The Middle East Tribune

Centered on Civil Liberties & Political Issues, Human Development & Socioeconomic Matters

Why Arabs and Muslims Downplay Women’s Rights

Tunisian women rally against slavery and Domestic violence -photo source www.tunisia-live.net.

Tunisian women rally against slavery and Domestic violence -photo source http://www.tunisia-live.net.

No matter whom we are or where we are in the world, one cannot deny that human rights and civil liberty are the foremost, after politics, controversial subjects of discussion of our time. By all odds, the most debate-provoking topic in any human rights discourse is the issue of women’s rights. It is so because the nature of women’s rights demand holds compound societal dimensions that can bring about everlasting cultural effects on all people.

In most cases, the line of argumentation for or against women’s rights implicates intense disputes of diverse religious and social conceptions about the role of women in society. This, however, is because discussing of women’s rights always entails further argumentation of people’s ingrained beliefs and customized definitions of equality, justice and freewill. It also involves discussions that bring forth a number of decisive questions about the compatibility of laws, cultures, and religious doctrines with our modern-day concept of women’s rights, human rights and civil liberties.

Actually, in advanced societies, women’s rights movements, feminist organized groups together with other active women have attained a very substantial achievement: equality of rights under the law. This momentous progress came through as a result of their successful crusade to reform the philosophy of law of their countries apart from traditions and religious consideration. Heretofore, the obvious is that the western establishment of women’s rights, as a whole, still has to strive to actualize real equal treatment in many aspects of life. On the face of it, women need to gain wider national recognition of their political skills, executive competency and business-like métiers, for example, to win their final national battle— probably, much more points need to be scored on the transnational front.

Meanwhile, in most of the third world, women’s state of affair is an untold inglorious tragedy. In spite of many broad attempts of international human rights organizations, women’s rights movements and civil rights advocates to deliver change, the fact remains that the mass majority of women in poor and developing countries are compelled, one way or another, to endure living just like in the Middle Ages.

To touch on some of these misfortunes, all of us, men and women, should recall the suffering of those hapless women, who  were disfigured (by acid attacks) for marital motives, died from self induced abortions, kidnapped and sold as sex slaves, gang-raped and murdered, for instance, to realize the savagery women are facing. All of us should recollect the assassination attempt on the life of young Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, so that to visualize the ongoing sufferings of women in many developing countries (underdeveloped was more accurate).

In the Arab and Muslim countries, equal rights laws (where do exist) are either devoid or deactivated, mainly in the name of its inconsistency with Islamic laws and archaic societal traditions. However, in few Arab countries, like in Lebanon, for instance, where the constitution clearly affirms equality of all citizens. Nevertheless, in practice, most constitutional equal rights terms are vacated in favor of sectarian regulations, religious rules and hence male chauvinism.

On the political front, the general political mindset of most Arab leading politicians and political industries is to circumvent and downplay women participation in the political process, though all declare the contrary. The undeniable reality is that Arab women, who count more than half of Arab people, hardly exist in parliaments and government cabinets of their countries—let alone that they are prohibited to serve in the religious judiciary.

Lebanese women, likewise most Arab women, do not have the right to grant their nationality to their children or spouses, while men can. Voluntary civil marriage is impermissible in Arab states. Only couples of countries, like Lebanon, recognize offshore civil marriage contracts; nonetheless relegate all subsequent legal decisions to the respective religious authorities of the husband, the male.  In plain words, it is just a fake exit.

Arab penal laws still incorporate exonerative clauses of which domestic violence and the so-called honor crime are tolerated. While Arab legislative bodies are tuned out to realize that the lack of serious criminalization and penalization of crimes against women, such as marital rape, carnal abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and child marriage, is spreading the feel of fear, pain and injustice among half of Arab citizens—not to discuss the accompanying emotional distress and resentment.

Arab women in protest for their rights Photo source: www.dw.de

Arab women in protest for their rights Photo source: http://www.dw.de

Under some disputed misinterpretations of many Muslim clerics, equal rights for women in the Arab law of land are seen to oppose Islamic teachings and traditions , since the text, in the short eyeshot of those Muslim sheikhdoms, points to the contrary: to the supremacy of men.  Arab women have been indoctrinated and influenced, as of childhood, to live in the shadow of their male family members (fathers, brothers, husbands and their own adult sons), no matter of their individual qualities or education.

In Arab and Muslim conservative societies, single (never been married) women are denied the right, by unsubstantiated Islamic rules, to get married without the consent of their fathers or brothers. However, when it comes to divorce, although Muslim women are permitted to make claims for divorce (only if they have Islamic valid reasons—a very shortlist), they are obliged to endure a backbreaking process of 2-3 years long before they are freed.

Unfortunately, the largest part of those primitive actualities are conducted in the name of applying Islamic laws and traditions, most of which are built on misreading and misinterpretations of the primary objectives of Islamic scriptures. A look at Arab Islamic history evince that Muslim women were having freer societal conditions at the time of Prophet Muhammad than they are now. They traveled on horses and rode camels with men in battles and trade trips; treated and soothed injured men; openly discussed and argued for their views with men; held high religious position of reference and political power (like Aisha, second wife of the Prophet); were not to be married without their consent and acquire divorce before long, for example.

However, this is not to imply that Muslim people have to revert their ways of life to resemble those of 1400-years ago in order to be better off. On the contrary, it is to stress that the so-called Muslims religious authorities (who are supposed to deliver divine rules are actually instituted and appointed by temporal rulers—what an industry) have to review all Fatwas, rulings and (mis)interpretations to make compatible with the modern understanding of human rights. Considering that, it is irrational and detrimental to keep trying out to unplug 1.6 billion Muslim from their present-day world to live the Islamic doctrine of the 6th century or so— let alone being impossible to achieve.

Given those resentful circumstances, the unavoidable question is why Arab and Muslim women do not forcefully stand up for their rights and human dignity. And, whether they are ready to induce the required change against all odds or not.

Under the current situations of the Middle East and North Africa, one has to acknowledge that it is quite harder to reform the law in autocratic states than in established democracies; and believably, much harder to actualize equal rights to women where uneven religious-based traditions and restrictive family values are implanted in the psyche of Arab and Muslim people. Nevertheless, the answer is a conditional yes. Yes, Arab and Muslim women are geared up to attain their rights, but lack the leadership and support.

Fairly and squarely, it seems that Arab women have temporarily reconfigured their actual endeavors to seek lesser goals than those of western women. This temperate outlook, however, is not due to lack of self-respect, poor education or low spirit. Rather, it is an act of weighing several unavoidable national actualities: absence of real democracy, poor civil engagement, bigoted conservative society, armed extremist groups, suppressive authorities and most of all, the unending question of people’s safety.

Having said that does not mean that Arab and Muslim women are excused for not pushing on their rightful cause to the frontline of the current democratic strive, with which they could be able to change their fate and future.  Though they should have done it earlier, nevertheless Arab women should utilize their social media expertise, advertisement skills, likeable presentation and marketing competency to win the wide support of their fellow citizens. Arab women activists are invited to employ their voting force in the current power struggle in the region to the advantage of liberal democratic candidates (men and women) that support human rights and civil liberties.

In all norms, Arab and Muslim women deserve and have the right to be treated equally and humanely regardless of any given justification or falsification. Arab and Muslim leaders, government officials, politicians, business magnates and all traditionalists are morally obligated to liberate more than eight hundred million Muslim women from thralldom, if they are really looking for a promising political and economic future of their countries.

Meanwhile, all men, Arab and Muslim, in particular, should remember not to be proud before their mothers, educators, partners, daughters, friends, and colleagues are set free of this modern-day serfdom.

Everyone should remind oneself that,

One free humming bird would add more to our world than a million caged ones.

Author’s Note: This article is also published at Arabian Gazette

Advertisements

35 comments on “Why Arabs and Muslims Downplay Women’s Rights

  1. Pingback: Why Arabs and Muslims Downplay Women’s Rights | Indian Muslim Observer

  2. Khadija T. Moalla
    May 31, 2014

    Thanks Si Mohammad for your article and for taking the time to answer every comment. I agree on what you said, however, in the 22 Arab countries, there is an exception, which is my country Tunisia. Before it promulgates its Constitution, the first President Bourguiba enacted, in 1956, the family law (Code du Statut personnel), which provided 90% of women rights (except inheritance equality). He was able to do it because he choose the have a secular country where he separated between the State and the religion. As an example, the Tunisian woman got the right to vote 200 years before the American woman and the right to abortion 20 years before the French woman. As a lawyer, I used to have all the laws with me to defend women cases, especially divorce cases.

    However, I always believed and publicly said that Tunisian women have to be vigilant, because like Thomas Jefferson, I believe that “Vigilance is the price for freedom”. History proved that I was right because right after the revolution, Islamic parties started to question Tunisian women’ rights that were there for 60 years. As women we need to continue fighting so that our daughters will continue having the same rights my generation and my mum’s generation had. However, without the solidarity of women together and without the solidarity of smart and enlighten men, with them, we don’t stand a chance!

    Finally, with the “Terrorists” that started killing great people in my country, we have to have the courage to face them. I do believe that “Courage is not the lack of fear, but it is acting despite of it”. I trust that Tunisian women will have the guts “to act despite of it”!

    Khadija T. MOALLA

    Like

    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      May 31, 2014

      Thanks to you Khadija. I assure you that I’m aware of women status in Tunisia and I appreciate their struggle and firm standing. Actually, because of the changes you have mentioned, I have selected the first photo (Tunisian Women dragged as slaves) for this article. However, I would like to note that unless people in general, and men in specific, are compelled to change their mentality regarding the issue of equal rights, no law or arrangement will deliver the required change in the Arab and Muslim world–though having equal rights laws are essential.
      I salute all the women who strive to attain equality of rights, and so I salute you.

      Like

  3. Pingback: Why Arabs and Muslims Downplay Women’s Ri...

  4. Margaret King
    September 4, 2013

    Mohammad,
    Two weeks ago, I returned from the Middle East, Turkey and Jordan in particular, and can say that I have seen very strong, confident women in many areas of society. What I always notice is that strong confident women are usually raised by intelligent, confident men. A confident man will always want his daughters and his wife to be the best that they can be. A man who is easily swayed by others, no matter what society he lives in, will most likely not be an independent thinker and will be most likely to follow traditional rules practiced by the men in his social and family circle. Weak men see strong women as a threat.

    My experience with most Muslim men is that if they see a woman who is intelligent, educated, and well respected, they gravitate towards her and show her admiration. The key, therefore, is in offering women as many opportunities as possible to get an education, and over time, the attitude by men towards them will change. And just as a word of hope for the future, there will come a time when a woman will lead the world towards an era of justice and peace. One day, God willing, you will remember my words.

    Best regards,
    Margaret

    Like

    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      September 4, 2013

      I agree with your analysis, Margaret . It would be a pleasure to see your vision actualized in our lifetime. I really hope so.
      Best

      Like

  5. Anonymous
    September 4, 2013

    Join Egyptian women in parliament since 1957!

    Like

  6. Linda Spector Boehringer
    September 3, 2013

    Mohammad,

    You have managed to capture society, culture and reality in your article. I commend you on a brilliant and fearless job!

    It breaks my heart to know there is so much suffering around the world, specifically when it relates to women and children. Religion and some cultures have really slowed progress down, fortunately spirituality has helped to speed it up again. The human spirit can be a very strong when working towards change, even if change can be an exhausting and painful. Thankfully women have learned to be more resilient and dynamic with each passing generation.

    Thankfully men are talking about change and that’s a huge step. Your article encouraging! Authors can shed light on controversial topics with articles like yours and remind us that change is on the horizon.

    Cheers and blessings,

    Linda

    Like

    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      September 3, 2013

      That’s true Linda. I believe change will arrive, no matter what. Hopefully, sooner than later.
      Thank you for your time and kind words.
      Best

      Like

  7. Karen
    September 3, 2013

    It would seem to me that the men who perpetrate the injustices against women are doing damage to themselves. I cannot see how an intelligent person can think a society can thrive when half it’s population is subjugated in these destructive ways.

    Like

  8. Anonymous
    September 2, 2013

    Hi, Mouhammed:
    Two days ago, I

    Like

  9. yamulticulturaljunkie
    September 1, 2013

    What can one do to help make people more aware? I am learning about the religion Islam through a friend. But he is American , so his views on women’s rights are different(though they’re not perfect , I am inno way saying women’s rights in the United States are).

    But what can one do to make people realize this is actually happening, and not a subject on the news one will forget?

    Like

    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      September 1, 2013

      As a start, simply by denouncing, talking, writing, support, argue against these practices through social media and other wide-reach media, whether it has a direct effect on us or not, for instance
      Regards

      Like

  10. Romy Kerwin
    August 30, 2013

    At last, a comprehensive study of the gross inequalities of Muslim women and men in the Arab world. Mohammad did it again. He gave us a view of how difficult it is for women to gain independence from all the men in their lives. Arab women had more right in the 14 and 15 th centuries. It could have been because populations were mostly nomadic and had to defend themselves against marauders or perhaps there were not enough men to protect their families and cattle. It is also possible that they could not read so they only had a flimsy understanding of Islamic rules. The Koran is more liberal towards women than the catechism preached by the mullahs.
    It is possible at this point to believe that the destruction of the Middle East as it was, may be the only solution for the liberation of women, as Mr Moussalli said : half the Arab world.
    Women have suffered enough under the oppression of men, an oppression that cannot be justified. Comparing their state to serfdom is just about right. The serfs of Russia were liberated by a revolution. This is what it will take to liberate Arab women : either a revolution in thinking or an actual revolution. Arm the women and they will defend themselves.
    After all, they have nothing to lose.
    It is repugnant to think that only violence can liberate Arab women but it is true as men cling to their prerogatives and their sense of entitlement.
    In any case, Mr. Moussalli has well shown us the desperate plea of women often stoned to death for nothing much ( according to our Western standards ). In more open countries, women are not even allowed to drive. Why ? men are afraid that their would take the family car to escape ?
    The total liberation of women will not happen in our lifetimes until public education is put in place for girls. Hopefully, it would put an end to child marriages, violent spousal rapes or gang rapes and women economically dependent on men.
    So much has to change in the Arab world. Yesterday, I went to the beach to swim. The water was good and I thoroughly enjoyed myself until I saw a group of veiled Islamic women touching the water with their feet only and obviously envying my total immersion in the lake.
    Some Caucasian women were playing with a ball in the water. How liberated they must have looked !
    Romy Kerwin

    Like

    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      August 30, 2013

      With the exception of the idea of real revolution , I agree with your humanistic line of thought and lively views. Yes, Ms kerwin, your analysis is right and at point.
      Thank you indeed Romy

      Like

  11. Stephen J. Higgins
    August 30, 2013

    The task is not to turn the world upside down but in out given place to do what is right and act, from the perspective of reality, then really carry out the things we speak. It starts with how we treat women as men and then tell other men and be influencers with those who lead. An truth mixed with action is able to turn our world (circle of influence) upside down and then beyond starts happening. The process always starts with us… Great insight and understanding of history always impressed by your thinking and large-heartedness. Cheers!!

    Like

    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      August 30, 2013

      Yes Mr. Higgins, it starts with us.you are right It starts when men and women look to and treat each others as individuals not objects. Let’s hope that things will change in our lifetime.
      Thank you Stephen

      Like

      • Karen
        September 3, 2013

        Mohammad you make many good points. I agree that men and women must look to and treat each other as individuals not objects. This is even more significant when we realize that we are all carrying the ideological baggage of our past education and experiences.
        We also need to advocate for education for all. We need to be sure our grandchildren can benefit from any hard-won advances in equality. The issues have not changed even though in some countries the laws have.

        Like

        • Mohammad S. Moussalli
          September 3, 2013

          You are right. Undoubtedly, education, in the wide sense, is a must-have requirement to move forward.

          Like

  12. quarkstrange
    August 30, 2013

    This is why they are back centuries in terms of civilitiation

    Like

    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      August 30, 2013

      You took the case to another ground, which is not true. However, one should see other nations practices of some other issues before jumping this big words. There is no one nation or culture that can claim to be the civilized one. All have pros and cons. Don’t they.

      Like

  13. Paul "Chip" Hill
    August 30, 2013

    Alas, Mohammad, you are again correct. Very simply stated, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you” – It is all about the dignity of the human spirit. Civil liberties points mankind in the direction we should aspire to; however, racism, sexism, nationalism, etc. clouds the view.

    Very nice article; and, again, spot-on.

    Chip

    Like

  14. Jennifer Czislowski
    August 30, 2013

    I think the story of Sampson and DeLillah plays heavily in the scenario. Layers of (mr) (miss)perception leading to the perceived original mistake or betrayal between the sexes to explain failure.

    Like

  15. M.Kamal
    August 29, 2013

    I think that the Egyptian women take most of their rights.

    Like

    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      August 30, 2013

      Mr. Kamal
      with due respect, I’m afraid they are not.

      Like

      • Anonymous
        September 3, 2013

        Mr.Mohammad
        Give me examples!

        Like

        • Mohammad S. Moussalli
          September 3, 2013

          Since you asked, for example, would you tell me how many women are appointed ministers, elected to parliament, deputy ministers, prime Ministers, governors, mayors, etc..in proportion with men or with their population count
          And if married Egyptian women can travel abroad if their husbands officially refuse that, and so many other societal issue.

          Like

          • Anonymous
            September 4, 2013

            Dear friend Mr.Mohammad,
            My greetings and respect to you,

            Since more than 30 years there are always women in the Egyptian ministries!
            With regard to travel married women you know being a Muslim, they must take the husband’s consent, but now in Egypt women can travel without taking the husband’s consent…
            Women now in Egypt, working in all the jobs have arrived to the Justice Department, the police and the army.

            Thank you for your time and more respect to you,
            Kamal

            Like

            • Mohammad S. Moussalli
              September 4, 2013

              Kamal, I didn’t say they are not in the parliament; they are in many other arab countries. My point was that how many are there in the above-mentioned positions compared to their size of the population. Egyptian women are more than 40 million; so do they have half or even quarter of the Parliament seats, ministers, mayors, etc..? Of course not, not even 10th .
              Secondly, the other question was not about if they can travel without the consent of the husband, but about if they can do if the husband has raised an official ban against his wife.
              The matter is not if we see women’s had their rights, or not. the question is first of all about the law. keeping in mind that those women and men who are equal before the law and Constitution are not equal though they may look so.
              with respect

              Like

            • Dr. Paul "Chip" Hill
              September 4, 2013

              Kamal,
              Your points are good; however, I must agree with Mohammad. It seems that you are saying Egypt is doing a better job at offering equality in ‘principle’ than other Arab states. Still – as Mohammad has pointed out – doing a better job remains greatly lacking in ‘practice’.

              In fairness to the Arab states (and all humanity), any social change strides in this case strides towards equality for women) is usually measured in generations… the process is slow and can be very divisive – even bloody. I can agree with you that Egypt appears to be leading the way in social changes towards giving women more opportunities to exercise equal rights.

              I am from America and I will be the first to say that we also lack in many areas of offering to all our citizens full civil rights and liberties… it remains a work in progress in America, too. Nonetheless, we seem to have a pretty good road-map leading us towards full civil liberties and right for all our citizens. I think the trick is to not force society to change quicker than it is capable of changing.

              For my part, I am very interested in observing how the Monarchy in Saudi Arabia is going to dance a very thin line between social change – giving women more rights – and maintaining its political hold on governance. I think the coming decade will be very interesting in Saudi Arabia.

              Respectfully to my Arab friends,

              Chip

              Like

              • Anonymous
                September 4, 2013

                Thanks Mr.Mohammad and Dr.Chip,

                Saudi women even now can not drive a car in the country! Must take women the resolution!!

                I wish the Egyptian women in all cities and villages of Egypt to take all of its own rights!

                Thanks again Dr.Chip,
                Kamal

                Like

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow The Middle East Tribune on WordPress.com

Mohammad S. Moussalli

Copyright Notice

© 2017 Mohammad S. Moussalli; www.middleeasttribune.wordpress.com ------- Sharing, reblogging, excerpts and republication of this material, or part thereof, are permissible PROVIDED that it's clearly attributed to the author with reference to the original publication.
%d bloggers like this: