Muhammad and his wet nurse
The treatment of and attitude towards women varies a great deal from place to place with Saudi Arabia, where women can’t drive and must be fully covered, and the Taliban, where girls are discouraged from attending school and stoned to death for committing adultery, representing the most conservative extreme. In many Muslim countries, such as Turkey, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Egypt, women can drive, vote and dress as they like. They can pursue professional careers and run for elected office and do most things that women in the West do.

Being an Arab woman is tough. They have to fight for what little rights the have. Mothers and motherhood are regarded as a foundation of society. Young married women are often dominated and pushed around by their mother’s in law. Women in urban areas generally have more freedom than those in rural areas.

Women are generally perceived as inferior and stupid by Saudi men. It not uncommon for young girls to be enlisted at an early age to assist in the making of bread and other food, and being punished if they nick any, while boys can help themselves to small bites whenever they feel like it. Within the woman’s world, there is a pecking order and social hierarchy based on age and status with older, high status women at the top. Mothers of married sons often wield considerable power over their daughter-in-laws.

Soheir Khashoggi told AP: “Contrary to what so many people think, strength,, energy and driver, these are very traditional for women in Arab culture. The Bedouin woman is very, very strong. She works in the fields, she moves in the desert.

Book: “ Standing Alone in Mecca” by Asra Nomani (HarpersSan Francisco); “Women and Gender in Islam” by Leila Ahmed; Nine Parts of Desire: “The Hidden World of Islamic Women” by Geraldine Brooks was read by U.S. President George Bush.

Websites and Resources: Islam ; Islamic City ; Islam 101 ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance ; BBC article ; Patheos Library – Islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Islam from UCB Libraries GovPubs ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline ; Discover Islam

Traditional View of Muslim Women

Bedouin family
Views towards women in the Arab and Muslim world are arguably shaped more by Arab traditions of honor and tribal loyalty than Islam. Many of the anti-women position taken by Islamists are not based on the Qur’an and other Muslim scriptures and laws but rather are based on tribal customs in which individual rights are secondary to one’s position in the tribe or family and women are viewed as “communal or tribal property.” A girl’s value, for example, has traditionally been tied to her role in uniting one family with another through marriage.

Women are regarded as rulers of the home and are expected to make their home their first priority. Outside the home is world dominated by men who frown on women having too many freedoms. One woman told the Washington Post: “The worst thing you can do in the Arab world is ask for permission. It will always be no.”

Shazia Mirza, a Pakistani-British comedian said: “My family are very strict. Growing up, I was never allowed to do anything. I wanted to do ballet but I wasn’t allowed. I was never allowed on school trips and I was never allowed out."

Women, Rights and Equality

Mohja Kahf, author of "The Girl with the Tangerine scarf", wrote in the Washington Post: “Blessings abound for me as a Muslim woman: the freshness of ablution is mine, and the daily meditation zone of five prayers that involve graceful, yoga-like movements, performed in prayer attire. ...The Quran doesn’t blame Eve. Literacy for women is highly encouraged by the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. Breast-feeding is a woman’s choice and a means for her to create family ties independent of male lineage, as nursing creates legally recognized family relations under Islamic law. Rapists are punishable by death in Islamic law.” She also insists that birth control, masturbation and abortion are all allowed under some circumstances.

The theme of sexual equality lies at the heart of the Qur’an’s Adam and Eve story: “Oh mankind! Be conscious of your Lord, who created you out of one living entity, and from it created its mate, and from the two of them spread abroad the multitude of men and women.” One of the most quoted Islamic verses goes, “Paradise is at the feet of your mother.”

The right of women to work and make money is recognized in the Qur’an with the statement, “to men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn.” One verse of the Qur’an seems to imply that women can be leaders: “And the believers, both men and women — they are friends and protectors of one another; they enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong.”

The aspects of Islam that are discriminatory towards women lie more in the fact the Qur’an and the Hadiths have been interpreted by men for 14 centuries than in the Qur’an and the Hadiths themselves.

Muslim Women and Education

Gaza students
Literacy for women is highly encouraged by the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. Prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo has a woman’s college. There are some girl’s madrasahs and other means for females study within Islamic institutions. But in many cases educational opportunities that are offered to males are denied to females, especially under repressive regime like the Taliban. Nearly all religious scholars and interpreters of Islamic law are men. [Source: Carla Power, New York Times magazine, February 25, 2007]

But that wasn’t always the case. Muhammad Akram Nadwi, a Sunni religious scholar, began work in the 1990s on a dictionary of female hadith scholars. When he started he thought he would be lucky to fill a single volume with a few dozen entries but he found many more female scholars than he thought he would. As of 2007, he had 8,000 biographical entries in his 40-volume dictionary.

The entries include a 10th- century Baghdad-born jurist who traveled to Syria and Egypt preaching to women; a 12th-century Egyptian scholar who impressed her male students with her knowledge of a “camel load” of texts; and a 15th-century woman who taught law at the Prophet’s grave in Medina. A 7th-century female jurist from Medina issued fatwas on how the hajj should be carried out. A jurist from Aleppo advised her husband, a famous scholar, how to issue his fatwas. Ummal-darda, a prominent 7th-century scholar from Damascus enjoyed sitting around with men debating religious issues and appears to have been treated as an equal by male scholars. She lectured men and counted a caliph among her students.

After the 16th century the number of women scholars declined markedly as Islamic scholarship and jurisprudence became more formal and oriented towards creating careers in courts and mosques. That appears to have made the female scholars that were around work harder so they could be taken seriously. Akam said the erosion of educational opportunities for Muslim women reflected a “decline in every aspect of Islam” — primarily the result of poor leadership that has let extremism gain too much control and left the Muslim community ignorant and confused.

Women and Conservative Islam

Judaism, Christianity and Islam have all have rules and ideologies constructed by men to keep women down. In many Muslim sects and groups, women are considered the property of male relatives and they need permission of a male relatives to marry, name their children or work. In the Wahhabist interpretation of Sharia, a “muhrim” — father, husband, brother or son — must accompany women in public, give them permission to travel and attest their legal contracts.

Burqa in Afghanistan
Conservative Muslims insist that women distract men, tempt to them to fornication and cause them ascribe blasphemous divine qualities to women. Some Muslims believe that women should obey their husbands as if they were gods. In some cultures it is perfectly acceptable for men to beat, burn or imprison their wives without food for "disobedience."

One Arab man told the Los Angeles Times, “It is true that we view our women as commercial assets to be bought and sold.” The feminist Egyptian writer Salwa Bakr, told AP, "A woman in Arab societies is an object for sex and reproduction. As long as she is an object, she is owned by a father, a husband a brother. They way she uses her body is not her business, the business of those who won her."

Some conservative Muslim claim conservative Islamist views towards women are ultimately based on respect and love for them. A 32-year-old female religious student in Iran told the New York Times, “We think a woman in Islam is a tender creature, a rose flower. And you should pay more attention to your roses than any other flower. The restrictions for women exist because Islam respects women.” The execution of adulterous men and women is sometimes held up as proof that women are held in high esteem.

Some Muslim women embrace conservative Islam. They willingly comply with veiling and segregation from men and other restrictions made on them. Some are active in jihadi movements and have participated in suicide bombing missions. An Internet magazine for female jihadis, called Al-Khansaa tells mothers their “main mission is to present lions on a battlefield” and offer advise on raising children to fight infidels and become martyrs.”

Book: "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali is about a woman growing up under harsh conditions in Muslim Somalia, Saudi Arabia and east Africa.

Women in Saudi Arabia

Women are arguably more oppressed in Saudi Arabia than they are in any other Muslim country. Since they are excluded from the world of men, Saudi Arabian women live in their world they have created indoors for themselves in which only women and children participate. Urban women have frequent get-togethers and parties in someone’ home. They attend exercise classes and other activities for women only. Many of their duties are taken care of by servants. [Source: Marianne Alireza, National Geographic, October 1987]

woman in niqab in Saudi Arabia

Women are expected to make their home their first priority. They are generally perceived as inferior and stupid by Saudi men. Within woman’s society, there is a pecking order and social hierarchy based on age and status with high status women at the top. Mothers of married sons often wield considerable power over their daughter-in-laws.

For a long time women were not even issued ID cards. The only proof a woman had of her existence was her name on her husband’s or father’s card or that of some other male relative. An effort to grant women ID cards was thwarted by religious authorities.

Women, Family and Honor

In many Muslim societies purity and chastity before marriage are considered imperative. From an early age girls learn about “ eib” (shame) and “ sharaf” (honor). They are taught to dress modestly, lower their eyes when in public and above all else to remain a virgin until they are married. Honor is linked to a woman’s purity and based on the fact she is weak and needs a man’s protection. In some societies, rape and being raped is regarded as worse than murder. Any affront on a woman’s honor is something that must be avenged.

Women are guarded and secluded because if they do anything regarded as unchaste or impure it dishonors their entire family. Female chastity and the appearance of chastity lie at the foundation of the Arab code of honor and the codes of honor of other cultures that embrace Islam.

The Muslim extremist belief seems to be that the honor of women is upheld by imprisoning them. The “protecting” is done by fathers, brothers and husbands. Explaining how honor works, a feminist Turkish lawyer told the Los Angeles Times, “It is a virtue that only a man can possess and that can only be soiled by a female body. It is a notion that was concocted by men to ensure their continued domination over tribe and society long before Islam was ever introduced.”

In families where honor is held at a premium, brothers follow their sisters around like private detectives, on the lookout for any questionable behavior. A French woman born to Algerian parents told the International Herald Tribune: “Until I was 17 my older brother hit me”for being in the street, or for visiting friends, or for wearing makeup, all the normal things French girls did. For a long time I tried to keep my head down, like all the other submissive women hidden in their homes.”

A lawyer explained how honor affects all the women in a family. “A stained reputation means that other unmarried girls in the family will never find suitors until it is cleansed,” she said. “If a woman has no skills, no education, her honor is her only currency in the marriage market.” Many girls are told the story of a girl who killed herself after she was raped so as not to stain her family’s honor. For this she was buried in gold. By contrast, girls who bring shame to their families are buried unceremoniously in unmarked graves.

Women, Sharia and Muslim Courts

Burqa in England
The Qur’an and Muslim law grants women the rights of property, divorce, inheritance, child custody, alimony, education, choosing a husband, divorce, working, engaging in business and entering a profession. Islam also recognizes the right of women to enjoy sex in their marriage and make decisions about contraceptives and family size. Even in conservative Saudi Arabia women are allowed to run businesses, donate land for schools and endow trusts.

But for many of the things listed above, women need permission of a man. According to Muslim law, every girl and woman has a guardian — her father, brother, or some male relative — and he makes major decisions about her life. Marriage contracts, for example, are worked out by him and the groom’s family and the woman has no say in the matter and must follow the wishes of her guardian.

The views towards women are often conveyed as being protective of women and serving their own interests rather than being discriminatory. Where honor or kin group is concerned Muslim law is often protective of women, for example, providing the widest possible limits within which the legitimacy of children born in wedlock are recognized.

Questions about Muslim laws that affect women have traditionally been decided by male clerics. But in some there are women “muftias”, overseen by male muftis. One such group ruled that a husband is not obliged to pay his wife’s travel expenses if she goes to her parents house without her permission and that trimming one’s nails during menstruation is not advisable and decided that the question of whether high heels are allowable required more thought an analysis.

See Marriage Contract, Divorce.

According to Muslim law males and a women’s testimony in court, at least on financial matters, hold’s half the weight of a man’s testimony. Women have traditionally been barred from courtrooms and had to testify through a special window.

According to Muslim law males receive twice as much in inheritance as females. Under the current system daughters inherit half of what sons gets and if a daughters only the only heir a proportion of the money goes to male relatives not the daughters because according to Islamic tradition men are responsible for taking care of their female relatives. Muslim law also says the blood money for a woman is half that of a man.

Modernity and Feminism in the Muslim World

The arrival of colonialism in the Arab-Muslim world helped to free women to some extent. The Moroccan feminist writer Fatima Mernissi wrote that her mother told her, “The French do not imprison their wives behind walls...They let them run wild in the local souk (market), and everyone has fun, and still the work gets done. In fact, so much work gets done that they can afford to equip strong armies and come down here to shoot at us.”

After the Arab countries won independence, even in the most conservative societies, large numbers of girls began attending school for the first time. In many schools there were almost as many girls as boys. In some places mothers attended primary school with the children.

Economic opportunities improved. More kinds of work were open to women. In the countryside, as the men migrated to cities, women took over more responsibility at home and took over farms and livestock. However many of the jobs available to them were not great: al lot of these were servant jobs in the cities for young unmarried girls from the countryside. Over time as women became better educated they became doctors, lawyers and social workers.

As time wnet on women were segregated less and more visible on the streets; fewer were wearing the veil. Girls were marrying later. Laws were enacted that gave women more rights. These laws however were not widely enforced and the old customs endured, especially in the countryside.

A 2007 Gallup survey of 10,000 Muslims in ten predominately Muslim countries, found most women in these countries believed sharia (Islamic law) should be the source of national laws, but strongly believed in equal rights for women. Analysts from the West find it difficult to understand how to embrace customs like Hijab and the the veil and demand equal rights at the same time.

Advances by Women

Iranian students
In countries around the Mediterranean there has been a huge migration for the countryside to the cities. As a result many opportunities have opened for women who in the past that were denied them before. More or more women are getting an education, getting university degrees and working as doctors and lawyers. At many universities in the Muslim world, female enrollment is 40 percent or more, compared to below 20 percent in the 1960s.

Women have served as the leaders of the Muslim countries of Pakistan, Turkey, Bangladesh and Indonesia. The minister of economy and planning in United Arab Emirates in the mid 2000s was woman as was the Pakistani ambassador to Britain. Ten wives of Arab world leaders, including Queen Rania of Jordan and Suzanne Mubarak of Egypt, participated on an Arab women’ summit that called for “legal and legislative reforms that achieve equality and justice for women.”

The Moroccan feminist writer Fatima Mernissi wrote that “women dreamed of trespassing all the time. The world beyond the gate was their obsession.” To escape she said she dreamed of traveling to some faraway place, indulged in forbidden things such as cigarettes and embroidering designs of birds flying away. Some women express their freedom by smoking sheesha. Others like to tell stupid men jokes. One goes a woman gave birth two twin sons. When the first one came out the father was very happy. When the second arrived he was beside himself with anger and started yelling at his wife, “Whose baby is this?”

Female Muslim writer Leila Aboulela wrote in the Washington Post, “In the past men could get away with flouting many conventions simply because they were men, But one of the results of the great education for Muslim women is they now refuse to turn a blind eye and instead insist that prohibitions that apply to them must apply to their brothers and husbands.”

Efforts to Reform Laws Regarding Women

Wassyla Tamzali, an Algerian lawyer and UNESCO woman's right expert told the New York Times, "Islamic countries have modernized many laws—in the economy, education, commerce, politics, you name it. But there is practically no movement in the status of women. When it comes to women's rights, religion and theology are invoked.”

Tamzali added, "Change is so difficult because in Islam, women symbolize tradition and cultural identity. It is as if the whole burden of the Islamic tradition rests on their shoulders." The main problem seems to be that clerics and theologians who are in a position to change or reform the laws are all men, and many have conservative views."

Many Muslim women see the Qur’an as upholder of women’s rights not a justification for oppression and argue that the denial of equal rights of marriages, divorce and property is a betrayal rather than refection of Islam. According to he Qur’an, men and women are equal in their submission to God. Many traditions that oppress women are upheld not the Qur’an but by religious texts that date back to the Middle Ages. One Islamic feminist told U.S. News and World Report, "The challenge is to let Islam become a tool for elevating women rather than for oppressing them." Tamzail said, "the way to reform seemed to be that we had to re-examine and reinterpret the religious texts. But efforts to reform Islam from within keep failing.”

Feminism in the Arab-Muslim World

Muslim women praying

Islamic feminists have been described as survivors rather than seekers of freedom and choice. Initially, their emphasis was on freeing women from religion. But now many feminist believe that equality can be obtained within the framework of the Qur’an and Islam. Some describe their struggle as “gender jihad.” Some outsiders regard the whole concept of feminism among Muslims as an oxymoron.

Hoda Shaarawi is regarded as the mother of Muslim feminism. In 1923, she caused a major incident when she tore off her veil in Cairo’s central Station. Leading Muslim feminists today include Moroccan writer Fatima Mernissi and Kecia Ali, a professor at Boston University.

Many Muslim women want be freed of Muslim extremist oppression but do not want that replaced with Western-style feminism. As one activist said, “bring your democracy, not your bikinis.” Issues that Muslim feminists are concerned about include mandatory veiling, gender segregation, polygamy, female circumcision, domestic violence, death for extramarital sex, forced early marriages and strict gender roles.

Muslim women are often suspicious of Western ideas of feminism. Nadira Artyk, an Uzbekistan-born women’s rights journalist, wrote in the International Herald Tribune, Feminist from Muslim countries “confided that when they tried to educate women about their rights based on the Western human rights agenda, they were often regarded with suspicion and asked whether those principles were compatible with Islam. Women responded with far greater enthusiasm to arguments based on the Islamic teachings, to solution to their social problems that originated from within their faith.” [Source: Nadira Artyk, International Herald Tribune, October 28, 2008 |=|]

Nadira Artyk wrote in the International Herald Tribune, I “decided to educate myself on the original sources - the Qur’an and the Hadith (the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad). That's how I discovered progressive Islam and Islamic feminism. I came to understand that my faith had strong egalitarian messages within it; that the Qur’an and the Hadith, having been interpreted for 14 centuries by men, had layers of patriarchal bias stuck on them like layers of dust.

The goal of Islamic feminism Artyk wrote, “is to recuperate the egalitarian voice of the Qur’an. Its main struggle is to uphold gender equality within families. That’s were the Muslim feminists differ from classical feminists —they say a woman will only be capable of practicing all her rights in the public sphere if her rights within her family are respected.”

“With the global rise of political Islam, the traditional messages of secular, Western-style feminism based on the concepts of democracy and human rights seem not to work any longer. Women responded with far greater enthusiasm to arguments based on the Islamic teachings, to solutions to their social problems that originated from within their own faith. Islamic feminism is a fledgling movement, but it is fast spreading its wings. Its aim is to recuperate the egalitarian voice of the Qur’an.

Ijihad and the Fragility and Complexity of Women Rights in the Arab World

In a review of the book “Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East” by Isobel Coleman, Tara Bahrampour wrote in the Washington Post, Tara Bahrampour wrote in the Washington Post, “Women's rights have been slow to blossom in the Middle East, Coleman writes, in part because the principle is often associated with Westernization. Twentieth-century West-leaning modernizers such as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk bluntly denounced the veil without acknowledging its complex effect on society, while current politicians seek legitimacy by catering to anti-Western religious conservatives and sacrificing women's rights along the way. "Islamic feminism" can be a loaded term among those who see feminism as an illegitimate Western import. [Source: Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post, June 27, 2010 ***]

“But according to Coleman, reform within an Islamic framework is the most promising avenue toward women's advancement. She introduces us to Muslims, both religious and secular, who engage in ijtihad, "the process of arriving at new interpretations of Islamic law through critical reasoning, rather than blindly following the views of past scholars." They use the Qur’an to show that gender inequality isn't an Islamic concept so much as a cultural one, and that extreme practices against women represent "a subversion of Islamic teaching, its corruption by tribal customs and traditions." ***

“Traditional societies do not tend to tolerate change imposed from the top, however, and turning ijtihad into action requires delicate maneuvering by insiders who can work with mullahs and politicians and resist the urge to superimpose Western-style feminism on Eastern societies. "I don't want to criticize the work of foreigners," says Sakena Yacoobi, an Afghan woman Coleman meets who runs a women's health and education nonprofit, "but when they come here and start teaching the women about their rights, the women often go home and criticize their husbands and their life just gets worse. We are helping the women learn how to negotiate with their husbands. The Quran is most helpful for that." ***

“Coleman's feminists use modern technology to promote their message: Advocacy groups bombard policymakers with e-mail, and activists use YouTube to broadcast abuses captured on cellphone videos. An Egyptian television sex therapist who is popular across the Arab world uses the Qur’an to recommend foreplay, and an actor portraying a religious leader on a radio soap opera in rural Pakistan deprecates women to spark discussion among the show's characters and listeners. ***

“Coleman acknowledges the fragility of women's advancement. Hard-won rights have withered in the face of war, revolution and restrictive religious trends. In Iraq, for example, women in the early secular years of Baathist rule enjoyed some of the region's highest levels of female literacy and workforce engagement. But after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, when women's rights were subverted in an attempt to gain clerical support for the Baathist regime, female literacy plunged from 75 percent to less than 25 percent.” ***

Books: “Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East” by Isobel Coleman, Random House, 2010; “In Search of Islamic Feminism” by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea (Doubleday). Fernea teaches Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas in Austin.

Rise of Women’s Rights in Iran

Tara Bahrampour wrote in the Washington Post, “After Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, women were barred from working as judges or attending soccer matches, forced to wear hijab, and declared unequal to men in the realms of inheritance, testimony and divorce -- all under the pretext of hewing to Islamic tenets. [Source: Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post, June 27, 2010 ***]

“But something interesting happened on the way back from the revolution, as Isobel Coleman describes in her new book, "Paradise Beneath Her Feet." As Iran's mullahs tightened control, women from conservative religious families who had never had a voice began to ride the very Islamic wave that seemed to be rising against them. Those who had been active in the revolution now elbowed their way into political and civil society, and universities were soon packed with women. If unintentionally, "the Islamic takeover made formal girls' schooling acceptable to even the most conservative families," Coleman writes. "Now that society was Islamized — with girls wearing hijab and schools and many public places segregated — how could a father say no?" ***

“As fathers began to say yes, Iran's male-dominated leadership was busy isolating itself from the international community. But Iranian women were connecting with the outside world: Their One Million Signatures campaign against discriminatory laws drew global recognition; the human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize; and one year ago last week, when Iranians took to the streets to protest suspicious election results, the symbol of the Iranian resistance became Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose death was broadcast on YouTube.” ***

Arab Spring Bad for Women's Rights in the Arab-Muslim World?

political cartoon from Egypt addressing the Arab-Spring Tahrir Square protests

Marie-Louise Gumuchian of Reuters wrote: “In post-revolution Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, women are exploring what the Arab Spring means for them. Since long-time leaders were toppled in the three north African states, many fret the power vacuum will leave the door open for Islamist groups to take power and force changes that will damage women’s rights. In Tunisia Islamists have already risen to power while in Egypt, they are leading staggered elections and have pledged to govern by Islamic laws. [Source: Marie-Louise Gumuchian, Reuters, December 20, 2011 /~]

“In Libya, National Transitional Council (NTC) chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil alarmed many when he pledged to uphold Islamic law and ease polygamy rules in a speech to mark Libya’s “liberation” from Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, though he has since played down any suggestion of radical Islamist rule. “I think where the Islamic laws will eventually bite is the rights of women. They already have declared (in Libya) that polygamy rules will be relaxed and who knows where that is going to go,” said Laleh Khalili, senior lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of London. /~\

“In Tunisia, where the Arab Spring was born “secular” women have mobilized to defend their western lifestyles after the Islamist Ennahda party swept to power in the country’s first free election, including claiming almost all the seats won by women. Women are lobbying the political parties to protect a pioneering 1956 law granting them full equality with men and to counter the pressure mounting from radical Muslims keen to push them back into traditional roles. ”I have never been so worried about women’s freedom as I am now,“ said Saida Garrach, a lawyer and activist in the Tunisian Association of Democratic ”omen. “The threat is everywhere - on what women wear, how they think. If you are not with them (Islamists), they will insult you, harass you. I’ve been sworn at in the street because of things I have said on television.” /~\

While Ennahda has promised not to impose strict Muslim rules on society and to respect women’s rights, many secularist women say they do not believe these promises. A small contingent of Salafists - hardline Islamists not associated with Ennahda - have sought to implement their purist interpretation of Islam and overturn secularist laws. Some have demanded segregated classes and the right for women to wear full face veils at university, spurring clashes with secular students.

“In Egypt, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salafi party have claimed the most seats in the first two rounds of a parliamentary poll, the first free ballot in the Arab world’s most populous nation since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February. Both parties advocate a more Islamic society but tell voters although they want more morality in public life they won’t impose Islamic moral codes and veils on women. Campaigners say Egyptian women face some of the harshest treatment in the world: domestic violence, harassment and discrimination at work and in the law. Forced marriage of young girls is still common outside big cities.”

Women’s Reforms in Saudi Arabia

Saudi women can now drive

Kristine Beckerle wrote in Newsweek, “Women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia have called on the government for years to abolish the male guardianship system. The government has made some changes—encouraging women to work, increasing education opportunities, passing a law in 2013 against domestic violence. When Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman unveiled Vision2030, the country’s wide-ranging plan for its future, many hoped more change would follow. [Source: Kristine Beckerle, Newsweek, July 31, 2016]

“Yet, in today’s Saudi Arabia, women continue to be boxed in. The male guardianship system not only hampers the ability of half of Saudi Arabia’s population to show their country just how much they could contribute, but also undermines the Saudi government’s own dreams for the country’s future.

Vision2030 wants to enable women to contribute to the economy. The government encourages women to work, but doesn’t penalize employers who won’t hire a woman without a male guardian’s permission. The state pays for women to study abroad on government scholarships, but officially requires male guardian’s permission before they can go and a male relative to accompany them while abroad. I spoke with women who were prevented from attending conferences for work or higher education abroad because they were fighting with their husband, or their father disagreed.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except driving woman,

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); 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). “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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