DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN IN ISLAM
Burqa in London The rational for discrimination against women in Muslim countries takes two forms: 1) Koran and Islamic law; and 2) traditional beliefs. Many of the discriminatory practices against women are not based on the Koran but rather are based on Islamic law which was created after Mohammed’s death. The customs involving women are often based on local traditions and long-standing beliefs that women are weaker than men and inferior to them, rather than being based on the tenets of Islam.
One Egyptian feminist told the Los Angeles Times. "If the mentality of the society is molded by men with conservative, static minds, who hide behind the umbrella of religion than no law will helps us.” A professor of religion law in Kuwait told Elizabeth Warnock Fernea of the University of Texas that men are more rational than women.
In countries where women have been given opportunities they have prospered. In Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia women play a major role in their county's economies. There are many educated women working outside the home in Indonesia and Malaysia. In Bangladesh, women have been behind the micro-financing phenomena that took hold there. Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia Pakistan have all had female leaders. It has been argued that by suppressing women, the Muslim world is denying itself of the creativity and productivity of half of its citizens.
Segregation of Men and Women
In the Muslim world, women and men are often separated: in mosques, at political demonstrations, and on buses and ferries. In many places, women live in separate areas of a house. Men and women generally don’s swim together. Some banks have tried to woo women customers by offering separate facilities for them. Boys are girls are raised together until they are seven and are eased apart after that until they are separated when they reach puberty.
no women sign at the Jeddah Marriott There are many rules about what a woman can and can not do during menstruation, when they are regarded as dirty and impure. Women who are having their periods are not supposed to enter a mosque, fast, ritually pray, get divorced or eat from the same bowls of food as men. Some Muslims believe that if a woman touches a man before prayer, he has been dirtied and can’t pray, especially if the woman is menstruating.
The Koran prescribes some segregation but certainly does advocate that women be separated from men to the extent they are in some places. Originally segregation was something experienced by upper class women. It meant they didn’t have to go out and work. The tradition now seems to be based on the assumption that if men and women are allowed to intermingle it will tempt them to have extramarital sex. An Arab proverb goes: “If a man and a woman are alone in one place, the third person present is Satan.”
Some passages of the Koran suggest men and women should interact. Sura 69:13 reads: “O mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed your races and tribes, that you may know one another. Surely the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most godfearing of you.”
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Segregation of Men and Women in Mosques
Men Reciting Al Quran at Istiqlal Mosque Sometimes women are not allowed to pray in mosques. When they are allowed in they are often relegated to small screened off areas. In some cases they have to enter through a back door and pray on a balcony and are only to able communicate with men through notes that are delivered by their children. Women are not allowed to speak through microphones, it is sometimes said, because their voices are said to be sexually alluring to men. Women that ignore rules about praying in the men’s areas are admonished and scolded and banished from the mosque.
Similar restrictions are the norm when men and women pray outside of mosques in public buildings. Men say their prayers in a spacious room while women are confined to much smaller room with prayers piped in from the men’s room. Many Muslim insist that women should pray at home not in a mosque. In North America, Muslim women are active challenging the segregation rules in mosque and getting the barriers removed.
There is nothing in the Koran that states women should be segregated and secluded in mosques. Mohammed told his Companions: “Do not stop the female servants of Allah from attending the mosque of Allah. Mohammed himself prayed with women. When he was informed that some men were choosing positions to pray near attractive women he scold the men not the women. In Mohammed’s time and after his death historical records show that men and women prayed side by side without screens in the Prophet’s mosque. Women participated in debates and asked questions of the Prophet himself.
Segregation is justified by sayings from the hadith such as: “Do not prevent your women from [going to] the mosques, though their houses are best for them.”
Women, Home Life and Education
Gaza students In ultra-conservative Muslim areas women rarely leave their houses and when they do they must be completely covered and.or accompanied by a make relative. Only close family members are allowed to see a woman without a veil. It also forbidden for one man and one woman to be alone in an enclosed area unless they are married. This applies even to cousins.
In Muslim homes, women are often out of view when guests come over. You can hear them rustling around preparing food and the like but you generally don’t see them. I used to peek in the windows of conservative Muslim houses just to see what was going on in there. Usually what I observed was a group of females of different ages (most likely family members) sitting around with their children, chatting or doing chores.
Women have also been denied opportunities in education, Arab women generally have higher illiteracy rates and less schooling than men. About two thirds of the 65 million illiterate adults in the Arab world are women. Some Muslims believed that educating women in "modern" schools encourages them to "argue with their parents," "start asking questions," and "wanting to have a say in everything in their life."
In some Muslim societies women are confined indoors so there is no risk of them jeopardizing a family’s honor. Even single women in their 30s are given a hard time if they come home after 9:00pm.
Islamically-correct swimwear In many places women can easily get operations to reconstitute their hymens and get medical certificates that state they are virgins. Hymenoplasty is the name of the surgical procedure that reconstructs the membranes of the hymen after it has been broken usually after sexual intercourse.
Whether or not the operations should be performed has become a matter of controversy. One French doctor told the Time of London, “We get more and more women coming in and saying their brothers and fathers will kill them if they found out they’ve slept with a man. But it’s important to say no, because if we don’t we’re giving in to the fundamentalists. “ However he said that some doctors were ignoring his advice in hopes of protecting patients from violent beatings.
Isabell Levy, who wrote about the issue in France in her book Religion in the Hospital, told the Times, “One the one hand, young Muslim girls are born in France . They are modern and they have adventures like other Europeans—which never happened in the past. But on the other hand, fundamentalism is spreading and these girls are getting sent back to their countries of origin to marry. And they will be rejected if it is found out that they are not virgins.”
One North African girl who wrote on an Internet forum and was quoted in the Times of London said she slept with her boyfriend because “he said he was made about me and wanted to marry me and I believed him because I was madly in love with him.” Afterwards she got pregnant her boyfriend left her and she secretly got an abortion. Later her mother found a letter from the clinic that performed the abortion. The girl wrote her mother “fainted and afterwards I was total despair—tears, insults, blows, disappointment and finally a dressing down.. She has asked her gynaecologist to re-do my hymen because she says that if not it will ruin my future.”
Some doctors refuse to sign virginity certificates or perform te hymen operations on the grounds that: 1) filling out the certificates if the girls is not a virgin is dishonest; 2) performing the operations is not a medical necessity; and 3) the state health care program should not pay for it. One doctor who does fill out the certificates told Le Monde, “I worked in Algeria as a junior doctor and I saw these young women whose throats had been slit because they were suspected of having lost their virginity. So if someone asks me, I sign the certificate.”
Islam and Wife Beating
Harem Women Feeding Pigeons
in a Courtyard by Gerome On the subject of wife abuse, the Koran states that if husbands suspects their wives of “disloyalty and ill-conduct” the husbands should first “admonish them,” second “refuse to share their beds.” and third, as a last resort, “beat them.” The controversial Koranic sura that men use to justify violence towards women for “ill-conduct” isn’t what men claim it is. Closer examination of the sura reveals that “beatings” are light taps, the punishments are supposed to be for religious transgressions only. The same sura calls for “mutual consultation between husband and wife.”
Chapter 4, verse 34 of the Koran reads: “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women because Allah has given the one more [strength] than the other and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard... what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct admonish them [first] [next] refuse to share their beds [and last] beat them but if they return to obedience seek not against them means [of annoyance] for Allah is Most High Great.”
The key to Chapter 4, verse 34 of the Koran which uses the word daraba to describe the punishment given a woman for disloyalty or misconduct. Daraba has 25 meanings in Arabic, including hit, strike, chastise, pet, tap and spank but the most common translation is “beat. Men have interpreted this as meaning it is okay to strike a woman with everything from a wet noodle to a newspaper to a yardstick to a pool cue. On the meaning of the verse of the Saudi scholar Abdul Rahman al-Sheha wrote a husband may “beat” his wife but he must do so without “hurting, breaking a bone, leaving blue or black marks on the body and avoiding hitting the face, at any costs.
In Qatar, a cleric has referred to the Koran “wife-beating” passage as “wondrous verse” and laid out rules for wife beating. In Germany, a judge cited it as reason not to grant a fast-track divorce to a Moroccan women who wanted out of a violent marriage.
A more liberal reading of the lost line Chapter 4, verse 34 of the Koran goes: “ As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct admonish them [first] [next] refuse to share their beds [and last] chastise them [lightly] but if they return to obedience seek not against them means [of annoyance] for Allah is Most High Great. As evidence than wife beating is far from condoned, the Prophet Mohammed said that “the rest of you are those who beat their wives.”
Neal Robinson a professor Islamic studies, told the Times of London that the translation of daraba as “hit” is inescapable. “The problems with modern translations is that by obscuring the literal meaning they sidetrack the real issue: how should a 7th century revelation be applied today. There is a need to put passages like that in their historical context. Judged by pagan Arab standard, this was a great advance: wife-beating was minimized but not eradicated.” By contemporary standard it seems almost barbaric.
Even talking about rape can bring great shame.
Hijab world, how stringent rules are on women covering themselves
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Arab News, Jeddah; Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong; A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). Also articles in National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011