Femme in Islam (Paris: 1989) p. 11.
- I Am a Moslem Woman
They differed with me over what times we are living in.
It is not a democracy when a man can talk about politics without anyone threatening him.
Democracy is when a woman can talk of her lover without anyone killing her.
Dr. Sauad M. Al-Sabah
I am a Moslem woman. I have no face. I have no identity. At age 9, based on lunar year (a lunar year is twelve months of 28 days each or 336 days) or, when I am actually 8 years and 8 months old, I am considered an adult. Being an adult means that I have to adhere with Islamic laws as stated below.
I have to pray five times a day, fast one month out of the year and cover myself from head to toe in yards of black fabric. I am eligible to be married and can be punished for any wrong doing. I can be incarcerated and, if needed, executed for my crimes, even political ones.
Islam's law - that Allah sent down to his messenger Muhammad - came to announce that women (exactly like men) are full human beings. Women (like men) are therefore required to follow the way appointed by Allah.
"Women have such honorable rights as obligations, but men have a (single) degree above them". The Koran 2:228
Islam believes and promotes only one relationship between male and female and that is the relation of lust.
I am not allowed to swim, ski, ride a bike, dance, learn to play musical instruments, practice gymnastics, or any other sport. I am not even permitted to watch men play sports, either in the stadium and/or on television.
I am not permitted to participate in Olympic games.
From age 7, I am segregated from all males in and out of my extended family.
My father, grandfather, uncles, brothers or my male cousins are not allowed to be present at any ceremonies for my accomplishments. They will not be allowed to participate in my birthday parties.
I have to study under female teachers and professors. However, since women of prior generations were not allowed to go to school, there are not that many qualified women teachers and professors. Male professors must teach me from behind a wall.
I am to be treated by female doctors. Go to female dentists. And if there are none, then I have to go without or I must be examined through some sort of divider.
I am not allowed to practice birth control or have abortions, even if carrying or having a child means I have to die.
My worth is based on the Islamic Laws of Retribution, 24th edition, December 1982, as half of a man. It doesn't matter who I am, how educated I am, and what earning potential I may have in my life. My worth is half of a man, any man.
According to clauses 33 and 91 of the law in respect, Qasas (The Islamic Retribution Bill) and its boundaries, the value of woman is considered only half as much as the value of a man.
Article 1: dieh or blood money paid to the victim or next of kin for as compensation for bodily injury or murder of a relative.
The Islamic Law of Retribution
In the old Islamic laws, recently placed into practice by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the worth of a man's life is equal to the market value of 100 camels or 200 cows and that of a woman is equal to half of the man's, 50 camels or 100 cows.
The clause number 6 regarding the dieh (cash value of the fine) states that the cash fine for murdering a woman intentionally or unintentionally is half as much as for a man. The same clause adds that if a man intentionally murders a woman and the guardian of the woman himself is not able to pay half of the Dieh (the value of 50 camels or 100 cows, the difference between the value of a man to that of a woman's life) to the murderer, the murderer will be exempted from retribution.
New Legal Standing: Pursuant to article 85 of the constitution, the Islamic penal code was implemented in December 1981. According to article 300, blood money or dieh, a sum paid to the next of kin as compensation for the murder of a relative, is twice as much in the case of a murdered man as in the case of a woman. The number of witnesses required to prove a crime is higher if the witnesses are female. For example, article 237 of the penal code states that first degree murder must be proven by testimony of two just men and evidence for second-degree murder or manslaughter requires the testimony of two just men, or one just man and two just women, or of one just man and the accuser.
My testimony in a court of law is equal to half of that of a man. In most countries I don't vote and I don't get elected to office. And if I do, it does not mean much. I inherit only half as much as my male siblings.
I cannot get custody of my children. Even if their father dies. In the case of divorce or death I have to surrender my children to their father and/or his family.
I cannot travel, work, go to college, join organizations, even visit my friends and relatives without my father or husband's permission.
I must live where my husband desires.
I am banned from studies such as engineering, agriculture, archaeology, restoration of the historic monuments and handicrafts, and many other fields. I am not allowed to become a judge.
Under the terms of Koranic law, any judge fulfilling the seven requirements (that he have reached puberty, be a believer, know the Koranic laws perfectly, be just, and not be affected by amnesia, or be a bastard, or be of the female sex) is qualified to dispense justice in any type of case.
I have no right to choose the clothing I wear in public. This is done by the Office of the Islamic Guidance which sets the color, the style, and the accessories for women and girls as young as 6 years of age.
I will get arrested, beaten, and sometimes even executed if I wear make-up, nylons, bright colors and specifically the color of red.
I cannot choose my mate and am not permitted to divorce him if things did not work out.
According to Khomeini, the Iranian Islamic Imam, "The most suitable time for a girl to get married is the time when the girl can have her first menstrual period in her husband's house rather than her father's".
I have to meet all my husband's desires including the sexual ones. And if I refuse he has the right to deny me food, shelter, and all of life's necessities. I have to say yes every time he wants to have sex.
According to Hojatoleslam Imani, Religious Leader in Iran. "A woman should endure any violence or torture imposed on her by her husband for she is fully at his disposal. Without his permission she may not leave her house even for a good action (such as charitable work). Otherwise her prayers and devotions will not be accepted by God and curses of heaven and earth will fall upon her".
My husband can divorce me without my knowledge and by the Islamic law he is required to support me for only 100 days. And if he dies, I am entitled to 1/8 of his Estate.
I can only ask for divorce if my husband is impotent, if he does not have sex with me at least one night in every forty nights, and if he refuses to provide me with a minimum standard of living.
My husband can have four permanent wives and if he is from Shi'i sect, he can have as many temporary wives as he wants.
Koran says that "Men your wives are your tillage. Go into your tillage anyway you want". This means that a man is allowed to sodomise his wife and she cannot complain.
In some countries they even mutilate, cut and sew my female sexual parts in order to control and regulate my sexual desire.
According to the Islamic Laws, I am supposed to be seen outside of my home three times in my life. When I am born, when I get married and when I die.
I have no explanation on why God denied me everything and made men in charge of me, if there is a God. I don't believe there ever was one.
In Islam, the age of majority for a girl is 9 years and for a boy is 15 years. This means that a 9 year old girl and a 15 year old boy are considered to have the same level of maturity. Now, if girls reach maturity six years earlier than boys, then why did God place men in charge of women? Was there something wrong with God's Judgment?
In some Islamic countries such as Iran, if I am arrested for wearing make-up, the guards will force me to clean my face with cotton balls rubbed in pieces of glass. This cuts my face. The barbaric revolutionary guard, while watching the blood run out of my flesh, will tell me, "next time you think about this and will not wear it".
As a political prisoner I will be used as a concubine for the revolutionary guards. In case I am condemned to death I will not undergo the sentence as long as I am a virgin. Thus I will be systematically raped before the sentence is executed. Mullahs believe that virgin girls who die go to heaven but politically inclined girls are ungodly creatures and they do not deserve to go to heaven, therefore they are raped so that the Mullah's can be sure that they indeed will be sent to hell.
In Islam, if a 6 or 7 year old girl is raped by an adult man, she will be the one that gets punished. It is her fault because she provoked it. The parents then will burn or kill her because she has dishonored the family.
It has been said that the Moslem Prophet got very upset one day noticing his wives flirting with men who visited him and ordered women to stay behind a dividing curtain when speaking with men. The idea of hijab, the covering up of women, became a law in Islamic countries from that day.
In 1991, the Prosecutor-General of Iran, declared that "anyone who rejects the principle of hijab is an apostate and the punishment for an apostate under Islamic law is death."
Polygamy is legal in Islam. A man may marry "four Permanent" and as many "Provisional" or temporary wives as he desires.
"Marry such women as seem good to you, two, three, four; but if you fear you will not be equitable, then only one, or what your right hands own; so it is likelier you will not be partial". The Koran 4:3 "Most Europeans have mistresses. Why should we suppress human instincts? A rooster satisfies several hens, an stallion several mares. A woman is unavailable during certain periods where as a man is always active....", Ayatollah Ghomi, LE MONDE, January 20, 1979.
Is rape a criminal offense under Islam, or is it part of the booty after the conquest of 'un-believers'?
- I remember students used to ask the teacher during our
Islamic studies in Bethlehem High school, if it was permitted
for Muslims to rape the Jewish women after we defeat them,
his response was "The women captured in battle have no choice
in this matter, they are concubines and they need to obey
their masters, having sex with slave captives is not a "matter
of choice for slaves.", this in fact was written in the Koran,
for it says:
"Forbidden to you also are married women, except those who are in your hand as slaves, this is the law of Allah for you." -- Sura: The Women (al-Nisa, verse 20)
And in a different verse the Koran says:
"O prophet; we allowed thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowries, and the slaves whom thy right hand possesseth out of the booty which Allah hath granted thee, and the daughters of thy uncle, and of thy maternal aunt, who fled with thee to Medina, and any believing woman who hath given herself up to the prophet, if the prophet desired to wed her, a privilege to thee above the rest of the faithful". -- Sura: Confederates (al-Ahzab verse 50)
We had no problem with Mohammed taking advantage of this privilege as he married 14 wives for himself and several slave girls from the booty he collected as a result of his victorious battles, we really never knew how many wives he had and that question was always a debatable issue to us, one of these wives was taken from his own adopted son 'Zaid', as Allah declared that she was given to the prophet, others were Jewish captives forced into slavery after Mohammed beheaded their husbands and families.
- At the Hindu students' dormitory, the students who survived the attack were forced to dig graves for their slaughtered fellow students, exactly like the 800 Jews of Qurayza, at the time of Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam. Then they too were shot and stuffed into the graves dug with their own hands. Thousands of Hindus died that night. more than three hundred Moslem troops attacked the girl students of Rockey Hall, Dacca University. Stripping them naked, the troops raped, bayoneted, and murdered lovely Bengali girls. Dozens of girls jumped to their death from the roof of the building rather than suffer the fate of their sisters.
How are feminists critics of Islam treated in Islamic countries and in Europe?
- It is the Western fashion now to defend different cultures. I have
been attacked in Europe for criticizing Islam. They tell me that not
all traditions in the Islamic world are harmful to women. Imagine, I
have been told that the position of women in Bangladesh is very
good. They even consider harems not necessarily bad for women!
...If customs are bad for Western women, they are also bad for their Eastern women. If education is good for Western women, surely it must also be good for Eastern ones. Muslim women urgently need a modern, secular education, as the rate of illiteracy among them is very high; education would give them some kind of economic independence, and finally would help to liberate them.
...At Nottingham in England some Muslim students tried to attack me physically but the police saved me. In Concordia, Canada, I was forced to stop speaking because of Muslim student demonstrations. On several occasions, Muslim students stopped me from speaking. Though I now move around more freely, I still have to be careful as to where I speak in public.
...[the Muslim fundamentalists] issued fatwas against me again in 1994, declaring me an apostate, demanded my execution by hanging, and the banning of all my books. They even filed cases against my editors and publishers. The fundamentalists called for a general strike to protest against my writings. They were able to mobilize over 300,000 people, and they openly called for my murder, in fact they put a price on my head. They offered a lot of money to anyone killing me.
- Taslima Nasrin, in an interview with the Middle East Quarterly in France, January 2000.; Her two books Lajja (Shame), and her most recent book Amar Meyebela, My Girlhood, the first volume of her autobiography, are banned in her native country, Bangladesh
- Who's Afraid of Islam?
The Runnymede Trust, a British think-tank on race relations, recently published a report that called for a special law that would make "Islamophobia" a criminal offense. Islamophobia is defined as "dread or hatred of Islam and Muslims." Runnymede's Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia includes among its members the Bishop of London and Philip Lewis, the Bishop of Bradford's adviser on inter-faith relations.
The Runnymede Report denounces several British intellectuals and journalists as 'Islamophobes'. Among these was Fay Weldon, a leading British author and feminist, who wrote a passionate and very courageous defense of Rushdie after the infamous fatwa descended on her friend. Weldon described the Koran as "food for no thought." The Koran is, she wrote, "not a poem on which society can be safely or sensibly based. It gives weapons and strength to the thought police."
Weldon made it clear to the Runnymede Trust that she was "tired of being described as an Islamophobe, and guilty of religious ignorance when all I am is someone who sees a division between Church and State as necessary and desirable." Elsewhere Weldon declared that "if to object when one's friend and colleague is sentenced to death by a foreign power is Islamophobic, then yes and certainly. If to make a comment on the Koran is, and to say I don't think it is a proper document to base a modern society on, then call me what you like!"
- reported by Ibn Warraq, Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society
What other legal inequities exist for women in Islam?
The inequality between men and women in matters of giving testimony
or evidence or being a witness is enshrined in the Koran: sura 2.282.
How do Muslim apologists justify the above text? Muslim men and women writers point to the putative psychological differences that exist between men and women. The Koran (and hence God) in its sublime wisdom knew that women are sensitive, emotional, sentimental, easily moved, and influenced by their biological rhythm, lacking judgment. But above all they have a shaky memory. In other words, women are psychologically inferior. Such are the dubious arguments used by Muslim intellectuals - male and, astonishingly enough, female intellectuals like Ahmad Jamal, Ms. Zahya Kaddoura, Ms. Ghada al-Kharsa, and Ms. Madiha Khamis. As Ghassan Ascha points out, the absurdity of their arguments are obvious.
By taking the testimony of two beings whose reasoning faculties are faulty we do not obtain the testimony of one complete person with a perfectly functioning rational faculty - such is Islamic arithmetic! By this logic, if the testimony of two women is worth that of one man, then the testimony of four women must be worth that of two men, in which case we can dispense with the testimony of the men. But no! In Islam the rule is not to accept the testimony of women alone in matters to which men theoretically have access. It is said that the Prophet did not accept the testimony of women in matters of marriage, divorce, and hudud. Hudud are the punishments set down by Muhammad in the Koran and the hadith for (I) adultery - stoning to death; (II) fornication - a hundred stripes; (III) false accusation of adultery against a married person - eighty stripes; (IV) apostasy - death; (V) drinking wine - eighty stripes; (VI) theft - the cutting off of the right hand; (VII) simple robbery on the highway - the loss of hands and feet; (VIII) robbery with murder - death, either by the sword or by crucifixion.
On adultery the Koran 24.4 says: "Those that defame honourable women and cannot produce four witnesses shall be given eighty lashes." Of course, Muslim jurists will only accept four male witnesses. These witnesses must declare that they have "seen the parties in the very act of carnal conjunction. Once an accusation of fornication and adultery has been made, the accuser himself or herself risks punishment if he or she does not furnish the necessary legal proofs. Witnesses are in the same situation. If a man were to break into a woman's dormitory and rape half a dozen women, he would risk nothing since there would be no male witnesses. Indeed the victim of a rape would hesitate before going in front of the law, since she would risk being condemned herself and have little chance of obtaining justice. "If the woman's words were sufficient in such cases," explains Judge Zharoor ul Haq of Pakistan, "then no man would be safe." This iniquitous situation is truly revolting and yet for Muslim law it is a way of avoiding social scandal concerning the all-important sexual taboo. Women found guilty of fornication were literally immured, at first; as the Koran 4.15 says: "Shut them up within their houses till death release them, or God make some way for them." However this was later canceled and stoning substituted for adultery and one hundred lashes for fornication. When a man is to be stoned to death, he is taken to some barren place, where he is stoned first by the witnesses, then the judge, and then the public. When a woman is stoned, a hole to receive her is dug as deep as her waist - the Prophet himself seems to have ordered such procedure. It is lawful for a man to kill his wife and her lover if he catches them in the very act.
In the case where a man suspects his wife of adultery or denies the legitimacy of the offspring, his testimony is worth that of four men. Sura 24.6: "If a man accuses his wife but has no witnesses except himself, he shall swear four times by God that his charge is true, calling down upon himself the curse of God if he is lying. But if his wife swears four times by God that his charge is false and calls down His curse upon herself if it be true, she shall receive no punishment." Appearances to the contrary, this is not an example of Koranic justice or equality between the sexes. The woman indeed escapes being stoned to death but she remains rejected and loses her right to the dowry and her right to maintenance, whatever the outcome of the trial. A woman does not have the right to charge her husband in a similar manner. Finally, for a Muslim marriage to be valid there must be a multiplicity of witnesses. For Muslim jurists, two men form a multiplicity but not two or three or a thousand women.
In questions of heritage, the Koran tells us that male children should inherit twice the portion of female children:
4.11-12. A male shall inherit twice as much as a female. If there be more than two girls, they shall have two-thirds of the inheritance, but if there be one only, she shall inherit the half. Parents shall inherit a sixth each, if the deceased have a child; but if he leave no child and his parents be his heirs, his mother shall have a third. If he have brothers, his mother shall have a sixth after payment of any legacy he may have bequeathed or any debt he may have owed.
This latter point referred to by Bousquet simply emphasizes the negative aspects of a Muslim marriage - that is to say, the total absence of any idea of "association" between "couples" as in Christianity. As to dowry, it is, of course, simply a reconfirmation of the man's claims over the woman in matters of sex and divorce. Furthermore, in reality the woman does not get to use the dowry for herself. The custom is either to use the dowry to furnish the house of the newly married couple or for the wife to offer it to her father. According to the Malekites, the woman can be obliged by law to use the dowry to furnish the house. Muslim law also gives the guardian the right to cancel a marriage - even that of a woman of legal age - if he thinks the dowry is not sufficient. Thus the dowry, instead of being a sign of her independence, turns out once more to be a symbol of her servitude...
...The birth of a girl is still seen as a catastrophe in Islamic societies. The system of inheritance just adds to her misery and her dependence on the man. If she is an only child she receives only half the legacy of her father; the other half goes to the male members of the father's family. If there are two or more daughters, they inherit two-thirds. This pushes fathers and mothers to prefer male children to female so that they can leave the entirety of their effects or possessions to their own descendants. "Yet when a new-born girl is announced to one of them his countenance darkens and he is filled with gloom" (sura 43.15). The situation is even worse when a woman loses her husband - she only receives a quarter of the legacy. If the deceased leaves more than one wife, all the wives are still obliged to share among themselves a quarter or one-eighth of the legacy.
- Excerpted from Why I Am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq (Prometheus Books, 1995).
What about in practice - is Islam as rigidly anti-woman as it is on paper?
- Case Histories: The Women of Pakistan
In Pakistan in 1977, General Zia al-Haq took over in a military coup declaring that the process of Islamization was not going fast enough. The mullas had finally got someone who was prepared to listen to them.
Zia imposed martial law, total press censorship, and began creating a theocratic state, believing that Pakistan ought to have "the spirit of Islam." He banned women from athletic contests and even enforced the Muslim fast during the month of Ramadan at gunpoint. He openly admitted that there was a contradiction between Islam and democracy. Zia introduced Islamic laws that discriminated against women. The most notorious of these laws were the Zina and Hudud Ordinances that called for the Islamic punishments of the amputation of hands for stealing and stoning to death for married people found guilty of illicit sex. The term zina included adultery, fornication, and rape, and even prostitution. Fornication was punished with a maximum of a hundred lashes administered in public and ten years' imprisonment.
In practice, these laws protect rapists, for a woman who has been raped often finds herself charged with adultery or fornication. To prove zina, four Muslim adult males of good repute must be present to testify that sexual penetration has taken place. Furthermore, in keeping with good Islamic practice, these laws value the testimony of men over women. The combined effect of these laws is that it is impossible for a woman to bring a successful charge of rape against a man; instead, she herself, the victim, finds herself charged with illicit sexual intercourse, while the rapist goes free. If the rape results in a pregnancy, this is automatically taken as an admission that adultery or fornication has taken place with the woman's consent rather than that rape has occurred.
Here are some sample cases.
In a town in the northern province of Punjab, a woman and her two daughters were stripped naked, beaten, and gangraped in public, but the police declined to pursue the case.
A thirteen-year-old girl was kidnapped and raped by a "family friend." When her father brought a case against the rapist, it was the girl who was put in prison and charged with zina, illegal sexual intercourse. The father managed to secure the child's release by bribing the police. The traumatized child was then severely beaten for disgracing the family honor.
A fifty-year-old widow, Ahmedi Begum , decided to let some rooms in her house in the city of Lahore to two young veiled women. As she was about to show them the rooms, the police burst into the courtyard of the house and arrested the two girls and Ahmedi Begum's nephew, who had simply been standing there. Later that afternoon, Ahmedi Begum went to the police station with her son-in-law to inquire about her nephew and the two girls. The police told Ahmedi they were arresting her too. They confiscated her jewelry and pushed her into another room. While she was waiting, the police officers shoved the two girls, naked and bleeding, into the room and then proceeded to rape them again in front of the widow. When Ahmedi covered her eyes, the police forced her to watch by pulling her arms to her sides. After suffering various sexual humiliations, Ahmedi herself was stripped and raped by one officer after another. They dragged her outside where she was again beaten. One of the officers forced a policeman's truncheon, covered with chili paste, into her rectum, rupturing it. Ahmedi screamed in horrible agony and fainted, only to wake up in prison, charged with zina. Her case was taken up by a human rights lawyer. She was released on bail after three months in prison, but was not acquitted until three years later. In the meantime, her son-in-law divorced her daughter because of his shame.
Was this an isolated case? Unfortunately no. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in its annual report that one woman is raped every three hours in Pakistan and one in two rape victims is a juvenile. According to Women's Action Forum, a woman's rights organization, 72% of all women in police custody in Pakistan are physically and sexually abused. Furthermore, 75% of all women in jail are there under charges of zina. Many of these women remain in jail awaiting trial for years.
In other words, the charge of zina is casually applied by any man who wants to get rid of his wife, who is immediately arrested, and kept waiting in prison, sometimes for years. Before the introduction of these laws the total number of women in prison was 70; the present number is more than 3,000. Most of these women have been charged under the Zina or Hudud Ordinances.
The Western press naively believed that the election of Benazir Bhutto as Pakistan's prime minister in November 1988 would revolutionize women's role not just in Pakistan, but in the entire Islamic world. Under Islamic law of course, women cannot be head of an Islamic state, and Pakistan had become an Islamic republic under the new constitution of 1956. Thus, Benazir Bhutto had defied the mullas and won. But her government lasted a bare 20 months, during which period Nawaz Sharif, who was the prime minister briefly in the early 1990s, is said to have encouraged the mullas in their opposition to having a woman as the head of an Islamic state. Benazir Bhutto's government was dismissed on charges of corruption, and her husband imprisoned in 1990.
The lot of the Muslim woman was harsh before Benazir's election, and nothing has changed. She has pandered to the religious lobby, the mullas, the very people who insist that a woman cannot hold power in an Islamic state, and has repeatedly postponed any positive action on the position of women.
Pakistan shows the same grim picture. Pakistan is one of only four countries in the world where female life expectancy (51 years) is lower than the male (52 years); the average female life expectancy for all poor countries is 61 years. A large number of Pakistani women die in pregnancy or childbirth, six for every 1,000 live births. Despite the fact that contraception has never been banned by orthodox Islam, under Zia the Islamic Ideology Council of Pakistan declared family planning to be un-Islamic. Various mullas condemned family planning as a Western conspiracy to emasculate Islam. As a result, the average fertility rate per woman in Pakistan is 6.9. Pakistan is also among the world's bottom ten countries for female attendance at primary schools. Some people put female literacy in the rural areas as low as 2% (Economist, March 5, 1994). As the Economist put it, "Some of the blame for all this lies with the attempt of the late President Zia ul Haq to create an Islamic republic.. .. Zia turned the clock back. A 1984 law of his, for instance, gives a woman's legal evidence half the weight of a man's" (Economist, January 13, 1990).
Indeed a large part of the blame lies with the attitudes inculcated by Islam, which has always seen woman as inferior to man. The birth of a baby girl is the occasion for mourning. Hundreds of baby girls are abandoned every year in the gutters and dust bins and on the pavements. An organization working in Karachi to save these children has calculated that more than five hundred children are abandoned a year in Karachi alone, and that 99% of them are girls.
Little did Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, realize how literally true his words were when he said in a 1944 speech : "No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners."
But we do not need to leave with a completely pessimistic picture. Pakistani women have shown themselves to be very courageous, and more and more are fighting for their rights with the help of equally brave organizations such as Women's Action Forum (WAF) and War Against Rape. WAF was formed in 1981 as women came onto the streets to protest against the Hudud Ordinances, and to demonstrate their solidarity with a couple who had recently been sentenced to death by stoning for fornication. In 1983, women organized the first demonstrations against martial law.
- Excerpted from Why I Am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq (Prometheus Books, 1995).
- RELATED SECTIONS:
- WWW RESOURCES:
- BOOKS & PRINTED MATERIAL:
G. H. Bousquet, L'Ethique sexuelle de L'Islam (Paris: 1966)
Kurt Schork, "Pakistan's Women in Despair," Guardian Weekly, September 23, 1990.
Jan Goodwin, Price of Honor (Boston: 1994)
R. Ahmed, ed., Sayings of Quaid-I-Azam (Jinnah) (Karachi: 1986)
- Don't Keep me Silent! One Woman's Escape from the Chains of Islam, by Mina Nevisa
[VIEW BOOK HERE]
- Voices Behind the Veil: The World of Islam Through the Eyes of Women, by Ergun Mehmet Caner
[VIEW BOOK HERE]
- Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, by Geraldine Brooks
[VIEW BOOK HERE]
- The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
[VIEW BOOK HERE]
- The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith, by Irshad Manji
[VIEW BOOK HERE]
- Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith, by Robert Spencer, David Pryce-Jones
[VIEW BOOK HERE]
- Don't Keep me Silent! One Woman's Escape from the Chains of Islam, by Mina Nevisa