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Women's Rights in the Islamic World (81342-C2-R9999)

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Women’s Rights in the Islamic World
The 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices issued by the U.S. State Department records severe repression of women throughout many parts of the world because of the application of Shari’a (Islamic law).  Examples of this include, but are not limited to the facts that:
  In Nigeria, “the testimony of women and non-Muslims usually was accorded less weight in Shari’a courts.”

  • In Gambia, Shari’a is often applied in divorce and inheritance cases in ways that disadvantage women.  
    • In Algeria, the Family Code, based largely on Shari’a, “prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims,” and “[i]n accordance with Shari’a, women are entitled to a smaller portion of an estate than are male children or a deceased husband’s brothers.”

    • Under Islamic law in Sudan, the size of the inheritance awarded to sons is twice the size of that given to their sisters, and non-Muslim women must convert to Islam upon marriage to a Muslim man while Muslim women are forbidden from marrying non-Muslim men.  

    • In Egypt, the government’s interpretation of Shari’a forbids the marriage of a Muslim woman to a Christian man.

    • In Saudi Arabia, the land which all Muslims are required to visit (if they are able), “[i]n accordance with Shari’a, women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims” while Muslim men “may marry Christians and Jews, as well as Muslims,” a woman’s testimony in court is worth only half that of a man’s, courts grant women only 50% of the compensation that men would receive in identical situations, and daughters receive only half the inheritance as their brothers do.  Women in Saudi Arabia are also forbidden from driving, were not allowed to vote or run for office in the 2005 municipal elections, cannot travel or legally be admitted into hospitals without male permission, and are subject to compulsory public segregation and covering their entire body and most of their face.  

    • In Jordan, Shari’a is used to similarly make a man’s legal testimony worth twice that of a woman and to deprive daughters of equitable shares of inheritances.  Jordanian application of Shari’a also offers no inheritance rights to non-Muslim widows of Muslim spouses and makes it more difficult for women to divorce their husbands than vice-versa.  

    • In Syria, Shari’a is used to similarly deprive daughters of equitable shares of inheritances.  

    • In the Islamic Republic of Iran, each women must conform to Islamic public dress codes, cannot obtain a passport without permission from husbands or male relatives, is forbidden from marrying without the permission of male relatives (regardless of her age), and lacks equal rights in laws concerning court testimony, divorce, child custody disputes, and inheritance.  

    • In Indonesia, the Shari’a-based family courts have often presented women with “a heavier evidentiary burden than men” in divorce cases, there has been a recent trend of “local governments [having] increasingly passed Shari’a-based local laws that some human rights and women's activists believed discriminate against women,” and local Shari’a police in Western Aceh have humiliated women deemed inappropriately dressed by cutting off their clothes.  
    Such interpretations of Islam are by no means uniformly supported by our Muslim global neighbors.  Experience has shown that when given an option, a great many Muslim women do not veil themselves, which is not necessarily because of their being less religious.  In a column last July, Sudanese-British author Leila Aboulela, writing “as a Muslim, descended from generations of Muslims,” stated that “I think it is ridiculous that women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.”  Although she has personally chosen to veil herself “with no pressure from my parents or my husband,” she observed that “Muslim liberals and progressives have also opposed the veil for centuries”  
        The Revolutionary Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which describes itself as “the oldest political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women's rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan since 1977,” have protested such applications of Shari’a as giving a woman’s legal testimony half the value of a man’s and restricting women’s dress, education, employment, and freedom of movement.
    Despite its other repressive measures, the Iranian government does not share Saudi Arabia’s policies of preventing women from driving or voting.  
    The Pakistani-born Riffat Hassan, a Professor of Religious Studies and Humanities at the University of Louisville and an intellectual leader for progressive Islam, has argued that the practices of treating women unequally in legal testimony and inheritance “are not warranted by an unbiased, accurate reading of the Qur’anic texts on which they are based.”  
    Other progressive Muslims have argued that the Qur’an’s prescriptions for unequal inheritances were simply intended for a cultural situation that no longer applies to modern societies. In a similar vein, the Los Angeles-based Muslim Women’s League argued in a 1995 essay that the practice of valuing a woman’s testimony as half that as a man’s was intended for a specific cultural circumstances that no longer applies today and urged reconsideration of the traditional Islamic practice of unequally dividing inheritances between daughters and sons.  
    The Canadian Council of Muslim Women has strongly opposed the establishment of voluntary Shari’a courts in Canada, arguing that “[w]e do not accept that multiculturalism is to be used to justify any attack on women’s equality rights,” specifically citing common interpretations of Shari’a favoring men in regulations for divorce and inheritance, which conflicts with their own interpretation of Islam.

        Beyond opposing such specific discriminatory practices as those listed above, numerous Muslim leaders from a variety of ethnic and national backgrounds have eloquently promoted interpretations of Islam that embrace gender equality.  The Nawawi Foundation, a religious education institution founded by Chicago-area Muslims, teaches that “the status of women in Islamic societies has never been uniform or monolithic but has shifted from place to place, from age to age, and from class to social class” and that the society led by the religion’s founder “was more open and less patriarchal” than what “became characteristic of many traditional Islamic societies.”  When she became the first Muslim woman to the receive Nobel Peace Prize, Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi argued that  discriminatory plight of women in Islamic states, too, whether in the sphere of civil law or in the realm of social, political and cultural justice, has its roots in the patriarchal and male-dominated culture prevailing in these societies, not in Islam.”  
    The American Islamic Congress declares on its website that “we believe in a separation of all religions from politics, and disagree with those in the Muslim world and beyond that try to force their religious beliefs on others through politics or coercion.”  
    In a PBS interview, Amina Wadud, professor of Islamic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University who herself wears the head scarf, reported that “there have been dire consequences wherever Sharia has been implemented, unless the very idea of Sharia itself has also been interrogated” and went on to call for “a dynamic notion of Sharia, which includes past jurisprudence ... with radical reformation in thought, so that they are interrogated as to their applicability in our new circumstances” and “for reinterpreting the Quran in order to help to develop more inclusive, generally equitable laws.”  She also explained that “[t]he head covering as a form of oppression comes to the end of whether or not a person or a collective of people in one cultural context has the right to choose.”  These are but a few of many other examples that could be listed.  

        As United Methodists, we deplore the use of Shari’a, or Islamic law, to deny equal legal treatment to women.  In line with our long tradition of championing the equality of women, we believe a genuine concern for justice must be ultimately global, not just centered on one nation or on Western cultures.

    Therefore, The United Methodist Church calls on all United Methodists to educate themselves about the legal mistreatment of women committed around the world in the name of Shari’a, to stand in solidarity with victims of Shari┬┤a, and to encourage and support Islamic agencies working for equal rights and protection for women of the Muslim faith.  We hereby call on all the nations of the world to offer asylum to those seeking escape from such gender-based oppression. The General Board of Church and Society is encouraged to work in partnership with reform-minded Muslims on the issue of women’s rights and protection, taking appropriate precautions to avoid broadly demonizing adherents of the Islamic faith.  


    Our church should be pro-active in confronting such a serious problem that causes many millions around the world to suffer.