Women in Islam Journal - Issue 1

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ISSN 2311-4142

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I Want to be President A Muslim woman from Afghanistan raises her voice for her country

Muslim Like my Grandmother A Sudanese role model

Parenting Diaries Deciding to be a stay-at-home-dad

Behind the Veil A Yemenite photographer conjures strong feelings and provokes engagement




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EDITORIAL PEOPLE 06 Introducing Amina Wadud The Qur’an being interpreted by a woman. Why not?


08 Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd’s quest to humanise Islamic thought Profiling the leading liberal Islamic theologian from Egypt 12 Meet Zahra Mohamed Ahmed A woman activist’s inspiring quest to rebuild Somalia 14 Babiker Badri – a man who made a difference Looking at a pioneer of women’s education in Sudan 16 When you have hope, things can change The journey of Rehmah Kasule, a Ugandan Muslim woman entrepreneur

ASSUMING POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITY 18 On the appointment of women to the Somali cabinet Equality in political leadership is not to be mistaken for a quota


20 Forgotten Queens, by Fatima Mernissi BOOK: The famous Moroccan scholar on women state leaders in the history of Islam 22 A’ishah’s legacy Reinterpreting the gender equation is the avenue to reclaiming the authenticity of Islam 24 Equality of men and women when assuming political responsibility Reflections on the teachings of the Lebanese Imam, Mohamed Mehdi Shamseddine 26 I want to be President Fauzia Koofi, an Afghan woman raises her voice for her country


30 Djamilah, The Algerian FILM: The political struggle of a woman for a just society

EQUALITY 31 So we practice patience There is no such thing as Islamic Feminism. Human Rights are above culture, says Shirin Ebadi 33 A cultural heritage of ill repute: violence against women A Pakistani perspective on cultural underpinnings of religious law by Farida Shaheed 38 Political Islam, globalization and the emergence of Islamic feminism Addressing women’s rights have never been only women’s business

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40 Mother May I, by S. Nadia Hussain POETRY: Reflections of a Muslim girl on her future self 42 Muslim like my grandmother: a Sudanese role model That walk next to my grandmother, I wished it would never end

REVIEW 44 For example Djibouti A comparison on how family law can provide for dignity or degradation 46 T heir cases and my stories When arbitrary implementation of Islamic Law undermines both religion and humanity 50 W e are all Malala Yousufzai The tragic incident tells of the peculiar dilemma of being a moderate Muslim 52 I n the footsteps of a Sudanese reformer - Mahmoud Mohamed Taha A conversation with the daughter of the late progressive Islamic thinker


56 How to marry and how not to divorce Progressive views of four famous Islamic thinkers elevate the moral and spiritual value of your marriage 60 If music be the food of love Singing and spirituality in Islam

THE PUBLIC AND THE PRIVATE 62 Deciding to be a stay-at-home-dad Insights about masculinity from the parenting diaries of a homeboy 64 The heroine of brides Nujood Ali. Nine years old. Divorced. 66 At least equal Why I remarried my wife, who had left me


68 One, Two, Four Polygamy: when traditions and religion mingle in Muslim societies in the Horn of Africa 71 Criminalizing sexuality Ziba Mir, the Iranian scholar, challenges Islam from within: zina laws reviewed 75 Defending my wife Somalia: A man’s stance on sexual violence against women 76 An inconvenient wife stoned to death FILM: The story of Soraya Manuchehri from Iran 78 No more cracking of the whip Calling for an end to corporal punishment in Sudan – and worldwide

DOSSIER: Unveiling hijab


84 Women In Sharia Law And Society, by Taher Haddad BOOK: A review of the Tunisian scholar and reformer’s famous work 86 Dissecting the hijab concept So that women don’t get flogged for what they wear 90 W hat is behind the veil? with Boushra Mutawakil ART: About art that conjures strong feelings and provokes engagement 94 M y life with and without hijab The hijab controversy: Only self-esteem and respect for women will protect them 96 Spirituality is not about a cloth OPEN LETTER: I am Muslim but I don’t cover my head, says Amira Osman Hamid

99 Three Questions to: The artist Amel Bashir Taha 99 siha Publications

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Impressum Editor Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Editorial Head Hala Alkarib Executive Editor Amira Nagy Editorial Team Eltahir Badreldin, Al Sir Al Sayed, Carol Magambo, Yosra Akasha, Abdulkhalig El Sir, Shadiya Abdelmuneim Proofreaders Joanne Crouch, Mar y Leakey, Mohamed Al Khatim Mohamed, Bashir Mohamed Al Bashir, Reem Abbas Translators Mustafa Haroun, Sam Berner Contributors Amina Wadud, Hala Alkarib, Walaa Salah, Fatma Abulgasim, Mohamed Hilaly, Abdulkhalig Elsir, Rasha Awad, Thembi Mutch, Yosra Akasha, Tarek Shawky, Eltahir Badreldin, Carl M. Cannon, Carol Magambo, Amira Osman Hamid, Mustafa Khogali, Farida Shaheed, Ziba Mir Hosseini, Nadia Hussain, Fauzia Kof i, Fahimeh Farsaie Art Talal Nayer, Doaa Eladl, Amel Bashir, Ronny Ogwang, Nusreldin Eldouma, Maria Naita, Khalid Hamid, Boushra Mutawakil, Salah Ibrahim Design Heidi Lippert ISSN 2311-4142 These compilations are © copyright by their respective authors or SIHA. All editorial content and graphics may not be copied, reused, reprinted or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the authors or SIHA. Requests for permission should be directed to: Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) SIHA Regional Office Plot 15 Upper East Naguru, Kampala P.O. Box 5, Ntinda Kampala, UGANDA sihahornofafrica@gmail.com www.sihanet.org


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Dear Reader, The story began some time ago in early 2011 inspired through a meeting of SIHA Network members in Addis Ababa. In the aftermath of serious meetings, participants from the various Horn countries came together for dinner and as an Ethiopian band played Somali and Sudanese music, we danced and sang into the evening. It was a beautiful scene, to see women from Somalia and Sudan relaxed and free, though as the evening drew to a close the reality dawned that many of the women would not be able to enjoy that same sense of joy and freedom when they left the following morning for their own countries the following morning. These same women are often seen covered with heavy clothes, wrapped in long head scarves stifled by the repressive conditions of their day-to-day lives. I know that many of them face life-threatening situations as women rights activists in the countries they come from. Looking at them, with their smiling faces, loose soft scarves as they laughed, sang and danced happily, one could have been looking at a view in any country of the world at any moment in time, but the unfortunate reality is that in some countries, such freedom to dance would be the exception rather than the norm. Women in the Muslim Horn can neither dance nor be themselves in public. I cannot be myself in Sudan or Somalia – where I am like a ghost, a shadow of my existence. As women living in the Muslim Horn, we are accustomed to constantly being on guard in public, where we have become the target: of insults thrown straight at our faces, of a disrespectful gesture from a kid passing by, of men gawking or making lewd comments or bearing the humiliation of a man shouting at your face expressing infuriation over the evilness of a woman in a public road. And these are considered just the minor attacks. The overall social and political environment in the Muslim Horn has turned extremely hostile against women’s presence in pubic realms. However, the risk lies in the fact that this hostility is comfortably placed on the leading religious beliefs, hence cannot be challenged, or rather, this is what is often assumed to be the case. In Somalia, women street venders have been known to be targeted as proxies by the different militia: a woman was beheaded by Al Shabab for selling tea to government soldiers. Similarly, countless other women have been opportunistically raped by armed militias in a practice that has become disturbingly normalized and little challenged. In Sudan, a tea seller being pursued by Public Order Police fell on a piece of iron and bled to death. She was one of the thousands of


women and girls who attempt to earn a living for their families through small businesses yet find themselves systemically targeted by the authorities. Frequently, when caught for minor infractions, they are subject to summary trials often without legal representation which results in humiliations, lashings, imprisonments and often fines. Concurrent to such lashings and violations committed against women, the reemergence of sentences of stoning over recent years is deeply concerning. In 2008 a 13-year old Somali girl was stoned to death in Al Shabab territory. In Sudan, two sentences of stoning were passed in 2012. Despite being overturned, it is a harsh reminder that death by stoning still stands as part of Sudan’s Criminal Code alongside a set of practices that discriminate against women and violate their dignity.

Africa has turned the region into a backyard for imported dogmatic and destructive yet well resourced ideology to play in. The region’s severe poverty and isolation have allowed continuous cycles of warfare that are causing the gravest losses at economic, social and human levels. What can individuals do to help in turning this around? Where can we start from?

What the aforementioned types of violence against women have in common are shared roots in an ideology that deems women less human and considers them problematic creatures in need of discipline by men. Such a conceptualisation delivers women into a legal and moral vacuum, to be hurt, injured, killed or gang-raped all of which have become an everyday reality in environments where no appropriate legal frameworks fully function to protect their rights. Perpetrators know they can get away with impunity for their actions, which is rife. Brutality against women damages the social fabric. It destroys a nation’s future and potential for progress and and places heavy burdens of self-hatred and creates disparities not only between men and women but between communities, whether Muslim or non-Muslims, for generations to come.

In this first issue of the SIHA Journal on Women in Islam, we have tried to voice the notion that Islam is not owned solely by one particular interpretation or by one particular race, but that the Islamic spiritual beliefs are as vast and open as they are eternal. We are honored to present and amplify the thoughts and voices of renowned Islamic thinkers and respected writers - men and women - from different parts of the Muslim world, who stand solid for enlightenment in Islam and argue for gender equality and for human rights as the intrinsic, authentic and non-contradictory aspects of Islam that they are. While reading this issue, we hope it will prompt your thoughts, interest and joy in the manner in which it is intended.

Muslim women have become the human face of war, discrimination, poverty and disintegration of society. Yet at the same time, theirs have been stories of resilience and hope in the face of rapid changes, in their countries and the region. In this regard, they are central to our understanding of the political, social, economic and cultural dynamics shaping life in the Muslim Horn. Their lives have offered a window through which the global community has peered into the Muslim world in a bid to understand women’s lives there. Yet what they see raises more questions than answers: How did this happen? What are the causes of it? And precisely, what happened to the Islamic beliefs and the spirituality of the Muslim people in the Horn – once based on sincerity, peaceful coexistence and tolerant gender and ethnic relations – that has turned them into hatred, violence and deep misogyny that is being passed down to the next generations? The decay and collapse of modern states in the Horn of

Dear reader, there is a necessity and urgency for Muslim women and men in the Horn to step in and reclaim their religion, their spirituality and beliefs. We must enhance our curiosity and engagement while seeking better and different ways of living beyond the current despair that is dominating the region.

Upon celebrating the publication of the first Women In Islam Journal, I would like to acknowledge here, the exceptional hard work of the editorial team for their passionate and thoughtful engagement in this issue and in particular the executive editor, without whose compassionate commitment, meticulous and tireless effort this piece would not have seen light as it is. I am especially appreciative of the sensitive efforts of SIHA friends who volunteered their time, thoughts and effort to support us in navigating this topic. Gratitude must be extended to the Open Society Institute (OSI) International Women’s Program and to the Sigrid Rausing Trust Fund for their generous support towards the production of this issue.

Hala Alkarib Editorial Head November 2013

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Amina Wadud:

The possible marriage between Islam and women’s rights She might be the most con­t roversial Muslim feminist of our time. To many Muslims, especially those who live in Islamic countries, she is merely a heretic. But to some Muslim women, especially to those who were born and grew up in secular societies, she remains a hero and inspirational figure, even an example to follow. Dr Amina Wadud was born Christian as Mary Teasley in Bethesda, Maryland, USA. She received her BSC from the University of Pennsylvania, in 1975. In 1972 she converted to Islam. By 1974 her name was officially changed to Amina Wadud reflecting her chosen religious affiliation1.

The controversy of the Qur’an being interpreted by a woman She is the author of the ground breaking and now classic Qur‘an and Woman: Re-Reading the Sacred Text from a Woman‘s Perspective - the first exegesis of the Qur’an done by a woman in Islamic history. With it, Amina Wadud provides a first interpretative reading, which not only validates the female voice in the Qur’an but brings it out of the shadows and contributes a gender inclusive reading to the text. Wadud breaks down specific texts and key words which have been used to limit women’s public and private role, even to justify violence toward Muslim women, revealing that their original meaning and context defy such interpretations. She argues lucidly that the Qur’an does not prescribe one timeless and unchanging social structure for men and women, affirming that the Qur’an holds greater possibilities for guiding human society to a more fulfilling and productive mutual collaboration between men and women than as yet attained by Muslims or non-Muslims2. Is she a reformist or a heretic? Often, attempts by scholars to question the Islamic classical theology are met by outcry from conservative Muslims. It seems to be an entrenched norm in Muslim societies to label any reformist as ignorant or a heretic. No exemptions were made for Wadud, in this regard. Her book has been met by a big storm, including from Muslim Imams and Islamic scholars in Western countries. She has been accused of undermining Islam from within, even Dr Yusuf Al Qaradwi, the prominent Islamic scholar who used to be considered a “moderate”, described her as a heretic. Ironically, Al Qaradawi, despite his accusation, said there are no theological rules or restrictions


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to prevent women from carrying out Qur’anic interpretation. However, such allegations of ignorance and heresy have no grounds in Dr Wadud’s qualifications. She received her MA in Near Eastern Studies and her PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies both from the University of Michigan in 1988. Whilst in graduate school, she also studied advanced Arabic at the American University in Cairo, continued with Qur’anic studies and tafsir (exegesis) at Cairo University, and took a course in Philosophy at Al Azhar University3. Gender Jihad “Gender Jihad” is a term coined by Dr Wadud. The term is of symbolic value in two ways: on the one hand, it stands for the core concept of her thoughts and ideas about equal rights for Muslim women from within Islamic teachings and theology. On the other hand, it draws a positive interpretation to one of the most notorious concepts in current time, the jihad. In a paper written to Musawah Organization,4 Wadud summarises her ideas and thoughts about gender equality as follows. To her, equality is a basic principle of creation, as the Qur’an emphasises on creation of pairs – “the male and the female”, which is why there are equal rewards or punishments to men and women in the hereafter. In the same vein, she sees plurality as part of the divine design, hence, respect for all human beings regardless of their beliefs is a must. She argues that human beings are created with a free will to choose between good and evil. Therefore, the only one who has the right to judge is Allah, the ultimate judge. She attributes the imbalance of injustice in the Islamic world today in terms of women to the fact that women are considered morally responsible subjects in the law without being considered equally as creators of the law. It is a historical fact that Islam was

revealed into a context dominated by patriarchy. However, to her, patriarchy is the ultimate violation of divine unity (shirk), because, it not only denies the equality of Allah’s creation but more than that rests on the satanic notion of istikbar, which is to think of oneself as better than another. From this perspective, the alternative concept to the patriarchal relationship comes from the notion of tawhid, meaning that two persons will always be in a relationship of horizontal reciprocity. The logic behind this is that Islam understands Allah to be the only supreme, the greatest. Nothing else can be superior to any one individual. A reformist in action: Wadud as Imam Contrary to some intellectual and academic elites who prefer producing abstract ideas and theories, Wadud held her ideas out for test, in spite of consequences and reactions that might result. She believes that unless ideas find their ways out of closed rooms, nothing can be changed. Hence, theories and concepts need to be tested to prove their correctness. As a founder of the organisation Sisters in Islam with other intellectual Muslim women in Malaysia, she made a further statement of leading by example. The organisation is well-known for building awareness of women rights among Muslim women in Malaysia and throughout Islamic communities in the world. Its goal is promoting an understanding of Islam that recognises the principles of justice, equality, freedom, and dignity within a democratic nation state. Accordingly, fighting polygamy and domestic violence, promoting women’s rights to divorce and for the alleviation of all forms of injustice against women is their field of intellectual activities. Wadud’s efforts to shake up the entrenched traditional rules that block women from equality exceeded any expectations. In a very astonishing step, she came to address mixed-sex congregations and gave a sermon in South Africa in 1994, ended by leading the Friday prayers. The same was repeated in the United States in 2005. These actions broke with established Islamic law, which allows only male Imams (prayer leaders) in mixed-gender congregations, and triggered debate, Muslim juristic discourse, as well as outcry and rage. Walking on a road less travelled Wadud has more than 30 years in the field of Islamic studies. In these years, she contributed an enormous body of work to the Islamic library, including books, studies and papers. Most of her contributions are devoted to promoting and reinforcing gender equality within the Islamic paradigm. Nevertheless, she often faces deliberate disregard and disdain, not only by traditional and conservative ulama, but also by Muslim academics and scholars in the West. Is it because she has come before her time? Or because of the dominance of conservative Islam and the intimidation it creates? Or do her reforms threaten personal interests that cannot be achieved without aligning them with conservatism? Aminah Beverly McCloud, director of the Islamic World Studies Program and Professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at DePaul University is of Wadud’s generation

and a close friend too. In an article in tribute to Wadud, she questioned the disregard for Amina’s contribution by Muslim communities and her academic colleagues alike: “Amina Wadud is a truly gifted spiritual leader and scholar who has few to sit at her feet, engaging in her thought. This is a travesty. Her texts are reviewed for other agendas such as feminism or progressivism. What is lost is the trajectory of a scholar on both a spiritual and intellectual path. As a Muslim woman who studies Islam, she has always been in a peculiar position. While Muslim communities allow men ample space for growth and development, women on the same path are anomalies as their growth and development is encouraged in service­only capacities. Every public appearance is scrutinized for error and if there is one, it is highlighted. Women, too, follow in this negation of the few women scholars that exist. I have seen the thousands who will come to listen to male American Muslim scholars and the financial and academic positions awarded them for their work. Though her thought is original and groundbreaking, none of these rewards have happened to her. As an African American Muslim woman, her knowledge has always been treated with suspicion by other Muslim women and certainly by Muslim men. The sad part of it is the disdain that women hold for each other, often preferring leadership and scholarship to come only from men. I have observed Muslim women lauding non-Muslim women who study Islam and then watched their disdain for Muslim women in the same or greater positions. I listened to her angst over university “feminists” who denied her an opportunity to teach in their faculty because she is an avowed Muslim and when Muslims refused to listen to or even read her work because it was feminist5. Dr Wadud began interrogating the central text of Islam, the Qur’an, to engage it on the position of women using a modern approach. Whether scholars agree or disagree with her choice of tool, hermeneutics, agree or disagree with her analysis of findings, a discussion should have emerged that transcended “a woman’s reading” or dismissal. Instead, this eye opening and truly critical, reflective reading found resonance with only a few good women. While I have had many reflective moments regarding Dr Wadud, far too many to mention here, utmost on my mind is the lack of recognition for a gifted scholar. Faculties are not vying for her, students are not demanding, the American Muslim community is not touting her scholarship, and those with financial resources are not providing chairs in institutions for her to continue. Is it because she is African American, American, female, what? Biographies casually remark that she retired from Virginia Commonwealth but do not narrate the issues. Immigrants demanded that she be fired and threatened her. Because the community, immigrant or indigenous, did not value her, her academic life was dull and her personal life filled with challenges. Though she has never shied away from challenge, there just never seemed to be the necessary space of quiet as people constantly sought to invade her personal space”6. Compiled by ABDULKHALIG ELSIR


h ttp://www.calem. eu/Amina-Waduddoctor-imam.html


xford University O Press website


ePaul University D Archives: Islam in America Collection: Amina Wadud Papers


usawah (“equality” M in Arabic), a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family, http://www. musawah.org/


minah Beverly A McCloud: A Jihad for Justice, Amina Wadud -Scattered thoughts and reflections, written by different scholars



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Nasr Abu Zayd

An Agent on the Path to Humanising Islamic Thought Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, the prominent Islamic and literary scholar and a leading reformist thinker of the 20th century, was born in 1945 near Tanta in Egypt, and died in Cairo on 5 July 2010 of an unidentified viral infection. His life ended in humble circumstances that are reminiscent of its beginnings. Having attended the village khalwa – a traditional Qur’anic school, and a provincial college, he moved to the capital to provide for his siblings, and made it all the


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way to professor of the venerable University of Cairo. An academic, respected for his erudition and admired for his courage, he faced threats and persecution. His course of life suggests that he could have had it easier, but that would not have been him – and it would have kept from the world a tremendous body of work and source of inspiration. Despite hostility and defamation he believed in enlightenment in Islam – to the end.

The first inklings of his intellectual orientation The loss of his father when Nasr was 14, forced him to become responsible for supporting the family at a very early age. A consequence of this incursion in his life was that he could not complete his academic education, and instead opted for enrolling in a technical college, so as to obtain employment after graduation. He worked as a technician for the National Communications Organisation in Cairo for 11 years, but eventually enrolled at the University of Cairo, where he continued his education at the Department of Arabic Language. He obtained MA and PhD degrees in Islamic Studies, with works concerning the interpretation of the Qur’an. Speaking of the early years of his intellectual development, Nasr Abu Zayd once said, reading was the only hobby he had before he joined academic life, and the research into Islamic thought totally absorbed him. Cultural life in Egypt in the 1950s and 60s was rich with intellectual heritage and world literature. Public and private libraries were awash with translations of the intellectual and literary products of Europe and Russia. All this contributed to his training in critical thinking and he acquired an encyclopedic knowledge. Getting familiar with such quantities of positivist knowledge did not threaten his faith – on the contrary – as he said, all of it contributed to his self-confidence and faith in his Muslim religion His interest in the Qur’an diversified in the midst of all this conceptual variety. An eternal question began hounding him and would guide him on his path: to what extent can the meaning of the Qur’an be monopolised and is it possible to tamper with it? He devoted himself to lots of readings in various fields of human and Islamic sciences which contributed to the crystallisation of his ideas and refined his opinions. Abu Zayd attributed the formation of his critical mind to the early death of his father. Having to be responsible in such a way also built his self-confidence and individuality, reflecting on his personality and his way of thinking. No one imposed their views on him nor caused him to back off from what he thought for the fear of punishment, as is

customary in patriarchal societies. It is in this vein that he went into profound thinking about Islamic theology which he would later theoretically divide into two sections: the classical doctrinal heritage of the Qur’an based on obedience, and the rational philosophical heritage that encouraged individual freedom, social justice and mental interpretations. Abu Zayd fully opposed all forms of intellectual extremism, regardless to whether they are secular or religious. As a professor, he said, “I always encourage my students to critique my ideas, because I do not want to be an Imam, just a theoretical researcher seeking to supplement academic life with new concepts amenable to discussion and enrichment, because this is the only way to ensure the development of Muslim societies.” The apostasy incident In the mid 1990s Dr Abu Zayd wrote an academic thesis for his professorship. However, rather than discuss the research according to its academic merit, the academic committee not only deprived Abu Zayd of his promotion to professorship, but made him an apostate and later used mosques to incite public opinion against him. It pressured state institutions and the judiciary, as a prelude to the use of the Accountability Act to try Abu Zayd to demand he divorce his wife under the pretext of having left the pale of Islam – a juristic feint – as the accusation of apostasy was not permissible in Egyptian law. They achieved what they sought: Abu Zayd left Egypt after having received threats against his life. With his wife he migrated to the Netherlands, where he spent the rest of his life teaching Islamic Studies at Leiden University. The main instigator of apostasy claims against him was a colleague at the university, Prof Abdel Sabour Shahin who, according to Abu Zayd’s description, was highly averse to intellectual dispute. He condemned Nasr Abu Zayd’s work and similarly the achievements of Taha Hussain, the Egyptian intellectual of the modernist movement in the Arab world, and also Amin El Khouli, and the modernist thinker and writer Mohamed Ahmed Khalafallah, as “the greatest slander and calamity against Islam and the sharia” issued from the department of Arabic Language and of Philoso- ›

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› phy. The ruling against him was made during a period of several assaults on liberal intellectuals and artists in the Muslim world in the 1990s. The battle was one of Islamists against secularists. Even though it put on the garb of academia, it very quickly descended to be held hostage to tactics and weapons in which the Islamists are so well versed.

“I’m sure that I’m a Muslim. My worst fear is that people in Europe may consider and treat me as a critic of Islam. I’m not. I’m a researcher. I’m critical of old and modern Islamic thought.” Abu Zayd never acknowledged apostasy as the matter at stake. In an interview he said, “I’m sure that I’m a Muslim. My worst fear is that people in Europe may consider and treat me as a critic of Islam. I’m not. I’m a researcher. I’m critical of old and modern Islamic thought.”1 He described the conflict as a threat to religious authority rather than a doctrinal dispute. According to him, religious authorities support social and political authorities in that they are firmly averse to anything related to freedoms, particularly to the freedom of thought. As such, it was necessary to give his case this slant of a conspiracy. The fear that the religious authorities have of people becoming liberated from their grip is what led to all the contrived hype. Revelation – a process of communication Throughout his life, he spoke in favour of contextualizing the Qur’an – a living text. According to him, revelation takes place in interaction of the text and its context in which it is received. Consequently he supported contemporary interpretations of the Qur’an that would open its miracle to modernity, to which he said “We live in modern times and find ourselves confronted by issues our predecessors didn’t have – equality among people and of men and women, human rights, and harmonious coexistence of cultures – these are the questions of our times”2. Abu Zayd promoted a critical consciousness of believers.


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Abu Zayd’s philosophical project At the core of Nasr Abu Zayd’s philosophical project lies hermeneutics – the theory of text interpretation and the proposition of human exegesis of the Qur’an. His reasoning for that proposition is that any person who closely studies the Qur’an soon discovers that it is mainly based on a narrative plurality. Each of these narratives in turn has a specific historical context and enjoys a measure of independence from the remaining narratives. This plurality, in Abu Zayd’s opinion, is due to the multiplicity of the voices in the text, which reflect the controversy and the dialogue of different historical events, taking on social and cultural forms of language and meaning that echo the specificity of each event. Abu Zayd believes that dealing with Qur’anic verses and chapters as separate units, independently of originally being narratives addressing specific historical situations, leads to the confusion between the cosmic dimension of the Qur’an as a message and its renewable historical dimension of meanings and events. Abu Zayd’s scientific approach of hermeneutics, linguistics and Qur’anic exegesis took Muslim scholarship to another level. His book Imam Al Shafi’i and the Foundation of the Ideology of the Middle Path, is a study of intellectual origins of the Imam’s thoughts, analysing his approaches and methodology revealing Al Shafi’i – who until then was deemed a conventional Imam – as progressive and in favour of developing the Islamic religion. It is for this Abu Zayd also admired Ibn Al Arabi, the great Sufi mystic, whom he believed to have timeless influence on contemporary issues and to whose positions he applied the same academic excellence in his book Thus spoke Ibn Al Arabi, which he published in the Netherlands in 2002. In his book The Critique of Religious Discourse, he provides an analysis of the devices and approaches in the intellectual sources of the contemporary discourse of both “moderates” and “extremists.” According to Abu Zayd, both sides merge thought with religion – the interpretation with the text – without setting a boundary between subject and object. A chapter of the book deals with the “reading of religious texts” exploring patterns that would allow for the distinction between “religion” and “religious thought”, the latter being, in Abu Zayd’s opinion, purely human judg-

ment which should not be on par with the reverence and absolutism accorded to religion. Criticism of political Islam, or thinking in the time of anathema In many interviews Abu Zayd bemoaned the loss of tolerance which arose with the ascendancy of Political Islam in the 1970s. He ascribed this to the failings of the national Arabism, a movement that after the June 1967 defeat against Israel witnessed a collapse and resulted in the appearance of alternative systems seeking political legitimacy in any way they could. Part of that search for legitimacy was the alliance between these regimes and aspiring Islamist groups.

“I keep repeating that religion in the absence of political legitimacy is fuelling the political machine. Fuel, mind you, is combustive. This combustion of religion is an everyday occurrence in the Muslim world, erasing reason and reducing religion to arid and inflexible clichés along the lines of halal and haram. This has drained the spiritual and moral dimensions of Islam, which are the basis of tolerance, not just at the level of religious difference, but even at the level of differences within the Islamic ideology itself.” nasR aBU ZaYD His own “apostasy” incident is probably the best evidence of what he described as the absence of toleration brought about by the rise of political Islam. It is obvious that Abu

Zayd did not come up with anything heterodox – as it was called in the criminalising and censoring rhetoric of the Salafists – when his research confronted the subject of hermeneutics in Islam. What he did as a researcher was to follow the hermeneutics’ history enshrined in the classical jurisprudence and continually strive to humanise the Qur’an and renew its meaning, linking it to its time and place – away from the fictional sanctification of human interpretation which has led to the calcification and ossification of Muslim societies – spiritually, materially and in terms of values. Dr Abu Zayd published many books, academic papers and articles and his works have been translated into various languages. He, who suffered the consequences of intolerance and violence, was a peaceful character, who believed in reason and dialogue – even with those who publicly condemned him. He saw himself as a witness to a great change of paradigms. He believed that militant ideology and suppressive patterns of thought would reveal themselves as untenable and weak once given a chance to come forward. In this vein he confronted his opponents. In a public debate with an outspoken Islamist,3 the audience came to see a “heretic” speak with all the imaginations this label conjures up. Nasr Abu Zayd remained calm and spoke with reason and about facts, whereas his opponent became loud. The audience went away having unmasked the attacks and intolerance of his attacker – just as Abu Zayd believed: patterns of thought can change. With translations from arabic by Sam bERNER

abu Zayd’s works in arabic include among others Rationalism in Exegesis: A Study of the Problem of Metaphor in the Writing of the Mutazilites, The Concept of the Text: A Study of the Qur’anic Sciences, Critique of Religion Discourse, Circles of Fear: Reading the Discourse about Women, Imam Al Shafi’i and the Foundation of the Ideology of the Middle Path. books in English are: Reformation of Islamic Thought: A Critical Historical Analysis, Rethinking the Qur’an: Towards a Humanistic Hermeneutics and Voice of an Exile: Reflections on Islam (with Esther R. Nelson).

1 http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Nasr_Abu_ Zayd 2 Quoted by Martin Gehlen in: http:// www.fr-online.de/ kultur/nasr-hamidabu-zaid-der-denkoran-oeffnete, 1472786,4488568. html 3 Protocolled by Mahmoud Tawfik in http://de.qantara. de/Glaube-andie-Macht-desDialogs/1652c82/index.html

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Photo by SIHA

Meet Zahra Mohamed Ahmed As the aircraft descends from the clouds above Mogadishu, the big city at the coast of the Indian Ocean, I wonder what Somalia would look like after 22 years of war that had plagued this Horn of Africa nation. Waiting for me is Zahra Mohamed Ahmed, the anchor behind my visit. The collapse of the national state structure and the eruption of civil conflict in Somalia in 1991 forced Zahra, Deputy Manager of Mogadishu Airport Customs at that time and married to a former pilot, to flee Somalia with her five infant children for Tanzania in 1992. In 2000, when many felt it was not yet safe to return, Zahra returned to her mother land. “I had to do something”, she says, and “someone had to be around to witness what was going on in order to tell others”. She remembers having realized that while her children had the opportunity to go to school,


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there were many Somali children who didn’t. She first started a Community Based Organization – HINNA, raising funds to open up hospitals and schools and engaging in dialogue with war lords to put down their guns and pick up the pen – as she puts it. Later, she would found the Somali Women’s Development Centre (SWDC) where she currently works as the legal advisor and director. Zahra’s activism The Somali Women’s Development Centre in Mogadishu is one of the few civil society organizations struggling to overcome war and rebuild their community and country. SWDC promotes women’s human rights and women’s access and participation in politics and decision making in pursuit of democracy and the development of society. Their field of

PEOPLE work includes emergency response to sexual violence, legal aid and outreach activities and education for girls on health issues like fistula. They coordinate with multiple other organizations to provide holistic care and convince families to bring their daughters to the AMISON hospital for surgery. They also mediate on behalf of women and clan elders. As we meet the SWDC staff, one can’t help but notice their respect and admiration for Zahra; her interaction with them is motherly. But also policemen, security forces and militia make way for her. Fondly referred to as Mama Zahra by many around her, the soft spoken lady exudes passion for her work and her country. Not a woman of many words or of grand phrases, her appearance is humble – it is her clear determination and history of achievements that demand respect. To many young women, Zahra is a mentor and a mother. She offers internship opportunities to the best performing female students from the Faculty of Law at the university, who in turn become paralegals at SWDC. Despite her demanding tasks and busy schedule, Zahra still finds the time to volunteer. She would not miss her weekly visit to the shelter for blind children – a place she has helped found and fundraises for from the Somali diaspora and others. Her strong relationship with the blind children is evident each time she steps into the shelter and all the joyful voices shout out her name. Being a woman in Somalia The war led to forced migrations and left many families without a father or eldest son, placing the main responsibility on women to provide for the day-to-day needs of their families. Some are running small businesses and selling basic commodities. Despite the limitations for women, they play a vital role in the development of their community. They have been heads of households and breadwinners for the last two decades and are very important in the development of the country. But there is more to it. “Women are always receptive to peace and stability”, Zahra says. “They are mothers who care for their families and they raise children”. Figures endorse Zahra’s strategy to support women. The country has the highest under-five mortality rate in the world1 and for many factors Somalia is considered to be one of the worst places on Earth to be a woman. Many of Somalia’s internally displaced people are concentrated in urban centres. About 400,000 IDPs2 are estimated to live in Mogadishu in make shift houses made from sticks and plastic bags, without electricity supply, with limited running water and poor sanitary conditions. In the congested settlements, without access to healthcare or education, women try to enable one meal per day for their extended families by collecting firewood, doing laundry and carrying water for people who have a little money to spare. IDPs also face serious protection challenges, including forced evictions by landowners and aid diversion by corrupt camp gatekeepers. Women and girls are particularly exposed to sexual and gender-based violence. “The challenges women face here cannot be written in a page”, Zahra knows. Somali women suffer from a lack of education due to cultural barriers and a lack of political and

economic participation. They suffer from harmful traditional practices such as FGM and forced and early marriage. Added to this is the ongoing threat and trauma of rape. This particular form of misogyny has become rampant and due to a weak formal justice system, perpetrators often live in impunity. A sexual-violence task force formed by the Transitional Federal Government some time ago is the first form of limited recognition of the crisis in Somalia. Improving access to justice will be key here, as women are frequently harassed and arrested, if they report rape to authorities. Civil society organizations in Somalia act within tremendous challenges and under serious risks. These include receiving threats from different actors within the Somali context, particularly when working on legal aid provision and counseling for the victims of sexual violence or any issues concerning women’s rights. A most worrying moment was when defending the case of the journalist Abduaziz and Lul Isman, a rape victim, Zahra and her colleagues felt serious threats against their lives. “But we have already sacrificed ourselves to defending our people”, she ponders, and moves on with her work. Leading by example Born in 1952 in a family of five boys and two girls, Zahra’s dad, a policeman, endeavored to educate all his children, and put the girls in even better schools than the boys. Years ahead it would be the dire situation in her country especially the suffering of women that would compel Zahra to go back to school, aged almost fifty. In 2005, Zahra graduated with a degree in International and Sharia Law from the Faculty of Law, Somalia University, to enhance her work in the advocacy of women’s rights. Zahra believes that her Islamic faith has encouraged her to persevere and continue her work. According to her, Islam encourages helping the poor, protecting the vulnerable, preventing sexual violence, avoiding harmful traditional practices and building peace and security. She encourages other women to embrace their faith and practice what it says. “Women in this region have an obligation to assume strong roles and to support the women and the girls in their societies.” Zahra brightens up talking about the future citing that many Somalis from the diaspora are coming back to rebuild their country. She encourages her own children to return as well. “It is a ground-breaking success in history that we have got two significant ministries lead by women, even though the quota of women’s participation in the MPs was not reached yet. I believe that narrows the gap between women and the political activity in our country”, Zahra says. Three weeks after my return, Somalia’s Supreme Court complex was bombed in Mogadishu, and two prominent lawyers working with Zahra who advocated for women victims of sexual violence were killed. The situation remains unpredictable. Somalia is a country in transition, but there is reason for hope. There are women like Zahra - who continue undeterred to counter brutality with extending help to others and exercising her rights.


h ttp://www.refintl. org/where-wework/africa/somalia


s urveyed by the International Committee of the Red Crescent, 2012; http://www.irinnews. org/report/96686/ SOMALIAMogadishu-IDPssuffer-extortioneviction

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Pioneering women´s education in Sudan:

Sheikh Babiker Badri and the courage to make a difference Sheikh Babiker Badri was born in Sudan in 1862, in the lands of the Rubatab tribe in northern Sudan and died in 1954 aged 92, having lived a

In addition to teaching and memorising the Qur’an, khalwas provided religious guidance to of his country, his course of life tells of extraordinary determination and their students based on the different Sufi sects and interpretations. There were also missionary leadership, when studying how he related to himself and his society. schools, both Catholics and Protestants. While Badri epitomised courage and daring in what he did, which respecting the khalwas, Badri saw the value of secular education amounted to no less than a revolution at his time even by in developing the potential of the Sudanese people to enable them the measure of today’s standards. A writer and a social acti- to move forward. On the other hand, in his opinion, the missionary schools, where sciences like geography, history, mathematics vist, he was the instigator of women’s education in Sudan. or biology were taught, did not respect the local culture. In his At the age of six, Badri moved with his father from the view, education must integrate the benefits of modern sciences Northern Province to the town of Rufa’a at the eastern bank alongside the values of the indigenous cultures. He also believed of the Blue Nile in Central Sudan. Like most of his contem- that the schools had to be independent from the government. poraries, he attended a khalwa, a religious school where he memorised and mastered the Qur’an. People say that, Badri’s A life-long quest for enlightenment mother and other women in his extended family had a strong influence on his life at the time that through them he acquired In 1902, Babiker Badri was appointed as the first Sudanese headmaster of the Rufa’a Boys School – the first ever pripatience, wisdom and the pursuit of learning. mary boys’ school opened by the British outside Khartoum. Badri, a father to thirteen daughters, thought that, girls Babiker Badri: The evolvement of a vision too, had to receive an education that allowed them to be As a young man, Babiker joined the army of the Mahdist1 State something more than mere companions to their husbands. in the Sudan, which attempted to conquer Egypt and fight the However, his request to open a school for girls was rejected Anglo-Turkish rule, which had control over Egypt at the time. – the British feared the unusual initiative could provoke The Mahdist army was defeated in the famous battle of Toski a public protest. Sheikh Badri did not settle with the two in 1889, at the border of Sudan and Egypt. Badri survived the refusals he received from the authority in this matter and battle and was taken captive – he spent five years in Egyptian eventually he opened the first girls’ school in Sudan in 1907 prisons. Later, like most men of his time, he also fought in the - in his own home using his own funds. battle of Kararay, defending Omdurman City upon the arriHis interest in education was combined with a strong val of the Anglo-Egyptian troops that overtook Sudan back in 1898. The Mahdist State collapsed and the new Anglo-Egyptian desire to spread awareness and arts into the Sudanese Society. He initiated the first theatre performance in Sudan Condominium rule of Sudan was established. The subsequent defeats of the traditional national state against which was held on the Mawlid grounds in Rufa’a in 1903 modern armies influenced Babiker Badri – as he later states in in support of the construction of the first boys’ school. In his memoirs, that Sudan needed a revolution in the field of edu- 1932 Badri would oversee the directing of a play, the facation and awareness. He would be hired by the Anglo-Egyptian mous Death of Tajooj2 - this time it would be to raise funds authority as one of the first national education inspectors – he for building the Al Ahfad 3 schools. would travel throughout Sudan to inspect khalwas, the schools available at the time. These work trips also helped Babiker Badri Al Ahfad - the establishment of private to better understand the diverse cultures of his country. education in Sudan busy and fruitful life. Considered one of the pioneers of enlightenment

At that time the only existing form of education was religious education – in khalwas, delivered by the many Sufi sheikhs.


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In 1930 Badri had opened the Al Ahfad Boys Primary School in Rufa’a. Two years later, this first Sudanese private school for

Drawing by Nusreldin Eldouma, Sudan

boys ever, would be transferred to Omdurman and become a co-ed school with a kindergarten. A year later, it was followed by the establishment of an intermediate school for boys. Even at 70 years, between 1936 and 1943, Badri travelled to different provinces of Sudan, raising funds from philanthropists in order to further expand these schools, and eventually the Al Ahfad Secondary Boys School was launched. After being granted land by the government where Al Ahfad buildings have been constructed on, Badri approached those prominent Sudanese who helped him establish the schools, and formed a Board of Trustees. He then registered the land owned by Al Ahfad in the name of the Board of Trustees, making it an independent legal entity.

who were suspicious of the idea of sending girls to school. Badri’s vision was directed towards schooling and better nutrition and healthcare, with a view to ensuring healthier children and a better future. A most remarkable aspect of Babiker Badri’s character, his respect for his culture did not prevent him from challenging it. “Sheikh” Babiker Badri – as he is respectfully called by his reverential title of an elder, strived to change his society for the better and to connect Sudan to the surrounding world. He was truly one of the first to creatively engage in cross-cultural dialogue with the West whilst avoiding alienation. As such, he represented a form of civil resistance and social activism. Consistent in his beliefs and deeds, his life was carried by brevity of heart. To this day, female students in his schools don’t have to cover their faces or hair.

Based on biographical information provided by the Ahfad University for Women in Sudan and in an interview of Balghis Badri with Jorge Naranjo published in: http:// www.oasiscenter. eu/node/8876


he Mahdist T revolution started in June 1881 in Northern Sudan and backed by western Sudanese, became a national revolution that led to the establishment of the Mahdist State a, national Sudanese state which ruled large parts of the Sudan between 1885-1898 .


famous, romantic A Sudanese legendary tale


l Ahfad: the closest A parallel meaning is: the ancestors

The courage to make a difference Babiker Badri’s logical mindset and open-mindedness combined with his courage and determination made him stand out from his peers at the time. His ideas about girls’ education were strongly opposed by the majority of Sudanese of his time

When Babikir Badri died in 1954, he left a collective Sudanese legacy. Furthermore, he left his renowned books on Sudanese proverbs and his famous memoirs – Hayati, “My Life”, an enjoyable read in three volumes, which is considered a Sudanese classic and important historical reference of his time.

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“When you have Hope, Things can Change” The journey of a woman entrepreneur from Uganda Who is Rehmah Kasule? The last born in a family of twelve, Rehmah Kasule comes from Gomba, a small village in central Uganda. Being the last born, she was loved by her parents and siblings. At the age of eight, her father died, and that is when life began changing for the young girl. At that time, her mother was a house wife and had never worked before. In her culture, once your husband dies, it is automatic that the widow is taken over by her husband’s brother. However, Rehmah’s mother refused and this was the beginning of her troubles. She didn’t want to be a third or fourth wife and knew her children would not have the kind of life she wanted them to have. Though she wasn’t highly educated, she started working to fend for her family, selling all kinds of things and she managed to take her children to school. Where it all began At the age of 12, Rehmah went to live in the city with her elder brother. It was her first time to go to the city. To her, this is where she learnt her first big lesson in life. She was enrolled in Nabisunsa Girls’ School for her secondary education. Coming from a village school, she didn’t know any English and wondered how she would compete with girls who had spoken English all their lives. For some time she kept to herself until she decided to talk to a classmate who started teaching her the white man’s language. She went on to excel and was the best debater in the region at the time. She gained confidence and this, she says, was the beginning. Along the way, she read Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford, a book that transformed her life as, from it, she gained hope about life. “When you have hope things can change”, she says. She focused on her studies and proceeded. At University, she majored in Fine Arts. She remembers choosing it thinking it would be easy. But she was to be proven wrong: classes ran from morning to evening, during which she was required to stand for long hours while painting. She also had to carry her boards, paint and brush every day from her student hostel to her University which were far from each other. All this built her resistance as she


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was later to be one of three to get a first class degree at that time – another transforming experience for her. Rehmah, the entrepreneur A few years later, with no money or networks and little experience, she and four friends quit their jobs, to start their own business. The others would eventually all go back to formal employment. Rehmah continued. Her business, Century Marketing, has been running for over fifteen years now. This didn’t come easy and involved going back to school to upgrade and gain more skills. But after ten years of running her business, she realised she had not failed, which meant she was doing something right. Inspired by this, she started CEDA International – for the development of leadership and entrepreneurship skills of youth and women. According to her, many young Muslim girls are struggling, wondering – “If I dress like this, will I get a job, will I find a man to marry me”? They need role models to see that they can make it: to balance home and work and still be successful at both. However, in 2012, she started a program specifically for Muslim boys and youth. This was after realising that men were being left out and people kept asking who would marry the women if they were empowered – men are allies, after all, in the same struggle. Rehmah is the type to put her beliefs in practice: a youth centre was set up for Muslim boys, where they develop soft skills like self discovery, communication, goal setting, and vocational training like hair dressing, catering, art and craft and community engagement. There is also the Rising Stars Mentoring Program for secondary school girls, and Uni Action, set up for university girls, Executive Coaching for women in employment and WEDI – a Women Entrepreneurship Development Initiative.

to eat in any Christian home in her village, that the families were dirty – with dogs sniffling into their dishes and rearing pigs. She learned to judge Christians by that, while she felt Islam was “clean”, especially with the many times one is required to wash in a day. However, this perspective changed when she joined secondary school which was a Muslim school but embraced all denominations and none were considered “dirty” as she had grown up hearing. As a matter of fact, she recalls, her culture as a Muganda had more restrictions towards women than her religion. Culture would dictate that a woman doesn’t sit like this, talk like that, eat this or look at people right in the face while talking to them. Such restrictions rid women of their self-confidence. Islam didn’t have any such restriction on women; restrictions were on both men and women. However, growing up in a Muslim family, one would be judged for not veiling with a hijab. You would be looked at as a rebel and not fitting in the community. In this regard she always felt she was being forced into something she didn’t want. Nevertheless the day came when she decided that she wanted to wear the hijab. It gave her affirmation about her religion. While being respected more as a woman for wearing the hijab has reinforced who she is as a person, a strong self and a practical sense is what shines through her work and words: “In the end, out there, people don’t judge you for what you wear but rather what you say or your character. Life is what you make it.” Rehmah Kasule is a married mother of two daughters – her reason to focus on girls. She is the author of From Gomba to the White House, a book about her life, what she has done and the tools she has used to get where she is. At a meeting organised in recognition of Muslims from around the world who have empowered other people, she met President Obama, something she remembers as an affirmation to her.

Her identity as a Muslim woman Rehmah was born in a Muslim family. She doesn’t remember facing any challenges as a result of her being a Muslim, while growing up. What she remembers though is being told not

“Your background doesn’t shape your future, you have the power to design your destiny” she says; she, who believed in herself and made it. Recorded by CAROL MAGAMBO

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On the Appointment of Women to the Somali Cabinet Women’s political participation is not about a quota but about a genuine societal commitment to women’s equality, reflected in laws, policies and cultural practices. It is about creating an environment where women and girls can exercise their political rights freely.

Hala Alkarib

While the nomination to key ministerial posts shows commitment of the government to involve women, it must not mask the massive day-to-day persecution of women in Somalia. A drastic ideological change is needed. On 4 November 2012, the new Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon announced the composition of his first Cabinet with two women appointed as part of the ten-member executive. Of particular note, Fowsiyo Yusuf Hajji Aden was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister


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of Foreign Affairs while Maryam Kassim was appointed as Minister of Social Development. Fowsiyo’s appointment marks the first time in Somali history that a woman has been situated as head of the foreign ministry. The role of women in rebuilding Somalia The Somali legislation entails a quota of 30% for women representation in parliament. The August 2012 elections saw women win 38 of the 275

Parliamentary seats available, equivalent to 13.8%, far less than the quota required. Nonetheless, the nomination and appointment of these two women alone demonstrates a serious recognition from the newly elected Somali government towards the role of women, particularly under the current circumstances of the country. On the face of it, we should celebrate the elevation of women into senior political positions; however, it is important to acknowledge that, across Africa, engaging women in high level political offices does not automatically translate into real commitments to women’s equality. Although there are notable exceptions, across the continent, African governments have used the recruitment of women to high offices to project an impression of good governance, commitments to diversity and respect for both sexes.


The harsh reality is that the elevation of women in politics has not generated the same elevation of women in society or real and tangible changes in achieving gender equality on the ground. This is not to undermine the brave decision taken by the elected Somali government and the courageous women who accepted the task while they are faced with a society that has been infused with a combination of patriarchy and religious fundamentalism. Since the early 1990s, Somalia has been held hostage to brutal conflicts based on clan and religious militancy and was turned into the backyard of an imported fundamentalist ideology, which is backed by foreign wealth and equipped with dogmatic conceptions of religious beliefs. There has been mass displacement, breakdown of social protection mechanisms, the proliferation of small arms alongside weak police and governance, giving rise to impunity, and women have found themselves subject to gross violations of their human rights. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), forced/early marriage and domestic violence are still rife while women in Mogadishu IDP camps have found themselves increasingly subject to rape and sexual violence. Women street vendors have recently found themselves proxy targets for groups such as Al Shabab in lieu of legitimate military targets, with vendors murdered for having sold tea to pro-government forces. According to the UN, around 20 incidents of sexual violence are reported each day, and

between July – September 2012, the incidence of sexual violence quadrupled – a period which coincides with the transition to the formally elected Somali Federal Government. Rebuilding awareness Having said that, it is important to understand that the suffering of women in Somalia is backed by a deep seated ideology which has dominated the Somali society for years and unless the newly elected Somali government addresses the ideological beliefs that justify the persecution of both men and women, change will remain problematic. The circles of religious militants in the Horn countries like Somalia and Sudan present their agendas in a religious idiom and project themselves as the only true mantle bearers of Islam. What needs to be understood and put into perspective is that what these groups are presenting is not religion, it is political movements working towards gaining political power at the community, national or international levels. These actors control people by silencing all dissenting voices, including other religious voices. They do so by blackmailing people into silence, spreading fear and persecution of men and women and by crushing dissent predominantly through legitimising practises of violence against women and capitalising on the traditional subordination of women in the Horn societies.1 The rebuilding of Somalia requires a comprehensive approach towards peace and security beyond armed fighting.

This includes the different forms of violence prevailing in society and the inherent systematic social inequalities of clan, gender or religious nature. The quest for equality is at the heart of a just and stable country. It is very important to secure channels of awareness and accessible means of knowledge and to empower enlightened Islamic thought. This task of rebuilding awareness inside new Somalia is as important as constructing schools and health centres. The Somali government and its partners should focus on emphasising policies which support youth, men and women; committing to enforce laws that are guided by international and regional mechanisms and seriously seeking to ensure women’s safety and human rights in the country. Over the past twenty years the role of women has changed in Somalia. They assume a central role in supporting the livelihoods of their families and their communities. The role of Somali men has changed as well. Many men have become unemployed or are unable to work. Others became directly involved in the conflict and war. Women have been steering development processes at the heart of initiatives and organizations aiming to provide support to the victims of violence. It is only natural that when discussing the future of the country these women should be part of the political and decision making process. Their presence or their absence would speak of the kind of society to be built. HALA ALKARIB


F arida Shaheed in: Violence against Women legitimized by Arguments of Culture, Thoughts from a Pakistani Perspective

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Fatima Mernissi The Forgotten Queens of Islam A book review by Hala Alkarib

The book is the fruit of Fatima Mernissi’s incessant research in the role of women at the various stages of Islamic history, which has lead to a re-reading of that history from the perspective of a feminist archaeology of knowledge. Following her wellreceived publication, The Veil and the Male Elite, her book Forgotten Queens of Islam establishes the inevitability of the roles women played throughout the various periods of Islamic history - in spite of allegations to the contrary and attempts to render their historic roles in Islamic politics invisible. Her research opens with a fundamental question: How did these women contrive to take power in states which, as a matter of principle, defined politics as an exclusively male pursuit? In Islam, the concept of spiritual and political succession (khilafa), is a purely male affair – there is no place for women in the conceptualisation and arrangements of the Muslim caliphate. So how did women in those times manage to penetrate the corridors of power? Women: the present absent Mernissi argues that Benazir Bhutto was not the first female leader of an Islamic nation, countering allegations that women were absent from the political scene in Islamic history. She posits that women were present, but then forced to disappear and that their contributions were intentionally excluded. Mernissi takes the reader on a cross-continental journey to meet female politicians who played a role in leadership – the Queens, as she calls them – in the different geographical regions where Muslim civilization blossomed. Mernissi says in her book that whenever a woman rises to political power, so-called fundamentalists consider it an act of aggression and a breach of the rules of the game, whereby it is evident that fundamentalism comes in many guises such as groups and elites that exploit doctrine and spirituality in defence of their personal interests. Here, Mernissi poses another question about a contradiction that has existed for decades in Islam: why does the ruler have to be an Arab male, when Islam is the religion of equality between people of different races and genders? She insists


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that her book does not aim to study past history, but to seek inspiration from an excluded part of history during which thousands of Muslim men and women fought for equality in rights before the unfair authorities that prevailed at different historic periods of the Islamic state until today. To this end she narrates the story of the Queen Radiya who was chosen by her father Sultan Qutb Al Din Aybak (himself a freed slave) to be his successor. Aybak established Islam’s hold in India, but insisted on appointing his daughter despite the fact that he had three sons. Such experiences of women rising to power in various Islamic states in the Asian continent have recurred throughout Muslim history for example in Taj Al Alam Safiyat Al Din Shah who was Sultana of Aceh in Sumatra in the 17th century, and Sultana Inayat Shah Zakiyat Al Din and Kamalat Shah who have ruled for decades. The author shows how women ruled Islamic states directly and influenced them indirectly throughout the history of Islam, and that their rule continued to be viciously resisted time and again. The first chapter of the book investigates how this relates to the changes in the structure of the Islamic state from the dawn of Islam to the beginnings of the Muslim empire, and specifically, to the positioning of the mosque – the locum of congregation, where the Prophet would meet anyone and everyone who wanted to see him and talk to him. Mernissi describes that the mosque played a role similar to that of a parliament or an advisory council, but as those in power progressively kept the public at an arm’s length, the political institutions of the Islamic state became increasingly isolated, and thus increasingly less transparent. The author describes that a “veiling” - of the ruler from the ruled - has placed a barrier/intermediary between the governor and the public, isolating the former from the latter. She provides evidence from the Prophet’s sunna and the practices of the four rightly guided caliphs that show how this veiling has, as the Islamic state evolved, conflicted with the principles of transparency in governance they had established. Exclusion, the cause of conflict in the Islamic state Questioning the relationships of political power in the Islamic state, Mernissi posits that the exclusion of women was linked to the exclusion of the amma/umma (people/nation) from running the affairs of the Islamic state, once the authority, represented by the elites, “veiled” itself from the ruled. She uses etymological explanations of the terms used in describing the

“public” in the Islamic state: the amma (public) which she finds disrespectful and excluding, instead of the umma (nation) which originates from the Arabic umm - the term for mother, and a lofty and highly respected concept. The antonym of the “public”, in Mernissi’s opinion, is the “elite” - that group which collaborates with the ruler in oppressing the public, in which exclusion from the machinations of power and from knowing the true resources of the state is a means of control. Mernissi believes that oppressive powers exclude both women and men, rendering itself opaque to them. Therefore, the role of the veil (hijab) is not limited to covering women’s human entity by covering her body. It is a concept that also veils the men in the “public” from participating in power. According to the author, the continuing crisis of the Islamic state has its locus in this gap which separates the ruled from the ruler – a gap filled by the benefitting elite and the military. Modern democratic processes intend to introduce the public to the political stage and open them up to political practice in Islamic states where both women and persecuted groups gain access to the political process. In this part of the book, Mernissi reaches the conclusion that it is impossible to exclude women from politics, affirming that they have, throughout Muslim history, lead, participated in or influenced on different aspects of the political process. She narrates the critical role played by the jawari (female slaves) and the harem in the corridors of political power at the highest levels of the Islamic state, as mothers to caliphs, and active mistresses to statesmen. Pivotal political decisions were influenced by the jawari mothers, sisters and wives who reached to the point of participating in power in the Islamic state. Mernissi tells the story of Khayzuran, the Mother of Harun Al Rashid. She was a female slave of the third Abbasid caliph, Al Mahdi. Originally from Yemen, she was enslaved and sold in Baghdad, where she became Al Mahdi’s favourite concubine. She successfully excluded all his other sons from the succession, limiting it to her own two, Harun Al Rashid and Musa Al Hadi. The caliph freed and married her when her son Al Hadi was declared his successor. Mernissi tells in fascinating details the circumstances of the female slaves in the Islamic state during Khayzuran’s times, but adheres faithfully to the feminist political analysis of that state’s contradictions, elites, corruption and lack of equality. The final chapter of the book narrates the stories of fifteen of the most famous queens and female rulers and politicians in the Muslim history.

Sovereignty in the Islamic state Mernissi proposes that sovereignty in the Islamic state lies squarely in the political and material power, i.e. in the ownership of wealth and its exploitation. The isolation of those governing from the governed has led to continual oppression and exclusion of the majority of the umma from political power and decision-making process. Mernissi says that nothing better expresses the betrayal of the revolutionary principles on which Islam was founded at the time FATIMA MERNISSI of the Prophet (PBUH) and his imme- is a researcher and writer from diate successors more than the attitude Morocco. She studied in France and toward the access of women to mosques. the USA, where she also earned her doctorate in Sociology. She currently In the Kitab Al Jum’a (Book of Friday) lectures at Mohamed V University in of Imam Bukhari, who wrote two cen- Rabat, Morocco. turies after the death of the Prophet, we One of the best known Arab-Muslim find the following famous hadith: “Do feminists, her courageous and pioneernot forbid the mosques of Allah to the ing writings represent an attempt to women of Allah.” A half-century later, undermine the ideological and political systems that silence and oppress Imam Nisa’i, who wrote his Al Sunan Muslim women. Her outstanding body (Traditions) in the 10th century, 300 of work explores the relationship beyears after the death of the Prophet, he tween sexual ideology, gender identity concludes naturally by saying that a man and socio-political organization from has no right to forbid his wife to go to a feminist point of view. It provides the mosque. The Prophet said: “When a in-depth analysis of women’s history in the Muslim states as well as the develwoman asks authorization from one of opment of Islamic ideology. Her major you to go to the mosque, let him grant books were translated into several it to her.” Mernissi concludes that the ef- languages, including English, German, forts to exclude women from the mosque Dutch, and Japanese. lay at the beginning of their exclusion, and that of the Muslim public, from entering the political scene. By monopolising the mosque, the ruling male elites also monopolised the legislation. As with all Fatima Mernissi’s books and papers, this one is intriguing to read and packed with intelligent analysis. The ease of text does not, however, distract from the knowledge it conveys in its chronology of the transformations suffered by the Islamic state through the concentration of power in the hands of the elite and their use of spirituality and religious doctrine to exclude women and the Muslim public from participation in political power. From Arabic by Sam Berner

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A’ishah’s Legacy Therefore, when the proto-human historical precedent, social custom or patriarchal aspiration soul, self or – Amina Wadud reinterprets the gender equations person (nafs) is and looks at the struggle for women’s rights in Islam. brought into existence, its mate I converted to (zawj) is already a part of the plan. The Islam during two dwell in a state of bliss: the Garthe second wave den of Eden. They are warned against feminist move- Satan’s temptation but they forget and ment in the 1970s. eat from the tree. When the Qur’an reI saw everything counts the event in the Garden, it uses through a prism the unique dual form in Arabic gramof religious eu- mar showing that both were guilty. phoria and ideal- The female is never singled out and ism. Within the chastised for being a temptress. Dr  AMINA WADUD, born in 1952, is an American Ultimately, the two seek forgiveIslamic system of scholar of Islam with a progresthought I have ness and it is granted. They begin life sive focus on Qur’an exegesis struggled to trans- on earth untainted by a “fall” from (interpretation). As an Islamic form idealism grace and with no trace of original feminist, she has addressed into pragmatic re- sin. On the contrary, in Islam the mixed-sex congregations, giving forms as a scholar creation story for humans on earth a sermon in South Africa in 1994, and leading Friday prayers and activist. And begins with forgiveness and mercy as in the United States in 2005. She my main source well as a most important promise or has presented an outstanding of inspiration has covenant from God. He/She/It will body of work of academic exbeen Islam’s own provide guidance through revelation. cellence and progressive Islamic primary source – Adam is the first prophet. thoughts seeking to reclaim the values of justice and equality the Qur’an. It is enshrined in Islam. Furthermore, the Qur’an is emclear to me that the Qur’an aimed phatic that since Allah is not created to erase all notions of women as subhu- then He/She/It cannot be subject to or man. There are more passages that ad- limited by created characteristics, like dress issues relating to women – as indi- gender. That Arabic grammar carries viduals, in the family, as members of the gender markers, has led even the best community – than all other social issues Arab grammarians erroneously to attribute gender to the thing referred combined. to. Modern feminist studies have anaLet’s start with the Qur’anic story lyzed this gender bias in language. of human origins. Man’ is not made in the image of God. Neither is a flawed Islam brought radical changes female helpmate extracted from him as regarding women and society, despite an afterthought or utility. Dualism is the deeply entrenched patriarchy of the primordial design for all creation: seventh-century Arabia. The Qur’an “From all (created) things are pairs” provides women with explicit rights to inheritance, independent property, di(Q 51:49). Reclaiming the authenticity of the religion – free from


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vorce and the right to testify in a court of law. It prohibits wanton violence towards women and girls and is against duress in marriage and community affairs. Women and men equally are required to fulfill all religious duties, and are equally eligible for punishment for misdemeanors. Finally, women are offered the ultimate boon: paradise and proximity to Allah: “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good, whether male or female, and is a believer, all such shall enter into Paradise” (Q 40:40). In the period immediately following the death of the Prophet, women were active participants at all levels of community affairs — religious, political, social, educational, intellectual. They played key roles in preserving traditions, disseminating knowledge and challenging authority when it went against their understanding of the Qur’an or the prophetic legacy. The Prophet’s favourite wife A’ishah, from whom the prophet said we should learn “half our religion”, was sought after as an advisor to the early jurists. In the famous “Battle of the Camel” she was an army general. The prophet even received revelation while resting his head on her lap. Unfortunately, this period passed before it could establish a pattern sustainable as historical precedent. And the name of A’ishah cannot erase what was to happen to the status of women in the following thousand years. During the Abbasid period, when Islam’s foundations were developed, leading scholars and thinkers were exclusively male. They had no experience with revelation first hand, had not known the Prophet directly

and were sometimes inf luenced by intellectual and moral cultures antithetical to Islam. In particular, they moved away from the Qur’an’s ethical codes for female autonomy to advocate instead women’s subservience, silence and seclusion. If women’s agency was taken into consideration it was with regard to service to men, family and community. Women came to be discussed in law in the same terms as material objects and possessions. This is today reflected in Pakistan’s rape laws which treat the offense as one of theft of male private property with no consideration for the woman’s rights. Not until the post-colonial 20th century would Muslim women reemerge as active participants in all areas of Islamic public, political, economic, intellectual, social, cultural and spiritual affairs. Today Muslim women are striving for greater inclusiveness in many diverse ways, not all of them in agreement with each other. At the Beijing Global Women’s Conference in 1995, nightly attempts to form a Muslim women’s caucus at the NGO forum became screaming sessions. The many different strategies and perspectives just could not be brought to a consensus. On the Left were many secular feminists and activists who, while Muslim themselves, defined Islam on a cultural basis only. Their politics was informed by post-colonialist and Marxist agendas of nationalism. Concrete issues of women’s full equality: standards of education, career opportunities, political participation and representation were understood in

Western terms. The cultural imposition of veiling was to them a symbol of women’s backwardness; for them full entry in the public domain and other indicators of liberation were ref lected in Western styles of dress. On the far Right, Muslim male authorities and their female representatives, known as Islamists, spearheaded a reactionary, neo-conservative approach. They identified an ideal Islam as the one lived by the Prophet’s companions and followers at Madinah. All that was required today was to lift that ideal out of the pages of history and graft it on to modernity adopting a complete sharia state, unexamined and unquestioned and opposed to modern complexity. Then life would be perfect. There were no inequities towards women because the law was divine and the matter of patriarchal interpretation was irrelevant. Female Islamists representing this viewpoint handed out booklets (written by men) with titles such as “The Wisdom behind Islam’s Position on Women”. Although the arguments were not intellectually rigorous or critically substantial they held a substantial sway. Ironically, these arguments would also form part of the rhetoric used by secular feminists to discredit human-rights and social-justice advocates who were in the middle ground, who insisted on fighting from within an Islamic perspective, or who happen to wear hijab. As the term “Islamic feminism” gained currency in the 1990s through scholars and activists, it would clarify the perspective of a large number of women somewhere between Islamists

and secular feminists. While they would not give up their allegiance to Islam as an essential part of selfdetermination and identity they did critique patriarchal control over the basic Islamic world-view. Islamic feminism did not define these women, and many still reject the term. However, the term helped others to understand the distinction between them and the two dominant approaches for Muslim women’s rights. Today more women are active in the discussion and reformation of identity than at any other time in human history. By going back to primary sources and interpreting them afresh, women scholars are endeavoring to remove the fetters imposed by centuries of patriarchal interpretation and practice. By questioning underlying presumptions and conclusions they are creating a space in which to think about gender. Drawing upon enduring principles of human rights, enshrined in the text, they extract meanings that can interact with the changing moral and intellectual circumstances of the reader. And women scholars and activists are also busy constructing a system of legal reforms that can be implemented today for the full status of women as moral agents at all levels of human society. This moral agency is a mandate of the Qur’an and cannot be restricted by any amount of historical precedent, social custom or patriarchal aspiration. The long-term success of this project lies in the fact that it is all happening within Islam. And the rationale for change comes from the most trustworthy and reliable source of Islam itself – the Qur’an.

Reprinted by kind permission of New Internationalist. Copyright@www. newint.org

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Equality of Men and Women in Leadership and Political Participation

Reflections on extracts from Sheikh Mohamed Mehdi Shamseddine’s The Eligibility of Women to Rule Imam Mohamed Mehdi bin Abdel Karim bin Abbas Al Shamseddine, a famous Lebanese enlightened Shia scholar, was born in Iraq in 1936 and died in 2001. His initial intellectual activities started in Iraq, with a prolific output of dissertations and papers on Islamic sociopolitics, the mandate of the nation, and the jurisprudence of women. He lived for about 30 years in Iraq, studying under famous scholars and working closely with renowned Imams, before he eventually went to Lebanon where he formed the Islamic University Association for Charity and Culture among others.

Drawing by Nusreldin Eldouma, Sudan

IMAM SHAMSEDDINE known for his moderation and diplomacy, was a strong advocate of Christian-Muslim coexistence and fostered ecumenical dialogue in Lebanon and the Arab region. „There is no Lebanon without its Christians and there is no Lebanon without its Muslims,“ as he put it. The sponsor of the National Lebanese Dialogue Committee, in which he participated politically and intellectually, he was also working closely with the heads of churches throughout the world, especially with the eastern churches and addressed the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Conference in Tripoli, Libya, in 1976 and the General World Synod for Catholic Bishops about Lebanon, held in the Vatican in late 1995.


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His books and writings explore the governance and administration systems in Islam, revisit aspects of the jahiliya – the pre-islamic times defined as the time of ignorance, and the advent of Islam. Especially his stance on women’s political participation cannot be missed by the attentive reader and believer. He advocated for fundamental changes in the Lebanese confessional political system in order to create what he referred to as the “civic state” – a modern democratic state in a more inclusive society – without confessional divisions and with a more empowered status of women. Imam Shamseddine deemed it legitimate that women could hold the positions of highest authority in a modern Islamic state. Presenting his school of thought in his book The Eligibility of Women to Rule, reprinted in its third edition in Beirut, in 2001, he serves with strong arguments to those who are doubtful about the issue and dissects ill-informed conclusions to the contrary of those who are against the subject. He says, Muslim women bear alongside Muslim men the social responsibility for promoting virtue and preventing vice, as

well as caring for the issues of the Muslim community. The public has not made women passive in regards to the events in their community, and whatever is stipulated in the Qur’an and the sunna in this regard applies equally to both men and women – and is not limited only to men. As an example, he cites the Quran saying: “The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is exalted in might and wise.”1 The famous hadith states: “Those who wake up and go to sleep unconcerned with other Muslims are not of them.”2 These and similar mentions in the holy writ and the sunna of the Prophet are inclusive of women. According to him the above texts prove that women, in the way they were created and made up, are fully competent, as well as capable of taking care of public matters in the society and the umma, and of using their knowledge to identify issues, monitor the government in its workings and the politicians in their actions, offering their opinion – whether critical, ap-

proving or contesting – and to respond to issues as they arise, providing solutions. Relevant precedents in Muslim history Those opposing the legitimacy of women’s participation in politics and public issues, alongside some who have reservations and misgivings about the subject, commonly raise their question like this: if women were legally competent in Islam to engage in politics, wouldn’t they have practiced it in the early Islamic times, during the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH) and the Rightly Guided Caliphs? Yet that did not happen, unless one counts Aisha, the wife of the Prophet, who anyway regretted engaging in politics and therefore cannot be taken as an example to follow. Having built their argument on hear-say, as Aisha to have retreated from politics is but an unproven yet widely spread belief which should not constitute a precedent, they also reason that women did not actively seek leadership roles at the level of heads of state. Apart from the fact that, historically this is incorrect, as there are numerous queens and female leaders recorded in Islamic history3, as well as women who exercised political influence in various ways possible and appropriate to their times throughout Muslim history, Imam Shamseddine disagrees with such scholars for their misunderstanding of the relationship between women and political action in the early Islamic times. He states, that their chain of thought is based on a perception of politics in the form and style prevalent nowadays or similar to it, and subsequently its proponents cannot find traces of women’s political activity at the dawn of Islam in retrospective. If, as they state, women’s participation in politics was limited, we have to look at the reasons in their neglect of jurisprudence and the rhetorical climate that controlled ideological mindsets when it came to state presidency, in order to avoid mistakes in the analysis of political action and its nature at that point in history. When it comes to exclusion in politics, part of it lies in the fact that at the height of Islam, state presidency was already constrained by the fact that Imams should be from the Quraish tribe, and Shamseddine refers to the tales which decidedly stipulate this to be limited to twelve males

from that tribe in particular – a line of Imams from the Prophet’s family (Peace be upon them) by adhering to the holy text. Thus followed the person of Imam to Ali bin Abi Taleb (May Allah’s favour be upon his face)4 and the righteous Imams that descended from him. As a result, there was no way – at the sharia level – for a woman to seek to take over this role, but neither was there one for many other men. In Shamseddin’s opinion, herein lies a basic conceptual misunderstanding of the issue of political leadership when those who oppose women to take their due role therein neglect the fact that political leadership generally was surrounded if not defined by exclusion. The evolving nature of political forms and means of expression The forms and means of political action vary according to the structure of a society and its institutions, and the varieties of political expression in them. In a nutshell - politics and political participation at that time was not what it is today but differed in actors, themes and methods. People also perceived politics differently from today. At the height of Islam, the axis of political action was confined to the Prophet himself and his disciples, to the enmity and conspiracies faced by him and his message, and to the wars Muslims engaged in to defend their entity and believes. It was a time characterized by armed and non-armed conflicts. Women were not passive or neglected entities in this situation, nor were their roles limited to reacting and receiving. On the contrary, women played active and positive roles in receiving the message, propagating it and suffering harm on the account of doing so. They were being forced to migrate and leave behind kin and home to escape harm, as well as to participate in war efforts by helping the Mujahideen – those who struggled in the path of Allah, and in some cases even taking up arms. The biography of the Prophet is full of examples of these actions.5 The Prophet received the oath of alliance from women in Aqaba as well as after his hijra from Mekka to Madina. After his time in history, the focus of political action had become the caliphate and the struggles around it. At that time, women in Muslim society were not

culturally in a position to practically take on political functions and their associated issues. The customs and traditions of that society did not foresee women functioning as political actors at the highest levels of authority. Its culture, parts of which refer to pre-Islamic times, as well as the common perception of women at that time with regards to their role and function in society and day-to-day life, did not qualify society to seek or accept the idea of women as leaders in any kind of an authority system. A remnant of culture – which is man-made by its nature – this attitude is still alive in the hearts and minds of Muslim society, and should not to be confused or conflated with religious dictate. The inherited nature of cultural influence and related societal emotions does not prove a legal or Islamic basis for the disqualification of women from lead positions because of their being female – that would be an erroneous conclusion, according to Shameseddine. The perception of women and of what is considered politics as well as the nature of political issues (state, power, proselytising and society), plus the way political groups form and work in the political discourse differ in our current life with regards to their understanding, function, form and methods. It is therefore natural not to find models of feminist political work at the height of Islam that would bear a similarity to those observed during our times. It is wrong though to deduce from there that it was Islamic or religious to deny women their ability or legitimacy to leadership and political participation. If we examined the history of the Muslim society at the beginnings of Islam, taking into consideration its nature, constituents and areas of political interest at that time, and the ways of communicating and political expression of attitudes and trends, we will find that Muslim women were not absent from the scene of political activism, in accordance with the customs and ways of that particular era.6 With societies evolving and the circumstances of our lives changing, the point is to enable and seek women’s political leadership and participation according to the Qur’anic postulate of equality and justice – in a manner appropriate to our times. With translations from Arabic by Sam Berner


he Chapter of T Repentance, verse 71


l Kafi, Al Usul, vol. A 2, p.163, footnote 1: “Whoever is unconcerned with other Muslims are not of them.” Based on Al Kilini, from Ali bin Ibrahim, from his father, from Al Nawfali, from Al Sukuni, from Abi Abdallah peace be upon him, that the Prophet (PBUH) said the hadith.


S ee Fatima Mernissi’s book Forgotten Queens of Islam, highlighting the role and importance of the numerous women leaders and politicians in Muslim history


ousin and son in C law of the Prophet Mohamed and a central Islamic figure


ote: Abdel Halim N Abu Shaqqa, Women Liberation During the Time of the Prophet, Dar El Ilm Publ., Kuwait, 1st ed., 1410 H – 1990 AD, pp. 421-454


ehdi Shamseddine, M The Eligibility of Women to Rule, International Institute for Research and Publication, Beirut, 3rd ed. 2001, pp.29-37

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I want to be President! In one of the most touching scenes in the film At Five in the Afternoon by Samira Makhmalbaf: young school girls are asked what they want to become, and one of them answers: “President”. She would not make it. Her life would be a rather cruel story of a typical Afghan woman. But now, here comes a woman who wants to make that female dream come true: Fauzia Koofi, 36, a single mother of two daughters, and a member and Vice President of the Parliament in Kabul since 2005. Elections won’t take place before 2014, but it is wise for this daughter of a politician and an illiterate woman, to announce for everyone in Afghanistan and abroad to know: “I am running for Presidency in the coming elections”. Being known protects her. Herself, “just” a daughter and the 19 th of the 23 of her father’s children, her mother at first abandoned her. Being one of seven wives to her father, she left her in the desert to die, because giving birth to a girl doesn’t mean happiness, it means shame instead. Yet Fauzia survived - her mother got a bad conscience. Fauzia and her family would experience all that Afghanistan had endured in recent decades: The traditional village community life, occupation by the Soviet Army - who at least cared for the education of women and girls and abolished the burka, but also the Mujahedeen, who chased out the Russian soldiers, the Taliban, who banished women back to their homes and shrouded the country in horror, and finally the shaky democracy that exists today. Fauzia’s father got killed by political enemies and her husband was tortured to death. But she does not want to be afraid. Each time she traveled, she would write a letter to her daughters, a kind of legacy to them. The following extract gives an insight into the reality of a female Afghan politician, her dreams and hopes.


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Dear Shuhra and Shahrazad, Today I am going on political business to Faizabad and Darwaz. I hope I will come back soon and see you again, but I have to tell you, that I may not. There have been threats to kill me on this trip. Maybe this time these people will be successful. As your mother it causes me such bitter pain to tell you this. But please understand I would willingly sacrifice my life if it means a peaceful Afghanistan and a better future for the children of this country. I live this life, so that you - my precious girls – will be free to live your lives and to dream all of your dreams. If I am killed and I don’t see you again, I want you to remember these things. First, don’t forget me.

want you to stay with your aunt Khadija. She loves you so much and she will take care of you for me. You have my authority to spend all the money I have in the bank. But use it wisely and use it for your studies. Focus on your education. A girl needs an education if she is to excel in this man’s world. After you graduate from school, I want you to continue your studies abroad. I want you to be familiar with universal values. The world is a big, beautiful, wonderful place and it is yours to explore. Be brave. Don’t be afraid of anything in life. All of us human beings will die one day. Maybe today is the day I will die. But if I do, please know it was for a purpose. Don’t die without achieving something. Take pride in trying to help people and in trying to make our country and our world a better place.

Because you are young and have to finish your studies, you cannot live independently, I

After the 2005 elections I was determined not to settle with being a token woman, so I raised my voice from the first day onwards, by which I earned myself the reputation of an open and capable parliamentarian. But many men were against female MPs and tried to intimidate us. If we spoke they shouted us down or left the hall. Those male MPs who supported us were denigrated. In a debate a male colleague was once called a “feminist” – which is a grave insult in Afghanistan. The Afghan Parliament is noisy and the place is often on the verge of violence. I realized that I won’t get any-

where, if I complained in such situations or if I shouted back. So I am trying to create an atmosphere of mutual respect instead. I also made a vow never to lose my values and principles out of sight. If you abide by the majority opinion, it means you have lost yourself and that you have given up on your beliefs. My most important goals will never change: arguing for human rights and gender equity, poverty alleviation and educational development. Unfortunately the pressure is too great for many of us female MPs. Some I have never heard utter a word in Parliament to this

I kiss you both. I love you. Your mother

day and that makes me very sad. Others again are too brusque. One young MP, Malalai Joya, was banished from Parliament for three years, having insulted some colleagues – comparing them with animals in a TV interview that was broadcast nationwide. On the day following the election, the debate started for the leading positions: the President of the Parliament, his deputy and the ministerial posts. I explained to Sabrina Sakib, the youngest MP that I was planning to run for the post of Deputy President of Parliament. Sabrina agreed that my candidacy would be good for women in ›

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› general, but at the same time she also warned that I won’t be elected and that many men would give me a hard time. When I spoke to my family after that, they also warned me to be careful. My brother Nadir was totally against it. “Fauzia jan” he said, “it is more than can be expected to have become an MP at all - as a woman. You should not have further ambitions. If you run for the presidency of the Lower House you will lose, and that

“My brother warned me from this candidacy. He said it would harm our family’s repute.” would harm the political repute of our family”. Finally I spoke with my daughters Shuhra and Shahrazad, six and seven years old. Their reaction encouraged me. Shuhra had a great idea for the campaign: “I’ll give little flags to a hundred children at my school”, she said, “and then we’ll come to the Parliament and tell the MPs to vote on you”. I thanked her with a big kiss. Shahrazad, a gentle and reflective little girl who reminds me very much of her father took my hand and looked at me seriously as she said: “Mother, one woman should attain a high position in Parliament. And so it is best if you take that, because I know that you are the best. I know that you’ll be away from us even more and work more, but that’s o.k. with us”. I almost cried. I decided to run for that office. Many representatives figured my candidacy must be a joke, especially the war profiteers amongst them and those who have become rich as criminal accomplices - but that just spurred my determination. The rich representatives accumulated votes by arranging luxurious dinners in their homes or the best hotels in town, inviting those parliamentarians whose votes they needed. I didn’t have the money for such things.


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I got up in the middle of the night to write my speech, but I sat there until dawn staring at the empty sheet of paper not knowing where to start and what I should say. Normally I like writing speeches, they just keep pouring out of my heart. This time it was different, and after a while I tore the paper, the words just sounded hollow. In the morning of election-day the candidates and their entourage wandered the corridors of the parliament, and tried to acquire support in the last minute. There were ten more candidates for the office of the Vice President of the Lower House. All of them but me were well known, and some of them were very powerful. At around 10 o’clock an employee of one of my opponents called on me to withdraw my candidacy. He offered me a considerable amount of money in return. I was appalled but as sad as it may sound, it did not surprise me. How on earth did people dare to buy such an important election? And how could they dare to consider me corruptible?! The plenary session began. I quietly sat there trying to sort out my thoughts and observing the happenings. Whatever the outcome would be - it was exciting to participate in this event. As I was summoned to hold my speech, on my way to the podium, some male representatives were looking at me somewhat disparagingly, some showed open disapproval. My friend Sabrina smiled in my direction which calmed and encouraged me. It was my first time to speak in front of the other MPs and I trembled slightly. I took a deep breath and first introduced myself. Then I declared that I am running for this office, because I want to demonstrate that Afghan women are capable of great things and can assume leadership. I would always prioritise the interests of my country above my own, I said, and that despite my 30 years I had much professional experience.

I declared how much I love Afghanistan and our culture and that I wanted to dedicate myself entirely to improving the situation of our country. I spoke fast as always when something comes straight from my heart and concentrating deeply I almost overheard the applause at first until it became louder and louder. As I ended, many representatives – men and women, traditionalists, influential MPs – enthusiastically applauded. Many came to me and congratulated me for the sincerity of my words. An old friend of my father, a Pashtu from the Kundus Province, slightly kissed me on the forehead and whispered: “You did honour to your father’s name”. As the counting started, my heart nearly stopped: I won the election with a large majority of votes. It was for the first time in Afghan history that a woman, a “poor girl”, had been elected into such a high political office. Suddenly I was surrounded by journalists who bombarded me with questions. What I considered to be the highest priorities as a woman? How I thought to change the situation in the country? How a woman would deal with the public interest attached to such a high office? As all the posts were distributed, the Parliament took up work. That, too, was a historic occasion broadcast not just in Afghanistan but worldwide. As the President of Parliament was absent I chaired the first plenary session. After the sitting went well, several male colleagues expressed their surprise for a woman to have maintained order that proficiently. They understood what a powerful signal that was to women in Afghanistan and to the nation. But soon envy arose. Some older and corruptible representatives in parliament were losing power and popular support by the day and they were well aware of it. These old-school politicians, whose preferred means of communication were weapons and intimidation, don’t fare well when a

young woman like me gains political popularity and influence. In the corridors or when returning to my place after a speech I heard them whispering: “How? A woman leading our parliament and we have to sit here and watch? She has to be stopped.” My dream for Afghanistan I was visiting a village in Badakhshan in order to listen to the problems of the people and to learn how I can help them. The streets were in a bad shape and as the night descended we found ourselves stuck in the village; we would have to stay for the night. The family who hosted us was one of the richest in the desperately poor village. On the way to their home young people were greeting us, having gathered by the roadside. After having spoken to them for a while, we proceeded together to the house of our host. A beautiful woman of about 30 years in torn clothes wearing a dark read hijab came out of the house and welcomed us. She seemed sad and intimidated as she asked us into her living room, which was small and dark. Only after a while, as my eyes got used to the darkness, I realized that she was heavily pregnant. The woman brought us green tea, dried mulberries and walnuts. I asked her how many children she had. She replied she had five, all under the age of seven and that she was eight months into another pregnancy. I was worried about her as she seemed to be tired and in poor health. The dinner provided a good chance to speak with her and to learn more about her life. I started to make conversation about the weather. “It is summer”, I said, “but your village is so high up in the mountains, that it is still cool. It must be bitterly cold in winter”. The shy woman replied, “Yes, in winter there’s so much snow, that we can’t even leave the house”.

“But how are you managing then?” I asked. “Does anyone help you with the domestic work?” “No one helps me”, she replied. “I get up at four in the morning, clear snow from here to the stable doors, I then feed the cows and the other animals. After that I prepare dough and bake nan, our flat bread, in the tandoor. Then I clean the house.” I told her that she looks sick and that I am worried about her, to which she answered that she does feel sick. “I am working throughout the whole day and at night I can hardly move, because I am in such pain.” As I asked her why she won’t go to see a doctor, she told me that was not possible as the nearest hospital is so far away. I promised her that I will talk to her husband, and ask him to bring her there. But she replied, “If my husband takes me to hospital, we’d have to sell a goat or a sheep, to pay the treatment. He would never allow that. Besides, how shall we get there? The hospital is a three days march away and we neither have a donkey nor a horse.” I argued that her life was more important than a goat or a sheep, and that when she is healthy she can care for the whole family, while when she is sick she can’t care for anyone. But she just sadly nodded her head and said, “If I die, my husband will marry a new wife, but the milk of the goats and the meat of the sheep are needed to feed the entire family. If we lose a goat or a sheep, what should our family feed on?” I have never forgotten this poor woman, and I doubt whether she is still alive. There are hundreds of thousands of women like her in Afghanistan. The average Afghan woman is not afraid of dying, and at all costs strives for her family to be happy and contented. She is brave and friendly, always ready to sacrifice herself for others. But she receives very little in return. And often a goat or a sheep is more important to her husband than the life of his wife.

I dream, that all people in Afghanistan are equal one day. Afghan girls have potential, talents and skills. They shall learn to read and write, and to participate in the social and political future of our country. The success of a democratic Afghanistan depends on two main factors: the first of which is education. All children, girls and boys, have to receive an education that is affordable to their parents. They need it for their personal future, but also to enable them to meet informed decisions for the future of their country. The second factor is security. Law and order need to provide an environment where also simple Afghan families can build their life in security and peace. And when the time comes for elections, they must be able to trust that they won’t be harmed while voting and that their vote will count. The Taliban are after my life in every way you can think of and seek to kill me, just as they are continuously threatening the life of Afghan men and women – intellectuals, journalists, critical thinkers and those who are friendly to the West. Afghanistan made a huge step backwards, the Taliban plunged the country back to the medieval ages of a conservative Islam with moral concepts that have no equal anywhere in the world nor in the history of Islam. When I am driving through Kabul, I am happy about the young girls in their school uniforms, a black salwar kameez with a white headscarf. In the last ten years hundreds of thousands of girls, including my daughters, were given the opportunity to go to school. When the Taliban will return, these girls will be banned again into their homes and silenced under their burqas. Dubious laws will make sure that women would have less rights than a dog. Our country will again plunge into darkness. Letting this happen would be the ultimate betrayal. FAUZIA KOOFI

The text is an extract from Letters To My Daughters - A Memoir by Fauzia Koofi, 2011.

First published in the German magazine EMMA (4/2011) www.emma.de

English version by Amira Nagy

SIHA Women In Islam 01/2014


Djamilah, The Algerian

is an Egyptian movie about a prominent figure in the history of Algeria. Beyond narrating the story of Djamilah Bouhired, it tells of the struggle of the Algerian people against French colonization. Directed by Youssef Chahine and written by three Egyptian novelists – one of them, Nagib Mahfus – the film was screened in 1958 in Egypt, with an all-star cast including Rushdi Abaza, Ahmad Mazhar, Magda – who plays Djamilah and the great Egyptian actor, Mahmoud Al Meligui, in the role of the French advocate defending the rights of Algeria to independence and representing Djamilah at court. Djamilah, The Algerian is said to have immortalized Youssef Chahine in cinema. It is a portrait of an innate belief in the ideal of freedom – the heart of the national liberation movement and the central motive of the character, Djamilah. Djamilah joined the Algerian National Liberation Front in her teenage years, showing courage which placed her in the focus of the colonisation intelligence forces following her. She was arrested in 1957, sustaining a shot to her leg in the process, imprisoned and tortured for three days by electroshocks to confess against her comrades. She bore the torture and, when awaking from unconsciousness again and again shouted: “Algeria our mother” – a central sentence in Old movie poster the national anthem today. Failing to get a and (below) confession from her, a show-trial was set up Djamilah Bouhired and she was sentenced to death in 1957 – with today. implementation on the 7th March. International protests swept across many countries until, after countless telex messages, the UN Human Rights Committee condemned this sentence. Execution of the judgment was first postponed, then later amended to a life sentence. After the liberation of Algeria, Djamilah was freed. She became an icon of women’s political struggle for equality and the right of women to fulfill their potential. Reviewed by ElTaHIR baDRElDIN


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Interview by Fahimeh Farsaie

So we Practice Patience Islam and human rights Is there Islamic feminism? There’s no such thing, says the Iranian jurist and Nobel Peace Price Laureate, Shirin Ebadi. If you ascribed a specific kind of gender equality to Muslim women, you would place cultural specificities above the concept of human rights which is general by its nature, and you would endanger its universal character. When you are lucky to catch Shirin Ebadi in her hotel room, a few minutes before departure of her f light, be ready for what is awaiting you: that she will pack her suitcase during the interview, brief ly call a news agency or organise medicine which she had ordered for a friend as it is not easily available in Iran. All this does not irritate though because the 66 year old lawyer and Nobel Peace Price Laureate remains focused and calm throughout and never loses the red line, constantly aware of the persuasive power her arguments have. With a smile, she explains: “Practice makes perfect - I never had the luxury to deal with only one issue at a time. At home, when under time pressure, I am finalizing an article while also frying onions for dinner, I have to answer questions of my daughter about the role Mohamed Mossadegh, our former head of government played in our history, while I am brewing tea at the same time because there are guests waiting in our living room.” Shirin Ebadi does not like to keep people waiting. That includes her students at the University of Teheran, with whom she discusses Islam and Islamic laws. As a law scholar she considers herself just as legitimized to interpret the Qur’an, as the scholars and clergy of the Iranian Guardian Council - especially when it comes to women’s and children’s rights.

The Iranian Guardian Council, an institution dominated by hardliners, assesses all state interventions and laws for their compatibility with Islam before their entry into force. According to their concept, all provisions passed by the Islamic parliament, including those motivated by the reformative thoughts of President Chatami, must derive their legitimation from Islamic tradition - meaning the historical deliveries starting from the life of the Prophet Mohamed. The conservative members of this council burden women with an interpretation of Islam that deprives them from self-determination and expects nothing but obedience. They insist on girls being allowed to be married at the age of nine, and the exclusive right to divorce to be granted only to men. Ebadi demands: “These laws have to be changed to the benefit of children. A girl is only allowed to vote at the age of 15 - on politicians who hold office for four years. How should she, at the age of nine, choose a husband with whom she would have to spend her entire life with? On the other hand, labour law prohibits this married girl to work in case she would lose her husband - let’s say four years later, about 13 years old and already having a child probably. In addition, she would be treated and prosecuted like a man aged 40 if she broke the law. But, at the same time, she is not allowed to travel

SHIRIN EBADI is a lawyer, a former judge and a human rights activist. She is the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to hold a Nobel Peace Prize - a tribute to her courage and her pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights, especially women’s, children’s, and refugee rights, in her country. Her work is an unwavering commitment to the Rule of Law, despite death threats, imprisonment, and persecution in her country. She is the founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. Ebadi has lectured, taught and received awards in different countries, issued statements and defended people accused of political crimes in Iran. She has spoken to audiences in India, the United States, and other countries and has published several books and an autobiography. Together with five other Nobel laureates, she created the Nobel Women’s Initiative to promote peace, justice and equality for women. Ebadi has been living in exile in the UK since 2009. Forbes magazine listed her as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world.

without the permission of her father or a male ancestor from his side, no matter how old she is. Ebadi suggests a solution: “There is a progressive, mild interpretation of Islam. One can refer to that and decide in favour of those affected”. But, so far, the Guardian Council does not take this liberal interpretation into consideration. Shirin Ebadi had her most recent battle with the Iranian Guardian Council shortly before the decision in Oslo to award her a Nobel Prize. She advocated for Iran to sign a UN Convention that bans the discrimination ›

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“It is the dominance of patriarchal culture that impedes equality of women and men. Islam is being used as an excuse for it.”

FAHIMEH FARSAIE was born in Teheran, in Iran. She studied history of art and law. A TV correspondent and editor in London and Germany she received a number of awards. She lives and works as a free lance writer in Cologne. First published in KulturAustausch Online 4/2003

English version by Amira Nagy


legal arguments. “When women are put under pressure it tells me that a human right is being trampled underfoot. This is what I am putting up resistance against, because I am against any kind of oppression and discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, culture or religion.” For the same reason she doesn’t think much of the term “Islamic Feminism”. “Human rights are universal. There is no Islamic or Non-Islamic human right. If we conceded an “Islamic“ human rights code to Muslims based on their religion, we are forced to acknowledge a respective code also

› of women. After long debates, the Iranian parliament voted for ratification. But the Guardian Council vetoed this, stating that the UN Convention would conflict with the Islamic laws of inheritance and custody, that it was based on liberalism, secularism and Western materialism. In their view, ratifying to the convention would equal with negating divine laws. “Human rights are universal. Ebadi heatedly argued that a rejection There is no Islamic or Non-Islamic of the convention canhuman right…” not be justified with a hint to Islam. “It is the dominance of patriarchal culture that for other religions, the Bahai, the folimpedes equality of women and men. lowers of Zarathustra or Buddhist.” Islam is being used as an excuse for it.” But that would mean the end of a universally acknowledged code of human rights. “Thus, if we plead that Islamic feminism? our women are entitled to a different Is Shirin Ebadi the “Islamic Femi- kind of human rights for being Musnist” she is being celebrated for by lims, if we place cultural specificities some groups? She herself never tires to above the universal concept of Hustress that she is a true Muslim and she man Rights, this is dangerous.” Like the Moroccan women activist uses the term feminism with caution. “If feminism is meant to be equality Fatima Mernissi and Nawal Sadawi between women and men, by which from Egypt, also Shirin Ebadi is of the women would attain the position in opinion that a Muslim woman can be society they are entitled to, then I am a feminist. “There is no contradiction a feminist. I reject though any kind of in that. The rules of Islam are changefeminism that would ascribe addition- able. One just has to apply an interpreal and useless privileges to women.” tation that is suitable to the prevailing The jurist considers women’s rights as situation. A devout Muslim too can human rights and defends them with believe in human rights.”

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Born to suffer Due to her commitment Ebadi has often been threatened, intimidated and once, in summer of 2001, even arrested and jailed for months. Following the biggest demonstrations by student since the existence of the Islamic Republic, she was accused of “spreading untruth”. It was about the brutal attacks of Islamic militia and police of a student hostel in Teheran in July 1999. Hundreds of people were arrested during the bloody attacks, 20 persons injured and the student Abrahim Nejad was killed. As the lawyer of the family of the killed student, Ebadi was searching for evidence on the involvement of Islamic hit squads in the incident as she stumbled on a former member of Hisbollah troups, Amir Farshade Ibrahimi, who observed his former gang at the crime scene. As evidence she had his statement recorded and made it available to the Security Council and the Ministry of Interior Affaires. Without her knowledge the film leaked into public and Shirin Ebadi and the witness were arrested. Political detainees who later would serve their sentence in the section 209 of the notorious Evin Prison in the same cell in which Ebadi was detained, will read what she scratched into the wall as she says full of anger and in complete isolation, with a spoon: “We were born to suffer, because our home is the Third World. Prior to our birth time and place determined our fate. So we practice patience. Because there is no other way out of it.”


Violence against Women Legitimised by Arguments of “Culture” Thoughts from a Pakistani perspective1 of punishment prescribed for a particular act compared with leniency for another. Culture is also domination is inherent. Farida Shaheed examines how evident in legal silences, in the very law, religion and culture attain male features and calls on differentiation between which acts women to reclaim these spaces for equality. a society considers to be crimes and which it condones by silence. In terms There is a common misperception that “cultural” justi- of gender-based violence, the cultural underpinning of fications for violence only operate in “traditional” soci- laws is visible in different countries across the world: in eties and are linked to specific religions or cultures. It is the absence of legislation criminalizing domestic violence my contention that violence against women, regardless of or marital rape for instance; in what constitutes sufficient where or when it occurs or the nature of its manifestation, proof to establish forced intercourse; and in the text of is legitimised by arguments of “culture” because firstly, no legal provisions that reduce culpability for murder in cases society is devoid of culture and secondly, the dominant considered “crimes passionelles”. culture throughout the world is patriarchal culture which In today’s context, as much inevitably validates violence as an acattention in South Asia – as ceptable – even desirable – attribute elsewhere – is focused on soof masculinity, while simultaneously called “honour crimes”. It is worth de-valuing women and all attributes remembering that it was the British considered feminine, such as nurturcolonial rulers who introduced this ing – not just of persons but also of concept into South Asian law, in relationships. the shape of the “grave and sudden provocation” clause. The clause If violence against individuals maintains that men should be dealt who are socially devalued by the with leniently when there is evidence dominant culture is considered of provocation so acute or “grave” legitimate, specific acts of violence as to make their subsequent acts of become acceptable. Consequently, violence excusable and, therefore, explicit and implicit cultural legitimations for violence against women are found in deserving of lesser punishments. The circumstances under “traditional” societies and practices, in contemporary which violence is “understandable” – and therefore to political discourses and manifested in formal state laws. be excused – include acts committed to preserve one’s In order to overcome violence against women, it is the “honour”, even at the expense of a woman’s life. general pervasive culture of violence itself that must be If legal texts are patriarchal, it is simply because replaced by a culture of peace 2 to ensure justice for all and to provide social spaces in which differences are resolved laws have traditionally been the prerogative of male legislators so that, as stated by Tove Stang Dahl it “is without violence. 3 generally men’s experiences, opinions and interests that It is important to understand that the law is not free throughout time have been etched into law”.4 It should of culture or biases. “Culture” translates into the law also be added that the experience reflected in law is that as prohibitions or prescriptions and in the severity of only certain men belonging to the dominant class.› Violence against women takes place because it is

accepted in patriarchal cultures – in which the concept of

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Painting by Salah Ibrahim, Sudan


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› Yet laws do not implement themselves. Culture permeates the application and interpretation of laws beyond their formulations. The law is administered by people – the vast majority being men – who have specific cultural beliefs and understandings that they bring to and apply in their work, consciously or unconsciously. Textual biases against women become reinforced by the cultural beliefs of judges and other concerned officials of the law enforcement and justice system. Indeed in some cases, the cultural considerations and beliefs of sitting judges may be so strong as to overrule the text of the law.

In 1997 Pakistan deleted the provision of “grave and sudden provocation” from the statute books because it was deemed un-Islamic. Nevertheless, judges continue to refer to this no-longer existent – and officially un-Islamic – clause to reduce sentences. Experience shows that when state law, customs and religious tenets provide different options, in practice it is inevitably the one least favourable to women that is actually applied. For example, women have been killed in Pakistan simply for marrying someone of their own choice even though state laws and Islamic injunctions both unequivocally uphold an adult woman’s right to decide.

In Pakistan, for instance, courts have virtually condoned men for murdering their female relatives when the accused claimed they had acted violently because they suspected their womenfolk of having sexual relationships outside marriage. Using the “grave and sudden provocation” clause, judges in the Supreme Court of Pakistan have opined that: “Under village conditions and even in many other parts of society in this country, the right of the male member of the family to control the actions of their women folk, particularly in the field of sexual relations, is fully recognized and forcefully maintained. The idea that a young unmarried girl in a village family is entitled to leave her bed during the night and go where she pleases (...) simply cannot be entertained.”5 In another case, the judge finding no other evidence held that: “The appellant had two children from his deceased wife and when he took the extreme step of taking her life by giving her repeated knife blows on different parts of her body, she must have done something unusual to enrage him to such an extent.”6 Both statements express the cultural beliefs of the judges in support of their decision. In the first case, for example, the law does not give a male family member any legal right to control his female relatives; this “right” is “fully recognized and forcefully maintained” only culturally and outside the purview of the law. In the second case, the judge’s ruling was made on the basis of, at best, a rather naïve belief that, unless a woman does something unusually provocative, a man could not possibly murder the mother of his own children. In both judgements cultural beliefs superseded legislative provisions.

Religion per se is not the factor determining women’s oppression in Muslim societies. The essential components of patriarchy are the same as elsewhere: women’s subordination occurs in the immediate family and in kinship structures, in state-building projects and in international policy-making. It is the articulations of patriarchy that are always culturally specific. Culture is not a definitive entity frozen in time, but an ever-evolving process. Ashish Nandy says, “The greatest tradition of all is the reinvention of tradition”.7 Culture is continuously being amended as a result of societal contestations and in response to changing circumstances, thereby redefining norms of appropriateness. All change is not necessarily positive: developments may render violence less acceptable, but some developments may promote a greater acceptance of violence against women as, for example, in armed conflict situations.

Culture is not equivalent to religion. Even though religion, as customs and practices, does influence culture, I would posit that patriarchal considerations constitute the prism through which religion is interpreted. It is not a coincidence that, across the globe, religious interpretation has been a jealously guarded male monopoly. In the case of Islam, this monopolization has meant that, in everyday practice as well as in law, religious tenets supporting women’s rights are frequently overlooked, suspended or put into parentheses. Consequently, whenever there is a clash between patriarchal concerns embodied in “traditional customs” on the one hand and religious tenets on the other, customs almost always override even religion.

Today in Pakistan It is not a coincidence that, across the – and South Asia as globe, religious interpretation has been a whole – we face a a jealously guarded male monopoly. two-fold challenge: to confront both the traditional patriarchal culture that denies women their rights and the new patriarchal culture that presents itself in religious robes or other forms of identity politics. In Pakistan, the latter process started with the dictatorship of General Zia-ul Haq in the 1970s, including an acceptance of all forms of violence against citizens by justifying it in the name of religion, through the introduction of legalised barbaric punishments it claimed were “Islamic”. 8 Societies never have only one culture. Every society has both a dominant culture and multiple subaltern cultures. The dominant culture reflects the viewpoint and the interests of those in power at a particular time. Minorities who either do not accept or do not live according to the prescribed “normative” behaviour are often ethnic or religious groups, but also individuals living on the periphery of society, such as the homeless, who also evolve their own cultures. Finally, there are the subaltern cultures representing groups who consciously reject the main dominant culture, indicating not only differences within society but also a proactive resistance to the existing norms. ›

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ology or class. Surely, it should be the responsibility of the state to elicit a full compendium of voices from within a particular community of citizens as from within the citizenry at large. That implies that the state is to provide equal opportunities to different voices in society to articulate their opinions. It should mean actively searching for, and listening to, the voices of subaltern cultures and opinions within the minorities, and ensuring women’s representation. And, under no circumstances, should the collective rights and special interests of any group be promoted at the expense of the fundamental rights and human dignity of individuals within that community.

We face a two-fold challenge: to confront both the traditional patriarchal culture that denies women their rights and the new patriarchal culture that presents itself in religious robes or other forms of identity politics.

It is an often posed question, especially in discussions around Islam and women, whether the concept and desire for women’s self-determination is merely a western construct. It needs to be clearly stated that neither is women’s oppression an eastern construct, nor is women’s resistance to such oppression a western construct starting in the 18th and 19th centuries. Women have resisted oppression throughout the ages – in every society. Still, the idea that women’s resistance is a western monopoly has gained so much ground that women in third world countries as a whole, and women from Muslim contexts in particular, seem to have bought into this myth. Precisely to refute

› Women rarely define the dominant culture, because they do not have the economic, social or political power to do so. Of course women are not a homogenous category and are differentiated by class and other factors of power and powerlessness. Nevertheless, while all men enjoy – in some measure – the advantages of a patriarchal culture and structures of It needs to be clearly stated that neither is women’s power, all women suffer, albeit to differing degrees, the impositions oppression an eastern construct, nor is women’s and constraints of that same culture resistance to such oppression a western construct starting and structure.

in the 18th and 19th centuries. Women have resisted oppression throughout the ages – in every society.

When multiple cultures contend to be heard within a society, a key question is which voice is given or acquires legitimacy as the voice of the people. Where the dominant cultural trend becomes articulated by the state, a critical question for minorities is which voice the state accepts as speaking on behalf of a particular group? Currently, for instance, certain self-proclaimed “community leaders” in the UK demand to be the voice of all Muslims, or of all Sikhs or of all Hindus etc. Significantly, these “leaders” are not elected by the constituency they claim to represent. Another example in South Asia are fundamentalist forces that seek to project themselves as the sole authentic spokespeople for a community appropriating for themselves the power to define what are cultural norms: re-writing history or making reference to religion and other sources of “authenticity” to advance their essentially political and social agendas. This takes place in the absence of organised alternative voices from within these communities and the fact that many progressive voices from within the same communities eschew a religious or ethnic basis for their engagements, preferring to identify on other lines such as ide-


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the claim that the struggle for women’s rights is alien to women in Muslim societies and contexts, I traced women’s assertions for rights from the 8th century to the 1950s, from Indonesia in South East Asia to Nigeria in Africa, in the Arab world and in Central Asia; in South Asia and in China.9 The answer to whether women’s rights is a western construct therefore is no. Women have fought for their rights in every era and society even though the articulation of rights, priorities set and strategies adopted differ across both time and space. Finally, it needs to be emphasized that politico-religious parties and militant groups who present their agendas in a religious idiom and project themselves as the only true mantle bearers of Islam, are not religious movements. These are political movements aiming to gain political power at the community, national or international level. A major strategy is to monopolize the religious discourse and impose this as the only legitimate framework for all political and social discourse. This is similar to instances of ethnic-national collectivities formulated in such

dichotomous terms that they preclude both dissent and pluralism from within.10 These actors control people by silencing all dissenting voices, including other religious voices. They do so by blackmailing people into silence, by equating any dissent to their proposals with an opposition – even betrayal – of people’s religion and faith, and by crushing dissent through violence, including against their own communities. From South Asia, I can categorically state that the political use of religion is not confined to the Muslim world. I see this as part of a wider global challenge posed by identity based politics replacing ideological political agendas. Unlike ideological agendas that aim to change underlying structures and systems, identity politics simply promise a better deal – for a particular group – defined by religion, ethnicity or language – but only if you give up your agency and let them appropriate your voice, and only if you divest yourself of all other markers of identity, and buy into the proposition that your interests are threatened by other identity-based groups. In conclusion, to really eliminate violence against women, we need to replace the culture of violence with a culture of peace, starting with the very earliest socialisation that defines cultural notions of gender as well as acceptable and unacceptable practices, acts, behaviours. What does this mean? It also means that just enacting laws to address and prevent violence against women, though necessary, is never going to be enough. Legal provisions need to be accompanied by measures to overturn the culture of violence promoted in news and entertainment media as well as in textbooks. Impunity for acts of violence against women rests on the cultural outlook of people in society at large and the cultural perceptions of state agents. Therefore, in order to eliminate impunity, all state agents – especially those engaged in any aspect of the justice system – must be sensitised and oriented to uphold the right of women (and other citizens) to be free from violence. In countries where legal systems coexist with informal dispute resolution forums (some traditional, some new), the state needs to take steps to ensure that informal forums are not allowed to pass rulings and/or take any actions that deny women their legal rights, respect or dignity. After all, these are rights and entitlements enshrined in many constitutions and fall under the responsibility of the state. It would be naive, however, to expect that the state shall automatically take these steps since those with decisionmaking powers tend to be precisely those people who benefit from the existing power dynamics, economic structures and political processes. Consequently, the state will only exercise due diligence when enough of a groundswell has been created in society by political and civil society actors. FARIDA SHAHEED

FARIDA SHAHEED a Pakistani sociologist, is a UN Independent Expert and a Special Rapporteur for Cultural Rights and the Director of Women’s Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratization, a program strengthening and promoting citizenship in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. She is also the Director of Research at Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre in Pakistan. Shaheed is an experienced participant in negotiations at international, regional and national levels and has brought her distinctive perspective to United Nations and development agencies, and to the government of Pakistan since 1980. Recipient of several human rights awards, Farida Shaheed has, for more than 25 years, promoted the protection of cultural rights, fostering policies and projects to support the rights of marginalized sectors, including women, peasants, and religious and ethnic minorities.11


From a presentation at: International Symposium on Due Diligence, Responsibility of the State for the Human Rights of Women, 21-23.09.2005, Bern, Switzerland.


NESCO started a Culture of Peace Programme (early 1980s). 2000 was U declared the UN International Year for the Culture of Peace and the the UN Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010).


iane Bretherton, “Education, Training, Socialization and Research – D Learning The Tools for Living Together Peacefully and with Respect for Differences”, in: Asian Women for A Culture of Peace – Report of the Regional Conference for a Culture of Peace, 06-09.12.2000, Hanoi, UNESCAP-UNESCO, pp 76-80.


Tove Stang Dahl, “Women’s Law: Methods, Problems, Values” in: Contemporary Crises 10, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht, 1986, p. 362.


S upreme Court judgement, Mohamed Saleh vs The State, PLD 1965 SC 446, (370).


S upreme Court judgement Muhammad Younis vs. The State, 1989 PCr. LJ (1747).


A shish Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism, Delhi: Oxford UP, 1983.


E .g. under the guise of “Islamization” the regime’s hudud Ordinances (1979) made legal stoning to death, the cutting of limbs and whipping.


F arida Shaheed, Aisha Shaheed: Great Ancestors: Women Asserting Rights in Muslim Contexts – Training & Information Kit, Lahore, Shirkat Gah/WLUML, 2004.


S ee Aleksandra Alund on Serbia in: Nira Yuval-Davis & Pnina Werbner (eds), footnote 11 above, pp.147-161.


bout Farida Shaheed: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/CulturalRights/ A Pages/FaridaShaheed.aspx

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Political Islam, Globalization and the Emergence of Islamic Feminism Addressing women’s rights has never been only womens’ business. Nor is it an imported or recent phenomenon. The wish for justice and equality is inherent to Islam, with Muslims striving for it throughout history, says Abdulkhalig Elsir. Islamic Feminism is a movement that strives for recognition of the role of women in Islam and full equality for all Muslims. It advocates for women’s rights, gender equality and social justice within the Islamic framework. The movement draws heavily from the secular and non-Muslim feminist discourses. The methodology used highlights the deeply rooted inequality in Islamic teachings and questioning the patriarchal interpretation of Islamic exegesis as a strong indication of such influence. Islamic scholars defending women’s rights By tracing historical attempts to “modernize” Islamic theology, we find that addressing women’s rights was not only womens’ business. Evidently, many prominent scholars contributed. Ibn Rushd1, the famous Islamic philosopher of the 12th century, was one of those who articulated the equality of women in all aspects of life. However, it is worthy to note that Ibn Rushd has been labeled, by Orthodox Islam, as a heretic and corrupted Muslim, if not apostate. Nevertheless, his contribution in highlighting women issues is an indication of how women’s position in the social context was a vibrant issue during his time. Ibn Asakir2, a prominent Islamic historian who also lived in the 12th century, tells us about the positive situation of women of his time. Ibn Asakir mentions that women’s education at that time was normal to the extent that they were enrolled in formal education. Interestingly, Ibn Asakir mentioned that he, himself, was taught by 80 women throughout his life. Although it is not the purpose of this article to trace all men who contributed to women’s rights issues, it is worth mentioning some great names whose literature defending women’s rights are still inspiring and act as important references of contemporary Islamic feminism. In Egypt, we find the influence of Qasim Amin3. Especially his book The Liberation of Woman (1899), positioned him as the father of the Egyptian feminist movement. Muhammad Abdu4 was also considered a most radical reformist in the Family Status Law.


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Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) and his protégé, Mumtaz Ali5, in 18th century India, were regarded as the founders of Islamic Modernism in India. Mumtaz Ali’s book Rights of Women, even by today’s measures, is one of the most influential books that handle the issue of women’s rights. The Tunisian Islamic scholar Tahir Haddad6 and his remarkable book Our Woman in Islamic Law and Society, is regarded as one of the most courageous attempts of his time in articulating a new interpretation of women’s rights. The commonality shared by all those thinkers, despite their historical differences, is that they consider improving and recognizing women’s rights as an Islamic obligation and a societal necessity. This shows, on one hand, that female issues are as old as Islam itself while, on the other, it speaks of their importance. Interestingly, the 12th century, was one of those times where women’s issues had a central position among other social issues. This is not a surprise if we knew that in that century, the influence of Greek philosophy on Islamic culture in general, and Islamic theology in particular, was strong. It is worth remembering this when discussing contemporary Islamic feminism and how the influence of globalization has pushed the issue of Muslim woman’s rights to new boundaries. Women’s rights – a genuine Islamic value Returning to Islamic feminism, Isobel Coleman7 mentions in her book Paradise beneath Her Feet, that Muslim feminists consider women’s rights not as a Western or a Secular imposition, but a genuine Islamic value. Addressing controversial issues like Personal Status Law, sexuality, marriage and dress codes are priorities in the discourse about Islamic feminism. However, their approaches are diverse. In the trial to achieve an elusive middle ground between the demands of their religion and the needs of modernity is where the thoughts, ideas and struggle of Islamic feminism take place. Many scholars attribute the rise of Islamic feminism to the influence of globalization8 while some, like Coleman, consider it a product of social and political change in the Islamic world. There was an Iranian reformist who preceded all contemporary Islamic activists in the way she tackled such controversial issues in the 19th century. The Iranian poetess, Tahirih9 wasn’t influenced by modernism and held her own innovative and controversial ideas. Her contribution in Qur’anic exegesis, denial of polygamy and the veil was astonishing even by today’s measures. Tahirih argued that all the interpretations

on these issues are merely restrains put on women by men. Not surprisingly, she paid with her life as a result. Her last words before her execution were an indication of awareness of her mission: “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women”. Current Islamic feminists’ approaches vary, which is due to cultural, political and social differences. The more conservative a society is, the more modest are their demands, and vice versa. Not surprisingly then you will find that the highest demands of Islamic feminists in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia is to get driving licenses and to reduce guardianship on them. On the contrary, those who live in more liberal societies or were born and grew up in the West have approaches that are more sophisticated and their demands of gender equality are more ambitious. Outstanding women feminists Fatima Mernissi, a prominent Moroccan sociologist, considered one of the most influential Islamic feminists of recent times, belongs to the latter category. Mernissi devoted her academic and intellectual career to criticising and questioning the classical patriarchal interpretation of Qur’an and Hadith (the sayings and teachings of Prophet Mohamed). She also highlighted the gap between theory and practice in modern Islamic countries when it comes to women’s rights. Mernissi argues that, while the constitutions give women full equality as citizens, the Personal Status Law deprives them of these rights and treats them as sub-humans. Like many of those who belong to the radical school of feminism, Mernissi thinks the liberation of Muslim women comes only if an end is put to the male monopoly of Islamic theology. Seeking equality in the mosque was a radical step taken by Amina Wadud, a most controversial Islamic feminist of our time. Wadud, a converted black-American, spent most of her academic career in studying and teaching Islamic theology. She came up with the term “Gender Jihad” by which she means the struggle to achieve the equality “promised” in the Qur’an. According to Wadud this is not going to happen unless women confront and break the conventional norms and teachings of classical Islam. She exhibited her conviction when she addressed mixed-sex congregations giving a sermon in South Africa in 1994 and by leading Friday prayers in the United States in 2005. These ac-

tions broke with established Islamic law, which allows only male Imams in mixed-gender congregations, and triggered Muslim juristic discourse about women as Imams. From what we have seen, the debate around Muslim women’s rights is deep seated in the history of Islam and continues. However, with the rise of Islamic feminism since the second half of the 20th century, the issue of women’s rights has reached more sophisticated levels. Many factors contributed to that. First of all the rise of political Islam and the threat it poses to women by sending them back to the era of harem. Secondly, the social, cultural and economic impacts of globalization, which has caused a huge movement of Muslims to Western countries and, as a consequence, worked to turn the values of democracy and human rights from things that were seen as Western values, to universal ones. This in turn questioned and challenged the values of Muslim migrants, especially values that relate to women’s rights. ABDULKHALIG ELSIR 1

bu l-Walid Muhammad bin Amad bin Rusd (1126-1198), or Latin A Averroës, a Spanish Andalusian Muslim polymath, and master of Aristotelian and Islamic philosophy.


I bn ‘Asakir (1106-1175), was a Syrian Sunni Islamic scholar, a historian and a student of the Sunni mystic Abu al-Najib Suhrawardi.


asim Amin (1863-1908), an Egyptian jurist, was one of the founders of Q the Egyptian national movement and the Cairo University. Qasim Amin was considered by many as the Arab world’s “first feminist”.


uhammad ‘Abduh (1849-1905), an Egyptian Islamic jurist, religious M scholar and liberal reformer, regarded as one of the key founding figures of Islamic Modernism, sometimes called Neo-Mu’tazilism after the Medieval Islamic Mu’tazilites.


S yed Ahmed Khan, an Indian educator, politician and Islamic reformer who helped pioneer modern education in India’s Muslim communities, founded the Aligarh Muslim University. His work inspired a new generation of Muslim reformers and led to the revival of Indian Islam in the late 19th century. Khan published several scholarly works, most notably the pamphlet “The Causes of the Indian Revolt.”


ahir Haddad (1899-1935), a Tunisian author, scholar and reformer. T Haddad was a feminist.


I sobel Coleman is the Senior Fellow and Director of the Civil Society, Markets and Democracy Initiative and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, USA.


ere, I refer to the end of cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union and H the rise of the new world order, where the USA politically, economically and culturally influenced and dominated the rest of the world. This shift of power, with the emergence of the revolution of communication (Internet, TV channels) transcended cultural barriers and facilitated the exchange of many principles and values. Political unrest and economic instability in many parts of the world have been attributed to globalization and migration to the West has taken place, a big proportion of which were Muslims.


ahirih, a 19th century Iranian female poet and a follower of the Bab T (Shiite Islamic school) killed for her beliefs and for demanding greater freedom for women.

ABDULKHALIG ELSIR is a Sudanese writer, translator and researcher who lives and works in Australia. With a background in Social Science he is a freelance journalist with a special focus on Political Islam and progressive Islamic thoughts, and a regular contributor in various newspapers and websites. He works as an interpreter and is the Editorin-chief of The Gazelle, the Afro-Australian voice’s website.

SIHA Women In Islam 01/2014


Painting by Ronny Ogwang, Uganda

Mother, May I? by S. Nadia Hussain

Poem first published in: MUSLIMA IMOW International Museum of Women http://muslima.imow. org


I wrote this poem “Mother, May I?” because it was a game I used to play as a child. There is a game called “Mother, May I?” where someone plays the mother whose back is turned to the other players. The “Mother” tells a player to take a few steps, and the player must ask, “Mother, May I?” before taking any steps; if they do not then they must stay in place. It is a bit like the game “Simon Says”. I thought about how this game reflected upon my life as a young woman, and how frustrated I would feel when it seemed like there were so many rules to being a woman, particularly a South Asian Muslim woman. I felt that my male cousins and other Muslim young men I saw

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could be free and do what they wanted, but I could not. It seemed like the older I became, the more restrictions were put on me. The restrictions are beyond being Muslim though, as is this poem. It is about being a woman. As an adult, I feel that I have fought and questioned these restrictions for most of my life. Now I do not ask for permission because I know that these are just constructs that make no real sense to a just and equal society. I hope for a day when our daughters will not have to ask if they are allowed take part in implicit freedoms we should all have, whether we are male or female.

EQUALITY Mother may I take a step to set my path upon the world? Mother may I wander on my own like my brothers do? Mother may I skip, laugh and smile as long as my laughter is not too loud nor my smile too wide Mother may I pursue my dreams as long as I have not placed them too high? Mother may I take another step forward or backward Mother may I have the world within my reach as long as that reach is not outside the boundaries.of my home? Mother may I grow beautiful to only tempt the eyes of a husband and hope that the world is blind to me Mother may I pick up the pieces of glass from the floor when I try to step forward Mother may I have a man to keep me safe always? and always have something to keep me safe from a man? Mother may I hide my sins from a world that only sees my sins? Mother may I have babies to love and children to hold? Mother may I not suffer… or it that one too many steps Am I too quick to reach my destination? Mother may I love myself without being selfish Mother may I love others without losing myself Mother may I never have daughters who look up to me and ask

Mother may I?

S. NADIA HUSSAIN is a Bangladeshi American activist, poet, blogger and photographer. She has worked as a domestic violence advocate and with Asian refugee communities, where she also teaches photojournalism classes to girls. She blogs on politics and human rights and has written and performed for Yoni Ki Baat, the South Asian Vagina Monologues – experiences of South Asian women in diaspora with gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity, religion, and other aspects of their identities. Hussain serves on leadership positions at two local democratic organizations in the United States. A MUSLIMA ambassador and co-curator at the International Museum of Women’s international digital exhibit, she is a strong believer in standing up and speaking out for women’s rights and hopes that women all around the world can be empowered to come together athem.

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Hala Alkarib:

Muslim like my Grandmother I grew up in a big house right by the edge

Times were much better those days, at least time, Wad Madani was almost the largest from a 9-year old urban centre in Sudan, surrounded by the girl’s perspective villages of the Gezira agricultural scheme in the second half which brought people from all across Sudan of the 1970s. The to settle and seek new livelihoods. compound of the house where I grew up was big, about 1600 square meters, with many trees. One big mango tree and two huge guava trees are still alive in my memory in all their details. Like in all houses in central Sudan at that time, the rooms and the wide open verandas were randomly scattered to no obvious design, and people were constantly in and out through the day except for an hour or two before sunrise. There were no clear boundaries between the inside and the outside of the house and its compound being part of the main road of the Al Madaneyeen neighbourhood, one of the oldest areas in Wad Madani city. Yet in the crowdedness of that big house one central figure kept everything together in my world and the world of many others: my grandmother, around whom everything revolved.

of the Blue Nile in Wad Madani city. At the

My grandmother‘s room and her small veranda were one of the most comfortable corners in the house, always neat and permeated by the wonderful smell of Bakhoor Al Timan, the locally made Sudanese incense. Inside her cool dark room I always felt as if I was in a different world, safe from the heat of the burning sun outside. The old lumber roof was constructed to perfectly maintain coolness. An old metal safe sat right in the corner and next to it my grandmother’s classic bookshelf. The old leather-covered Qur’an and the Tafasir, interpretative texts of Islamic religion, in addition to other classics such as the Kitab Al Aghani, the Book of Songs, are all still so clear in my memory. At that time my grandmother was in her mid sixties. She was not very tall, average height, with golden skin and big,


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almost brown eyes, with shulukh1, three lines on each side of her face, adding to her graceful appearance. Amena Bit Omhamed Ali Wad Abrabaen was usually called al haja 2 in the neighbourhood. To those who loved her she was Bit Omhamed Ali, the daughter of Omhamed Ali. Haja Amena was born in Rufa’a city on the eastern bank of the Blue Nile. She was among the first women to attend Sheikh Babikir Badri’s girls’ school, the first of its kind in Sudan. Sheikh Badri 3 opened the school inside his own home in the first decade of the 20th century. In her everyday life my grandmother shouldered many responsibilities as the owner of a home, a business woman and caregiver for the many people who lived around her. Every day – with no exception – she woke up before sunrise and made tea for everybody in the house. Sometimes people even came from outside and had tea. The number of those in the house would vary depending on the day, usually between 15 to 25 people, including the children. Many were guests who had come from God knows where, and only God knows where they were heading before they arrived in my grandmother’s house. Some stayed for years, mainly men and women students, casual workers and petty traders, all drawn to the house by her kindness and warmth. Some were distant relatives, others old friends. She remembered all of their many names and made sure they had their tea and a piece of bread before leaving in the morning. By the time the morning was turning to day, my grandmother had walked out of the front door and into the shop next door in the same building where she managed her grain mill. The workers were part of the household. Her rakoba 4 was built right in front of the shop where she sat and welcomed customers as they came with their grain and waited for their turn. The rakoba was always clean and water was sprinkled on the floor many times during the day to cool the place and reduce the dust. Her big plastic chair was at the corner of the rakoba, in front of it an old wooden table with an exercise book to register her accounts. She sat

Painting by Nusreldin Eldouma, Sudan

until it was almost salat al asr time in the late afternoon, supervising, counting, chatting and interacting, every now and then reaching into the pocket of her jallabiya5 and fishing out a candy for a child or penny for a needy person.

aleikom”, and she and the others would respond, “Aleikom as salam”. With my hands kept warm in hers these were some of my proudest moments, reveling in her company and the atmosphere around us.

Yet the most vivid image I have of my grandmother is her elegance and grace when she went to the Mosque for Friday prayers. She would put on her white thobe 6 and wear black leather shoes which showed beneath the edge of her colourful jallabiya. Her braided hair, red from the henna applied on it, haloed her round face. I can still see her today, with her folded muslayah7 under her arm, the slight scent of her pleasant Soir de Paris perfume wafting ahead of her, her soft steps slow yet steady.

At that time, the Muslim women of my country did not have to hide or bend their heads. They put on light cotton thobes only and did not cover their heads with an extra piece of cloth to hide their features and their identity as women. Women like my grandmother walked with their heads held high, fully visible. They would spread their muslayah at the back of the mosque and sit comfortably where they were seen and their presence was felt. Following the prayers, after leaving the mosque, the men and women kept standing around in the yard in front of the mosque and shook hands. They talked and walked next to each other all the way home. That walk next to my grandmother was so pleasant and peaceful: I wished it would never end.

Although the actual distance between the house and the mosque was not more than one kilometer, it might take my grandmother a good 40 minutes or more to arrive, along the rutted road, passing its houses with their doors always open as it used to be at that time. She would stop and greet those coming out or going in and those just sitting on the steps of their homes or shops, and pause for someone who called out from behind the walls. Many women going to the mosque would join her. The men would pass by quickly, greeting my grandmother by her name: “Al haja, as salammo

My grandmother is my role model both as a human being and a Muslim. Women like her have managed to struggle peacefully through a male dominated society, to fully seize their place and to unfurl their lives as they should be. May God bless her soul, she lived a fulfilling life and passed away quietly. HALA ALKARIB


orthern Sudanese N female tribal marks


erm of endearment T of respect for female elder, haj for men


S udanese Sheikh who pioneered girls education and founder of Ahfad University for women in Sudan


oof shade/small R porch made from local materials, wooden sticks and bamboo


raditional long T garment with a wide cut worn by men and women


bout 5m of A unstitched cloth of pure cotton or silk, the traditional wear of Sudanese women, comparable to a sari


M uslim prayer mat

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The rift between dignity and degradation Comparative overview of the family laws of Sudan and Djibouti with regards to the situation of women Religion-based legal frameworks are

The relationship be­ tween laws and religion has triggered extensive manage to reconcile tradition with debates between policy religion and human rights while in makers, legislators, others a healthy balance is yet to be cultural and social achieved. Walaa Salah compares actors. Central to these Djibouti and Sudan to show how the debates are the Personal Status and Family Laws. welfare of families, children and the the world status of women are being protected or Around countries have had to affected by family laws. decide between adopting secular civil laws or laws that embody both religious guidance and secular civil principles. Very few countries in the world have chosen to depend mainly on their interpreted versions of religion and to adopt those into laws. Among those that chose religion as the sole source for their legislation, particularly concerning family and personal matters, were countries like Sudan and Somalia. By doing so, they created a deep rift between men and women and societal crisis in their countries. Looking at the essence of the Djiboutian Family Law and the Personal Status Law of Sudan, we find that despite their common base of Islamic guidance, they differ in their formulation and content. Sudan has been dependant upon Islamic jurisprudence since the early 20th century to govern family matters and personal affairs, and did not have a specific law to govern personal status until 1991. Law enforcement largely depended on legal publications and precedents. One big challenge of 1 the Sudanese Family Code is that it encompasses many issues T he explanatory memorandum not that would have been more useful to be inserted into other forming part of an sections of the law such as Inheritance laws. Also, it depends Act is to assist in the construction of on the Hanafi school of thought which, in comparison to a provision of the other Islamic schools is widely perceived as narrow and unAct. Consideration may be given to necessarily rigid in its interpretations and has been criticised it, to confirm that by many Islamic scholars. Moreover, Sudan’s Family Law was the meaning of a particular provision is adopted without the usually common explanatory memoranthe ordinary meaning dum1 to it – opening the door for judges to employ their own conveyed by the text, or to determine subjective interpretations, which has resulted in a Personal the meaning of the Status Law guided by personal prejudice rather than a legal provision when the provision is framework. Naturally this led to the victimisation of women ambiguous or in such a patriarchal society. obscure or the meaning leads Like Sudan, Djibouti is a predominantly Muslim Horn of to an absurd or Africa country and although both countries’ legislations are unreasonable result. not all alike: in some countries they

based on Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh and sharia), the situation of women in the two countries differs significantly. While the Djiboutian Family Code seeks to adhere to traditions, religion and international human rights, the Personal Status Law of Sudan takes the extreme opposite position. How laws should reflect values of a society In 2002, Djibouti enacted its Family Law, born of the joint efforts of the Ministry of Justice, the Human Rights Council, and the Djiboutian Muslims Clergies Council. The outcome was a legal framework that seeks to support both Djiboutian families and society at large. The objective was to improve and positively develop communities’ religious beliefs and culture while at the same time providing for the protection of the family. It places emphasises upon the responsibility and accountability of parents towards their children and the respect for their rights. It is common practice worldwide, that drafting and ratifying of a country’s family law entails extensive societal consultations and feedback from different actors. The lack of such consultations in Sudan in the process of formulating the Family Law has contributed to its poor outcome - it suffers conceptual and legal inadequacy as we shall see below. While the Sudanese law defines marriage as a contract between a man and a woman on the intention to legitimise a sexual relation, the Family Law of Djibouti talks about building family values, of the family being the core entity of society and of the responsibility for the upbringing of children and their protection. For the conclusion of a marriage contract the Djiboutian Family Law provides procedures to be followed for registering the marriage and also requires the consent of both parties to be demonstrated in front of an authorised civil office. More than that, both parties are Cartoons by Talal Nayer, Sudan


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to provide detailed documentation and background information about themselves and to demonstrate their acceptance of the marriage. In contrast, the Sudan Family code omits all such important steps, which leads to many marriages in Sudan being concluded without the consent of the bride. When it comes to the age of marriage, the Family Law of Djibouti clearly states that both parties must be 18 or above whereas the Sudanese law, talks about the age of “awareness” or “consciousness”, which it decides to be at the age of ten years - thereby endorsing child marriage. The vague and subjective nature of the application of the law leads to contradictions in its application, as there is no conceptual backbone that guides legislation. Among many incidents documented by the Sudanese Organisation for Research and Development (SORD) on the issue of female child marriage and divorce, there was an underage girl who was forced into marriage when she was 15. One year later, she was divorced with a child and when she claimed for custody of her child, the same court that allowed her marriage denied her custody due to young age and inability to assume responsibility. Mutual respect and support are emphasised throughout the Djiboutian Family Law. Although the law states that the wife should obey her husband, it does not impose sanctions or punishment in case the wife disobeys her husband. However, in the Sudanese law, if the court believes that a wife is disobedient to her husband accordance with his complaints, the court is entitled to deprive the wife of the right to alimony as long as she is in conflict with her husband. The husband has also the right to control the freedom of mobility of his wife, including her ability to go to work. While both laws allow men to have up to four wives, a difference manifests in the procedures that allow for the polygamous status. The Djiboutian Family Law stresses on the right of the first wife to choose between staying in the marriage or divorcing the husband and receiving her alimony in case her husband wanted to marry another wife. Again, the Sudanese law grants men the freedom to marry more

than one wife, up to four, without consulting their first wife. Beyond that, the Sudan Family Law grants the husband unlimited authority in divorcing his wife any time he wants. Wives can only file for divorce through a court of law and under restricted conditions, where they usually suffer a complex process to prove that they were harmed by the marriage. Notably, the Sudanese law expects a woman who has been abused or has become a victim of domestic violence to present witnesses to the act of beating, which is almost impossible. This prejudiced position affects women’s lives with some of them being trapped in trying to attain divorce for years. The Djiboutian Family Law ensures that a divorce is to be undertaken in front of an authorised government clergy or a magistrate and can be instigated by either husband or wife. Furthermore, as long as efforts of reconciliation become unattainable, the wife with her children must be provided with a home as well as alimony. Demonstrating the inherent injustice and discriminatory nature of the Sudan Family Law, which claims to be based on Islamic sharia, it becomes evident how it largely contributes to the degradation of women’s status in Sudan as well as to societal disintegration with its impact on families and children: not only is the welfare of children and the family not articulated in the Sudanese law, but the philosophy of the law does not reflect intentions to secure their wellbeing and instead puts supremacy of one gender – the male – above the wellbeing of children. One can only appreciate the effort made by the Muslim state of Djibouti to reconcile their spiritual beliefs and their culture with the human rights of women by developing a legal framework that is based on moderate interpretations of Islamic guidance and in turn contributes positively to social development. WALAA SALAH, with input from Fatima Abu Algasim, a Sudan based family law attorney From Arabic by Hala Alkarib

References • T he Personal Status Law of Muslims in Sudan, 1991: http://www.justice-lawhome.com/vb/ showthread.php?t=7909 • T he Family Law of the State of Djibouti: translated by SIHA from French to English for the purpose of this article • B ooklet by UNICEF, United Nations Fund for Population-UNFPA in collaboration with the Government of Djibouti on the Family Law of Djibouti • Personal Status Law 1991, Strong Philosophy of Discrimination against Women, an article by Hassan Elzin, a Sudan based attorney, March 2009, http://www.ahewar.org/debat/show.art.asp?aid=171057 • Adila, a documentary about the Sudanese Personal Status Law, by SORD- Sudanese Organisation for Research and Development http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3hgJwX3bRA • A Look at Sudan’s Personal Status Law of 1991, a paper by Mr. Ahmed Abdelsalam Omar, a Sudan based lawyer, published within the Sudanese Organisation for Research and Development - SORD’s alternative Family Law, Sudan

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Their Cases and my Stories Walaa Salah about Islamic law and its implementation in Sudan We were just kids when sharia began to be implemented in Sudan. I have vague memories of passing events that had no meaning at that time – whose importance I comprehended much later; things such as the influence of education on social upbringing, the nature of the overtly religious TV programs that ruined one’s enjoyment, forcing us to revolt by surfing the at that time new, cable channels. I remember very well my dad’s quarrels with bus drivers, because of his insistence on sitting next to my mother. That was during the period when separation of women from men in public transport was rigorously implemented, so that my father had to prove his relationship to my mother every time he wanted to sit next to her. He had to carry his marriage certificate around with him all the time. My first personal experience of these laws was at a relatively young age, when the Public Order Police arrested me, together with a friend, at the age of 14 – on the pretext that our clothes were not modest enough according to sharia standards. What sort of sharia was it that permitted police to take children by force from the street, without informing their parents, to drag them to a search facility – then known as Comprehensive Security Enforcement unit – which was a tiny room with a bed in the middle? There was no one there from the Child Protection Unit when underage children were being handled and, since there was no protection of any kind, the environment was conducive not just to terrorising but also to abuse. What sort of law is it that permits a policeman to abuse the rights of little girls simply taking a walk down a public street, and to direct offensive verbal abuse at them? Many years ago, the international and regional community agreed to protect children under 18, through the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is strange that Sudan in fact became a signatory to this convention and


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ratified it in 1990. The local laws and practices, however, stand in stark contrast with the articles of the Convention. Education was no exception when it came to dragging the Sudanese society onto the path of fundamentalist ideology and its monist view of Islam. This previously multicultural and multifaith society was converted to one dominated by a singular Islamist fundamentalist culture that did not express the tolerant, open-minded Islam practised for centuries by the Sudanese of various ethnic and racial hues. The government started to target tertiary education in particular, changing its curricula to fit the new dark age. The best example was the Faculty of Law at the University of Khartoum, where teaching methods have turned upside down. Jurisprudence is being taught in the last year of study only while sharia Law continues tediously through all four years of the degree. In addition, sharia was an obligatory part of the practice exam. It was logical that any discipline where the prerequisite is rote learning instead of comprehension, would make its students parrot whatever they were told as narrated by some scholar or other. However, any attempts at answering exam questions by reference to scholars not vetted by the University of Khartoum law curriculum were met with accusations of secularism – a notion that would make the student wide open to criminalisation (blatant apostasy and undermining Islam) and to ultimate failure in examinations. This was the education I went through. Like the rest of my colleagues at university, I had to stick to the prescribed answers to pass – not because I was convinced but because they were forced on me by a tertiary curriculum which precluded us from dealing with the university as a source of learning. It was an ideological re-education camp to make us fully compliant. The sharia curriculum focused on formalisation and legislative sources. In family law, the university taught us that women were half as valuable as men, and don’t have the

Illustration series by Ronny Ogwang, Uganda

Once, this lecturer permitted his students to ask him same rights. I shall never forget the Islamic Culture lecturer who would not permit female students to enter his lecture questions. One of our female colleagues asked him to explain once he had started teaching. Of course that would have on what basis was the Hanafi school of jurisprudence used for been acceptable if the aim was to teach the students how to legislating Family Law in Sudan, to the exclusion of the other show up on time and respect appointments; but no, this was schools. She made the comment that legislators in Sudan different. Male students were allowed to enter the auditorium opted for the school which was most stringently against at any time they chose, but female students were not. The women, and against the more progressive ones – pointing lecturer, holder of a PhD and an Imam of one of the mosques out that in the few cases where the Hanafi school is “flexible” would explain his reasoning to us: education was a right for on women’s issues, you find the law based on a different the male and a gift for the woman; when a female student is school. What criteria, she wondered, were used for jumping late for the lecture she is abusing this “gift” or this “gratuity” from one jurisprudence school to another? The lecturer went and so should be suitably punished by being excluded. In family law, the university taught us that Yet, despite the continuing complaints from both female and male students, the women were half as valuable as men, and don’t university took no steps to discipline the have the same rights. lecturer. His was just a single example of the practices at a university where lecturers implemented the principle that a female student red in the face, and harshly reprimanded the student for has only half the male’s rights and obligations, and that daring to ask. “You weren’t even born when these legislators male guardianship over women was a religious principle, were scholars and lecturers in law, how can you imply that hence male students had by default a higher social status these learned men were inequitable towards women?” he shouted. The student’s question went unanswered. › than female students.


I n Islamic law or sharia, hudud usually refers to punishments that are fixed for certain crimes considered to be “claims of God.” They include theft, fornication, adultery, consumption of alcohol or other intoxicants, and apostasy.

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› On the other hand, there was a lot of social and political activism at the university as attempts were made to change the unfair student regulations. Some of this activism resulted in temporary gains, but a complete overhaul of the regulations depends on a comprehensive legal and social reform in this country. Regulating female student access to the campus and their dress code are extensions of the The Islamic sharia curricula at law Public Order Act faculties reflect the nature of the legal and the “Islamic system and its instruments. Dress” code that rules outside the campus walls. The Islamic sharia curricula at law faculties reflect the nature of the legal system and its instruments. I was motivated by the above incidents to study the legislative process in depth, but from a different perspective – reviewing legislation that needed reforming so as to reflect the actual societal needs. Later, I worked with a group of female lawyers who provide legal aid and regularly represent women in court, advocating for their cases, be they divorce, alimony, domestic violence, employment, flogging or stoning. These lawyers work very resiliently and patiently despite the issues arising from the legal texts.


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Below I narrate a number of cases which gave me and other colleagues the living proof of how discriminatory Sudanese laws are, how they affect women socially and economically, and how they blatantly breach human rights. A young woman and her fiancé were walking down a public street after attending an event in the neighbourhood. They were arrested by the Public Order Police and the regimes court sentenced each of them to 50 lashes the next morning, on the pretext that they were walking through a dark street at night, despite this being the only street leading to the woman’s home. A woman was almost hit by a speeding car while walking on a street and an alert stranger grabbed her arm to pull her to safety. He saved her life. However, a policeman who was present at the event arrested them both on the pretext that a stranger had touched her physically. All he chose to see was two bodies in contact, totally ignoring the woman’s right to live and the magnanimity of her rescuer. Such reminiscent stories of the “dark ages” are in stark contrast to Sudanese values which teach chivalry and gallantry towards women. The police were the complainants and the only witnesses in both cases and in hundreds of others brought before the courts every day in the various provinces of Sudan.

Recently, two trials were held in Khartoum within three In evidence laws and many of hudud 1 cases, if a woman cannot prove that she was actually raped (taking into con- months of each other, where the court sentenced two marsideration factors related to poverty, lack of understand- ried women for committing adultery. The strange thing about both cases was that ing of medical and legal the women had no legal procedures that need to be Specifically, women need to be representation and that the conducted immediately afeducated, as they form the largest court did not explain the ter the crime, and the social social segment adversely affected by nature of the stoning senconcerns which often delay tence to them. Stranger still, rape victims from lodging this legislation. Awareness of, and in one of the cases, the delegal complaints), the case resistance to, these puritanical and fendant was not even asked becomes one of adultery, coercive trends, to the skin-deep about who her partner in even when the victim is crime was! a child under 14. An unreligiosity, is a must and a duty of married woman is tried on every thinking person. There is a link between the basis that if she cannot my stories, what I witprove it was not consensual, nessed and the cases of the or if pregnancy becomes a women above. The current physical proof, then she aceducational system canknowledges having had sex. not produce an indepenThe court refuses to carry dent, humane and just leout medical examination gal system. Misogyny and as soon as the case becomes disrespect for women has that of adultery and, miracbecome ingrained in Sudaulously the victim becomes nese curricula and teaching a criminal in the eyes of the methods. Such reality canlaw, in addition to the sonot fail but result in concial stigma attached to her tinuing stalking and crimiforever. nalisation of women. It is a vicious circle that needs to In cases as thorny and be broken through working complex, in terms of eviwith the people – the men dence, as adultery, where and women affected by, and sentencing can be as horrid affecting, these malformed as stoning if the woman is laws. married (and I won’t even talk about the legitimacy Specifically, women of stoning since it is highly need to be educated, as controversial in sharia, not to mention in human rights) we find that the majority they form the largest social segment adversely affected of these cases are dealt with in amazing haste, in no more by this legislation. Awareness of, and resistance to, these than three sessions, with judges preferring not to have puritanical and coercive trends, to the skin-deep religiosity, attending legal representation, but instead speedily con- is a must and a duty of every thinking person. From Arabic by Sam Berner demning the woman and releasing the man.

WALAA SALAH is a Sudanese activist working on women and human rights with a background in law and post graduate studies in human rights at the University of Khartoum. Known for her engagement in political debates and public speaking, she was the first female president of the Khartoum University’s Student’s Union (KUSU) in 2007, and the youngest ever elected. Advocating for social change she writes about sociopolitical issues and documents stories of girls and women in conflict zones in her blog Kashkuli (My Notebook). She has previously worked as a co-editor and columnist for the Youth and Students’ weekly issue at the Ajras Al Hurriya newspaper, and as the SIHA Advocacy Officer for Sudan.

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Why Malala’s Shooting will Hinder the Credibility of “Moderate” Muslims The lack of a compassionate outcry by the majority of moderate Muslims in the world, following the shooting of a teenage education activist, blurred the line between them and fundamentalists. It tells of a peculiar dilemma, says Abdulkhalig Elsir. In October 2012 Pakistani-Taliban, an offshoot of the Afghan Taliban, cowardly shot Malala Yousufzai in the head. Malala, aged 14, is a well-known activist for girls’ right to education. Her brave stand against the Taliban belief in banning girls’ education nearly killed her. The tragic incident has brought lots of anger, from within and outside Pakistan. Most politicians around the world raced to show their support and willingness for her to be treated. However, the incident has raised many questions about the moral credibility of the Muslim majority. Theoretically, the Muslim majorities around the world, who like to define themselves as ‘moderates’, are very keen to distinguish themselves from the fundamentalist minority. Moreover, they don’t miss an opportunity to assure others of their support for co-existing with people of all beliefs. But in reality, the story is different. The influence of the fundamentalist minority on moderates is both visible and undeniable. In fact, they live under ongoing blackmail by them. Whenever the fundamentalists see something to be an attack or insult to Islam, the majority fall in line and take their side, despite their whispering condemnation of the radicals’ violence and overreaction. Malala’s “accident” is evidence of how moderate Muslims have not yet developed an independent attitude to the one adopted by fanatics. The fact that fundamentalist Muslims all around the world ignored what happened to the Pakistani girl is not a surprise. It’s very consistent with their misogynistic attitudes. What about the moderate Muslims? What was their reaction to what happened? Why couldn’t they mobilise themselves and protest? Why didn’t they show strong condemnation and make it clear that what happened to Malala is an insult both to Islam and to Muslims? The answer is very simple; there is no difference between the “moderates” and the fundamentalists. They dance to the same tune. And if they don’t, it is only in degree rather than


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essence. Both groups are traditional-minded; nevertheless, the radicals appear more consistent in their theological perspectives. The dilemma of the moderates is that they feel caught in the middle. Most of them are secular to some degree, but at the same time, they haven’t developed a clear cut position to make them immune from the influence of traditional interpretations of Islam, which is manipulated by conservatives. Most have internalized the notion that they are not true representatives of Islam, as if Islam has only one solid version, which in reality is not the case. This pushes them to shy away from Islamic issues unless invited by the so called “true” representatives, the Salafists. This situation, where they are deprived of their right to criticize, comes to Islam from within. It creates a subordinate position for the moderates and has given Salifists the upper hand to exclusively define what constitutes an insult against either Islam or Muslims. It is well known to those moderates that Malala had done nothing to insult Islam. In fact, she sought her right to education within the traditional paradigm of Islam. However, their lack of confidence as Muslims meant they failed to seize the moment to defend their tolerant message of Islam, and at the same time to corner the radicals and embarrass them. This inconsistency and double standards will hurt both moderates and Islam. Any talks from their side, in the future, about the tolerance and peaceful message of Islam will not be taken seriously whilst they refuse to respond to the violence or insults to their beliefs from within. In this situation, the only winners are the radicals. They are left as the main player on the Islamic arena. The radicals gain increasing legitimacy each day as the only representative voice of the Muslim community. At the same time, their violent brand of Islamism steadily dominates. No wonder then, it has become more and more difficult for the silent majority of Muslims to defend their peaceful version of Islam. Abdulkhalig Elsir

Cartoon by Doaa Eladl, Egypt SIHA Women In Islam 01/2014


Photo series by SIHA

In the Footsteps of a Reformer A conversation with Asma Taha on the theses of the Sudanese Islamic thinker Mahmoud Mohamed Taha Mahmoud Mohamed Taha was a Sudanese

the Qur’an and the way of life of the Islamic

progressive Islamic theologian and a reformer

community which inspired many followers in Sudan

born in 1909. An active participant in the

and is renowned internationally. He promoted

nationalist struggle for independence, he was

the essence of the Mekka Qur’an as opposed to

a political leader who called for a presidential,

sharia laws which are the essence of Medina Qur’an.

federal, democratic and socialist Republic of

He opposed sharia law as applied in Sudan to be

Sudan with a modernist Islamic orientation.

unislamic and demanded constitutional reform. He spent his life propagating social, political and

During years of imprisonment and three years of

religious reform through public lectures, writing

self-imposed religious seclusion, he undertook

articles and books.

Islamic methods of worship that led to his understanding of the meaning of the Qur’an.

For his progressive interpretations of Islam he

In 1951, he presented a comprehensive new

was executed in 1985 on charges of apostasy at

progressive conception of Islam. “Al Ustaz” –

the age of 76. In a conversation with his daughter

the revered teacher, as he is called by everyone,

Asma Taha, SIHA traced his legacy concerning

had revolutionary ideas about the essence of

the life of Muslim women.


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REVIEW How did you grow up Asma Taha? I was born in Rufa’a, a small town on the East bank of the Blue Nile in Sudan. I spent my early childhood there, with my mother, my sister Sumayah and a brother, who later in the 1950s, would drown in the Nile. I enjoyed a secular education, except of the Islamic teaching taught in classes at school. I attended school in Omdurman and in Rufa’a, then in Shendi and in El Obeid. Eventually I graduated with a BA in law from the University of Khartoum, in 1974. Most of this first part of my life took place in the absence of my father. Our father, an Islamic thinker and reformer chose to be a full time politician from 1945. Arrests followed, one after the other, from 1946. Today I am a legal practitioner in the defense of human rights and women in Sudan and the director of the Mahmoud Mohamed Taha Cultural Center in Omdurman, in honour of my father Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, whose cause has gradually become my own.

Which events have influenced you and have shaped your path? One memory in particular stands out: the October Revolution 1964. As young people in secondary schools, we participated in the strife against the dictatorial regime of that time. This experience – a peaceful attempt to topple a cruel regime, had a huge impact on me. Perhaps the October Revolution was the strong proof I needed of the idea that intellectual and emotional force can crush violence. I remember it as a model strong, organized work. Being part of it as students had a lasting impact on my character. I became aware how rights can be taken and how individuals can defend their rights to the extent of bravely risking death. This laid the foundation of my strength and courage to struggle for rights and for building a better life. I learned it from this particular situation. I also remember Elsir Makki and Mubarak Hassan Khalifa. At that time their writings drew our attention to an important issue: reading – in general – and to literature and poetry in particular. My interest in Marxism and

the ideas of Socialism and democracy stem from their passionate interest. They also supported female pupils: “literary societies” were organized and it was there that we learned the art of dialogue. There, we developed courage and commitment to principles which had a lasting impact on my character.

Was there a difference between Mahmoud Mohamed Taha the father and the Islamic thinker? Within the preconditions of society at that time, I reckon that his upbringing of me was coherent and consistent. He practiced what he said and thought. That was his character.

his cause he tried to establish a community, which applied, as far as possible, the main tenets of his vision of Islam. As a small community within Sudanese society, the “Republicans” as they are called, were unable to implement the full scope of their beliefs in the organization of the Sudanese State as a whole, but they strove to lead their personal lives and organize their own community in accordance with those beliefs. In particular, the community largely succeeded in applying the principles of equality between men and women, without discrimination on grounds of gender. Women members participated fully in all the group’s activities, and they were often leaders of activist groups on university campuses and in public parks and street corners – a highly controversial practice in the Sudanese patriarchal society. This was such a hallmark of the

The “Ustaz”– the revered teacher, as he is called by everyone, had a strong belief in equality of men and women. He was interested in details of it and translated his ideas into daily life. Our uncle Awad Women members participated fully in all the group’s Lutfi used to tell us activities, and they were often leaders of activist that, in the 1940s, the Ustaz used to take our groups on university campuses and in public parks and mother out to clubs street corners – a highly controversial practice in the and public places, at Sudanese patriarchal society. a time of colonial rule when women were kept off the streets. This was one way movement that when the leadership of of him applying what he believed in. the organization was detained without In our upbringing his belief in equality charge in mid 1983, four women were of women and men was always present. among their number. An amusing example is when one of our male cousins said to one of his sisters, Which position did he take “Your feet are as large as those of men”, when it came to his daughters’ and his sister wept and complained to marriage? the Ustaz, to which he replied that womWe got married according to the apen are generally to be adulated and hon- proach on matrimony offered in his oured – and he forbade the boy to ut- book from the 70s, which holds that ter phrases indicating otherwise, which there is room in the Islamic sharia as he explained could insult women. It from where rights can be derived made us feel proud and dignified. which are appropriate to women in At that time all of us experienced a pa- our society in Sudan. It also points out triarchal upbringing in Sudan, especially women’s rights to be endorsed, which in relation to raising girls in a conserva- are already present in sharia, but were tive society. The Ustaz took this frame- not being implemented at the time. work into consideration whilst giving The Ustaz gave his daughters the his girls the opportunity to go and face opportunity to choose their husbands. the forms present in society. In this way, We did so and when the families came he nurtured our personality – and it together he acknowledged our martranslated into his Republican Thought. riage in the humble gesture he intellectually promotes.

What is the Republican Thought? It was crucial to Ustaz Mahmoud to practice what he preached. To advance

In A Step toward Marriage in Islam, Ustaz Mahmoud stated that our ›

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REVIEW › society is in a crisis of class differences – with the prevalence of a rich class enjoying the riches, throwing lavish parties and exhibiting extravagance in their ways of marriage, whilst there is a layer of destitutes in society who cannot. This creates differences within a community. Applying its contention to a poor, class ridden community the book suggests no spending on festivities and lots of new clothes: lime juice and dates are only offered instead and he suggests dowry in marriage to be rather symbolic. To the Ustaz dowry represents the “purchase” of women as during the pre-Islamic era women got married through capturing, selling or buying. He maintained that a respectable woman would not accept to be bought. At his time one hundred to two hundred pounds and dresses for the bride were the common offerings. In his school of thought we accept dowry as an im-

perative of sharia but we maintain it must be little: one pound. In exchange for letting go of the lavishness, clothes, finery, gold and consumables, we have rights equal to men’s. In this vein he taught that the bride must be present when the marriage is concluded because marriage is the most important decision a woman takes in her life.

In which way is equality of men and women translated into the marriage according to the Republican way? We, the Republican sisters and brothers following Ustaz Mahmoud


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have a progressive understanding of women which is revolutionary in the Islamic world, postulating equality on the grounds that women have as much as men to bear the consequences of their actions before a law that reconciles between the individual’s need for freedom and society’s need for justice – a central principle for the Ustaz. There was the era of guardianship and there is an era of responsibility today. Women have to rise to live up to the era of their responsibility. The concept of equality must inherently entail “authorization” in matrimony: a woman shall retain issmah – the right to divorce. Such authorization is part of Islamic sharia and the Prophet Mohamed himself authorized his wives. Even Hanafi jurisprudence which sees the right to divorce only for the man, however stipulates that he can authorize his wife to divorce – should she stipulate so – before or after even after the marriage contract has been concluded. According to this understanding we practice authorization as a general right of women in matrimony. We consider it a dignifying condition – combined with the condition that no second wife be married unless if a woman cannot conceive a child, in which case it is permissible – with her permission – or a divorce can take place. That of course excludes the option of underage marriage. Women are not to marry unless they are mature, because marriage is a contract to be concluded between spouses, and as such is based on the maturity and completeness of the mind. Child brides have neither attained maturity nor rationality before the age of eighteen - this is a point widely agreed on at present. Underage marriage is a grave violation of girls and women’s rights.

Ustaz Mahmoud acknowledged these rights and promoted marriages to be based on them. Today we publicize them and recommend their inclusion into the Personal Status Laws. Marriage has in fact become a big hurdle in society and a means of exploitation of women whilst divorce is difficult for them and polygamy is widespread.

What is his contention on polygamy? In the past, with the demand of justice among multiple wives being measured by material justice, if you brought a thobe for one wife, you had to bring the same for the second wife. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Oh God, this is my division in what I own, so do not blame me for what You own and I do not own” by which he referred to the heart.” There he established that the choice of the heart cannot be shared equally to meet the demand of justice. The circumstances of life are changing and people are developing, also spiritually and emotionally. In our present society, any woman wants to be the whole for her husband and her husband to be all hers. The question of material justice lost importance because most women work and are less dependent on a man to keep them. Polygamy has no religious grounds and no more value in the present society, whereas monogamy constitutes the stability of a family and for a fulfilled life in marriage women have to have their due status.

Do you think that Ustaz Mahmoud’s ideas contributed to the liberation of Sudanese women? On occasions of the International Women’s Days and otherwise, the Ustaz produced no less than 25 books tackling different elements of women’s status, women’s rights in general and of working women for example as well as on women’s role in discussing religion. Republican sisters learned from the Ustaz and then took to the streets, carrying books and debated with people on religion. This was revolutionary - never before in the history of Islam in Sudan have women discussed issues of religion, education, politics and ethics in public. A generation of Re-

publican sisters capable of arguing and knowledgeable in matters of religion grew up. These sisters also were the first women to perform the fatha in the homes with a funeral, to wash the bodies of deceased women and to attend burials. The Ustaz used to say that women are not weak, weeping creatures in the face of the tragedy of death whilst men were doing what was a duty – he wanted to see this image change. I believe partly due to such developments Salafists rebuked the movement. Ordinary women at that time would hold that going to cemeteries at funerals collectively as females was senseless. It was first considered derogatory, but has now become a habit. Groups of women were present at the funerals of public figures like Nugud, Himmaid and Wardi – a politician, a poet and a famous singer. Ustaz Mahmoud’s ideas manifest in Republican brothers sisters and influenced others. The movement grew and gained much acceptance, despite the rejection it had to face.

Followers of the Republican way had to face persecution. Do you think that the fierce attacks from fundamentalist religious jurisprudence somehow limited the emancipation of Sudanese women? Yes, men and women of the Republican way propagating the second message of Islam had to face harassment by some officials and the security forces leading even to my father’s execution on charges of apostasy during the government of Nimeiri in 1985 and also during the past three decades. Certainly, I think that it had and still has an impact. The propagators of religion accuse us of “secularism” because we demand our rights. If we do not rise with a force of enlightened knowledge of religion, we will be defeated. Our case is simple: in religion, are there rights for women? If those rights exist, it is better to be armed with them, and not hand religion over to the clergy. Should women fail to become aware of the influence religion has on them, it would be paralyzing, because by the nature of our devout Muslim soci-

We have launched a broad campaign demanding the revocation of the Public Order Act in Sudan. It is a law directed to offend women and is unconstitutional. ety we must develop from within the community and by the instruments it knows. Should the desired changes not take place, and women not stand up and carry the burden of advocacy and the burden of knowledge, the cause will get subdued. In fact secularism with its general understanding of women’s issues is on the retreat currently in Muslim countries – even in countries that previously had achieved great development in the equality of men and women.

constitutional. It limits the freedom of people and allows the officers of public order to judge on people’s behavior and the appearance of women. This in itself constitutes belittlement, declining the value of women and their judgment, and gives people – those who did not receive a proper upbringing – the opportunity to interfere in women’s own affairs. This is alien to Sudanese society. At the end of the day, a right is seized and not granted, as they say.

A final word? What is the movement currently working on? Studying the ideas of Ustaz Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, which constitute a progressive Islamic understanding, helps us to abolish religious fanaticism and to counter the discrimination against us executed by the clergy and exploiters of religion, and those spiritually underdeveloped. In the centre we organize public speeches and debates promoting religious enlightenment, exhibitions and book fairs. Contents of Ustaz Mahmoud’s books can be found on the website Al Fikra. We have launched a broad campaign demanding the revocation of the Public Order Act in Sudan. It is a law directed to offend women and is un-

The spiritual understanding offered by the Ustaz was unique at his time and remains of timeless relevance – he seeked to reconcile the individual’s need for absolute freedom with the community’s need for total social justice. He himself said: “What I came with is such a novelty that it renders me a stranger among my folks”. Unconditionally he followed the urge of developing the legislation and the fundamentals of the Qur’an as he had conceived it following seclusion, work, worship and through his relationship with the Prophet Mohamed, which disclosed meanings and knowledge to him: Al Fikra, as a whole concept, a spiritual path and an authentic Sudanese idea of faith. English version by Amira Nagy

Visit the website: http://www.alfikra.org/ index_e.php

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Marriage and Divorce seen from different Islamic Perspectives Leading through a discourse of renowned Islamic thinkers on marriage and divorce, Rasha Awad presents their intellectual paths that elevate

a kafir, and was executed during President Nimeiri’s term in office.

the moral and spiritual value of the bond of marriage – the institution at

Their progressive views describe a space inherent in Islam for deriving ideas of women‘s liberation, and reject the confiscation of women’s rights in the name of religion; maintaining that Islam consists of different interpretations with different judgments being derived from its texts by diverse Muslims - concerning all social issues - including women’s rights disputed here.

the heart of the well being of the individual and the community in Islam.

RASHA AWAD graduated from the Omdurman Ahliya University with a degree in Economics and Management Studies. She is a human and women‘s rights activist, and a scholar in the field of Islamic thought, focusing on the problem of women and minorities in Islam, in addition to issues of democracy implementation in Muslim societies. Awad is a founding member and the spokesperson for the Sudanese “No to Women Oppression” initiative. Awad started writing in 2001 in Al Sahafa, followed by Al Sudani and finally the Ajras Al Hurriya newspaper and is one of the leading journalists in issues of freedom of expression.


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From the beginning to the middle of the 20th century we witnessed a new wave of enlightenment in Islam. Its pioneers expressed the need for a trend of progressive Islamic thinking to transform the heritage of traditional Islamic jurisprudence known as fiqh, considered a hindrance to the evolution of Muslims and their progress in modern life. Women’s status in society is central to this movement. Pointing out women’s backwardness and their deprivation of social, political and cultural rights in Muslim societies was key to the movement unveiling a comprehensive cultural crisis. Perspectives of three distinguished Islamic thinkers reviewed here, represent progressive opinions on core topics that have been moving the minds of Muslims for centuries: marriage and divorce. Their take on this subject reflects also how the societies concerned view women. Qasim Mohamed Amin (1863-1908), the author of Women‘s Liberation, pioneered the women’s liberation movement in Egypt. Sheikh Taher Al Haddad, (1899-1935), a Tunisian thinker and author of Our Women In Islamic Law And Society, was accused of being a kafir – an infidel, because of this book. Mahmoud Mohamed Taha (1909-1985), the founder of what is called the Republican school of thought in Sudan, which he summed up in his book The Second Message From Islam, and author of numerous writings on Family Law and women’s rights has also been deemed

Marriage: Revolting against a legacy of doctrine and social traditions All three thinkers agree on the dire need to define marriage in a way that elevates the moral and spiritual value of the bond beyond the traditional definition often quoted in books of Islamic fiqh jurisprudence which influences family laws – a definition which limits marriage to the issue of meeting sexual desires. In his book, The Liberation Of Women, Qasim Amin strongly disagrees with the definition of marriage as “a contract by which a man owns the right to sexual intercourse with a woman”, and cites from the Qur’an: “And amongst his signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them and He has put love and mercy between your hearts; Verily in that are signs for those who reflect” (Ar-Room: 21). Preconditions of a healthy marriage Qasim Amin compares the definition made by scholars of fiqh tradition with the one that descended to us from God, for everyone to discover the degree of degradation of women entailed in the opinions of scholars. He considers marriage contracts being concluded before a couple even meet as an example of that and asks how a sane man and a sane woman could opt to be tied by contract for life, to unite with someone they haven’t even had a chance to know? In this vein, Qasim disapproves of Muslim traditions that segregate men and women, as they deprive them of the opportunity to learn about each other – a precondition for the freedom of choice in marriage. He is convinced that such are traditions disguised as religion as a means to resist change. In his book he mentions a woman who secret-

ly watches her would-be yet unknown fiancé through the cracks of a window. In another example, a man learns about his fiancé from his female relative. Qasim holds that this approach can not lead to a sincere and sustainable relationship of trust and passion suitable as a base to raise children together. He considers it a genuine interest of a perceptive individual to seek a partner who thinks, talks, and acts in a way that suits their taste and emotions – someone possessing attributes and advantages that meet their desires. Qasim Amin insists on the right of choice – based on knowledge and conviction – which he considers men and women are equally entitled to. To him, it is a matter of common sense, that a woman selects her husband in the same way a man has the right to select his wife. As this matter concerns her more than her relatives, denying a woman participation in something which is of such genuine concern, is anything but right. Qasim reminds that his views, although considered revolutionary at his time, comply with sharia which, exhibiting tolerance, granted rights to women in marriage that are not short of what it granted men. Equally, women have the right to ensure that their expectations to the marriage are fulfilled. Muslims ought to listen to the voice of sharia and follow the teachings of the noble Qur’an and the verified Sunna of the Prophet to achieve happiness in marriage. To this end, Sheikh Taher Haddad in his book, Our Woman In Sharia And Society, argues that a number of scholars, including Abu Hanifa Annuman, advocated for the equal rights of women to choose their husband - provided she is mature. Beyond that, the spouses “have the same right as they have obligations, in good faith” enshrined in the Qur’an, (AlBaqarah: 222). Therefore he refutes the practice of forcing a virgin to marry a man chosen by her guardian – a male relative, on the basis that she does not have the ability to distinguish who is good for her or who is not. In that, he rests his argument on the practice of forefathers, who granted women who had been married before puberty the right to annul that marriage after puberty if she saw the man unfit to her. Consequently, Haddad rejects also early marriage, as it denies women their right to choose, even if within certain provisions. Instead it allows a guardian to marry her off at his choice, preventing her from exercising her right at

the appropriate time and after having reached puberty. He maintains this not only harms a husband’s interests building upon a marriage, but also her health – being not yet ready for pregnancy. The Qur’an supports his argument: „And test the orphans till they reach the age of marriage“ (An-Nisa: 6). Haddad asserts that a woman has the right to be educated in issues of life and good conduct so she can fill the gaps considered a lack of wisdom for meeting the right choice. The Islamic theologian Mahmoud Mohamed Taha differs from Qasim Amin and Taher Haddad, who both seek to endorse women‘s rights through revisions within the framework of sharia. Taha argues that there is no equality of men and women enshrined in the sharia since it allows polygamy, grants women half the inheritance men are entitled to and eventually gives men guardianship over women. According to Taha, certain verses of the Qur’an constitute its essence while others - from where sharia is derived from - branch off original verses and were only applicable in the 7th century, unlike core verses appropriate until today. However, the views of Taha, Qasim and Haddad coincide when it comes to marriage. Taha, too, stipulates equality of men and women in Islamic marriage which he defines as a man giving himself to a woman who gives herself to him. This supersedes the concept of giving dowry in exchange for a woman. Divorce does not exist in his idea of a permanent bond between spouses, considering the wife a man’s soul mate and the manifestation of his inner self on the outside and, lastly, a manifestation of divine signs, referring to the verse „Soon will We show them our signs in the (furthest) regions of (the earth) and in themselves until it becomes manifested to them that this is the Truth” (Fussilat: 53). He confirms that good guidance for the wives prepares them to mature and share the rights and responsibilities of marriage with their husbands as equals, entering it with complete freedom of choice and exiting it in the same way. Divorce: The most despised of the permissible and no divorce without a court ruling The spirit of innovation is evident in their discourse of divorce. Some traditional fiqh doctrines ensure the woman’s right to ask for divorce if the continuation of marriage would ›

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› mean suffering to her. Also, justice and fairness are core values within Islam. Although this demand for justice and fairness requires that divorce be based on an intention and agreement of both parties, we find patriarchal traditions embodied in the laws in Muslim countries which establish divorce as an exquisite right of males to tamper with as they wish. Quasim, Haddad and Taha demand this to be corrected. While considering divorce a social illness that should be curbed, they postulate that when it becomes a necessity in order to solve intractable problems, it must be governed by legal control and is not acceptable to occur just by being uttered verbally by a man – as held by old fiqh scholars. Such, constitutes not just a grave disregard and disrespect for the bond of marriage but is highly unfair to the woman who may be divorced against her will – without her knowledge even – and most certainly without consideration to her most basic rights. Qasim Amin reflects on the correct divorce proceedings as follows: “I cannot understand that divorce happens just by a word uttered, no matter how explicit. Of course a legal act does not exclude words - any contract is composed of words being either uttered or written upon the appearance of a will or the match of two wills, from where words are inferred. Words cannot be dispensed, but they are not to be more in legal terms than symbols to signify intentions”. This means, we should understand divorce as an act which intends to lift the bond of marriage, presuming a real intention on the side of the husband – a real will that he wants to separate from his wife – as opposed to fiqh scholar understanding who wrote divorce to be the “uttering the letters of the word d-i-v-o-r-c-e”. Qasim also demands that divorce take place only in the presence of a judge or a mazhoun, with two witnesses present and to be validated by an official document. He goes on to demand the right of women to divorce - in the name of justice and humanity - given the severe injustice that affects many, through men whose souls do not bear the right human touch. He adds passionately: “I had held high hopes that my weak voice would stir the good spirit in every justice-loving man in my country, especially the guardians, to relieve these patient, oppressed and vulnerable women”. Options of responsible divorce within Hanafi and Maliki jurisdiction In the right of women to divorce, Qasim advises two avenues: first, the school of thought applied not to be the


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Hanafi, because this doctrine denies women the right to divorce on basis of intellectual deficiency believed to be inherent to the female as well as deficiency in their deen – their religious adherence and practice, and also a predisposition for impulsiveness in decision-taking as opposed to rationality. He disagrees with such characteristics attributed to women in the past to be enshrined into the future. Besides, many men are inferior to women when it comes to deen, as well as reason or lack thereof. I came across an example when analysing statistics of divorce in France. For instance out of 9785 divorce cases heard at French courts in 1890, almost 7000 were ruled in favour of the woman, as evidence was established that the deficiency was on the man’s side. It does not look right that in a just and tolerant sharia, a woman is robbed of all means that would enable her to get rid of a spouse she cannot continue to live with – a spouse being malicious, or criminal or a person of evil acts that a sensible and sane woman of ethics cannot accept living with. The doctrine of Imam Malik satisfies women’s rights in that regard, ruling that a woman has the right to raise her case to a judge when she is harmed by her husband. He is quoted by Abu El Hassan El Tassouli in his book The Joy In Explaining The Masterpiece, saying that if a wife proved that her husband harmed her, she has the right to decide on her fate, even if that condition is not stated in the marriage contract as a reason for divorce. Having proven the harm before a judge, she has the right to divorce her husband without his permission. In case the option of divorce is mentioned in the marriage contract, she can execute it once harm is proven without the ruler’s permission, on the assumption is that it was agreed upon. Even if the option of her divorcing him was not fixed in the contract, she can raise her case to the ruler, who has to make an effort to do justice on the husband and punish him, either by beating, imprisonment, rebuke or by any other measure. If he still does not stop harming her, then the decision of divorce should be taken by the ruler, even if refused by the husband. As much as the ruler can ask her to stop the divorce if he sees it right so, he can order her to take it, and he is considered to be legally acting on behalf of the husband. Abu Zaid quoted Ibn El Qasim that divorce is within jurisdiction even if the husband contests. Different authentic sources consider the previous way to be sounder though.

The second avenue Quasim suggests is to continue using the doctrine of Abu Hanifa, but to ensure that every woman states a condition in the contract giving her the right to divorce whenever she wants, or under a particular condition. This is an option accepted by all mazhab doctrines. This method is slightly better than the first, as it gives women protection. If a man marries a second wife and the first wife raises her case to the judge of the Maliki school of thought, demanding divorce, the judge may not accept her demand. But if she has the right to divorce, whenever she wants or when her husband gets married again, fixed as a condition in the marriage contract, then she will be able to decide for herself if she wants to divorce or to stay. The first method is currently considered more concrete and firm, as trusting the decision of divorce to a judge’s authority is more likely to limit the number of divorces and to preserve the institution of marriage. Sheikh Haddad agrees with Qasim Amin that a divorce must be entrusted to judges and should only be decided upon by a court, to preserve the rights of women and children. In his book cited before, he harshly criticized fiqh scholars who define divorce as “the utterance of an expression without being in a condition of sleep, forgetfulness or coercion, whether this utterance is verbally explicit or metaphorical”. Some of them even go to the extent to specify the utterance to be three times, as a precaution to avoid accidental divorce. Strangely enough, many of them acknowledge the request of divorce uttered by someone drunk as a punishment for having consumed a forbidden substance, and consider it valid - not noticing that the same punishment befalls an innocent wife and vulnerable offspring who are to live in a state of humiliation. Do they see it as acceptable to see a woman expelled from her home and another one in her place, while causing dis-

The maliki (arabic: ) mazhab is one of the schools of religious law within Sunni Islam. It is named after its founder malik bin anas and considers the practices of the people of medina to be sunnah. adherents to this school of rule reside mostly in North and West africa, the United arab Emirates, kuwait, in parts of Saudi arabia, Oman and many middle eastern countries as well as parts of India. The maliki school of jurisprudence forms the official state legal codes of kuwait, bahrain and the United arab Emirates.

placement of vulnerable offspring? God does not want this. And God forbid that Islam is the source of such evil. Haddad carries on in his criticism of recklessness in the practice of divorce by saying: “In conclusion, it seems to me that the only way out is the principle of referring all issues of divorce and marriage to the judiciary, so that it happens in line with sharia and its texts. It should not remain a mere nonsense uttered by the mouth of a man, destroying a house and its inhabitants. He himself would shortly start complaining and crying over what he has lost and look for ways to rescue himself from what he got himself into by his ignorance, impulse and foolishness. If we are to be successful in doing good, it is inevitable to establish divorce courts, in which we seek to preserve the objectives of Islamic sharia which, in return, requires these courts to protect and preserve its texts and force people to adhere to them – as the duty of all Muslims.” Mahmoud Mohamed Taha on the other hand believes that divorce is an inherent right of women in which they are equal to men. He says: “The right to divorce in the origin of religion is for women as it is for men. But the right of women in sharia, at this stage, has been entrusted to men. The scholars of Islam missed this point when they missed the fact that the Salafi sharia was coined for a certain historic period and not as an ultimate message that Islam wanted to convey.” From the above we can conclude that these advocates of women’s rights from within Islam – based their support equally on spirituality and on international human rights – which they embraced with an open mind. adapted English version by SIHa based on the arabic original by RaSHa aWaD

The Hanafi (arabic: ) mazhab is one of four schools of law in jurisprudence within Sunni Islam. It is named after the Persian scholar abu Hanifa an Nu’man ibn Thabit (699 - 767CE), whose legal views were preserved primarily by his two most important disciples, abu yusuf and muhammad al Shaybani. as the predominant school in South asia, Central asia, the Caucasus, the balkans and Turkey, the Hanafi school has the most adherents in the muslim world. The barelwi and Deobandi movements, the two largest Islamic movements in South asia, are both Hanafi.


Abu El Hassan Ibn Ali Ibn Abdul Salam Ibn Ali Al Tassouli, the Persian, on what is known as (Tuhfat El Hukkam), by the judge Abubakr Mohamed Ibn Mohamed Ibn Assim of Andalusia, in Imam Malik’s school of thought.

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Singing, Spirituality and Islam If Music be the Food of Love From Timbuktu to Zanzibar and Senegal to Sudan, music can both unite and divide Muslim communities. Some see it as a problem, some as the solution. Thembi Mutch followed their voices.

THEMBI MUTCH is a freelance journalist for radio and print, who has been published by the Ecologist and Think Africa Press among others. She has worked extensively with the BBC and received a presitigious award for Environmental Journalism in 2007. Her areas of interest include human rights, mining, and human trafficking. She is currently finishing a PHD on gossip and media and political participation in Zanzibar at the School of Oriental and African Studies and is a coach at the Zanzibar Youth Forum Initiative.


Zanzibar City, Tanzania: A crowd of young women in burkas and some men gather outside a café in Zanzibar, bewildered by the sight: an African woman, in a West African “mumu” (kaftan) and covered head, playing Ghazal poetry as an Islamic call to prayer. Sitting on the café terrace and accompanied by an acoustic guitar, Nawal’s clear voice captivates the audience – until it is broken by the cry of a visibly upset street vendor. “How dare you use the name of Allah in a song!”, he shouts.“You use keyboards in your praise of Allah”, Nawal retorts calmly. Striking a chord with the community: From sandy Zanzibar to sunny Sudan In 21st century Zanzibar, as in much of Africa and the Muslim world, music has the power to inflame as it did in ancient Persia when music, mosaics and poetry were created to be “nearer to Allah”. And the old divisions – between the more tolerant Sufi branches of Islam, which believe that art and music can be expressions of meditation, and the more conservative branches, which believe devotion should be silent, personal, and contemplative – continue to raise existential questions about the nature of faith and spirituality. Although there is much disagreement over the role of music or prohibition of it in Islam, Nawal, a practicing Muslim from the Comoros islands, is adamant that there is nothing in the Qur’an that forbids singing. “I sing for my hopes, my values”, she says. “It’s like a communion. I want the

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public to forget I am an artist. I don’t say “Let’s go pray” I just say “God is big, there is nothing that is not God”. So, if someone kills me for saying that, they kill me for praising God. I am not here to change people – I am here to shine.” She continues, “The Western media must show me as I am and show Islam as vital, spiritual, productive, subtle and positive – not just extremist”. She recounts a story at an international festival in Belgium when the predominantly Muslim crowd complained and nearly revolted. However, after the gig, she recalls, Turkish, Palestinian, Tuareg and Syrian Muslims – both men and women – came up to her with tears in their eyes, saying they had found her songs moving and profound. These divergences also reverberate in Sudan, where the vibrant and dynamic musical group Camiraata uses music to address social issues. Far from seeing music as unreligious, the group uses music to bring together families, tribes and clans in Sudan, north to south, to sing their way through serious political and domestic challenges. Indeed, for many Muslim Sudanese, music is integral to community dispute-resolution, initiation rituals, the unusual and the everyday. Dafaallah, Director of Sudan’s Music and Culture Academy in Khartoum and band member explains, “Music and culture is about understanding. If you know my music, my religion and my culture, you respect me”. “We never ever stop singing!”, Dafaallah continues, before breaking into song. “Music in Sudan is absolutely everywhere, and has been for many, many centuries. Music is part of life in Sudan, from birth to death. When a woman makes tea or coffee in the morning she has a special song. She sings, bashing her pestle rhythmically to create a beat as she grinds coffee. Then we have a special “al baramka”

type of songs for tea drinking – this is a group song.” He demonstrates – and it sounds like Mongolian throat-singing – before continuing, “We sing love songs to our camels because we depend on them. We sing to the desert so it won’t kill us. If we have problems in the community, we bring everyone together to solve the problem, we consult the elders, we talk, we sing, we talk more!” Facing the music in northern Mali A couple of thousand miles West of Sudan in Mali, the tensions between contrasting interpretations of the role of music for Muslims was been brought into particularly sharp, and often tragic, focus following the takeover of the north by Islamist militants last year. Khaïra Arby, looking regal in her striking head wrap and plush blue dress, her face lined and tired, just got off a plane from Mali. “Yes, it’s true, I’ve seen it myself; they will cut off your tongue if you sing”, she says. “I’ve seen friends who’ve had their hands cut off for the ringtones on their mobile phones”. Arby, adored across Mali, is affectionately called the Nightingale of the North. Born in the village of Abaradjou, north of Timbuktu, her parents came from different ethnic backgrounds – her mother Songhai, her father Berber. Arby’s music, which is more popular at home than the music of her internationally-famous cousin Salif Keita, captures northern Mali’s diversity of ethnic groups, styles and poetry. After persistent threats and attacks from Islamist militants – including smashing up stereo systems in markets and people’s homes, confiscating radios and even SIM cards with music on them – Arby escaped to Bamako to stay with Salif Keita on his island in the river Niger, just outside Mali’s

capital of Bamako. Many Malian musicians are among the thousands who fled south since the crisis began. Keita is also resigned. Before the international intervention against the Islamist rebels, he commented, “If there’s no music - no Timbuktu. It means that there is no more culture in Mali”. Indeed, Timbuktu is regarded as part of a chain of African kingdoms that had a long history of education, literature and intellectual life. It was the site of one of the largest Islamic libraries in Africa and a meeting point for scholars who debated and interpreted the Qur’an. However, last year the Islamist rebels who took over the towns declared the shrines to be idolatrous and restricted forms of expression, such as music, that had been part of the fundamental fabric of everyday life. Like many Malians, Arby was bewildered: “There’s not a single part

of the Qur’an that forbids music”, she says. “I‘ve read it all, I can tell you honestly, there’s nothing in there that says don’t sing. I’ve never seen, never, that music is forbidden.” In fact, Arby is highly skeptical as to the importance of religion at all in the motives of militants. “This war is about drug-running and arms trafficking. It’s about controlling important routes through a very long term trade area. It’s about money, politics and control. It’s not about religion”, she insists. Cheikh Lo, a Senegalese veteran and arguably the Miles Davis of African music, is also angry about the rebels’ attempts to ban music in northern Mali. Lo is a devout Muslim of the Baye Fall Sufi tradition. “These people misuse the name of Islam”, he says. “They are nothing to do with Islam, they are terrorists and we must have the dirigence - the composure, to drive them out.”

Clearly, Africa’s Muslim musicians – from Senegal’s Cheikh Lo to Mali’s Khaïra Arby to Sudan’s Camiraata to Comoros’ Nawal – are not about to give in and succumb to pressures against their singing. In fact, to the contrary, they see music as the very means of social change. “The real musician does not go out to nightclubs, but he stays in the community, and leads to the right way”, says Dafaallah. “This means peace, unity, understanding, communication”. Meanwhile Arby states defiantly, “We have an obligation to sing, to dance, to respect, and to show appreciation for the suffering, the endurance and bravery of the people who are fighting for us, for those who cannot sing. We must compose beautiful songs before the war, during the war, and after the war, to celebrate what we have”.

First published in Think Africa Press http://thinkafricapress. com/tanzania/ nightingale-still-singsafrican-musiciansprovide-importantperspectivesislam-and-music#. UVD3wRhdDF0. facebook, 05.03.2013

Painting by Maria Naita, Uganda

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Parenting Diaries by Tarek Shawky

Homeboys: Deciding to be a Stay-at-Home-Dad This past Father’s Day I had a new appreciation for what it means to be a dad. Last July, I was blessed with a child who changed my perspective on life. There is something spiritual about seeing a baby who looks like you, has your smile, shares your mannerisms and calls you “baba”. Eleven months later, the miracle only gets clearer and more divine.

Born in Cairo and raised by two loving Egyptian immigrant parents in southern California, TAREK SHAWKY is a former Los Angeles and Riverside county public defender and present full-time dad to his firstborn, Bibo, who he hopes to provide with the same love and care his parents gave him.


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From the start, I have been in awe of Ibrahim, or Bibo, as we call him. That is why when my wife and I discussed the possibility of me staying at home with him full-time I jumped on it. My decision to be a stay-at-homedad has not always been met with such enthusiasm, however, by some in my family and community.

family. However, there is no legitimate reason why a couple cannot agree to swap roles. Following the example of our Prophet (PBUH) and his first wife Khadija, it is a noble and legitimate path for a woman to work, and if she does choose to do so, her man should embrace it!

People older and wiser than me alI was raised in an Egyptian American ways say work less and spend more household where traditional gender roles time with family, especially your kids, were valued and followed. My mother, because they grow up too quickly. I am who is amazing in every way, still clings grateful for the fact that I get to spend to those cultural norms – fathers are the my son’s formative years with him and breadwinners and mothers raise the chil- not behind a desk or in court. dren. So she is not crazy about me setting aside my law de“In a bygone era, men worked and gree in order to stay at home with Bibo, even women stayed home because men temporarily. I thought were more educated, had access to she would change her better career oppor tunities, and had mind after seeing how committed I was to more earning potential. This is not the task – even ensurthe case anymore.” ing I speak in Arabic at home to Bibo so he I understand why certain traditions learns the language of his grandparents – but to no avail. To my mother, I am developed in our culture, but disagree not fulfilling my prescribed role as a hus- with why they should have to continue. In a bygone era, men worked band and father. and women stayed home because men Her sentiment is not unique. I get were more educated, had access to betcomments like “Brother, you know ter career opportunities, and had more it’s the man’s responsibility to bring earning potential. This is not the case home the proverbial bacon,” to which anymore. Today women are often betI facetiously respond: “Yeah, but ba- ter educated than their partners with con tastes much better when your wife excellent professional prospects. There brings it home.” Kidding aside, I do was also the issue of breast-feeding. believe in the Islamic principle that Now nursing is remedied by the breast men are required to provide for their pump, which allows a mother to pump



Lo e

and store her breast milk so that the father can bottle-feed the baby while she is away. So it seems the only issue left is whether or not fathers are willing to let go of their egos to find liberation and spirituality in being a stay-at-home-dad. The first hurdle we men need to overcome is the notion that somehow child rearing is not a noble endeavor or that it somehow undermines our manhood. We are reminded time and again by our Creator and our Prophet (PBUH) that raising children is the noblest of works. The idea that mothers are so revered in our faith is a reflection of the divine value that is placed on raising kids. Mothers are so highly esteemed not simply because of their gender, or because they carry and deliver our children, but because they are raising and nurturing the world’s future generations. When men take on that role, minus the actual gestation and delivery, they should command the same respect. Despite the Islamic principles to the contrary, some men will still find child rearing to be emasculating. To those men I say learn to be comfortable in your own masculinity, and do not let your value be undermined by arbitrary societal notions of “machismo.” I know many new dads who still scoff at the idea of raising their kids. I am not offended by them, but saddened that our priorities are so screwed up— we have convinced ourselves that building a career takes precedence over raising our own children.

Despite the Islamic principles to the contrary, some men will still find child rearing to be emasculating. To those men I say learn to be comfortable in your own masculinity, and do not let your value be undermined by arbitrary societal notions of “machismo.” There is nothing more “manly” that I can do than raising my son and instilling in him the values and foundations that will make him a compassionate, responsible, loving and God-conscious human being who will be a positive influence on his family, his workplace and his community. Having said all this, I know that being a stay-at-home-dad is not for everyone. Some fathers just do not have the touch, so to speak. For others, relying on a single household income may not be a feasible option. Ultimately, it comes down to what works best for each couple and how they work together as partners. I know from my own personal experience that having two loving, nurturing parents who participated in my life made me the person I am today. I hope through my commitment now I can instill the same love and values in Bibo so that as he grows older and makes his own choices, his choices will reflect the nurturing that both his parents provided him as a child. TAREK SHAWKY

Published in ALTMUSLIMAH http://www. altmuslimah.com/b/ mma/4646/ June 21, 2012

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Nujood Ali The heroine of brides She is a true heroine and inspiration to girls and women in her country. Nujood, a ten year old is the youngest divorcee in Yemen and perhaps in the world.

At a first glance it is hard to believe that Nujood Mohamed Ali is the most famous divorced woman in Yemen: a slender girl with a bashful smile from her coffee brown eyes. When asked what makes her smile she says: “Tom & Jerry cartoons”. And what else? “My divorce”, she says. Even after all she’s been through, Nujood is a girl of ten years, who loves to play with dolls and with her sister Haifa. Nevertheless Nujood became Yemen’s first child bride, who succeeded in having her marriage ended at court. “I wanted to protect myself ”, she says, “and other girls in the same situation like me”. There are countless child brides in Yemen. About half the number of girls that are married off are under 18, while the youngest of them are barely eight years old. Nujood’s 18 year old neighbour for example was married off at 13 and is now a mother of four. As one of them starts crying she slaps it. “I was forced into marriage when I was very young”, she explains. “I don’t have the time to be a kind mother”. Girl marriage, as it is being practiced also in South Asia, Central Africa and in the Middle East, is not just dangerous for the brides, but also for their children. Before her forced marriage, Nujood loved going to school and she especially liked mathematics and the Qur’anic school. She extracted a promise from her father not to withdraw her from school to marry her off, however when she reached nine years, her parents chose a husband for her. At first her shock was varnished by the many wedding gifts: perfume, two hairbrushes and two hijabs. Her bridegroom, a postman aged 30, gave her a 20 $ wedding ring. He would ask for it back soon after though, to purchase clothes for himself. While telling her story Nujood sits on a worn out mattress, in one of the two rooms a family of nine shares. It is almost midnight, but Nujood’s nine year old sister Haifa, is still out selling chewing gum in the streets of Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. Their father Ali Mohamed Ahdal has worked as a street cleaner in the past. At present, while having 16 children and two wives, he has no job. Published in EMMA January 2009 http://www.emma. de/ressor ts/artikel/ afrika-nahost/nujoodali/ Photograph: Joe Sheffer for the Guardian


The average Yemenite earns but 900 $ per year. To many fathers, having their daughters married means to have at least one mouth less to feed. Moreover, it is also about preserving the family’s honour. One of Nujood’s sisters had been raped and another had been kidnapped. When their father heard that the

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kidnapper had laid eyes on Nujood as well, he thought that a marriage would protect her. The contrary was the case. Nujood was battered by her in laws, and the nights were made up of a terrible version of playing “catch”: the nine year old running from room to room to escape her husband, who would rape her. She pleaded for help from her family: “I was sad and angry”, her mother says, “but I still thought that marriage was the best thing for her”. Only her “aunt”, her father’s second wife, who lives in the second room poverty-stricken with her five children, advised her to go to court. At this point Nujood did something women in Yemen normally don’t do. She left the house alone. Then she went to court using a public bus and a taxi. She waited the whole morning until a judge noticed her. “I want a divorce”, Nujood told him. Soon after, Shada Nasser heard of the bold little girl. “At first I couldn’t believe it”, the lawyer says. She asked Nujood why she wants a divorce. She answered, “I hate the nights”. Nasser agreed to take the case pro bono. Nujood’s case is not Nasser’s first to create excitement in public. When the 44 year old woman opened a lawyer’s office in the 90s, it was the first to be run by a woman. She offered her help for free to women who were jailed for so called honour-crimes. Women don’t have many rights in Yemen, and they don’t know of them either’. Law allows for arranged marriages of girls at any age. Intercourse is prohibited with them though, until they reach sexual maturity. At court Shada Nasser pleaded, that Nujood’s marriage is against the law, since she has been raped by her husband. The judge asked Nujood whether she wanted to continue her marriage after a break of three to five years, the girl firmly rejected. “I hate this man and I hate this marriage. Let me live my life and go to school”, she answered. A week after Nujood’s trial, in April 2008, the judge passed a historic verdict: he allowed the divorce. Nujood’s story went around the world and it has reached further child brides in Yemen. Three of them have filed for divorce since. After having been divorced Nujood says, her life is sweet as candy. In the autumn she was back at school again for the first time in her new uniform, a bottle-green dress and a white hijab. She has already picked a career too. She wants to become a lawyer. English version by Amira Nagy


Cartoon by Talal Nayer, Sudan

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At least equal Mustafa Khogali: Why I remarried my wife, who had left me They say when you want something in life, let it go; if it comes back it is yours – if it does not, it never was. We’ve all heard this before; many of us reiterate it, I believe few of us understand it in depth and barely any of us actually do it. I am ready now to confirm its truth. I used to think of myself as a man who, having traveled half the world had seen and done it all. But that man was yet to face the challenge of his life close by – right back in Sudan: after eight years of marriage and having two wonderful boys together, my wife asked me for a divorce. MUSTAFA KHOGALI ABUBAKAR is a Sudanese entrepreneur, who was born in Cote d’Ivoire in 1973, grew up in Kuwait and studied Finance in America. He worked several years in Marketing, Sales and Fundraising. Presently he runs his own company working in advertisement and design and publishes the In the City Magazine. He organizes poetry events, drumming classes and other cultural and artistic events live and on radio for youth and community development. He lives in Khartoum with his wife and two sons.

I could not comprehend it – even for the children’s sake. Naturally I refused to grant her a divorce at first and I was confident that it would never happen. Being a Muslim man I had legal control over the situation and I was brought up to think a woman would never have the courage to do so and should rather avoid the embarrassment it would mean for her. People don’t expect a man to divorce a “good woman”, so if he does, it automatically says something is wrong with the woman. I tried to talk her out of it for 18 months and she wouldn’t budge in an inch until I began to realize that something was not working between us and even if I convinced her, she would stay but half-hearted. I finally understood that I could not force someone to love me or to want me – in fact it would have adverse effects if I tried to force anything upon her. I loved her, and I wanted her to be happy, so I settled with the generosity that if I couldn’t make her happy than I should grant her freedom. Unconvinced and strongly against the divorce, while hating her for asking for it, I finally agreed. My journey as a single father began. In this experience I would learn values I never knew existed and they made me see my mother, sisters and women in general in a different light. I was forced to wake up at night looking after my children, which I never had to do before. I had to console them when they cried and had to be nurturing – something I never knew I had in me. I paid closer attention to my boys when they were with me and


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experienced a side of fatherhood that eventually made me look at myself, my role as a man and father differently. I didn’t feel unmanly – but more of a man instead. It gave me love and peace and looking back I am glad that my sons saw me doing this. In my culture in such a situation a man’s mother would traditionally take over the role of mothering the kids. In our case that didn’t happen for different reasons, which, in retrospect, was good for me. Despite all the support my mother extended to me she made sure the responsibility remained with me. This experience taught me that humanity is beyond gender. I believe that, on a certain level, women and men are the same. Gender shouldn’t define their role or their existence and I wish to transcend its limitations. It was heartbreaking though, when my children asked why mommy isn’t coming with us? Or, “Dad can you sleep over with us tonight”? They could not comprehend why that could not be, and I was utterly helpless to it. Had they asked for the stars I would have reached for them with fatherly pride but they asked for the one thing I could not change. Friends thought it was foolish to remain single and relatives were urging me to move on. I was approached by several family members on various occasions who tried to convince me to get a new wife – nominations were made, too – reminding me that I needed a woman to take care of me. A lot of marriages in Sudan happen like that: for convenience. They are pre-arranged, with a man who may well be 20 years older than a young girl or with a husband-to-be who may even be abroad for work. He would send a message to his mother to pick a bride for him of whom he’ll approve from a distance by criteria of cuteness and then the family would propose. These arrangements are based on profession, economic criteria and family background of the couple and surely all this happens with a lot of good will, but without the couple having even seen each other. Sometimes the ceremony will be held in Sudan and then the girl will be sent off to her future husband abroad. There is no common ground between them as a couple. The fact that in my country boys are traditionally segregated from girls till they meet in college further complicates the matter.

They have no chance to learn how to deal with each other. As a result an endless cycle of misunderstanding between genders keeps repeating through their marriage, affecting their children and children’s children. This was not what I wanted. 90% of the men in my culture would have remarried quickly, if they were in my place; to triumph over their ex, to mend their drop in social status or to hand over their own caretaking with the rearing of their children to another female. But by doing this the possibility of fixing the relationship is eliminated. Also, it actually further complicates their lives, with unsettled relations between different wives and children. It would be widely considered a manly reaction to try to compensate legally by a new marriage or illegally through dating women and having various relations.

to be her brother, husband, father and son too, and to pay attention to the details that mean so much.

It was me who had lost interest in our relationship and eventually lost it out of sight. I had treated my wife as a task and I could feel now how that affects a partner.

In a sense I am grateful to my wife for having left me. I am grateful to her for having demanded the husband she deserves. I would otherwise never have acquired the honesty and self inspection it takes to be a real partner – without this personal tragedy. It forced each of us to freely question why it failed and reassess ourselves and our priorities.

This was when I began to let go and started giving up on things to ever change to the better between my ex-wife and me, so in a moment of confession and closure, in one of my visits to my children in Dubai, I had a talk with my 9-years-old son where I apologised for not being able to be with them and confessed to him that it was my fault that I am not with them. It was me who had lost interest in our relationship and eventually lost it out of sight. I had treated my wife as a task and I could feel now how that affects a partner. So I told my son, that I upset their mom so much that she could not forgive me but that I would always love all of them and that I will always be around as their mom and I were friends now. I hugged him tightly and asked him to forgive me. I even told him to tell his mom how much I love her and them.

Is divorce a shame? Only if it was for the wrong reasons. A divorce is devastating for everyone involved, but there are irreparable situations where it is the only way. And even then it should be performed in a respectful manner. But that does not apply when a divorce is an attempt to take the easy way out instead of trying to fix the marriage and give people their due attention. It is a shame not to make that effort. I believe marriage is a partnership more intimate than any other bond as it produces the essence of life through procreation and upbringing with the relationship of the man and the woman being the centre of it. It should build on compassion and understanding. That of course presumes a societal change to elevate the moral and spiritual value of marriage while seeking personal development with each other rather than to seek to benefit. Misinterpreting legal advantages of men or misusing outdated traditional concepts of owning girls and women just like forcing them into some sort of service to mend our unfinished business with ourselves will do damage to both men and women. This presumes a sense of balance and trust as well as personal freedom and equality of both genders - at least equality in fact. In case equality was in question, I would be pro-women for the qualities and courage they bring into this world. What women are able to do, men cannot do. As the Qur’an teaches “O Messenger of Allah! to whom should I show kindness? He replied: Your mother, next your mother, next your mother, and then comes your father…” (Sunan Abu Dawud).

Apparently some time later, this 9-years-old boy had a talk with his mom about us and managed to get to her in ways that I could not and got her to question certain things that I could not get her to. In that, we began to communicate for some time and yesterday on June 21st 2013, I remarried Habab El Shoush with God’s blessing. This time I vow to honour, to love, to hold and befriend her forever; to keep her strong and inspired, to wear her as a crown,

In life, we don’t always get a second chance. We rarely get to fall l in love with the same person twice. I fell in love with the strength I found in my wife and admire her for the courage to decide to leave a relationship that was failing. It is in this sense that I got an opportunity to make things right. No matter how hard a marriage gets it is still the most amazing experience a man could have. Recorded by Amira Nagy

But such a replacement was not attractive to me. I couldn’t even imagine having something or someone else in my life that would distract me from my no-more wife and my sons and I needed the time to be with myself. To take care of myself was a conscious decision. So I remained single, strong and focused on my work. By the time my mother spoke to me about settling down again, I had turned into a workaholic holding on to this situation, with no other interest in life. I was stuck.

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Polygamy When traditions and religion mingle in muslim societies in the Horn of africa factors, among them the ancient tradiare no grounds for holding on to tions that intersect with imported dogpolygamy, says Hala alKaRIB. matic interpretations Until today it is tradition overriding of Islamic religious the appeal of the Qur’an to abolish it. guidance. The result is a complete submisIn this part of the world great assumption was established among sion to the practice of polygamy, which the population, that based on provisions when incorporated in the Islamic loof Islam the male counterpart is cal jurisdictions across many societies, privileged to have more than one wife. gains spiritual value. A further factor, the geopolitical sitYet, it appears that beyond the male oriented interpretation of the Qur’an uation in the Horn of Africa caused its where this assumption is based, the poor population, who interacted as lawide practice of polygamy1 in the Horn bourers and traders with the Arab Penis not fundamentally connected to the insula, to be largely influenced by the Islamic religion but, rather, stems from strong Salafist 3 ideology the Arab Penthe accumulated persistent patriarchal insula has been burdened with for the ideology, manifest in traditions and past thirty years or more. Poverty in inherited beliefs. Many non Muslim the Horn countries and issues of consocieties around the Horn of Africa are flicting identity, in addition to cycles equally adapting polygamy. of civil wars, are all supplementary factors that have contributed to turning The wide spread practice of polyg- the region into a backyard of militant amy in Muslim communities around and misogynistic ideologies fostering a the Horn2 can be attributed to many range of harmful practices. Therefore, scientifically and spiritually there


refers to having more than one husband or wife, though technically when there are more women to one man it is called polygyny. When a woman has more than one husband, this is referred to as polyandry. Polygamy takes many forms across the globe. In some cultures, one wife is shared by brothers while in others a father and son have a common wife. In others, a man has many wives – up to 11 in the arsi region of Ethiopia, more sometimes in South Sudan. In many societies around the Horn, a widow is inherited by her dead husband’s brothers, father or even a son by another wife. Polygamy is very common in the animist and muslim communities of West africa. The percentage of polygamous marriages is still high in many arab nations as well.


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the figh and sharia debates around polygamy like other issues in the Horn countries have been dominated by dogmatic and poorly educated clergy who gain their legitimacy from their connection to the political power and wealth holders. Unlike in the Horn, which is positioned at the margin of Muslim regions, many Middle Eastern and North African Muslim countries made serious attempts, during the 20th century, to limit and restrict polygamy and undermine its legitimacy in line with the accumulated alternative interpretations of the holy text through the Islamic history. These countries based their efforts to limit polygamy on the proven societal damage it causes to future generations. In Tunisia, for example, polygamy has been banned by law since 19564.

“Notification of existing and intended wives required; existing wife can petition for divorce if she sustains such harm as makes cohabitation as husband and wife impossible” Family law, EGYPT The main claim of the prohibition was that the practice of polygamy was

outdated and its past function (e.g. to protect widows and orphans through marriage) was not relevant to society anymore. The other main argument was that the Qur’an’s ideal was indeed monogamy. Turkey is the only Muslim nation that has abolished polygamy, and officially criminalized it with the adoption of the Turkish Civil Code in 1926, making Turkey the first nation to do so. Penalties for illegal polygamy are up to two years imprisonment. The current ruling moderate Islamist Party effectively banned polygamists from entering or living in the country. Other countries like Egypt, Morocco and Algeria have undertaken serious reviews and amendments of their family laws and made efforts to observe women’s rights by restricting polygamy and improving the conditions of women within the institution of marriage. In Algeria5 reason must be justified for contracting polygamous marriage and a prior notification of any existing wife is required; any co-wife may petition for divorce on grounds of harm if her consent was not obtained. On a positive note, Djibouti is the only Muslim country in the Horn that has made efforts to amend its family laws in line with its international legal obligations, yet maintained its Islamic identity and Islam as a source of jurisdiction. They have adopted restrictions to the acts of polygamy similar

to Egypt and Algeria. The rest of the Horn Muslim countries and societies have made no effort towards amending their laws, let alone questioning or changing the women’s situation within their imported sharia legal framework. Globally the Horn region has become a harbour for religious militancy and its dogma. Women are persecuted by the law and polygamy is practiced, and mistakenly encouraged, as an instrumental aspect of the Islamic religion.

“A wife may obtain divorce if her husband marries without her permission or does not treat co-wives equitably in courts’ assessment” Family Law, IRAN

To understand the presented argument, we have to understand that polygamy has always been part of human history. Islam came to a world where polygamy was being practiced massively just as slavery, the subordination of women, the killing of infant girls and other forms of human injustices were widespread. Based on the Qur’an, all these patterns and practices are presented as the acts of pre-Islamic society, also called jahelya “the times of ignorance”. Some of these injustices were addressed immediately in the Qur’an’s texts and abolished, such as the killing of infant

girls. Others like polygamy and slavery were left with open windows to be abolished by society’s legislators and scholars.

“Polygamy is not to be permitted in case of fear of unequal treatment; requirement of notification of prospective and existing wives; woman who did not insert stipulation limiting husband’s right to marry polygamous in marriage contract and whose husband does so may seek judicial divorce on grounds of harm” Family Law, KINGDOM MOROCCO Muslim men and women to interpret and develop contemporary understandings of its essence as an eternal text. Although the Surah An-Nisa 6, which mostly refers to the legitimization and de-legitimization of polygamy, states that it is not prohibited for men to have up to four wives, the same surah stresses the importance of justice in treating the wives. It also states very clearly that it’s impossible for a man to act in a fair manner with more than one wife 7. ›

HALA ALKARIB, an activist for women’s rights and a researcher from Sudan, is the Director of SIHA Network – the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa. With a background in Psychology and Women and Development Studies, she has worked as a refugee counselor and community worker in Canada, and on different missions in countries in East Africa and the Horn. She is currently based in Uganda. Having a long history of activism promoting the rights of women and minorities in Sudan, she has published a number of articles and reports in her field of interest.

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› The principles of Islamic religion provide guidance for child support and women’s access to her share of wealth accumulated during the years of marriage if divorce occurs. However, none of these liberating values are recognized, appreciated nor applied and enforced seriously in the Muslim societies around the Horn. The current legal system in the majority of these Muslim societies emphasizes preserving the interests of men and ensuring their domination, further neglecting women and children’s interests and wellbeing. Overall, the politicization of Islamic religion through its historic evolution and its intersection with the already existing patriarchal system has hindered a progressive and enlightened

article 6 on marriage –

The PROTOCOl TO THE aFRICan CHaRTER On HUman anD PEOPlEs’ RIGHTs On THE RIGHTs OF WOmEn In aFRICa States Parties shall ensure that women and men enjoy equal rights and are regarded as equal partners in marriage. They shall enact appropriate national legislative measures to guarantee that: a) No marriage shall take place without the free and full consent of both parties; b) The minimum age of marriage for women shall be 18 years; c) monogamy is encouraged as the preferred form of marriage and that the rights of women in marriage and family, including in polygamous marital relationships are promoted and protected; d) Every marriage shall be recorded in writing and registered in accordance with national laws, in order to be legally recognised; e) The husband and wife shall, by mutual agreement, choose their matrimonial regime and place of residence; f) a married woman shall have the right to retain her maiden name, to use it as she pleases, jointly or separately with her husband’s surname.


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guidance and interpretation of the holy text, particularly on matters of equality between men and women in rights and responsibilities. A documentation undertaken by Sudan Organization for Research and Development (SORD) examined the implication of the current Sudan Family Code on women. The code is based on strongly patriarchal interpretations of the Islamic guidance in family matters. The documentation revealed the condition of thousands of women who are suffering massively as a result of being divorced and having to look after their children. They further face condemnation from the legal system which has no clear stipulation on enforcing maintenance of the children and the women’s access to their share of wealth accumulated during the years of marriage ((nafaga). The misogyny found in the Sudan Family Code goes as far as not even mentioning any stipulation towards addressing the living conditions of women who are living within the institution polygamy – rendering absolute power to the male partner, backed by state ideology. Beyond the economic polarization which is one of the strongest repercussions of polygamy on women and their children, injustice, violence, alienation and disempowerment of women and their children, are all a result of polygamy. The long term impact of polygamy is on the generations of young men and women growing up in a polygamous system. Children fall through the cracks of abandonment and inherit notions of inequality and subordination of women as well as a lack of accountability. Millions of children are left to grow up with no father role models, posing long-term social and developmental crises in many Muslim and non Muslim societies that encourage polygamy. Hala alkaRIb


Polygamy here describes a marital practice in which one man marries more than one woman.


Horn of Africa here refers to Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda


Salafism – a militant group of extremist Sunnis dominant in the Arab Peninsula who believe to be the only correct interpreters of the Qur’an and based on their views seek to revive practices assumed by the Prophet Mohamed.


Soon after independence from France in 1956, Tunisia issued its Personal Status Law, based on unofficial draft codes of Maliki and Hanafi law. In 1957, with Law Nr. 40 polygamy was prohibited. The views of the reformist Muhammad Abdou were adopted and the Qur’anic verses, 4:3 and 4:129 dictated the ideal standard. The debate around polygamy has been reopened in Tunisia following the Arab Spring revolution and the newly elected Islamic government.


Islamic Family Law; http://www.law.emory.edu/ ifl/index2.html


[An-Nisa’ 4:2] To orphans restore their property (when they reach their age), nor substitute (your) worthless things for (their) good ones; and devour not their substance (by mixing it up) with your own. For this is indeed a great sin. [An-Nisa’ 4:3] If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.- Translation: Yusuf Ali


Oh Prophet, when you (and the believers) divorce women, divorce them for their prescribed waiting-periods, and count the waiting-period accurately, and fear Allah, your Lord. And do not turn them out of their houses (during the waiting-period), nor should they themselves leave them, except in case they commit an open indecency. These are the bounds prescribed by Allah and whoever transgresses Allah’s bounds will wrong his own self. You do not know: Allah may after this bring about a situation (of reconciliation). Then when they have reached the end of their (waiting) periods either retain them (in wedlock) in a fair manner or part with them in a fair manner, and call to witness two just men from among yourselves, and (oh witnesses) bear witness equitably for the sake of Allah. [3] With this you are admonished, (and) whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day. Whosoever fears Allah in whatever he does, Allah will open for him a way out of the difficulties and will provide for him from whence he could little imagine. And whoever trusts in Allah, He is enough for him. Allah brings His decrees to fulfillment. Allah has appointed a destiny for everything. And if they are pregnant, spend on them until they deliver their burden. Then if they suckle (the child) for you, give them their wages, and settle the question of wages) fairly by mutual consultation. But if you created difficulties for each other (concerning the question of wages) then another woman would suckle the child. Let the rich man spend according to his means and let the one whose means are restricted, spend out of what Allah has given him. Allah does not burden anyone with more than what He has given him. It may well be that Allah brings about ease after hardship. Surah At-Talag


Criminalizing Sexuality Zina laws as violence against women in Muslim contexts Ziba Mir Hosseini traces the genealogy of codified zina

in religious categories of thought and religious based arguments and find it futile and counter-productive to work sexuality, laying open how the criminalization of sexual within a religious framework. activity today is not to the purpose of Islam. She argues In fact, approaches from Islamic studfor a clear distinction between sharia, as the divine path ies, feminism and human rights perof the Qur’an and Sunnah, and fiqh, the human act of spectives can be mutually reinforcing, extracting legal rulings from these sacred texts. particularly in mounting an effective campaign against the revived zina laws. Islamic legal tradition treats any sexual contact outside a le- To explore the intersections between religion, culture and law gal marriage as a crime. The main category of such crimes is that legitimate violence in the regulation of sexuality, contribzina, defined as any act of illicit sexual intercourse between utes to the development of a contextual and integrated apa man and woman1. The punishment for zina is the same proach to the abolition of zina laws. I examine zina laws in the for men and women: one hundred lashes for the unmarried context of classical Islamic legal tradition and show how zina and death by stoning for the married – though instances of laws and punishments can be challenged on legal and religious grounds and also how essential elements of Islamic legal tradithese punishments are rarely documented in history. In the early twentieth century, with the emergence of mod- tion are in harmony with human rights law. ern legal systems in the Muslim world, the provisions of classical Islamic law were increasingly confined to personal status Sharia versus fiqh issues2. Zina penal laws, which were rarely applied in practice, had also become legally obsolete in almost all Muslim countries It is important to recall that what we call Islamic law or Sharia and communities. In the late twentieth century the resurgence Law in pre-modern times was what legal scholars today call “juof Islam as a political and spiritual force reversed the process and rists’ law”, a matter of differing opinions and rulings (ahkam), once obsolete penal laws were selectively revived, codified and developed independently of the state by particular jurists workgrafted onto the criminal justice system, and, in varying forms ing within certain schools.3 These “laws” were applied by judges and degrees, applied through the machinery of a modern state. who, though they were appointed by the state, were accountable to the community and its mores, and were responsive to Most controversial are the revival of zina laws and the current social practices. Hence I prefer to talk of “Islamic legal creation of new offences that criminalize consensual sexual tradition” rather than “Islamic law”. I approach this tradition activity and authorize violence against women. Activists from a critical feminist perspective and from within the tradihave campaigned against these new laws on human rights tion, by invoking one of its main distinctions: the distinction grounds. At this end it is important to know, that zina laws between sharia and fiqh. This distinction underlies the emerand the criminalization of consensual sexual activity can be gence of the various schools in the tradition, and the multiplicchallenged from within Islamic legal tradition. ity of positions and opinions within them. Sharia in Arabic literally means “the path or the road Blind spots leading to the water”, but in Muslim belief it is God’s will as revealed to the Prophet Mohamed. As Fazlur Rahman We need to address two blind spots when approaching the notes, “in its religious usage, from the earliest period, it has issue. First, scholars who work within an Islamic framework meant “the highway of good life”, i.e. religious values, exare often gender blind and largely unaware of the impor- pressed functionally and in concrete terms, to direct man’s tance of gender as a category of thought and analysis. They life” (Rahman, 1982, pg.100).4 Fiqh, jurisprudence, literoften oppose both feminism, which they understand as ar- ally means “understanding”, and denotes the process of huguing for women’s dominance of men, and human rights, man endeavour to discern and extract legal rulings from which they see as alien to Islamic tradition. Secondly, many the sacred texts of Islam: the Qur’an and the Sunna – the women’s rights activists and campaigners are not well-versed Prophet’s practice, as related in the hadith, or traditions.› laws that classical Muslim jurists developed to regulate

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› Some specialists and politicians today – often with ideological intent – mistakenly equate sharia with fiqh, and present fiqh rulings as “Sharia law”, hence as divine and not open to challenge. Too often we hear statements beginning with “Islam says...” or “According to Sharia Law...” too rarely do those who speak in the name of Islam admit that theirs is no more than one opinion or interpretation among many. A distinction between sharia and fiqh is crucial. It enables us to separate the legal from the sacred, and to reclaim the diversity and pluralism that was part of Islamic legal tradition. Zina laws in the context of the Islamic legal tradition Classical fiqh divides crimes into three categories according to punishment: hudud, qisas, ta‘zir.5 Hudud (singular hadd: limit, restriction, prohibition) are crimes with mandatory and fixed punishZIBA MIR HOSSEINI, ments derived from textual sources, the is an Iranian Legal Anthropologist specialized in Islamic law, gender Qur’an or Sunna. Hudud crimes comprise and development and an activist, five offences. Two are offences against who lives in London. She works as sexual morality: illicit sex (zina) and una freelance academic and consultant founded allegation of zina (qadhf). The on gender and development issues others are offences against private propand is Professorial Research Associate at the Centre for Middle erty and public order: theft (sariqa), highEastern and Islamic Law, University way robbery (qat’ al-tariq hiraba), and of London. drinking wine (shurb al-khamr); some schools also include rebellion (baghi), and Dr Hosseini has held numerous some include apostasy (ridda). research fellowships and visiting The jurists defined these offences as professorships. She published many books and has advised TV violations of God’s limits (hudud aldocumentaries and films. Her Allah), i.e. violation of public interest. extensive fieldwork and research Hudud assume the central place in the of thirty years in Iran, Morocco call for “return to sharia” by Islamists, and the Teheran family courts who consider them crimes against refollow developments in family law ligion, though not every such crime or and gender issues. Her central aim is to bring Islamic and human punishment has a textual basis. They are rights frameworks together for an the main focus of international criticism, egalitarian Muslim family law. since they entail forms of punishment, such as lashing and cutting off limbs, which were common in the past but have been abandoned by modern justice systems that consider them cruel and inhumane – and are defined in international human rights law as torture. Schools and jurists differ as to the definition, elements, evidentiary requirements, legal defences, exonerating conditions and penalties applicable to each of these three categories of crime, and to each crime within each category. The boundaries between the sacred and the legal are particularly hazy with respect to hudud crimes, which are considered to have a religious dimension because of their textual basis. This is certainly the case with zina, which is treated at times as a sin to be punished in the hereafter, rather than as a crime. There is room for repen-


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tance and God’s forgiveness. The objective is not punishment but rather self-reformation and the shunning of evil ways.6 Yet there is a certain consensus in fiqh on the definition of zina, and the rulings are clear. Zina is defined as sexual intercourse between a man and women outside a valid marriage (nikah), the semblance (shubha) of marriage, or lawful ownership of a slave woman (milk yamin). Zina can be established by confession or by the testimony of four eyewitnesses, who must have witnessed the actual act of penetration, and must concur in their accounts. The punishment is the same for men and women, but offenders are divided into two classes: muhsin, defined as free men and women, of full age and understanding, who have been in a position to enjoy lawful wedlock; and non-muhsin, who do not fulfil these conditions. The penalty for the first class is death by stoning, and for the second, one hundred lashes. But only the lashes have a Qur’anic basis, the punishment of stoning is based only on the Sunna.7 No juristic consensus The juristic consensus ends here. Concerning the conditions required for a valid confession and for testimonial evidence, there are significant differences among schools and among jurists within each school. These differences, based on arguments supported by reference to textual sources, have important practical and legal consequences. For instance, while Hanafi, Hanbali and Shi’a jurists require the confession to be uttered four separate times, Maliki and Shafi‘i jurists consider one confession as sufficient to establish the offence. Only the Maliki fiqh allows an unmarried woman’s pregnancy to be used as evidence for zina, unless there is evidence of rape or compulsion; in other schools, pregnancy does not automatically constitute proof and zina must be established by confession or the testimony of eye-witnesses. Yet again, in Maliki fiqh, the majority opinion, the duration of pregnancy can be as long as seven years, which clearly suggests the humanitarian concern of Maliki jurists to protect women against the charge of zina, and children against the stigma of illegitimacy. These jurists, like their counterparts in other schools, did their best to make conviction for zina impossible.8 A closer examination of classical jurists’ rulings on zina confirms that they did their utmost to prevent conviction, and provided women with protection against accusations by their husbands and the community. In this, they relied on Qur’anic verses and the Prophet’s example in condemning the violation of privacy and honour of individuals, in particular those of women, and leaving the door open for repentance. These verses define requirements for valid evidence of zina in such a stringent way that in practice establishment and conviction of an offence are almost impossible. An uncorroborated accusation (qadhf) is itself defined as a hadd crime, punishable by 80 lashes (Qur’an, Surah an-Nur 24: 23). If the wife is pregnant and her husband suspects her of zina, but has no proof, all he can do, in order to avoid the hadd offence of qadhf, is

to deny paternity and divorce her by the procedure of li‘an, mutual cursing by swearing oaths; if the wife swears an oath of denial, she is exonerated from the charge of zina (Surah an-Nur 24: 6-7). Further, a confession of zina can be retracted at any time; and the doctrine of shubha (doubt, ambiguity)9 prevents conviction for zina in cases where one party presumes the sexual intercourse to be licit, for example when a man sleeps with a woman he believes to be his wife or a slave, or when a woman has sex with a man she presumes to be her husband. Scholars suggest that the Qur’anic penalty – one hundred lashes for men and women – was intended to reinforce a single form of marriage and to forbid other forms of union and promiscuity. This is evident in the verse that follows: “Let no man guilty of adultery or fornication marriage any but a woman similarly guilty, or an Unbeliever: Nor let any but such a woman or an unbeliever marry such a man. To the Believers such a thing is forbidden” (Surah an-Nur 24: 3). Likewise, the penalty for male and female slaves is half of that of a free person, which means that in no way did the Qur’an envisage death as a penalty for zina. When referring to the Qur’an The Qur’an clearly disapproves of the prevalent sexual and moral codes among the Arabs, and introduces measures to reform them; it forbids the prostitution of female slaves (Surah an-Nur 24: 33); speaks of sex outside marriage as a sin to be punished in the Hereafter (Surah al-Isra’ 17: 32; Surah al-Furqan 25: 6871); and modifies existing practices to promote chastity and a standardized form of marriage. Eight verses (Surah an-Nur 24: 2-9) deal with the law-like issue of illicit sexual relations and form the basis of fiqh rulings on zina. These verses introduce new sanctions to safeguard marriage, subject men and women to the same punishment for extra-marital relations, and protect women in the face of accusations against their chastity. Two verses prescribe punishment for illicit sexual relations. The first reads as follows: “If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, take the evidence of four (reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them; and if they testify, confine them to houses until death do claim them, or Allah ordain for them some (other) way” (Surah an-Nisa 4: 15). The verse does not use the term zina but fahisha (lewdness), which most commentators understood as implying adultery and fornication. However, Yusuf Ali, one of the notable translators of the Qur’an, in a note states that fahisha “refers to unnatural crime between women, analogous to unnatural crime between men” (Yusuf Ali, 1999, pg.189),10 the subject of the next verse (Suran an-Nisa 4: 16), which states: “no punishment is specified for the man, as would be the case when a man was involved in the crime.” It has also been argued that fahisha in Suran an-Nur 4: 15 denotes a sexual act in public and prostitution, not private consensual sex, whether it is heterosexual or not. The verse endorses the existing punishment for fahisha – of which only women, it appears, could be accused. They should be confined

to the home for the rest of their lives, or humiliated by having to appear in public covered in animal dung, But the verse, while not abolishing this penalty, requires the evidence of four witnesses, and perhaps more importantly, promises women a way out. In any case, jurists agree that the punishment was superseded by Surah an-Nur 24: 2, which reads: “The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication (al-zaniah wa al-zani) – flog each of them with a hundred stripes.” It seems clear that not only the Qur’anic verses but also the jurists, with their intricate rules for proof of zina, aimed to reform existing practices in the direction of justice, as understood at the time. But both the spirit of the verses and the rules of the jurists lose their force for justice when classical fiqh rulings are codified and grafted onto a unified legal system, and implemented by the coercive machinery of a modern nation state.11 Hence it is not enough to take the classical zina rulings at face value, as some do. Defenders of current zina laws often hide behind the reassurance that they are impossible to enforce in practice; they ignore how they are actually used, and that it is women and the poor who are most often the victims. A critique from within Islamists and traditional Muslim scholars claim that the classical fiqh rulings are immutable and divinely ordained. It is not my intention here to enter a discussion on the theological validity of such a claim, or whether such a patriarchal reading of the Qur’an is justified. The legal logic of classical fiqh rulings must, of course, be understood in their own context. We must not approach them anachronistically. We should suspend judgment when dealing with past tradition. But this does not mean that we have to accept this tradition blindly or that we cannot deal with it critically. In our time and in our context we also need to ask: How far does such a conception of sexuality and gender rights reflect the principle of justice that is inherent in the very notion of sharia as a path to follow? Why and how did classical jurists define these rulings so that women are under men’s authority, and women’s sexuality is men’s property? What are the ethical and rational foundations for such notions of gender rights and sexuality? These questions become even more crucial if we accept – as I do – that the classical jurists sincerely believed both that their findings were derived from the sacred sources of Islam and that they reflected the justice that is an indisputable part of the sharia, as they understood it. There are two sets of related answers. The first set is ideological and political, and has to do with the strong patriarchal ethos that informed the classical jurists’ readings of the sacred texts and their exclusion of women from production of religious knowledge. The further we move from the era of the Prophet, the more we find that women are ›

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› marginalized and lose their political clout: their voice in the production of religious knowledge is silenced; their presence in public space is curtailed; their critical faculties are so far denigrated as to make their concerns irrelevant to law-making processes.12 Women had been among the main transmitters of the hadith traditions, but by the time the fiqh schools were consolidated, over a century after the Prophet’s death, they had reduced women to sexual beings and placed them under men’s authority.13 This was justified by a certain reading of Islam’s sacred texts, and achieved through a set of legal constructs: zina as a hadd crime, with mandatory and fixed punishments; marriage as a contract by which a man acquires control over a woman’s sexuality; and women’s bodies as ‘awra, shameful. The second set of answers is more theoretical, and concerns the ways in which patriarchal social norms, existing marriage practices and gender ideologies were sanctified, and then turned into fixed entities in fiqh. In brief, the genesis of gender inequality in Islamic legal tradition lies in an inner contradiction between the ideals of the sharia and the patriarchal structures in which these ideals unfolded and were translated into legal norms. Islam’s call for freedom, justice and equality was submerged in the patriarchal norms and practices of seventh century Arab society and culture and the formative years of Islamic law14.

This paper, first published in 2010, is part of a crosscountry study of adultery laws commissioned by Women Living under Muslim Laws (WLUML) in connection with the Women’s Reclaiming and Redefining Cultures Programme (WRRC) Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women (SKSW). The campaign is a response to ‘women’s experiences of the injustice and violence brought by the ‘Islamization’ of criminal justice in some countries.


Death by stoning (rajm) takes its textual justification not from the Qur’an but from the Sunna. Jurists of all schools rely on three hadith to build their legal arguments for stoning. This has been contested both by invoking arguments from classical fiqh theory, such as the textual primacy of Qur’an over hadith, and the fact that the authenticity of these hadith has been questioned,15 as well as on human rights grounds. For example, some have argued that stoning was a common form of execution at the time of the Prophet, and that it came into Islamic legal tradition as punishment for zina from Jewish tradition. Moreover, the Qur’an neither mandates stoning as punishment for adultery, nor speaks of any punishment for consensual sexual relations in private. As Asifa Quraishi rightly argues, zina as defined by classical jurists must be seen as a crime of public indecency rather than private sexual conduct. In her words, “While the Qur’an condemns extramarital sex as evil, it authorizes the Muslim legal system to prosecute someone for committing this crime only when the act is performed so openly that four people see them without invading their privacy”.16 Defining crimes according to punishment is itself a juristic development. The expression hudud Allah, limits prescribed by God, appears 14 times in the Qur’an. Nowhere is it used in the sense of punishment, fixed or otherwise, nor it is stated specifically what these limits are.17 As Fazlur Rahman notes, in two verses (Surah al-Baqarah 2: 229-30) the term appears six times in relation to divorce, demanding that men either retain or release their wives bil-ma‘ruf, i.e in accordance with “good custom”; each time, the term carries a slightly different meaning, but neither here nor elsewhere is it used in the sense of punishment.

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In his words: “These facts should compel us to pause and think how little concerned the Qur’an is about the purely legal side and how much more and primarily with setting the moral tone of the Community. The legal side has undoubtedly to be done justice to and an adequate law has to be developed. But it is left to the Community to formulate this law in the light and moral spirit of the Qur’an which itself shows little tendency to lay down hard and fast laws. And doubly mistaken are those who claim to take the law of God into their own hands and seek to implement it literally”18. ZIBA MIR HOSSEINI


part from zina, other categories of sexual relations criminalized in A classical legal tradition are liwat, homosexual relations between men, and musahaqa, homosexual relations between women, neither of which are a major focus of this paper.


I ran and many Arab states adopted the penalty for adultery and socalled crimes of passion from European penal codes (Abu-Odeh, 1996; Welchman and Hossain, 2005).

For a general introduction to Islamic legal theory, see Hallaq (1997); Kamali (2006); Weiss (2003).


In Kamali’s words, “Sharia demarcates the path which the believer has to tread in order to obtain guidance” (Kamali, 2006, pg.37).



F or fiqh-based view, see Safwat (1982); Bassiouni (1997); for an analytical view, see Peters (2005); for reformist and critical views, see El-Awa (1993); Kamali (1998, 2000, 2006)


(Kamali, 1998, 2000; Rahman, 1965)

For an outline of zina rulings in Sunni schools and differences of opinion among the jurists, see (Ibn Rushd, 1996, pg.521-30).



he belief in the “sleeping foetus” (raqqad) is widespread in North and T West Africa. According to it, the embryo for some unknown reason goes to sleep in the mother’s womb, and remains there dormant until it is awakened, e.g. by a magical potion or intervention by a saint. Malik ibn Anas, founder of the Maliki school of jurists, was reputed to have been a sleeping foetus. See Jansen (2000) and (Mir-Hosseini, 1993, pg.143-146).


he doctrine of shubha is based on a saying of the Prophet: “God’s T sanction will not be applied in cases where there is room for doubt.” Hadd is suspended in cases where there is any ambiguity as to facts and proofs; for discussion, see Fierro (2007).


For a groundbreaking study, see Kugle (2003, 2010).


F or instance, the Islamic Republic of Iran uses the notion of elm-e qazi (‘judge’s intuition’), which refers to personal information that is not presented or examined by the court. In practice, this allows the judge to decide if an offence has been committed; often women are tricked into confession. See Terman (2007).


S ome argue that the advent of Islam weakened the patriarchal structures of Arabian society, others that it reinforced them. The latter also maintain that, before the advent of Islam, society was undergoing a transition from matrilineal to patrilineal descent, that Islam facilitated this by giving patriarchy the seal of approval, and that the Qur’anic injunctions on marriage, divorce, inheritance, and whatever relates to women both reflect and affirm such a transition. For concise accounts of the debate, see Smith (1985); Spellber (1991).


s Abou-Bakr shows, women remained active in transmitting religious A knowledge, but their activities were limited to the informal arena of homes and mosques and their status as jurists was not officially recognised (Abou-Bakr, 2003).


Mir-Hosseini, 2003, 2011


For examples, see Burton (1978, 1993); Engineer (2007); Kamali (2000).

Quraishi, 2008, pg.296; Also see Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. 16


See (Kamali, 1998, pg.219) and (Kamali, 2000, pg.45-65)


Rahman, 1965, pg.240


Defending My Wife The other story of sexual violence in Somalia Sven Torfinn for The New York Times

Muhildeen Sheikh Mohamed is one of the few Somali men who stood up to defend their wife, as she was raped by government security men. His story raised by Hala Alkarib is among the hidden aspects of sexual violence in Somalia – more men need to follow this man’s lead.

After more than ten years of working in the Horn of Africa region with women, from Darfur in Sudan to the coast of Somalia, the braveness of the Somali man Muhildeen Sheikh Mohamed, an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) living in Mogadishu, took me by surprise. At the beginning of January 2013, his wife, the 27 year old IDP woman Lul Ali Isman was gang-raped by government security forces and she was brave enough to come out and share her story publically with the journalist Abdiaziz Ibrahim, who conducted an interview with her. Yet before publishing the interview, both Lul and Abdiaziz were convicted by a Somali court and sentenced to a year in jail. Mrs Isman was accused of defaming a government body by making false claims while the journalist was similarly charged with insulting a government body. The two were arrested in mid January 2013. The rape survivor was subjected to two days of interrogation without a lawyer present. Following an international outcry, the charges against her were dropped on 3 March 2013, and the sentence against the journalist was first reduced to six months and two weeks later fully dropped – he was released. A note of respect Despite all the international coverage the case received, there was little mention of Muhildeen Sheikh Mohamed, Lul’s husband. After doggedly maintaining that his wife had been raped he too was arrested and intimidated during the 26 days he was held. In his own account, Muhildeen

would do the same again. For me, as an activist seeking social change for years, the stand of Muhildeen cannot go unnoticed. When I sat to talk to him in Mogadishu last March, I felt nothing but great appreciation for the man whose life was never easy, yet he did not lose his sense of justice despite the power of misogyny in Somalia. Muhildeen by all means was not confused about his wife’s situation but was fully aware of what she suffers. “Just defending my wife” is what he kept saying. He said that during his detention he was humiliated for reporting his wife’s rape. He was also reminded that his wife was from a lower clan and not worth for him to defend. Reaching out to other men to stand against sexual violence Muhildeen is one of those men who choose to stand by their wives, daughters, mothers or sisters in Somalia. In another instance, a man refused to receive money and insisted on filing a case against the perpetrator who had raped his 13 years old daughter despite all the threats he was receiving. Another man was detained for a week for reporting the rape of his 6 years old daughter and refusing to drop the charges1. The issue of sexual violence is a shared burden between men and women. The systematic rape of women and girls faced with undermining trends and impunity has great societal repercussions. It distresses communities and takes away society’s capacity to exist peacefully. For the past 20 years, Somalis have suffered the impact of protracted armed conflict with the spreading of militant political Islamist militia presenting itself as an

identity and the saviour of the Somali people. The dehumanization of women combined with the polarization war creates resulted in establishing patterns of systematic gang rape against women and young girls particularly inside IDP camps where women and families are exposed. Just within the span of three days from 16-18 March 2013, 22 rape cases were reported from one camp in just one of the districts in Mogadishu2. Justice has one face Sexual violence in the Horn of Africa region is shaded with misconceptions and is being confused with culture, traditions and religion. It is perceived to imply that people of the Horn are born into adopting violence against women as their heritage. Culture, clan and religion are part of the Somali people’s identity but these should not be the only lenses to view them with. The prolonged conflict in Somalia and the spreading of gang-rape is largely due to the absence of rule of law, and the collapse of both the state and the Somali traditional system, Somalia needs a leading vision to overcome the current complex crisis. The paradox however is that, the only operating ideology that presents itself is militant political Islam. Yet what should be noted is that justice, peace and human rights as perceived internationally are a great desire for large segments of Somali men and women living inside the country. Hala Alkarib

Many women don’t report rape for fear of repression and shame


Report from a women organisation working in Somalia


I nterview with a local women’s organisation in Somalia

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Soraya M.,

Stoned to Death for Being an „Inconvenient Wife‘‘ In the mid-1980s, an Iranianborn, France-based journalist named Freidoune sahebjam was traveling in his native land, assessing the impact of the Iranian Revolution, when he came upon a rural mountain village and learned of a ghastly crime. It had been committed by an entire community against a local woman. It was a crime that indicted a nation, a movement, and a religiously inspired ideology. The story The victim was Soraya Manutchehri, a 35-year-old mother of seven who, in her own prophetic words, had become “an inconvenient wife.” Bartered away in an arranged marriage at 13 to a petty criminal named Ghorban-Ali, who was 20 years old at the time, Soraya bore nine children over the next two decades, enduring two stillborn births and regular beatings from her husband, along with his insults, his consorting with prostitutes, and his campaign to turn her two oldest sons against her. On August 15, 1986, with the complicity of a local mullah who had been imprisoned for child molesting under the Shah, Ghorban-Ali showed himself to be more than a garden variety sociopath and town bully; he was a sadistic monster, and Islamic fundamentalism was his enabler, his aider, his abettor. In the anarchic days of the Iranian Revolution, Ghorban-Ali had found work as a prison guard in a neighboring town. There, he met a 14-year-old girl whom he wanted to marry. Polygamy


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was encouraged in Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, but GhorbanAli didn’t want to support two families, and did not desire to return his wife’s dowry. How to rid himself of his “old” wife? That was the easy part. Accuse her of infidelity. No matter that her husband had not actually seen anything untoward, or that Soraya was completely innocent, or that her husband’s cynical accusations were only backed up by his cousin, who as it turned out had been coerced into concurring with the vaguest of accusations: a smile here, a brushed hand there. What court of law would find someone guilty on such flimsy evidence? A sharia court is the answer. And so Soraya was convicted. The sentence was death – death by stoning. It absolutely had to be told That was the story relayed to Freidoune Sahebjam by Soraya’s brave aunt, Zahra Khanum. His riveting and spare account became an international best-seller. Critics compared The Stoning

THE PUBLIC AND THE PRIVATE of Soraya M. to Kafka, but actually nothing in the western canon of literature is comparable to the inadvertent self-parody – the simple lunacy – of a system of law that maintains that if a man is accused of infidelity by his wife, she must prove his guilt, but if a woman is accused, she must prove her innocence. Thus, in a single sentence, is a belief system codified. It is a system that rejects modernity, justice, equality and rationality – and treats female sexuality as a vice. Apparently, you can get away with this kind of madness in much of the world by simply inciting crowds to chant, “God is Great,” while you throw the stones. It’s a fitting image, rock-throwing – fitting for the Stone Age, that is. Such show trials pay no heed to the natural rights we presume to be universal in a 21st century society: The right to be present at your own trial, to testify in your own defense, to crossexamine the witnesses against you, to be represented by counsel, to have an impartial arbiter of fact, to appeal the judgment to higher courts. None of these were present in rural Iran in the drunken days of the “Islamic Revolution.“ For women and girls in Iran and in many other parts of the globe, they are still not present today. The verdict against Soraya M., was carried out in a village called Kupayeh, but it could have been almost anywhere in rural Iran. It could happen, and does still, in Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, or anyplace where sharia is the law of the land. More common, by far, in the Muslim world is the perverse practice of “honour killings” – the slaying of a woman or girl by male members of her own family on the basis of some presumed sexual indiscretion. The barbarity of this practice is mirrored by its Orwellian description1, for it is one of the most dishonorable practices in the world. Soraya M’s brutal execution occurred more than two decades ago, but it was only in October 2008 that a girl barely into her teens was stoned to death in a stadium in the Somalian port city of Kismayo. Initially, her “crime” was said to be adultery, and her age given as 23. Actually, according to Amnesty International, she was 13 years old, and she came into the custody of an Islamic militia when she had the temerity to report to authorities that she had been gang-raped. Her three attackers were not charged. The girl was publicly murdered before 1,000 cheering spectators. Her name was Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow. In the religious traditions of the West, free will is offered as an explanation for such depredations, but that rationale seems grossly insufficient. When packs of armed men shout “God is Great” while disfiguring, abasing, or killing women, surely God is weeping. Cyrus Nowrasteh, a Colorado-born film director of Persian descent, said, “When I read the book, I thought, if this is really happening all over the world, someone needs to shine a light on it. The world has to become more aware of it.” Now he has done that. I watched the movie and have been unable to concentrate on much else since. I feel compelled to write about it now. The film The Stoning of Soraya M. opens with a dilapidated car breaking down on mountainous road, as the radio announcer intones that everything is so much better in the new Islamic Republic. Meanwhile, an old woman chases away a dog that is picking at bones beside a stream. The old woman carefully, lovingly, washes the bones. We, the viewers, wonder in horror: Can those

Movie poster and scene of the award winning Iranian drama film staring Mozhan Marnò as Soraya Manutchehri, the title character.

bones be... human? Who would discard a body for wild dogs? The sense of menace begins immediately, when our stranded motorist – Freidoune Sahebjam himself, played by James Caviezel – bumps into Kupayeh’s mayor and mullah. Sahebjam, who died five years ago at the age of 75, didn’t live to see the film, but I imagine would have been honored by the subtle way he is portrayed by Caviezel. I do agree with McEveety, one of the film’s producers, whose reaction upon seeing the Nowrastehs script was that this story “absolutely had to be told.” Sahebjam’s book was banned in Iran, and of course, the movie as well. Will it be vilified by various radical mullahs around the world, or will it be ignored? Mozhan Marno, the Iranian-American actress who plays Soraya, said the subject matter became so real to her that she had nightmares during the filming of the graphic final scenes; in her dreams, crowds of angry people were surrounding her menacingly until she could no longer breathe. The dialogue in the movie is faithful to that in the book, although those who have read The Stoning of Soraya M., will notice that Soraya has four children in the film, instead of seven, for example. In real life, her sullen oldest sons were 18 and 16, and well on their way to repeating their father’s thuggish ways. On film, they are considerably younger –and the younger of the two is deeply troubled by what is happening, even as he follows his father’s lead. The expressions of hatred on the older son’s face are deeply disturbing; it’s alien, this virulent brand of sexism, this genuine loathing of women. I understand that it is fueled by religion and by misplaced national pride and by feelings of impotence in a rapidly changing world. But the sheer unnaturalness of it left me unsettled – and the men who are confident that one day all the world will be governed by this kind of law. It would not be a world worth inhabiting. I am haunted by Soraya and her sisters. CARL M. CANNON 1

n adjective describing a situation, idea, or societal condition identified A as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society. It connotes an attitude and a policy of control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past, including the "unperson", whose past existence is expunged from the public record and memory. (wikipedia)

Carl M. Cannon, a published author, is the Executive Editor of PoliticsDaily. com. Previously, Carl was the DC bureau chief for Reader’s Digest and worked for the National Journal as well as for six newspapers over a 20-year span, covering police, courts, politics, education, and race relations at newspapers in Virginia, Georgia, and his home state of California.

Published by: HUFFPOST Politics Daily, in 2010 http://www. politicsdaily. com/2009/05/13/hewho-casts-the-firststone/

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No more cracking of the whip Calling for an end to corporal punishment in Sudan Building on a series of interviews with victims,

Hardly a day passes by without women and men report illustrates judicial practice and the being whipped administration of flogging as punishment in Sudan. The in sudan. Examining statutory law on punishment is and the practice of lashing, REDREss and applied in an almost casual fashthe sudanese Human Rights monitor put ion, and those forward the case for the abolition of corporal subjected to it punishment in sudan – and worldwide. are normally left to suffer the pain and humiliation that comes with it in silence. In December 2010, a video clip published online showed two policemen whipping a young woman in full view of dozens of bystanders.1 She is seen pleading but the policemen scorn her and carry on regardless. The whipping drew public protests by women’s rights groups in Sudan and international condemnation as it cast the spotlight on the arbitrary and humiliating nature of the punishment.2 It also highlighted the gender dimension of this practice – it is often women who suffer for so-called public order offences, such as wearing “indecent dress”. lawyers, judges and officials, the following

The Government of Sudan responded by condemning the leak and publication of the video, claiming that the incident was exceptional.3 Indeed, the Government of Sudan has repeatedly defended whipping, claiming that it is effective in deterring crime and preferable to imprisonment4 and refers to sharia (Islamic law) to justify corporal punishment.

The Criminal Law Reform Project is a joint initiative by REDRESS and the Sudanese Human Rights Monitor aimed at advancing the recognition of rights for all people in Sudan and the process of bringing Sudanese law in conformity with the Interim National Constitution and international standards binding on Sudan and forming an integral par t of Sudan’s Bill of Rights. For fur ther information, please visit www.pclrs.org This is an extract of their comprehensive repor t in March 2012.


Sudan is at a crossroads. There are outstanding demands for a fundamental reform of Sudan’s criminal laws and public order laws.5 The choice is between maintaining a system of punishments associated with the repressive and arbitrary use of state power on the one hand, and laws that respect human rights and do not discriminate, unduly harm, or humiliate those that are found to have committed an offence, on the other. a historic legacy with distorted concepts The application of corporal punishment throughout Sudan’s history shows that it initially served a symbolic purpose of deterring would-be offenders and opponents in what essentially were autocratic systems with a weak law enforcement apparatus. The Mahdi (1885-1898) regime imposed an idiosyncratic rule of sharia that relied heavily on corporal punishments to enforce the moral order envisaged. Harsh and arbitrary punishments often targeted women for transgressing the moral standards enforced by the regime.

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During the Whipping is provided for as hudud subsequent Anpunishment for adultery, wrongful glo-Egyptian accusation of adultery, drinking of condominium alcohol, and for 18 other offences (1898-1956), the in the 1991 Criminal act: rioting, British, who were breach of public peace, intoxication, gambling, habitual dealing in alcohol, effectively in coninsulting religious beliefs, sodomy, trol, transplanted rape, gross indecency, indecent and the Indian penal immoral acts, materials and displays code. Corpocontrary to public morality, practiral punishment cing prostitution, running places of served as a useprostitution, seduction, false accuful instrument of sations of unchastity, insult and abcolonial control, use, capital theft and theft). and the native For example, the khartoum Public administrative Order law allows for whipping in tribunals also aprespect of 17 prohibitions set out in plied whipping.6 the law, including for a failure of men The Criminal and women to queue separately. Act during the Nimeiri regime (1969-1985), similarly retained whipping as a means of punishment. In 1983, as part of a move to regain political control, Nimeiri adopted the so-called September laws, a hastily drafted version of sharia. The laws resulted in a wave of excessive and arbitrary punishments, including a case where a bookkeeper accused of embezzlement had his hand amputated before his initial conviction was overturned on appeal. This period culminated in the execution of Mohamed Taha for the crime of apostasy, which was not even on the statute books at the time, and ended with the fall of Nimeiri in 1985. After a brief democratic interlude, the current regime staged a coup and took power in 1989. Since the Criminal Act of 1991, the number of offences to which whipping and other corporal punishments are attached greatly expanded. In practice, whipping has not simply been one type of punishment for unlawful conduct. Instead, it is used primarily against those who do not conform to the public moral order imposed following the 1989 coup and often belong to marginalised communities. Corporal punishment serves as a visible expression of state superiority and an instrument of repression. Opponents to the application of sharia, including those from a religious background, point to its repressive and arbitrary use both historically and at present. These legal and policy considerations apply in equal, if not stronger measure, to all other forms of corporal punishment – including

In practice, a punishment forming par t of broad notions of state imposed morality becomes a licence to lash out and insult marginalised members of society, thereby reinforcing hierarchies of power, ethnicity and gender.

Painting by kHalID HamID, Sudan

the highly problematic law on, and use of the death penalty in Sudan.7 The inadequate legal framework of whipping The legal framework governing offences subject to whipping raises a series of concerns. Most strikingly, what should be exceptional, even under sharia, in reality appears to have become the rule. The reference to sharia often made in this context rather serves as a justification for its use, shifting the focus from the nature and impact of punishments to their source of justification. Moreover, the seriousness of whipping has not been matched by adequate procedural safeguards. It is clear that the “summary trials” applied do not afford adequate rights of defence.8 In a system where the availability of legal aid is extremely limited, this setting enhances the likelihood of “summary justice”, in which whipping becomes a routine punishment. The law governing the application of whipping, by stipulating that it shall be carried out in public, adds a further element of humiliation in addition to that already inherent in the nature of the punishment. arbitrary practice Recent practice indicates that there is a de-facto moratorium on amputations and stoning, although isolated judg-

ments imposing the punishment of amputation have been reported. Many of those subjected to whipping appear to belong to marginalised groups, such as impoverished women, tea-sellers 9, and those from certain backgrounds – including Southern Sudanese and Darfurians, particularly for alcohol related offences 10 or for alleged adultery 11. However, the sentencing of a well-known football player to 40 lashes for drinking alcohol, the whipping of students and the targeting of a journalist and those in her company for wearing “indecent dress” shows that societal status is not the only factor. Gender and certain types of conduct, often in combination, appear crucial factors.

The practice of lashing makes the stance taken by the journalist lubna Hussein so exceptional. arrested in July 2009 for “wearing an indecent dress” (trousers), she, unlike her friends, refused to stand trial and publicly protested against her treatment. Her case generated publicity around the world, casting the spotlight on arbitrary law enforcement and administration of justice in the context of Sudanese public order laws. This may have been crucial in influencing the court’s determination of punishment, namely convicting her to payment of a fine instead of the customary whipping - ten of the women arrested together with lubna Hussein were given ten lashes each.

In other words, anyone who does not behave according to the prevailing moral norms, as interpreted by individual police officers, is at risk of being arrested and charged with offences punishable by whipping. The arrest itself is frequently carried out by the public order police who come to know ›

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(OMCT-World Organisation Against Torture, May 2000)

› about what they consider “morally deviant” behaviour. The large number of vaguely worded offences gives police officers considerable leeway and power in determining whether anyone is suspected of having breached the law. Upon arrest, which is often carried out in the form of collective raids known as khasa, the suspects are frequently detained overnight and brought before the judge for a summary trial the next day. The proceedings tend to be short, commonly not more than half an hour. Defendants frequently have limited awareness of the law and no legal assistance, and may also be anxious to minimise the societal fallout of drawn-out legal proceedings over charges of “indecent” behaviour. As a result, many defendants, following conviction, waive their article 7 of the ICCPRright to appeal to put the experience International Covenant on Civil behind them as quickly as possible. The and Political Rights provides that: punishment of whipping is then carried “No one shall be subjected to out on the spot. torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or Interviews conducted with officials, punishment.” lawyers and those subjected to corpoThe Human Rights Committee, ral punishment indicate that officials is responsible for monitoring carrying out the whipping regularly the compliance of states parties, do not adhere to the rules. The numsuch as Sudan, with their treaty ber of lashes is exceeded, parts of the obligations. body are hit that should be exempt, and The purpose of article 7 is to those lashed are sworn at. The whipping “protect the dignity and both the video that surfaced in December 2010 physical and mental integrity of therefore appears to reflect reality rather the individual”. than constitute an aberration. In practice, a punishment forming part of broad notions of state imposed morality becomes a licence to lash out and insult marginalised members of society, thereby reinforcing hierarchies of power, ethnicity and gender. There is no way but to abolish corporal punishment It is clear that Islamic injunctions underpin the belief in the necessity and justice of corporal punishments. This religiously informed acceptance appears to have been fused with an instrumental approach that transforms the narrow and exceptional scope of application in sharia into a paradigmatic and routine punishment for a range of transgressions that run counter to the interest of the dominant order. As this order has been developed without any democratic legitimation, both following the introduction of Nimeiri’s 1983 Septem-


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ber laws and the 1989 coup of the current regime, the question of corporal punishments form part of a broader question as to what kind of society people want to live in. Sudan is bound by international law – indeed, international human rights treaties to which Sudan is a party form an integral part of the Bill of Rights in the Interim National Constitution (INC) of 2005.12 The practice is not only found to be contrary to binding international standards but is also harmful, discriminatory, and arbitrary, and therefore incompatible with the basic principles governing the rule of law. It is no coincidence that corporal punishment has been introduced and used by dictatorial or authoritarian regimes as part of ideological projects, such as in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Northern Nigeria, Pakistan and Sudan.13 Notably, some of the regimes that reverted to corporal punishments, such as Iraq and Libya, were of a secular nature, and seemingly used sharia to shore up their legitimacy. In several of these countries, including Sudan, the scope of offences subject to corporal punishment greatly exceeded the rather small number of crimes subject to hudud or qisas in Islamic law. Corporal punishment is considered as an effective means of literally striking fear in society and of coercing “deviants” into submission in a highly symbolic and public way that labels victims as outcasts deserving of the harshest punishment. It reinforces marginalisation and has a clearly gendered impact where male dominated societies discipline women for failure to adhere to dress codes or sexual conduct labeled as unacceptable. Homosexuals and others not conforming to what is considered the sexual norm are also vulnerable to corporal punishment. Public order laws being enforced by public order police and subject to summary trials, has led to concerns over arbitrariness, corruption (including in the form of sexual favours) and abuse of policing and judicial powers. sudan’s Treaty Obligations Sudan is a party to several treaties that prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).14 Sudan is also bound by customary international law, which recognises the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

(HRW- Human Rights Watch, February 2001)

(AI-Amnesty International, October 2003)

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has made it clear that corporal punishment is incompatible with international standards. His 2003 recommendations state that “legislation providing for corporal punishment, including excessive chastisement ordered as a punishment for a crime or disciplinary punishment, should be abolished”.15 In a recent report in 2010, the Special Rapporteur lamented the continuing use of this form of punishment, finding that “what is common to all these forms of corporal punishment, however, is that physical force is used intentionally against a person in order to cause a considerable level of pain. Furthermore, without exception, corporal punishment has a degrading and humiliating component. All forms of corporal punishment must therefore, be considered as amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment in violation of international treaty and customary law.”16 African and UN treaty bodies, as well as UN Charter mechanisms have been uniform in their condemnation of corporal punishment in Sudan as a violation of the prohibition of torture and inhuman, cruel or degrading punishment. However, Sudan has not taken any action to re-examine the use of corporal punishment, particularly in the form of floggings. On the contrary, Sudan has repeatedly sought 1

Video: Sudan’s judiciary orders probe into video of woman being flogged, Sudan Tribune, 12.12.2010, http://www. sudantribune.com/Sudan-s-judiciaryorders-probe,37253.


Over for ty women arrested after anti flogging protest, Sudan Tribune, 15.12.2010,http://www.sudantribune. com/Over-for ty-women-arrested-after, 37282.




Sudan’s Bashir endorses lashing of woman, says Nor th will transform into Islamic state, Sudan Tribune, 19.12.2010, http://www.sudantribune.com/Sudan-sBashir-endorses-lashing-of,37345.

National laws contrary to international standards are no excuse; rather, states are obliged to bring their legislation in conformity with their international obligations.17 Indeed, Sudan’s interim national constitution provides in its Bill of Rights, article 27(3), that “all rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights treaties, covenants and instruments ratified by the Republic of the Sudan shall be an integral part of this Bill”. sudan is no exception The application of corporal punishments has been justified on the grounds of religion, tradition or its deterrent value. However, law-makers and judges around the world increasingly view such punishment as outdated. Unsurprisingly, medical standards make it clear that doctors should not be complicit in this practice, and medical practitioners, such as in Pakistan, have openly protested against floggings.18 They are part of a growing international movement and struggle to stop any torture, inhuman, degrading or cruel treatment or punishment, including corporal punishments. Sudan is no exception. .


I. Lindsay, ‘Wote Timamu, Effendi’, in The Overseas Pensioner, no.67, Spring 1994, http://www.corpun.com/lindsay. htm (eyewitness account of juvenile judicial caning in 1950s Sudan under British colonial rule).


African Centre on justice and Peace Studies, Widening the Scope: The expanding use of the death penalty in law and practice in Sudan, 12.2010, http://www.acjps.org/Publications/ Repor ts/2010/WideningtheScope_ ExpandingUseofCapitalPunishment.pdf.


See in par ticular ar ticle 14 (3) (b) ICCPR


SIHA, Beyond Trousers: The Public Order Regime and the Human Rights of Women and Girls in Sudan, Submission to the African Commission, 12.12.2009, http://www.pclrs.org/downloads/ Miscellaneous/Public%20Order%20 Submission%20Paper%20MASTER%20 FINAL.pdf

Letter dated 18.02.1994 from the Permanent Representative of the Sudan to the United Nations Office at Geneva addressed to the Assistant SecretaryGeneral for Human Rights, UN Doc. E/ CN.4/1994/122, 01.03.1994,paras.72,73; See UNMIS, Republic of Sudan Constitution Making Symposium, 05.2011, http://unmis.unmissions.org/ Default.aspx?tabid=4865; for reforms, see REDRESS and Sudanese Human Rights Monitor, Criminal justice and Human Rights: An agenda for effective human rights protection in Sudan’s new constitution, 02.2012.

to justify the practice, referring both to its national laws and utilitarian arguments.


Sudan's date-gin brewers thrive despite Sharia, BBC News, 29.04.2010, http:// news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8638670.stm.


OMCT, Sudan, Woman Sentenced to 75 Lashes, 19.02.2002, http://www.omct. org/violence-against-women/urgentinterventions/sudan/2002/02/d15636/;

OMCT, Sudan: 30 lashes of the whip of a 15 year-old girl in Nyala, 10.06.2003, http://www.omct.org/rights-of-thechild/urgent-interventions/2003/06/ d16330/; OMCT, Sudan: Woman sentenced to 100 lashes of the whip on charges of adultery in Nyala, 19.03.2004, http://www.omct.org/violenceagainst-women/urgent-interventions/ sudan/2004/03/d16793/;Relief Web, United Nations Sudan Situation Repor t, 04.05.2006, http://reliefweb. int/node/207590;U.S. Depar tment of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Repor t on Sudan 2006 (Recounts women sentenced to 30 lashes for ‘defaming’ police officers), 06.03.2007, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/ rls/hrrpt/2006/78759.htm. 12

Ar ticle 27 (3) of the Interim National Constitution 2005.


R. Peters, Crime and Punishment in Islamic Laws: Theory and Practice from the Sixteenth to the Twentyfirst Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, at 30-38.


ICCPR, acceded to 18 March 1986; CRC, ratified 3 August 1990; CRPD, ratified 24.04.2009; ACHPR, ratified 18.02.1986.


Commission on Human Rights, Repor t of Special Rappor teur on the question of tor ture submitted in accordance with Commission resolution 2002/38, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2003/68, 17.12.2002, para.26 (c).


Human Rights Council, Repor t of the Special Rappor teur on tor ture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, UN Doc. A/ HRC/13/39/Add.5, 05.02.2010, para.209.


Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 31.


Amnesty International, Medical Letter-Writing Action: Whipping in Pakistan, AI Index ASA 33/01/90, 23.02.1990. On applicable medical standards, see Human Rights Council Resolution 10/24; the WMA Council Resolution on Prohibition of Physician Par ticipation in Tor ture, 182nd Session, Tel Aviv, 05.2009, http://www.wma. net/en/30publications/10policies/30co uncil/cr_8/.

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Painting by NUSRElDIN ElDOUma, Sudan


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SIHA Women In Islam 01/2014


DOSSIER: Unveiling hijab

Our Women in the Sharia and Society A book review by Al Sir Al Sayed

Haddad’s is one of the most important books which paved the way for women rights in Muslim societies, alongside Qasim Amin’s The Emancipation of Women. It charted for future generations the possibility of reaching alternative interpretations of the two main sources of legislation in Islam, the Qur’an and the Hadith. Another aspect of the book’s value lies in that Haddad uncovers early on the potential of Islam in engaging in a positive dialogue with the achievements of human civilization and the possibility of reabsorbing them into the Muslim culture and society, stressing the fact that Islam is far more comprehensive than the straitjackets which mutually bind its texts and history. As such, this book is a witness to the courage of mind and thinker. It confronts some of the most serious issues at that time - the issue of women - addressing the most important taboos: the criticism or review of certain interpretations of religious texts. In a single sweep, the book counteracts both the traditions of a social organization based on discrimination against women, and those of the religious establishment that perceives in women creatures fraught with sin and weaknesses, harbingers of misfortune,

Taher Haddad Born in Tunis in a family of shop­ keepers, Haddad graduated from the Great Mosque of Al Zaytouna University in 1920. He became a notary, however, Al Haddad was an activist and a writer. He left this career to fully dedicate to the Al Destour political party. Being unsatisfied with the leadership he would leave the party and political life, too. An Islamic scholar and reformer, he pioneered women’s rights concepts in the modern Islamic world.

demonic in nature. It is for this reasons that I think it is worthwhile to read the book. Opening up a discourse on legislation and social issues Our Women in the Sharia and Society, (230 pg.), has a foreword written by Dr Mona Abu Zayd as well as an introduction and conclusion by Taher Haddad himself. The edition reviewed here, was issued as part of the Doha Book Series in June 2012. It consists of two parts, the first of which deals with legislative issues, and the second with social issues. The legislative part discusses women’s selfhood, their civil rights, legal capacity, issues of inheritance, marriage, divorce and polygamy, as well as divorce courts. The chapter concludes with quoting certain great scholars, such as the virtuous Abdul Aziz Djait and Taher Ben Achour, on marriage. Haddad bases his whole legislative argument on the premise that it is necessary to differentiate in religious rulings between two types of edicts. The first type is inalienable and cannot be amended. These edicts relate to doctrinal and devotional aspects, and the issues of justice and equality between people belong to this group. The second type is variable and changes to fit time and place. Haddad is of the opinion that amending the latter causes no damage to Islam, giving an as an example amendments to the rulings about slaves and polygamy. As indicated by Dr Mona Abu Zaid in her foreword, Haddad aimed in this

Woman’s imprisonment was not confined to her body, but more so imposed in even stricter measure on her soul. She could not express herself but through the male spirit, could recite only male poetry, demonstrate but male emotions of love and hatred, what he desired or disliked of colours and meanings. So she lived being his echo, like a sound saved on phonograph disc. If nothing but expressions of shabbiness and humiliation could be heard in the community, she could not help but be a gramophone. If we were able to understand the reality of women, their duties and right to life, and followed the path of wisdom by teaching them what they need, we would be doing a lot of good, not just for women, but for the happiness of man, future generations, and the nation as a whole. Taher Haddad, 1930 84

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...I have made clear women’s explicit rights in Islam and what it garnered for her in its timeless texts in a spirit of kindness and appreciation approaching equality. I explained the current situation of women, and how their fall causes the misery of our marital lives, our families and the education of our children, whom we yield incapable of any productive work in their entire lives. I gave an overview of my opinion that our women need to be extracted from the hole created by generations of decline, which have deprived us of a happy life that I can imagine but do not see except in living nations that accounted for their past and challenged its prevalent spirit of decay and death. My aim was none but to raise awareness of our situation before we become the victims of our past...

section to prove two very important things: I. that women no longer enjoyed and exercised those rights given to them by Islam to the same degree and level which Islam stipulated; and II: that when Islam stipulated these rights for women, it did not want to or intend them to be the ultimate end in themselves, but a pathway that paved for the full equality between men and women. However, due to their historical situation Muslims obstructed that path of evolution, regressing the status of their women. Women as social agents in Haddad’s thought In the second part of the book, the section on social issues, Haddad deals with educating women as wives and mothers. He defines as part of this education industry and homemaking, the intellect and ethics, marital culture and health. He also discusses issues of forced marriages, marriages before attaining legal age, obstacles to marriages, woman’s status in the home, and marriage to foreign women. Haddad then discusses formal education for Muslim women: what women should learn, their upbringing, the hijab and unveiling, and modern evolution of women. One of the most eloquent references in this part of the book is Haddad’s expression of his wish for, even an invitation to, allowing women’s access to higher education. In this, he was preceded by only a few other reformers, as most would stop in their proposals of teaching women at the secondary schooling level at the most, with the majority considering teaching reading and writing as effectively enough. Yet the most important issue Haddad deals with in this section is the hijab. Under the sub-heading Scenes of Social Misery, Haddad has this to say: “The hijab has created a private life for men outside their home, one that women know not of - at the café, the club or the restaurant, where much money is disposed of erroneously and unnecessarily, while many women and children die at home for lack of everyday necessities because their menfolk feel obliged to spend what money they get their hands on in debauchery, drunkenness and gambling and all that brings entertainment and leisure to their lives so completely separate from those of their spouses. Nothing encourages them more in this than their sole power to veil the women and isolate them from seeing this lowly life.” (p. 196) Two pages later he adds, “The veil has prevented women from learning and managing home economics and everyday life. It is enough to remember their inability to count from one to more

than ten and accounting for the incidents of their lives by the year of the plague or famine, or having moved from such-and-such a house to another”. (p. 198) Still under the same heading, when trying to link between the social conditions and the backward status of Tunisian women in all their rights, he states, “This material misery staring us in the face, and continuing to grow because of us and others, is the biggest cause of the downfall of our families and the violence and moral viciousness which control marital life. This viciousness has the largest share in the proliferation of divorce incidents; if we but had some statistics we would be able to discern that most of them are the result of poverty and the need which depress man and make him despair, thus leading to strife and persistent quarrels”. A book of relevance On the cover of the book Taher Haddad (1899-1935) is described as the liberator of Tunisian women. The publication of his book caused widespread reverberations, both supportive and opposing to what he wrote. Historians consider the event a watershed in the process of social reform in general and that of women’s status in particular. Yet the achievements of the book took a difficult path. For his ideas published in this book in 1930, by which he advocated for the expansion of women’s rights stating that the contemporary interpretations of Islam would inhibit women, he was accused of apostasy, his academic degree was revoked and he was banned from marrying any Muslim woman. He lived his short life in social isolation in his society. It was only after Independence that Taher Haddad was recognized as a prominent Islamic thinker by both the population and the government. Based on his thoughts Tunisia came forward with one of the most progressive Islamic Family Laws of our time. Providing a new approach to interpreting religious texts this book paved the way for the issuing of the Personal Status Code of Tunisia in 1956 that granted women legal rights most Arab women still don’t have today. In the current historic circumstances undergone by the Arab and Muslim world, women’s issues are raised once again. Religious authorities fight over them, offering their perceptions in an attempt to pull women back to where they were prior to the Renaissance and the Reformation. It is our duty, therefore, to search in the writings which were beacons on the path of reform to enshrine the rights of women and put them in their rightful place in society. From Arabic by Sam Berner

Al Sir Al Sayed from Sudan is a theatre critic and writer with a special interest in theatre education and theatre for development, on which he has published two books. He currently works as the Department Director and Producer of radio programs for the Sudan National Broadcasting Corporation. He is a member of the Sudanese Writers Union and a frequent contributor of artistic know-how in development projects. Al Sir has two sons and a daughter and lives in Khartoum with his family.

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DOSSIER: Unveiling hijab

Dissecting the hijab concept So women don’t get flogged for what they wear Rasha Awad provides a historical and

Many may be surprised by Article ceptions about the hijab that reveal it to 152 of the Sudanese Criminal Code be a human construct more than a divine which prescribes sanction. She argues for putting scienflogging for what is tific facts above dogma and genuine motermed “scandalous rality and enlightenment above represattire”. The Act does sion of women in the name of religion. not define what is considered scandalous attire, instead leaving it to the discretion of public order police officers entrusted with the enforcement of this article. The No to Women Oppression initiative 1, of which I am a founder, was established in opposition to Article 152, and to demand the abolition of the Public Order Act. Since the dialectical relationship between Islamic thought and issues of democracy, human rights and women’s issues lies at the core of my interests, I believe that my best contribution to the No to Women Oppression initiative’s opposition to the Public Order Act would be the radical critique of religious ideas promoting the inferiority of women. These ideas have a serious impact on the community, and they impede large sections of society from supporting fair treatment of women. This is especially pertinent since Sudan’s ruling party emanates from the largest political Islamic group in the country, and it continually exploits religious sensibilities in promotion of discriminatory laws against women. It also exploits the same sensibilities when countering our fight against the Public Order Act, which is a legislation applied by a special police force (Public Order Police) in special courts which do not meet the customary provisions of application of justice. Public Order Police apply Article 152 of the Criminal Code regarding the so-called “scandalous attire”. During our struggle against this Article, and the Public Order Act in general, we were attacked by pro-regime newspapers for being anti-Islamic and promoting finery and immodest attire. At the same time, these papers fully ignored our objective criticisms of the legislation, side-tracking the debate into the issue of veiling and its prescription for Muslim women, and from there to issues of moral decay and sexual deviations which they argue become rampant in society whose women do not abide by “religious dress”. In order to invalidate the impact of these distortions which aim to recruit Muslim public opinion against our cause, it is necessary to discuss the issues of the so-called theological journey to myths and miscon-


SIHA Women In Islam 01/2014

hijab (veil) and religious dress, as well as issues of virtue and chastity in Islamic thought in an enlightened critical way, aiming at two things: I. highlighting the diversity of religious opinions and interpretations of the hijab issue in the past and present. This diversity includes flexible and moderate as well as radical views, and proves that the radical opinions prevailed in society not because they express religion more credibly, but because they are a truer expression of the dominant male culture. II. dealing with the issue of the hijab and women’s clothing as a socio-cultural issue about which there are different and diverse opinions, and not as a doctrine within the context of the apostasy/faith duality. This cannot be achieved unless a culture of women’s rights in particular, and a culture of human rights in general, is implemented in the society. It is not possible within the scope of this article to present all the Islamic texts that address the subject of the hijab and their historical and current interpretations. I will, therefore, focus on a few key examples. What is the hijab? The word «hijab” is never mentioned in the Qur’an as meaning “a uniform prescribed for women”. The term is mentioned in several verses having different meanings, and the verse in which it is mentioned in a context related to the status of women is “Oh you who have believed, do not enter the houses of the Prophet except when you are permitted for a meal, without awaiting its readiness. But when you are invited, then enter; and when you have eaten, disperse without seeking to remain for conversation. Indeed, that [behaviour] was troubling the Prophet, and he is shy of [dismissing] you. But Allah is not shy of the truth. And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts. And it is not [conceivable or lawful] for you to harm the Messenger of Allah or to marry his wives after him, ever. Indeed, that would be in the sight of Allah an enormity.” (Al-Ahzab: 53) The verse speaks about the womenfolk of the Prophet (PBUH), and the word hijab is mentioned in the verse in the sense of a partition which separates the wives of the Prophet from those who asked them for something. This is the privacy imposed on the Prophet’s home, but there are those who quoted this verse as meaning that the hijab is a social Muslim construct, and should be applied not only to the Prophet’s home but to all Muslims, thus forbidding

Muslim women to amend their original clothing in such a way as to cover the chest, but there is no direct and clear commandment to cover the face or even the head. For example, there is the verse “And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] apSince it is impossible to confine women in their homes all pears thereof and to wrap [a portion of ] their headcovers over their lives, they must wear clothing that covers their entire body, their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, including their faces their husbands’ faand hands, if they must thers, their sons, their go out. Those who adhusbands’ sons, their vocate such interpretabrothers, their brothtion, use the verse “Oh ers’ sons, their sisters’ Prophet, tell your wives sons, their women, and your daughters that which their right and the women of the hands possess, or those believers to bring down male attendants havover themselves [part] ing no physical deof their outer garments sire, or children who (…) that they will are not yet aware of be known and not be the private aspects of abused” (Al-Ahzab: 59) women. And let them as a prescription for not stamp their feet covering the face. Alto make known what though this verse does they conceal of their not explicitly contain adornment. And turn a reference to covering to Allah in repentance, the face, it has been all of you, Oh believinterpreted as such; ers, that you might sucthe interpretation beceed” (An-Nur: 31). ing a by-product of the Ibn Abbas’ interprevalent cultural and pretation of this verse social environment. says that women used Even traditional to drape their khimar interpretations of this (head covers) over verse stated that womtheir backs, before en are commanded to this verse was redrape part of their vealed, as the Nabatejilbabs – at that time ans did. After the a piece of clothing verse was revealed, covering the hair, the they draped their khirest of which falls over mars on their chest the woman’s back – and throats. The and over their chests Cartoon by Nusreldin Eldouma, Sudan feminine possessive to conceal them. The pronoun in the word verse explains the reason for covering the chest – “that they will be known and (khimarihinna) indicates that the khimar was a headscarf not be abused” - i.e. so as to maintain a distinction between and part of female attire in pre-Islamic time. Ibn Adel in his the free women and the slaves at a time when slavery was Tafseer Al Libab interprets the verse as follows: The women prevalent. Thus free women were ordered to wear something of Jahilia (pre-Islamic times) draped their khimars over to distinguish them from slaves, and to not be harassed or their backs, and bosoms were exposed showing their necks assaulted. This text addressed a socio-historical context quite and jewellery. They were ordered to pull their hoods over their bosoms and thus cover their necks and chests. different from that of our world today. There are also many interpretations of the part that says “and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarA socio-historical heritage, not a religious one Every Qur’anic text that deals with female attire orders ily] appears thereof”. Some interpret the visible adornment › the mingling of men and women, and prescribing that any dialogue between a man and a woman must be done from behind a wall or barricade in compliance with the guidance of the phrase “and when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition”.

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› as rings or bracelets, others as kohl and other facial makeup, and others still as decorations on the clothing. There is also an interpretation that these are the face and hands, based on a hadith reported in Sunan Abi Daoud: from Saeed bin Bashir from Qatadah, from Khalid, that Yacoub bin Direk said he heard from Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her): “Asma bint Abu Bakr came to the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) wearing transparent clothes, so the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) averted his eyes from her and said, ‘Asma, when a woman reached puberty, nothing should be seen of her except this and this’ pointing to his face and hands”. This hadith is used to infer that the Islamic attire should expose nothing except the face and the hands. The hadith, however, is weak by the generally accepted standards of hadith classification, and so is rejected by the radicals in favour of obligatory covering of the face as inferred from the preceding verses, which are in their turn interpreted in different ways. The deduction that they command the coverage of the face is just that: pure deduction and independent reasoning (ijtihad). Human reasoning, not divine sanction We can thus conclude from the above that all the verses dealing with female attire did not call the outfit hijab, that they commanded women to adjust their usual clothing, but that there is no explicit command to cover the face or even the head – even though women used to cover it customarily. The body parts which the There is no doubt that modesty is verses mention as an obligatory behaviour for both coverable are the chest, because female and female Muslims, and is the male clothing at overall purpose derived from the that time used to above-mentioned verses. Therefore, show much of it in a way that atit is fully acceptable for a woman who tracted lewd men feels reassured by such an attire to to harass them. want to worship in it, to do so as an All these texts reflect social cirindependently reasoned choice; a choice cumstances of a we must respect, and thus defend against specific but obthose who oppose it or discriminate solete historical reality, including against women who wear it on the that of slavery. pretext that it is incompatible with Fu r t h e r m o re , modernity. it becomes clear that calling this type of attire, which involves covering the head and body and exposing only the face and hands by the name of hijab, is purely human reasoning. As such, I respect it as a matter of personal choice, but I would not call it hijab, nor sanctify it with an aura of religiosity. It is surely the right of some Muslim women to believe that this particular attire is a religious commandment, or that it is the attire most expressive of the ethics of modesty. There is no doubt that modesty is an obligatory


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behaviour for both male and female Muslims, and is the overall purpose derived from the above-mentioned verses. Therefore, it is fully acceptable for a woman who feels reassured by such an attire to want to worship in it, to do so as an independently reasoned choice; a choice we must respect, and thus defend against those who oppose it or discriminate against women who wear it on the pretext that it is incompatible with modernity. We do so from the standpoint of human rights and religious freedoms. However, the niqab and covering the face, the black tent which wipes off the identity of its wearer and obstructs her ability to communicate socially – that is nothing if not a milder version of burying female children alive. The niqab is a social burial of a living human, and many Muslims have strived to attach it to religion, not because there is strong Qur’anic evidence of it being obligatory (as interpretations of the texts vary) but because it resonates with the prevalent male culture which aims at excluding women from public life. The need for a different approach to thinking about the hijab and the attire Any project of women’s liberation in Muslim societies requires enlightened thought, and this enlightenment in turn requires that we crystallize a new approach that would reach beyond the reliance on literal interpretation of texts, but would depend on the totality of purpose and focus on the core values. In each case of social issues characterised by constant change and affected by the impact of the cultural environment, such as the case of attire, we need to recall the texts and review their different interpretations. We need to do so to defeat the Salafist ideology, which claims that there is a single provision which in this case is the Islamic ruling defined by the definite article. We confirm that there are several human conceptions of what Islamic ruling stands for and, from that standpoint, allow for the plurality of options. However, we also need new dimensions in this discussion in addition to the doctrinal dimension, including the historical philosophical dimensions. Islamic heritage abounds in intellectuals and philosophers who founded rational schools of understanding and interpreting religion. Women trapped in the prisons of their bodies An example would be the philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) who authored On The Harmony Of Religions And Philosophy. It is necessary to keep repeating that the radical Salafist trend is not the only trend in Islam, and that there are rational trends far more worthy of celebrating if we want our societies to progress. As such, a philosophical discussion of the hijab and attire issue is an inherent part of any women’s liberation project, because women’s rights concerning the public sphere are abused by many a Muslim society, condemning women to death on occasions, since these societies trap women in the prisons of their bodies. Under the influence of Arabic, Persian and Turkish cultures that crammed Islam into their narrow moulds, Muslim women everywhere absorb the idea that their bodies

Many Muslim women who wear normal modern fashion may not be doing so out of conscious liberality, but because of their desire for beauty and elegance. They harbour a sense of guilt and religious failure. Many of them, out of this guilt, go to extremes to defend the so-called hijab and even the niqab, despite their lack of commitment to either of them, which indicates that the idea of a woman’s body as an intimate object is inherent in their minds, with all its baggage of women’s inferiority and lack of credibility. are the source of discord, moral degeneration and all other social vices in society. Therefore, many women take for granted that the best service they can offer to religion and society is to hide their bodies, thus saving humanity from those sexually deadly bombs. This idea captures the entire unconscious self of most Muslim women, and occupies their subconscious minds. This is why there are a considerable number of young Muslim women born and raised in Europe and America who, when they choose to commit to Islam, cannot find a way to express the sincerity of their religiosity except through the donning of the niqab. The Islamic advocacy groups at whose hands these girls learned about Islam are the traditional Salafi groups, and they terrorised them with the concept that the whole of a woman’s body is intimate, including her voice. As such, she is only a good Muslim in so far as she perfects and masters the covering of these intimate parts, i.e. hiding herself from view. This human understanding formed by mankind’s cultures, customs and traditions is being offered to women as the word of God who can say no wrong. Whoever refuses this understanding or subjects it to any rational discussion is threatened with God’s wrath and burning in hellfire! Many Muslim women who wear normal modern fashion may not be doing so out of conscious liberality, but because of their desire for beauty and elegance. They harbour a sense of guilt and religious failure. Many of them, out of this guilt, go to extremes to defend the so-called hijab and even the niqab, despite their lack of commitment to either of them, which indicates that the idea of a woman’s body as an intimate object is inherent in their minds, with all its baggage of women’s inferiority and lack of credibility. I, therefore, must warn that any women’s liberation project should not ignore the need to address this embedded complex. Addressing the issue of attire in a women’s liberation project By the term “addressing” I do not mean the simplistic verdict that a woman must take off her headcover as a pre-condition to her liberation. Some women wear it as a matter of personal choice, but are intellectually emancipated enough within all the philosophical, social, political and cultural dimensions to qualify as leaders and pioneers in the field. What I mean is the following: Firstly, an emphasis on the fact that Salafists and groups within political Islam magnify the so-called hijab in Muslim societies to the extent that it has almost become the sixth pillar of Islam – oftentimes this “sixth pillar” is giv-

en higher importance than some of the other five pillars. For example, in Saudi Arabia, no angst occurs because a daughter does not perform her prayers or does not pay zakat on her money but, if she walks into the street without covering her face or wearing the abaya, it is perceived as the end of the world – as bad an event as if she left the pale of Islam. Does this magnification of the so-called hijab have any relation to the substance of the doctrine? The answer is a resounding no, even if we dealt with the subject in the context of traditional jurisprudence itself. None of the major or minor jurists stated that the hijab was a higher ranking commandment than prayer or almsgiving. The issue of women’s attire is a secondary issue in religion. However, male dominated misogynist cultures obsessed with the idea of ​​linking women to seduction, sedition and sexual lassitude, took hold of this secondary disputed issue and turned it into a central one. The occluded reason behind this magnification of the hijab, the systematic scaremongering about tempting women and about ​​unveiling, is to obstruct the path of women to confident public employment prospects and to their sense of equality with men. It hampers their development, leaving them disturbed and heavy with the burden of their booby-trapped bodies! Women cannot become liberated without becoming aware that their bodies are part of the creation, and a manifestation of God’s greatness – not something shocking or shameful. As such, the presence of their bodies in society is normal and socially intuitive. This is when the issue of attire takes on its normal dimensions and uncovered hair, a pair of slacks or a short skirt are no longer grave acts that threaten the very existence of the Muslim nation, at a time when thousands of its women die from hunger, lack of medical care and from complications during childbirth, while millions of other women suffer from poverty and illiteracy. Secondly, it is necessary to adopt an educational philosophy which establishes morality on the basis of an alert conscience, a chaste psyche and a responsibility shared between men and women alike. Islam cannot have assumed that Muslims are so blindly controlled by instinct that they cannot refrain from vice unless women are completely blocked from his view by wearing the niqab. Surely women should respect a reasonable limit of modesty as self-respect. Liberation from the prison of one’s body is not in my opinion limited to liberation from the niqab, but includes as well liberation from vulgarity, because a civilized cultured human remains driven first and foremost by values, ethics and codes of conduct. From Arabic by Sam Berner


o To Women N Oppression Coalition (NTWOC), a group of women’s rights defenders formed in 2009 to challenge the Sudanese Public Order Regime (POR) which constrains the civil rights and liberties of citizens and in particular women. The coalition comprises of women from different backgrounds.

SIHA Women In Islam 01/2014


DOSSIER: Unveiling hijab

What is behind the veil? An interview with photographer Boushra Mutawakil When the Yemenite photographer Boushra Mutawakil sees that her work of documenting and processing the world in pictures conjures strong feelings and provokes engagement, discussion, and debate, she feels she has succeeded somehow. It is through this dialogue, as a very first step, that change may slowly materialize, she says.

What is the motivation behind your work? I want to visually give life to certain ideas, feelings, experiences, observations, expressions; to make my mark in some simple way, and to give life to the voices of other women who have none. Sometimes it is just an internal need to express an idea visually, a compulsion to get it out of my head so that I am not consumed by it. Photography is also a release for me particularly about injustice or things that are just plain wrong. My inspiration comes from the environment I live in. When I first started out I used to do what others were doing or what I thought others would like. Now I do what I like, and I have been more successful with my work because of it. If I listen to my voice and share that, I find that I am not the only one, and that it resonates with so many others.


idea was inspired by seeing so many women covered in layers of black and, most shockingly, seeing little girls no older than seven or eight wearing the black abaya and niqab, like mini versions of their mothers. I wanted to express and comment on the trend of extremism that has been increasing gradually in Yemen since the mid 90s, with the inf luence of Wahabi ideology, and how it affects women and girls. Yemen, already a very conservative country, is becoming even more conservative, which I find alarming. It is visible in the trend of women’s veils. This overcovering is a symptom of intolerant extremism. Women have always veiled here, however, there used to be more colour and it was somehow more open. And then I saw an increase in the layers of black clothing and veils: an abaya, then a head covering, then a skirt over the head that would cover three quarters of the upper body, then a niqab, and a sheer veil over the niqab and eyes, and to top it off they also wear gloves. Every part of the woman is covered.

What is the reason for that?

Your photo series “Mother, Daughter, Doll” gradually veils a woman, a girl and her doll until they literally disappear. What does it tell of?

According to my understanding, this has nothing to do with Islam, although it is being done in the name of Islam and modesty. I feel it is triggered by distorted interpretations of Islam and a strong fear of women – and the desire to eradicate them from any public life or arena. To what greater extent will they cover up women?

The series shows myself, my eldest daughter Shaden and her doll who are gradually getting covered up. The

I feel that extremists are so threatened by women that they treat

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them as personal property they own and control and would like to cover out of existence, it seems. The images on the veil are symbolic of something more sinister: of women and girls having no rights; of girls and women being deprived of play, education and childhood by being married off at such a young age, raped, and impregnated; of children having children and little girls losing their lives at childbirth or risking many medical complications while being at the mercy of their husband and his body. Should she be divorced, she has no rights to her children while having to go back to live with her parents, left with nothing. Women and girls are treated like they do not exist, except to serve their husbands, inlaws and children – treated as if they are nothing.

Are you wearing the veil? And do you wish to advocate for or against it through your art? Yes, I wear the hijab here in Yemen, and would not feel comfortable here without. With gender segregation in school, at work and social gatherings in Yemen, even when a woman is covered up, men still gawk at her, making comments and in crowded areas steal a touch here or there. Veiling is a form of protection from men and their misogynistic view of women. There are certain aspects I like about the veil and others I don’t. I usually wear a long, loose, black abaya with a matching head scarf or magrama, or I wear a beige or black western style knee length trench coat with a scarf covering my hair. I wear ›

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DOSSIER: Unveiling hijab

› the niqab only when I go to wedding parties wearing heavy makeup. On arrival, myself and hundreds of other women strip off our black abayas and niqabs and enter a whole other world, with colourful, skimpy, sparkling, dresses; talking, eating, dancing, singing – beautiful women you would not recognize in the streets – a huge contradictions, that we all got used to. I am not for or against the hijab. What I am against is fundamentalist, extremist, intolerant ideology. What I am for is choice. Every While studying business in woman should the US, I took a black and have the choice of wearing or white photography course. not wearing From the very first image the veil. No that magically emerged one should be forced, for from the developer in the example as in darkroom, I was hooked. France to take On return to Yemen I off the veil. This is anhad a full time desk job, other form of but I joined an artists’ extremism in group. We would have my opinion, in the other digroup exhibits and I was rection. It all surprised to see interest in comes down my work and that people to whatever the woman is actually purchased it. most comfortable with. For example, my mother wears the niqab, and is most comfortable wearing it, even when she travels to the West. Although I don’t agree with her, she is entitled to her opinion and choice. Wearing what one wants is a form of self expression – a form of freedom. I feel the veil is neither black or


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white nor good or bad, it is a complex, multilayered, symbolic topic.

How did you become a photographer? At the time I was a young woman of 20, openly seeking to become a photographer by profession would have seemed “foolish” to everyone. It was small events that led me there. While studying business in the US, I took a black and white photography course. From the very first image that magically emerged from the developer in the darkroom, I was hooked. On return to Yemen I had a full time desk job, but I joined an artists’ group. We would have group exhibits and I was surprised to see interest in my work and that people actually purchased it. I built a darkroom in my parents’ house, and continued to process and print. It was still just a very serious hobby at that time but when I finally realized that this is what I really wanted to do, I quit my work in 1998 and became a full time photographer – against the advice of family and friends. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. That year was one of the most interesting and memorable times in my life. I had the great opportunity to travel to the most remote and remarkable places throughout Yemen and meet and learn from fascinating, wonderful individuals. To my great surprise, in addition to it being rewarding on a personal level, it proved to be financially rewarding as well.

How did you develop your courageous own opinions? Was anyone supporting you? One of the greatest inf luences in my

life was my cousin Issam, who used to tutor my brother and I. He opened my eyes to the magic of learning, and the fact that learning was not something you only had to do in school, but part of daily life - and that it was wonderful and fun. He also taught me that I had so much untapped power within - we all have this. When my father was insisting that I get engaged to my first cousin when I was 14, I refused. However, I felt regardless of what I wished, I would have to comply with it because my parents wanted that for me. During this time, my cousin wrote me a note that I kept to this day which truly empowered me. He wrote: “You are only 14 and your only priority should be your education. Not your mother, not your father, not even God could make you get married if you don’t want to!” And that is exactly what I told my father. My cousin helped me to see that I had a choice and that should I choose to, I could say No! I often wish girls and women knew that they had rights and that they don’t always have to do what they are being told, especially if it is something they don’t want or something that may be harmful to them.

You are the first female professional photographer in Yemen. What does that mean for your work in the environment it takes place in? For a long time I felt I was not taken seriously by my family, friends, and others. When I started out in the 90s there were very few male photographers and no women. Now, in 2013, and with the advent of digital pho-

Women and girls should have the same opportunities as men and boys. Girls and women should be equally appreciated for being of the female gender – and be empowered, instead of being put down, because of it. Women should be given opportunities to lead and to hold positions of power, because that is the only way that things will change for the better for women. tography and social media, more and more artists are sharing photography - in ways I never dreamt possible. I am especially pleased to see more women photographers and filmmakers, showing the female perspective, which is lacking. I was honoured in 1998 with several other Yemeni women pioneers, as the first Yemeni woman photographer. I didn’t really think much of it, except that it is an honour to start doing something that practically no other women were doing in Yemen. I feel in some small way that I may be an example to other women who want to do something different and out of the norm. My story can show them: you can live and do the things you want to do, you don’t have to wait, or do what your father or mother want for you, but to lean in and listen to the God given, all knowing voice within.

In which way can the arts improve women’s lives in Islamic contexts? The situation of women in Islam is generally a huge inspiration for my work. As a woman living in Yemen, I experience and breathe it on a daily basis. It is a driving force in my work and personal life. Also, as a mother of four girls, I feel things have to

change for the best for women now, and women of the future.

What reactions did you get from different audiences to this series?

As an artist, I ref lect back on my society – thinking about what is beautiful or ugly about it. I make my mark or a kind of record or commentary on my time, culture, or religion. I am like a visual social anthropologist, with an opinion. If my work of documenting and processing the world in pictures conjures strong feelings and provokes engagement, discussion, and debate, I feel I have succeeded somehow. It is through this dialogue, as a very first step, that change may slowly materialize.

The series “Mother, Daughter, Doll” was first exhibited at the National Museum in Sana’a, Yemen as part of a group exhibition entitled “Words of Eyes”. Out of all of my work, it has been the best received. It was exhibited by a number of high ranking events, magazines and online publications in Dubai and Paris and will be exhibited again in Liverpool, Boston and at Fotofest in Houston, Texas in 2014. It has been acquired by the British Museum in London.

Which changes would you expect to see happen?

I received mostly very positive feedback, especially from women. People from all over the world have writSome other young ten to me about it. It has been women posted the work shared thousands on facebook in the other of times on facedirection – going from the book. Many people thought the dark nothing to lightness. series was beautiful but very sad.

Women and girls should have the same opportunities as men and boys. Girls and women should be equally appreciated for being of the female gender – and be empowered, instead of being put down, because of it. Women should be given opportunities to lead and to hold positions of power, because that is the only way that things will change for the better for women. However, Yemen is a poverty-stricken country with many seemingly formidable, economic and development challenges, in which women and children suffer the most. So I am not naive about this.

BOUSHRA MUTAWAKIL lives in the Old City of Sana’a where she was born in 1969. A married mother to four daughters she has worked in education, fundraising, women’s rights and culture before she became a photographer.

Some other young women posted the work on facebook in the other direction – going from the dark nothing to lightness. Recorded by AMIRA NAGY

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DOSSIER: Unveiling hijab

Yosra Akasha:

My life with and without hijab I was a child in 1989. I can hardly remember the incidents of the Islamic Front’s military coup. All I remember is what a big fan of my elder sister I was. She was a very elegant university student who had loads of coloured peeps & sandals. I remember spending hours inside her big closet playing with her makeup, wearing her clothes and walking in her shoes. YOSRA AKASHA is a Sudanese human rights activist and blogger who writes in English and Arabic with a special interest in women’s rights, peace and displacement issues. She holds and MSc on Gender and Peace Studies from Ahfad University for Women and a BSC in Pharmacy from the University of Khartoum. Having worked in campaigns for rural health in Sudan and for the HOPE – Horn of Africa Peace Engagement regional peace campaign, she is currently an Outreach Officer for SIHA Network. Yosra identifies herself as Muslim, secular and feminist. Her blog is called Kandakegranddaughter – a tribute to queens and queen mothers of the ancient African Kingdom of Nubia.


I also remember our neighbour, an editor in Al Sibian Magazine, passing by our house in the early mornings and saying that she could not come in and have a cup of tea because I would start crying and ask her to style my hair like hers. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, her hair always immaculately styled. When I was in grade two at primary school and about seven years old, our class teacher used to beat me every morning with a piece of hose asking me, “Where is your khimar?” I never knew why she was so angry, or what a “khimar” was. Once my mother came to know, she transferred me to another school but this time she bought me a white scarf which I had to put on every day. Years passed and I was in grade seven when my mother, for the first time, talked to me about “decent attire”, which meant long skirts and covering my hair with a scarf. She told me if I didn’t dress decently she and my father would go to hell for not having raised me well. I deplored her orders, because my mother herself was neither wearing long skirts nor covering her hair. I refused to cover my hair – although I had to wear the long skirts – there was no option in the market other than long skirts. In the midst of this confusing time for me, my older sister had to leave the country to find a decent job. Our beautiful neighbour had to wear a scarf beneath her Sudanese thobe to sustain her new job in the Ministry of Education, after Al Sibian Magazine, the Sabah Magazine and other periodicals were cut. There were concerns about attending wedding parties, with men and women sharing a dance. Lots of stories were spreading about police raiding private parties and arresting people. All our neighbours started to wear hijab, saying it was for their husbands’ job promotions, and they kept asking my mother to wear it as well. My mother who considered herself a true believer of Islam rejected this hypocrisy, saying that, since she didn’t wear the hijab after pilgrimage, she would not wear it for my father’s job promotion. I asked her once why she wanted me to wear hijab

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while rejecting it herself. She answered, “you are young will probably be harassed if you are not wearing the hijab.” There were two periods in my life during which I wore hijab; the first time lasted for a whole year while the second lasted five months. The first time was when my application to Khartoum University had been accepted. I decided to try the hijab for two different reasons. One was that according to University rules, I had to sign a pledge that I would wear it on the campus. Secondly, I was depending on public transport and my brothers told me that girls without hijab are being harassed a lot. I thought that, with a scarf covering my hair, I’d get more freedom to move. Many girls I know wear hijab and some are veiled for this reason. In addition to that, styling my frizzy hair every day would otherwise consume a lot of time and money. Surprisingly, my life with hijab was not as smooth as I expected. One day I got an opportunity to express my thoughts in a public discussion of the Congress of Independent Students. Their speaker claimed that Islam was the reason behind all the troubles of Sudan. I replied that it was not a matter of Islam, rather of the Islamists who are ruining our life and spreading false concepts of Islam. This three-minute intervention of mine resulted in me receiving a long letter on how inappropriate it was for a woman to raise her voice in public and talk about Islam, particularly whilst she herself was being a bad example of a Muslim woman, wearing indecent clothes and speaking loudly in front of men. I kept receiving such assaults for years. I was even more shocked when, every other day, the guards at the university prevented me from entering the university campus – for not using pins in my scarf; having a split in my skirt; wearing a T-Shirt or a tight shirt and one day, for wearing leggings under a maxi dress. At that time, I realised that the hijab has no standards. Whilst I thought myself to be “veiled”, many other people thought I was dressing indecently. I concluded that my dress style should be about me and what I like – not about others and what they think. Most interestingly the harassment never stopped – instead, it even increased with even more Islamists staring at me – those same people who offered me guidance to wear hijab. They have never heard about lowering their gaze or the sins of staring. I often used to tell them that Allah said, “You cannot guide whoever you wish”.

During my college years it was a widely held belief that girls without hijab will not find a man to marry. Most of my class mates started to wear hijab and, from one day to the next, they used to be stricter in their dress code – even in shaking hands with boys for greetings. Many friends displayed more signs of religiousness, like reading the Qur’an in public, holding a sibha – the prayer beads, and not missing an occasion to recite a duaa loudly. Unfortunately, they forgot the soul of Islam, which is being kind to people; not to be talking about people behind their backs; focusing on your own behaviour and avoiding judging others. My second time to wear hijab was in 2009, after doing everything I could think of to try to stop harassment committed by my work mates and my boss in a public service office – that was full of Islamists and NCP affiliates – had failed. I had submitted written complaints against some work mates after personally rebuking them severely and even in front of other employees. My complaints were never taken seriously and the people in charge always used to find excuses for the harassers, even when one incident ended with an injury as a harasser squeezed my fingers against a ring I was wearing while shaking hands for greeting. I was told several times that a trainee like me could never get a permanent job while wearing such clothes. At a certain point, I realized that neither raising a complaint, nor shouting loudly at harassers was going to change anything when my boss who received the complaints was also staring at my legs under the table as I was wearing a mid length skirt in a meeting. On another occasion, he asked me to cover my neck because he cannot handle staring anymore. On that day I cried my eyes out. I stayed at home for two days. I made up my mind that, if this humiliation continu-

ed, I’d have to quit my job and my career as well. If I could not build my future because of my dress style and I could not control my own body either, I would lose self-esteem, sacrificing it for my career development. That was when I decided to quit my career and the hijab. I am going back to my lovely mother who, during all this hesitation, has always been there. She supported all my decisions to wear hijab or to take it off. She encouraged me to defend myself against the harassers. At home, when I used to cry from anger and subjugation she used to get sad and tell me, “I didn’t raise you to cry like a little girl. You should go there and fight for your rights and teach those abusive Islamists a lesson”. She panicked after Lubna Hussein was arrested for wearing trousers and always thought something like this would be the revenge of my work mates. She also used to tell me what the dress code was till the 1980s. People used to wear all kinds of clothes which are now considered revealing and indecent. At that time, no man would dare to harass a woman, regardless how much of her body was visible and, for sure, they were Muslims – just not in way of the harassers of women, regardless of how much of their body is covered. We regularly used to attend the speeches preceding the Friday prayers together and criticize when women were portrayed as the evil of the nation. All our confusion ended up with both of us being convinced that it was not wearing a hijab that would protect women but the power of using their minds, having self-esteem and not allowing any person to define what’s wrong and right on their behalf. YOSRA AKASHA

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OPEN LETTER amIRa Osman HamID, a sudanese activist for women’s and human rights who was born in 1976, lives in Khartoum. she studied Computer Engineering in Khartoum and has a master in International Relations. since 2002 she had to stand trial twice, once for wearing trousers and recently for not wearing a scarf. she is a passionate advocate for freedom of choice and the right for women to leave their hair uncovered in defiance of what she calls “Taliban” – like laws in her country. In her letter addressing women in sudan and muslim women in general she voices her concerns about seemingly religious interpretations in her country and the future of girls and women.

To the women of m y country and the men who share our lives I am amira Osman, and I am awaiting my trial. The charges are for not wearing a scarf, but it seems my actual offence is for being a woman. but let me begin from the start. I grew up in Deim, a multicultural neighborhood of khartoum, where Ethiopians, Eritreans and Egyptian Copts shared their lives and traditions with people from different Sudanese tribes and other for reasons of gender, tribe, religion, race or nationality was not common nationalities. Discrimination or separation . No difference was made between girls and boys either, as we lived and played together. This environment of my early childhood, as well as growing up in a househo ld of independent and responsible women, had a significant impact on my personality. The youngest of four girls and one brother, I grew up with my mother, my grandmother and an aunt. my father died when I was one year old and my grandfather had passed away before. In the absence of men, we, girls and women, painted walls, oversaw workers at the house and went to the markets - work had no gender. Never was I made to feel insufficient or restricted for being a girl, instead I raised a person fully responsible of her actions and capable of solving whateveenjoyed full rights of a full person. I have been r problem there is. I grew up feeling complete. after University, I got married but it didn’t work out and after one year everybody went their own way. In Sudan people used to say, a woman’s sole purpose is “al wadud wa al walud” - a rhyme describing femininity as limitless kindness and endlessly giving birth. It entails obedience to the husband, to metapho rically riority by virtue of being a man. I disagree with the concept of a subservi kneel before him, due to his implicit supeReligion is being used here to prevent women from developing a persona ent wife, as is widely practiced in my society. lity of their own. I was first arrested in 2002 in Khartoum for wearing trousers. On my way to an internet café to work on my graduation project with a friend one late afternoon, two men started to harass us. They followed us, began calling us disrespectful and impolite women who come from bad families and wear trousers , which is shameful, and they were offended by us ignoring them at first. As I defended my dress, my intentions and my right to walk down this street, they were offended by me talking back, which they said, a woman shouldn’t. as a land Cruiser with tinted windows and no number plates pulled over, we were forced to get in. I had witnessed on the university campus how they once dumped a girl who was wearing a wide naked, so I told the man before me, that the same religion he said prevente skirt on a pick-up, in a way which left her d me from wearing trousers would prevent him as a man from touching me. He shouted at me, that being a man he knew religion better and that he would teach me politeness – I had challenged him. my friend, whose dress was not criticized, joined me, so as not to leave me alone. At the station, in a very big office with 11 officers watching, we were made to stand in the corner, shouted at and made come and go back and forth. These tactics of attrition and demonstrations of power along with their random belittling questions made us feel ashamed and at their mercy. It was the first time for me to be at a police station. I felt the stigma of a bad repute, I was afraid this would spoil my name in the commun ity and among those who know me. I was trembling and I felt anger. A case was opened based on § 152, which regulates prostitution, paradox ically also for my friend - one officer suggested her skirt was tight and one could see her buttocks. No one explaine d us the procedure. We were locked in a cell and denied water. One officer twisted my arm on my back, grabbed into my pocket and eventually pushed me on the ground


SIHA Women In Islam 01/2014

trying to take away my phone. I was allowed to call my family only after I lost my composure, shouted and cried that they won’t keep me from this phone call unless they killed me. at two o’clock in the morning, when my family came with a lawyer and clothes, as ours would be withheld as evidence, we were released on bail. What appears as a combination of mutually reinforcing adverse factors, like arbitrary use of power or failures of police and jurisdiction, has more to it when you are female. § 152 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Code persecutes mostly women. In the way sharia - the Islamic law is interpreted in Sudan, the rules are strict but vague. They leave room to arrest women from streets, public places, cars or even their homes according to what the Public Order Police deem to be an “indecent act” or an “obscene outfit”. The law is not in line with African and International Treaties and is widely considered unconstitutional. In a summary trial – truncated and expedited judiciary processes in unregistered courts as is common in such cases – I was sentenced to payment of a fine, 40 lashes or two months prison, for wearing tight trousers, walking in the street at night-time, with the intention to go to a café where girls smoke shisha and talk in a bad language. according to § 152 the intention or possibility of prostitution itself is punishable. The captain of the mission that caught us in the street was the accuser and the four policemen with him were the witnesses. I paid 500 SDG, more than my annual tuition fee as a computer engineering student at that time. Since that incident I have been questioned many times and I was often stopped in the street by security staff in civilian clothes. Sometimes I begged them to let me go, sometimes I paid them off in the street. In a way, all following incidents were repetitions of the first regarding the patterns of degradation, humiliation, abuse and criminalization, all worsened by being a woman. In Sudan we were raised to trust elders, and thinking that a judge is God’s legate, wise and knowledgeable and of great authority. The current corrupted practices however have no relation with religion or with justice. The judiciary system was very aggressive, with individuals driven by ambitions without morals, and I felt that instead of dispensing justice according to values and a procedure they took things personally, as if they hated you – until I understood it was not me personally but women in general they hated, and were eager to punish. From there, I tried not to show any weakness, because I found that they don’t deserve that. I felt I must work against these things in my country, that I cannot be weak in the face of it. The chance for that came in 2009, with the case of lubna Hussein. In 2009, lubna, a journalist, and 12 other women were arrested in a khartoum restaurant, all wearing trousers. Several pleaded guilty, lubna refused. She sent out invitations to her trial and to her possible flogging. In the end, the Sudanese Journalists Union paid the fine, but Lubna Hussein made it public. I appreciated her brave stand, joined the public initiative and started to support lubna and to work against this law. I joined demonstrations and I was injured - I was hit in my head, and have seven stitches on my arm, but it strengthened my anger to continue, more and more convinced that people cannot remain silent. Hundreds of women participated in the second demonstration for lubna. Tea-sellers and ice-cream sellers – poor women who struggle for their livelihoods, gave away their products to us demonstrators for free. Out of fear for their daily bread they could not join, but they encouraged us. many men joined as well, saying “it is for your rights”. Until fanatic religious men and security men dressed in civilian clothing began to insult and attack us during the demonstration, I never heard Sudanese men speak to women in such a nasty way. my generation was taught that the Sudanese woman is highly respected. as we grew up, no Sudanese man would raise his voice or hand against a woman. Nor would a man answer back to a woman - even if she did so. It was culturally unacceptable and would reflect badly on him in his community. More than that, nobody would harm a man in the presence of the women of his family. men would not quarrel in the presence of a woman, nor challenge or insult another man in the presence of his wife, sister, daughter or mother. but along with political changes about 20 years ago, the position of women in society has gradually been affected. Through the state enforcement of inequality couched as a religious mandate, Sudanese culture has been damaged by a criminal law which permits abuse of women’s human rights through the subversion and misuse of religion. like the paragraph on rape: if you can’t prove the case you cannot complain, because you would be made out to be a prostitute for the accusation. Women are perceived as potential criminals, and the root cause of all sort of problems. any interaction with a man in the street will be turned into a dress issue. If a man is sexually harassing you, pedestrians witnessing it or those dealing with the case will forget about the core issue, and will dig into how you are dressed using it to manipulate, control and subdue the woman in the situation. In one way or another she will turn out to be the criminal at the scene. In a recent incident, in 2013, I was following with land issues at a public building in Jabel awliya, when a group of policemen at the gate stopped me for not wearing a tarha – the scarf widely ascribed to muslim women. One of them demanded I put on my tarha, to which I refused. He asked me “are you not Sudanese? are you not muslim?” I told him “I am muslim but I am not wearing hijab.” To which he ordered me to stand in front of him and replied, “I am a man. If I tell you something, you as a woman are to stop and listen. If I tell you to put the scarf on, you will put on the scarf”. Needless to say, that I ended up at the police station. Why I did not put on the scarf? The tarha on my shoulders on that day was part of my dress it was not supposed to be on my head. and I generally don’t wear hijab. It’s a decision I made when I got divorced. Though he met me not wearing hijab, he later began to insist on me covering up. Since I got divorced I am not wearing it and never will wear it again. I know that many people dislike this, but that is not important. This is who I am, this is how I dress. I cannot accept men in the streets randomly telling me to change what I wear. At the police station I was made sit on the floor next to empty bottles of liquor and rubbish and was questioned, including from what kind of a family and from which tribe I was. What relation is there between my tribe and the tarha, unless it becomes political? I was again treated like a criminal, and as previously made to stand in front of a group of men who sit and stare at you. I was asked to sit and stand, to stand and sit, during three hours I was not sitting more than 10 minutes in one go. Someone would come and ask, “Where is she?”, and another one “What is she doing?”, and then I would have to stand up and they look at me and comment something according to their opinion. One would say “But your dress is fine”, and the next one “Oh this is horrible, they must kill you” and then they would go away. One officer told me if I had an abaya in my handbag, everything could be solved easily. many women in my country have internalised the idea of hiding by keeping the black full body cover in their handbag. you carry it and wear it here and there and then you can pull it off elsewhere depending on the circumstances. It is common, but I believe it is a concept for striking fear into women in Islam, which makes your life a constant “just in case”. If you did anything that seems wrong according

SIHA Women In Islam 01/2014


, and hide. It keeps women hesitant and unsafe, to external judgment, you can quickly cover yourself, make yourself invisible I dress what I dress and I come back home in hide. not choose I person, fearful a not am I es. and insecure about themselv what I went out from home in. gives you the full freedom to dress what you like, There is nothing in the Qur’an that specifically demands the hijab. Islam al dress code – Islam is very diverse in that tradition their has country every to wear a hijab or not. additional to that you want to face other people. Nobody has how and dress to regard. And finally it is a basic human right to choose what the right to interfere with that. would encase all the values, all respect and pride, the The hijab has been magnified beyond what it actually is. It is as if a woman of cloth. Dress in general and the hijab specifically piece a religion itself and the honour of Islam, your tribe and your family in women, capable of making them feel bad about frighten to nt instrume an and ion suppress and control of has become a means tes the attention of women to be constantly manipula It for. punished be to g somethin l, the female body, as if it were shamefu g useful. It affects women’s self-esteem. somethin doing of instead factor, occupied with their body, which becomes a limiting a whole community by oppressing the women. If the as a political instrument, the hijab becomes a means of controlling ently her family is too. This is the psychology of opsubsequ and well, as are mother of a family is oppressed, her children , children, family and to the entire community, who husband pression: as you oppress the woman she will deliver this to her if you break women’s dignity. lowered is e everyon d, exempte is one No that. by ed is indirectly controll may be strong woman and have a good position at In day to day life as we currently experience it in my country Sudan, you at the gate can stop you and lower and control you university or at a government department, and yet the lowest person There was an incident recently, where a female you. reduces it and izing dehuman is It dress. your with a comment about a tarha under the Sudanese thobe - the long wear doesn’t she why e colleagu male minister at work was admonished by her of Sudan supported him in his critique. Council s Religiou ental fabric Sudanese women traditionally wear. The governm was wearing trousers, a tunica and a big scarf. Her On the third day of Eid a neighbour was arrested after a concert. She SDG facing two cases: § 152 because of the trou750 paid She . dress and her mobile were confiscated and never returned : cartoons about a sheep at Eid. On that day pictures sers and § 153 because of her mobile which allegedly contained bad elderly Sudanese woman who wearing an another and women, n Ethiopia were 5 court, the in cases 10 there were about for an indecent dress. like 152, § by judged was She night. at street abaya was arrested for walking in the dress as the most visible portion of structures that my letter to you is not about religion or the hijab, but about a woman’s es that deny a woman to speak out in front structur about is It life. her about choices nt deny her the right to make importa must not look to their eye and must show She men. for respect rate demonst of men and expect her to lower her voice to have a straight look or a strong voice. to brave, be to d weakness and submissiveness to satisfy them. She is not expecte nothing to be afraid of. Fear not, hence you woman, my sisters, I am telling you, there is nothing shameful about you and the sister, the wife and the lover - you are right as aunt, the ther, you are the origin, the mother, the daughter, the grandmo shame, those who try to weaken you – you are not. you are. be brave and be yourself. be strong, don’t let them put you to song says “here she comes, and there is nothing to the er rememb and hail, singers e Sudanes our you are azza, the woman stop her, despite all circumstances”. and are reproducing the oppression. So mother, don’t but beware - we women in Sudan have internalized the oppression another wife don’t oppress her, because she is opmarried husband whose sister oppress your daughters and even you on. oppressi of tool a pressed by the same situation, as you are. Don’t become nt in common – being women, we have to share in all women, whether tea-lady or minister we have something importa participate in projects or ideas that discriminate or to not order in s supporting each other regardless of political position woman is you. If you want to put down another Every it. pay violate women’s rights because at the end of the day you will . yourself to it doing are you er woman, rememb lashing their sisters and daughters, hear me say: it is and you my brothers in governments, organizations, parties, who are you do harm. enough; enough of oppression, enough of fear and abuse. Enough is enough. the stand I take, but I dream of a homeland with full I am amira Osman. I am awaiting my trial in a few days. I am at risk for feel freed but to the contrary feels free when doesn’t freedom and rights, so that a person who travels outside the country feel relieved. I dream that it is this comfort they Sudan leave people when that observe I ly Current he is in his country. people feel when they are here, at home.

Amira Osman khartoum, 23 October 2013

Who is YOUR letter addressed to?

Recorded by amIRa NaGy

Do you want to contribute to the advancement of equality and fairness in society or tell us your story that challenges gender norms for the better? Are you a writer who wants to contribute to the growing voices against prejudice and gender inequality in Islam? send us your open letter, your feedback, article or essay at: journal@sihanet.org


SIHA Women In Islam 01/2014

sha re your thoughts !!!


amel bashir Taha amel Bashir Taha, a sudanese fine artist, was born in Port sudan and raised in Jedda, saudi arabia. after studying Interior Design in Khartoum, she started exhibiting her own style of sensual black & white compositions and illustrations in 2007 – finally following her passion for painting and drawing she had cultivated since she was a little girl. a married mother of two, she currently lives in Khartoum with her family. Your paintings generally depict women in rich, elaborate ornamentation composing an air of distinct beauty and symbolic value. What is your motivation to draw women and in which way do you perceive them? My art is motivated by feelings. I observe that although women have achieved some freedoms, like freedom of movement, access to education and work, their existence is still disadvantaged and social perceptions about them are unfair. Men maintain a privileged status. It strikes me that in different historical periods women had a better status than today. I try to portray women in their own kingdoms – queens of the ancient Nubian kingdoms in the Sudanese context. The images I conceive in my paintings are expressions of female beauty, strength, and a lofty status of women within the broader Eastern context. In which way is your art inspired by your religion? I think my religion influences my art in several ways. Firstly, I believe that

Islam as a religion at its core treasured women and assigned her a well recognized status. Also, my compositions have Islamic features in patterns of decorations, unveiled women and in the combination of beauty and power they express. What does this particular piece tell of? For me, the painting is self-explanatory with a clear sentiment. But I am keen on knowing the thoughts and feelings the scenes and aesthetics of my art inspire in others. I consider those to be part of each painting. Well Amel, we were touched by the sensual beauty and power of this scene. It tells us of women, past and present queens, who enclosing an egg with her hands – the archetypal symbol for the beginning of all life and renewal through birth and rebirth – in a tender gesture holds in her hands a symbol of the earth and the matrix of life, leaving no doubt about her status.

How about you, dear reader?


Refugee women tell their story Stories of Eritrean women reflect grave violations of human rights in their country and beyond. an autocratic government seeking to sustain military and political domination over a populace with diverse backgrounds, religions and ideologies, means numerous threats to the population. Fleeing out of fear of persecution or from the horrors during national service, the stories of nine women tell of the great risks they are exposed to and their experiences with traffickers who dehumanize them in every possible way including kidnapping, enslaving, sexual violence and organ harvesting. The abuse continues in first asylum countries like Sudan, also a country where women are subject to subordination and repression due to its regime’s ideology. The testimonies succeed in conveying harsh realities to face, and provide a personal insight into the struggles endured. a question emanates: where will the journey of violence and abuse of women end?

BEYOnD TROUsERs An advocacy paper

mapping the experiences of women with the application of the public order laws, police and courts in Sudan, beyond Trousers reveals the public order regime to promote a derogative concept of women and prevent them from executing their economic, political and human rights. an analysis within the legal and religious context reflects how the POR undermines Sudan’s capacity to fulfill its obligations under the African Charter and in Human Rights perspectives, mainly for women. Recommendations to policy makers ask for repeal and reform of the POR for its negative impacts on the culture in Sudan.

FallInG THROUGH THE CRaCKs Customary law and the imprisonment of women in South Sudan

against the backdrop of the construction of the new Republic of South Sudan, the volume draws attention to gender identity and structural violence related to dowry, domestic violence, divorce and adultery that perpetuate prejudice policies and the violation of women’s rights in South Sudan. a call to review contexts of customs and to enact existing conventions, bills and instruments that protect human rights, it is an agenda for action and gives a voice to women who are imprisoned, victimized and persecuted – in the cracks between the inadequacies of the traditional law and the statuary system.

For further publications, resources and the latest updates from our work see


SIHA Women In Islam 01/2014


I n

I s l a m

SIHA is a regional Network

SIHA works to realize this vision

working in the Horn of Africa, operating since 1995 with a membership of over 80 women’s civil society organisations in the Horn of Africa – including Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.

through a network that is well grounded within civil society and regionally interactive while taking account of global issues.

Our vision is that all women and girls in the Horn of Africa must have the right to live in a peaceful, just environment and to exercise their equal rights as human beings. Accordingly Muslim women are entitled to their spirituality, their beliefs and their understanding of their religion.


SIHA Women In Islam 01/2014

SIHA implements capacity building programs to grass roots civil society, provides direct support for women in conflict and post conflict situations and promotes women human rights through advocacy and campaigning activities.

Interweaving academia and activism SIHA publications – handbooks, manuals, booklets, research papers and journals – are sources of knowledge, practical ideas and tools for respective programming and projects to professionals, activists, human right defenders, donors and policy makers. As SIHA we believe that the power of women rights activists and defenders in the Horn of Africa is standing high against political repression, fundamentalism and restraining traditions.

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