Secularism: A Woman’s Way Forward

السبت 29 أيار 2010

Written by Farida Farouk

In my religion and spiritual search, I happened to come across literature for authors, especially women who have influenced my interpretation and understanding of Islam. For a long time, I refused to read anything written by Muslim men since they had dominated the conversation for far too long. But through the work of scholars such as Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, Mohammad Arkoun and Abdullahi An-Naim I learned that some men could be as feminist as the best of us!

On March 18th 2005, a scholar of Islam and a feminist by the name of Amina Wadud became the first woman on record to lead a public, mixed-gender Friday prayer where she led the same number of men and women in prayer. Both women and men were standing side by side, praying together, not behind the men, nor in different room and with a woman leading them.

One of the very important markers of a country’s progress is the treatment of women and the way they are viewed in the society. This method is considered to be one of the important methods of measuring the country’s prosperity or the lack of it. Countries that subordinates women to men should not hope to make a path to progress. The male superiority over women concept is completely out of step with the spirit of the age, against basic human rights, and a hindrance in the way of progress.

For centuries, we have had male-dominated and too often misogynistic interpretations of Islam that for every page of a man’s obligations and duties wrote two for women. These misinterpretations took the faith far off the path that was set more than 14 centuries ago, when, we are taught, Islam gave women rights that made them the envy of women in Europe’s Dark Ages.

These misogynistic interpretations of the religion steam from male insecurity. A confident man who believes in himself, his intellect, his abilities and with a strong sense of self does not need to assert his superiority over women. Countries that abide to certain positions to only men uses up only half its potential in the way of intelligence, performance, productivity and education; countries that do not make full use of all assets remains in a state of underdevelopment.

Despite verses in the Quran telling men to release his wife who no longer wants to be married to him, the legal system had allowed men to do the opposite: beit el ta3a, which allows a man to hold his wife against her will, and to hurt her, both psychologically and financially. Years later, the khul3 law, empowering women to exercise a human right that entitles her to divorce her husband was proclaimed. This law represents an important step forward, however, there is alot more to be done, for example, a woman should have the right to obtain a divorce for prejudice, whether material or moral. More specifically, it is essential to include a standard marriage contract which stipulates that the woman could terminate the contract at any time and that man would not take a second wife.

Nowadays, women throughout the region are second-class citizens, a national is a citizen who is described as someone who is a native or naturalized member of a state. When Arab women marry foreigners they don’t have the right to extend citizenship to their husbands nor children. In many cases, where a woman has been widowed, divorced, or abandoned, or if her husband is not a national in the country where the couple reside, her children have no access to citizenship or its rights.

We find that children of those women have no access to education, health care, land ownership, and inheritance. In the same token, there are no limitations to men for giving the nationality to their wives and children. This inequality not only denies women their right as citizens; it also denies children their basic rights as human beings.

Family laws based on Shariaa ask women to have a male relative’s permission in several areas. This increases the dependency of women on their male family counterparts in economic, social, and legal matters. For example, in many Arab countries adult women must obtain the permission of their immediate male family members such as husbands, fathers or brothers in order to obtain a passport, travel to a different country, start a business, or get married.

The twenty-first century will be the beginning of eliminating political Islam. I think change will start from Iran. In that country, women presented the first and the most effective challenge to the Islamic regime by courageously questioning the right of Islamic authority to define the conditions of their lives. The most hopeful signs and the most remarkable force for change continue to come directly from Iranian women, both in Iran and in exile.

Secularism and the establishment of egalitarian political systems are two key factors to improving the conditions of women. This can be done by taking the following measures:

– the complete separation of religion from the state

– definition of religion as the private affair of individuals

– removal of references to a person’s religion in laws, on identity cards, and in official papers

– elimination of religion from education

  • the complete separation of religion from the state
  • definition of religion as the private affair of individuals
  • removal of references to a person’s religion in laws, on identity cards, and in official papers
  • elimination of religion from education

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