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Feministically Islamic

 

From: Christ in der Gegenwart, 8/2009, P. 83 foll.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

    The women's rights movement covers step by step also Islam - from the inside. Unless I'm completely mistaken, the key reforms to modernize also this civilizations will come from women.

 

War does pacify nothing. This is the repeated lesson after the allied military interventions in Afghanistan as in Iraq. Even the fight against terrorism fails because of the traps of violence. Under the U.S. President, Barack Obama it is now about getting out of the military adventure of his predecessor without causing even more terrific disasters. As the recent security conference in Munich showed, the keywords are: building a civil society, strengthening of education and the rule of law, development aid, social advancement.

That, however, are not tasks for armed forces or international defense alliances. Soldiers are not development workers, not teachers, not politicians. In the civilian sector they are suited at best to carry out temporarily procedures in cases of acute disasters. It is and remains therefore doubtful whether a "civilian", international peacemaking reorientation and reprogramming of the NATO strategies is realistic, i.e. to what extent it will bring about peace. If the military aspect is only of little importance for such an alliance, which had been founded for deterrence during the Cold War, would it then not be sensible to disband it, as it has de facto become obsolete in Europe?

 

Male Brotherhoods, Traditionalists

Anyway, in order to prevent a clash of civilizations other institutions are necessary, which can especially support the civil construction processes, particularly in the Middle East and south-western Asia, the current major crisis areas. Perhaps the West would be well advised to exercise restraint and patience, because the reform projects of the Islamic regions must come from there. History teaches that most of the foreign attempts to contribute to people's happiness with regard to civilization met with the aversion of the resident population and failed. That seems to be confirmed in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq. And this applies not only to the political and social field but also to reforms in religion, which also must come from within, in Christianity as now urgently in Islam as well. The reform activities there are at the moment quite weak, but by no means without chance. The most vital efforts to renew Islam as well as the Islamic societies come - as so often - not from men, who together with the religious establishment almost always prefer to think in a rigid traditionalist way, but from women who are curious, innovative, and keen to experiment. That was the same from the outset also in Christianity. Women were the first who believed in Christ's message of his Resurrection and who spread it, until they succeeded in persuading the men after a long delay to recognize Christ's new presence, which in the opinion of the "strong" sex was at first nothing else but "stupid woman gossip".

Indeed, an Islamic women's movement increasingly attracts locally but effectively attention in many Islamic regions of Asia and Africa, in the Sunni as well as in the Shiite tradition. It was and is decisive for the first tentative successes of those groups that they do not oppose religion but argue in favour of emancipatory reforms with the help of their faith. Massouma al-Mubarak, professor of political science in Kuwait and human rights activist, said, "It does not matter what the West wants, it is important that the people in the region want to have more democracy and more freedom." Meanwhile, women's organizations from thirteen Arab countries have established a symbolic "Permanent Court of Justice to Eliminate Violence Against Women". This is by no means just cosmetic, as the recent "Amnesty Journal" (2/2009) shows. It deals with women's movements "between religion and revolt" in Islamic countries.

 

Monogamy, Sexuality and Education

The gateway to renewal is on two neighbouring fields: marriage and sexuality, and education. The Islamic Women's Movement is almost everywhere fighting against the traditional patriarchy, which in the context of traditional views grants men far-reaching claims to ownership regarding their wives and the right to tell them what to do - particularly with regard to sexuality. All efforts of the female sex to achieve equality and self-determination are subjected to the general suspicion that they promote sexual immorality. Especially the in the Islamic cultures almost neurotic fixation on ideas of purity, which are exclusively concerned with the sexuality of women, shows conversely how sex-addicted the attitude of men is and which conception of man is at the root of it. For it is ultimately about male obsessions about the sexuality of women, which is constantly to be monitored by the male in order to prevent unchastity. The woman is, as it were, the "negative feedback" of male behaviour or more precisely, of male immorality. Apparently man cannot trust man an inch, as he collectively thinks that he has by bullying, oppressing and imposing his will on "his" women to "protect" them from his fellow males. The issue of women's rights as it turns out to be in Islam, is de facto a serious male problem. The women's movement within Islam has long since recognized it, whereas most men do not want to admit it in those civilizations which are, both in the public secular and religious life, organized as male associations [männerbündisch]. That's why most of the women's rights activists usually start in the area of sexuality, to be precise, in the field of marriage. They stand up for equal rights and partnership.

The Muslim women's rights movements require almost unanimously and everywhere first the abolition of polygamy

 


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and a shift towards strict monogamy, whereas they fight forced marriage. It may seem strange from the Western point of view that the acceptance of monogamy is the key element in the emancipation of women in Islam, because in the West the women's right of self-determination is seen also in the field of sexuality in a permissive way and as a sign of emancipation. Islamic feminists, however, are convinced that monogamy promotes best the conduct on a partnership basis between husband and wife, obviates violence within the family, and gets other liberation processes going in public life too. It is certainly strange that in the feminist Islam the wisdom of Jesus, who stood up for monogamy against his Jewish disputants, mets with a response, whereas Christian cultural areas have to a great extent relinquished this achievement in favour of an extended serial monogamy, that means in effect polygamy.

The Amnesty Magazine refers to successes of the women's rights movement in Iran. In 2007 the Council of Ministers adopted there a bill according to which "husbands do no longer need the permission of the first wife for taking the second wife in marriage", which was then excitedly agitated for a year by the Parliament. The project failed, because women rebelled against it and Shiite scholars showed understanding. The journalist Mahboubeh Karami pointed out that the feminists were supported by two reputable men, by Ayatollah Sane'i and Ayatollah Bojnurdi. "This proceeding is surprising. The Islamic feminists were until now working on the assumption that men dominate the interpretation of the Qur'an, which led to misogynous interpretations. That's why one wanted to oppose the male interpretation with a female. Meanwhile, they also seem to refer to male authorities, in order to get a greater legitimacy. Their opinions can help to refute the accusation about making un-Islamic demands." Yusuf Sane'i is quoted, "We have to weigh things up and to see whether the laws are compatible with the Islamic justice or not ... If they are unjust, we are to have a re-think about them." That seems also in Sunni Islam to entail corrections.

The women do also no longer want to feel to be just passive victims. This is proved by the tragic case of Mukhtaran Mai in Pakistan. She was thirty years old when in 2002 the council of elders of her village sentenced her to be raped by four men. She was thus punished on behalf of her twelve-year-old brother who had allegedly injured the honour of an influential family of higher social standing. That women are raped by a group of men as "penance" for wrong done by men of their families is not uncommon in Pakistan. But Mukhtaran May did not accept her fate. Although she came from a humble background and could neither read nor write, she refused to bear the social ostracism or to escape from the disgrace by suicide, as it is often customary. On the contrary, she took the rapists to court. Despite death threats she stayed in her village, built two schools with the money that she got from the state as compensation for the sexual act of violence and founded a women's aid organization.

 

Women's Refuges Against Honour Killing

As far as Jordan is concerned, there two years ago one of the first women's refuges of the Islamic world have been built. Those who are affected by sexual or other violence within the family find shelter and assistance there. Meanwhile, in Jordan "murder in the name of family honour" is publicly discussed, a few years ago this would have been unimaginable. There is admittedly still a section in the criminal law which considers violated honour as a reason for a mitigation of punishment for murder. But feminists succeeded in achieving slight improvements. A law was passed which at least grants the victims a compensation, even though acts of violence within the family are not yet subsumed under the category of criminal acts.

Also female scholars of Islam have gained in authority. In Indonesia, the country with the most Muslims in the world, where for some years the interpretation of the Koran has been becoming more and more radical, Musdah Mulia of the University Jakarta tries to set new, emancipatory directions. She criticized a pornography law enacted in the year before, which judges that the female body is "evil" and one-sidedly requires only of women that they are "the backbone of morality". But what about men? Why do they get off, for instance with rape, almost always unpunished? Musdah Mulia supports the women's organization Rahima, which is also fighting especially against polygamy and against violence within families. This protest is not directed against Islam as a religion, she says, but "against the fact that fundamentalists incorrectly interpret the Koran and instrumentalize it." In the neglected rural areas the members of the Rahima initiative have built up a network of Islamic schools, in which equality and democratic ideas are taught.

In northern Nigeria Hauwa Ibrahim, the strict daughter of a mullah, has gained respect by defending in court women who for example due to extramarital sexual intercourse are sentenced to death. The lawyer crusades also against flogging, stoning or amputation of limbs. During her first trial the judge still forbade her to speak. She consequently got her male colleague to act for her, to whom she gave instructions written on slips during the process. The many small initiatives like that of Hauwa Ibrahim may still seem insufficient, but they are effective. They change step by step awareness and behaviour. Hauwa Ibrahim assesses the development this way, "We do no longer live in a world like that of 2000 years ago. We, as women, as lawyers and as citizens want to create a better world within our culture. And we can achieve this by respecting and esteeming human lives, and also by respecting the law."

Morocco has furthest advanced among the countries with Islamic civilization. Four years ago a new law relating to the marital status was enacted, which already brings the rights of women closer to those of the men. The "Amnesty journal" says, "With it the Moroccan women belong to the most emancipated women of the Arab World. The wife's obligation to be obedient to her husband was abolished and the responsibility for household and family equally transmitted to the parents. The marriage age was fixed at eighteen years, and men and women equally have the right to divorce. Interestingly, these changes were justified by Islam; even the Islamic conservatives therefore agreed with this law. Organizations such as the 'Committee of the Berber Women' or 'Amal Association for Women and Development' had made possible this legislative change by their years of hard work."

 

Women's Solidarity through the Internet

The small signs of progress for Muslim women are also on a global level signs of hope that the violent clash of civilizations is by no means preprogrammed. The new ways of communication via satellite and the Internet make it possible that even in the remotest areas of the world women educate themselves and show their solidarity. The progress of peoples and cultures is considerably determined by the progress of women - and, as you can see in Christianity, also by the progress of religion. Even if the teaching authority of the churches, especially the Catholic and Orthodox, have still significant problems with a real equality of women, just the lay Christians who are living in the midst of the world can be proud that they have learned the main lessons of women's emancipation. In the long run also the followers of Islam will not be able to get around this irreversible development of civilization and culture through women's rights.

 

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