Islam and Women's Rights

Ahmedi Begum, a 50 year-old woman, was showing two young women a room she was renting out when police rushed in and arrested the two girls and Ahmedi's nephew, who happened to be standing nearby.

That afternoon, Ahmedi went to the police station to see what could be done to release her nephew and the two girls, when the police arrested Ahmedi too, confiscating her jewelry and throwing her into a room.

In a short time, the two girls, naked and bleeding were thrown into the room too. Then police officers raped the girls in front of Ahmedi. She tried to look away, but they forced her to watch.

Ahmedi herself was then stripped and raped by several officers, and then beaten, and worse. At some point she passed out, and when she woke up, she had been charged with illegal fornication.

The country is Pakistan. Islamic law, otherwise known as Sharia, has been applied more and more vigorously in Pakistan since the country was formed, but it's still not applied as strictly as it is in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran.

Sharia law is set up in such a way that when a woman is raped, accusing her rapist is often considered an admission of fornication, for which she may be whipped or even stoned to death. This is but one example of the abuses women suffer today in many Islamic states.

Of course, women are abused by non-Muslims and for other than religious reasons. But the purpose of this site is inquiring into Islam, and Sharia law is a key element of mainstream Islamic teachings. Islam is not just a religion in the sense Westerners think of it. Islam is also a system of laws and government. Devout Muslims consider the practice of their religion to include more than praying. They must also follow the law of Allah.

Women's lack of freedom and outright abuse is a fundamental feature of Sharia, which is the system of law used by many Islamic governments. Shaykh Ghawhi, a well-known and well-respected (in Islamic universities and throughout the Islamic world) teacher of Islamic studies and Islamic law, says according to Sharia:

  • A woman must only leave her house if she has a real need to do so.
  • Her husband or guardian must authorize her leaving the house.
  • When she is out, she must be completely covered, including her face.
  • When she is out, she must not look left or right but keep her head bowed down as she walks.
  • She must not wear perfume in public.
  • She must never shake a man's hand.

Even if she is visiting a female friend and is inside her friend's house, she must not uncover herself in case a man is hiding somewhere in the house.

Criminals under house arrest in the U.S. have more freedom than this.

Women in the Muslim world have been fighting for their rights for a long time. They've won some victories, but they have also lost some freedoms they had once gained, because on the other side of women's push for greater freedom is the religious authority's push for stricter adherence to Sharia law.

Many countries following Sharia law have gone in cycles where they begin to allow some freedoms, but then crack down again, because modernization is strictly forbidden according to basic Islamic teachings.

In Sharia, a woman is forbidden to be a head of state or a judge. She can only inherit half of what a man can inherit. In court, her testimony is only worth half of a man's. She is not allowed to choose where she will live or who she will marry. She is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim or divorce her husband.

Her husband, however, can divorce her with a wave of his hand. And according to Sharia, he can and should beat her if she disobeys him. Read more about Sharia and women.

This is beyond abuse. This is legally-sanctioned abuse on a massive scale. Devout Muslims are trying to apply 7th-century law in the 21st century.

And they're not only doing it in Muslim countries, they're trying to impose their laws in the West, and they've been getting away with it because orthodox Muslims are exploiting a key moral strength of the Western democracies.

Honor killings are another heinous example of legally-sanctioned abuse. The word "abuse" isn't even strong enough. It is legally-sanctioned torture and murder. If a woman "dishonors" her family by falling in love with the wrong man or having an affair, her uncles and brothers are morally obligated to beat her to death. Here's a story of an honor killing in London. Read more about honor killings.

Acid attacks are another example. Read more about those here.

The religion of Islam is unique in the world. It is both a personal religion and a political system, and it is part of a Muslim's religious duty to constantly strive toward living in a country that applies Islamic law. They take this seriously. A growing number of Muslims are making a concerted effort to slowly make America and Europe follow Islamic law. Here are some of their recent victories.

If you'd like to do something about the abuse of women, help Amnesty International write letters to put political pressure on Sharia governments so they'll release unfairly imprisoned women. Their letter campaigns have a proven record of success. Here's an example of one of their campaigns.

You can support and promote groups working for women's rights, like Madre and the Girl Effect.

Let's help women gain basic human rights around the world.