Women Under Islam (Part One of Four)
by Adrian Morgan
Behind the Veil
Back in the 1980s, few young Western Muslim women wore the Muslim headscarf, or hijab. In fact it was banned in some Muslim countries for teachers and those employed by the state. Turkey was the first country to campaign against its use. In 1981, Tunisia banned the hijab from public offices and schools, under law number 108. This was ratified by the late President Habib Bourguiba (1956 - 1987). In September 2006 Tunisian authorities mounted a campaign against the Muslim "Barbie" doll called Fulla, who wears a hijab, as it was thought to encourage use of the scarf. A month later, Morocco enforced a ban on images of the hijab in schoolbooks, even though the item can be worn legally. In predominantly Muslim Tajikistan in central Asia, the headscarf was banned from schools in October, 2005.
There used to be a time when only a few Western-born Muslims wore the hijab. Yet progressively over the past two decades, it has become increasingly common and more recently in the West, even the practice of wearing the face-covering veil, or niqab has become more common as well. There are political forces which have promoted the hijab as "obligatory" dress for Muslim women. The group Hizb ut-Tahrir has campaigned in British universities since the 1980s to force Muslim students to wear the item, using physical intimidation and threats to get their way. The group was banned from UK campuses in 1995 but continues to operate under other names. Other groups such as Tablighi Jamaat have been encouraging women to wear the headscarf as a religious obligation. This "missionary" group, founded in India in 1927, has been linked with terrorism, mounting coup attempts in Pakistan and shootings in north Africa.
Women Under Islam (Part Two of Four)
by Adrian Morgan
Legal Marriage And Forced Marriages
A man in Islam can have four concurrent wives, though a woman is denied more than one husband. In most Western nations, polygamy is illegal, but Britain allows tax-payers' money to subsidize welfare benefits for polygamous Muslims' extra wives.
Sheikh Ahmad Nutty of the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, writes: "The stated requirements of marriage in Islam are as follows: Full consent of both partners to the marriage, expressing the above consent through ijab (offer) and qabul (acceptance), finally the presence of two reliable witnesses. Apart from the above, in the case of females, their guardian's consent has been considered essential for the validity of marriage according to the majority of imams and scholars. Imam Abu Hanifah, however, is of the view that a mature woman is fully capable of contracting her own marriage. Thus in his view, marriages finalized without guardian's consent shall be considered as valid so long the woman has chosen someone who is considered as compatible."
The fact that a young woman has to have the consent of her guardian, or Wali, indicates that the woman is not really a free agent and cannot readily marry someone of her own choosing. In Malaysia last year, a 22-year old woman who had married a 32-year old man and was five months' pregnant, was taken to an Islamic court by her father. He claimed that, being her Wali, he was not consulted before the marriage. The Islamic court annulled the marriage.
There are other bizarre variations on standard marriage, including "temporary marriages" called mut'ah and misyar. Misyar is a Sunni custom and it became legitimized in Egypt in the early 19th century. Ibn Baaz, the Salafi Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia from 1993-9 made a fatwa sanctioning misyar, expecting it to make it easier for wealthy single women to get married. Traditionally, a Muslim husband presents his bride with a dowry or mahr, and misyar dispenses with this requirement. In misyar marriage the couple does not live together, but makes nuptial visits to each other.
On April 12, 2006 the Islamic Jurisprudence Assembly in Mecca gave its approval for such unions. Misyar marriages are becoming common in Saudi Arabia, with some Saudi marriage officials claiming that 7 out of 10 of their contracts are misyar arrangements. Misyar is a temporary marriage, but can be extended to become full marriage. It does not have a fixed time in which it must end, like Mut'ah marriage.
Some traveling Muslims use temporary marriages to engage in sex tourism 'Islamically". Last June, Indonesia's vice president, Jusuf Kalla quipped that he saw nothing wrong with Arab men engaging in "temporary marriages" with Indonesian women. In August 2006 five Saudis were deported from an Indonesian resort for engaging in temporary marriages with local women.
Mut'ah marriage can be engaged in for as little as a few hours, with the man paying the "bride" for this contract. Mut'ah is illegal in Saudi Arabia, but is allowed in Iran, where it is called sighe. Iranian sociologist Amanollah Gharaii Moghaddam has said of such marriages: "Short-term marriages are a form of legalized prostitution. A state must not and cannot legitimize prostitution."
Such a marriage appears to be sanctioned in the Koran, Sura 4:24, where it is written: "Also married women (are forbidden to you in marriage), except those whom you own as slaves. Such is the decree of God. All women other than these are lawful for you, provided you court them with your wealth in modest conduct, not in fornication. Give them their dowry for the enjoyment you have had of them as a duty; but it shall be no offense for you to make any other agreement among yourselves after you have fulfilled your duty. Surely God is all-knowing and wise."
Mut'ah is also, since the fall of Saddam Hussein, permitted in Iraq. It is allowed in Bahrain, where it has been condemned by women's rights activist Ghada Jamshir. Ms Jamshir said on Al-Arabiya TV: "This is a violation of children's rights! This constitutes sexual assault of the girl. What does 'pleasure from sexual contact with her thighs' mean? It means deriving sexual pleasure from an infant. How old is an infant? One year, a year and a half, a few months?"
Women Under Islam (Part Three of Four)
by Adrian Morgan
Pakistan's "Compensation Marriages"
Most Muslim marriages involve becoming firstly engaged, followed by an official marriage. Such betrothal should involve partners who are able to give consent. However, in the Indian subcontinent, there are cases where families force children to make binding marriage vows. In May 2006 in Rajasthan, India, a 19-year old woman was forcibly separated from her husband, whom she had married when of legal age. The local community, supported by Muslim clerics argued that the woman's father had married her to another child on May 8, 1990, when she was only two years old. As local cleric Mufti Akhla-Ur-Rehman Kazmi explained: "Though it is wrong to marry a minor, it has been done. But she has not been divorced, how can she marry again? It is against our laws."
In Pakistan, not only do illegal child marriages sometimes occur, they happen on the orders of village councils of elders. Under Pakistan's Muslim Family Law Ordinance, a girl must reach 16, and a boy must reach 18, before a marriage can take place. Both parties must give consent. Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Child in 1990. In February this year in Dera Ismail Khan in Punjab province, a four year old girl was married to a 45-year old man. The child had been ordered to marry as "compensation" to settle a family feud by a local council of elders, to settle a family feud. The girl's uncle had transgressed custom by eloping with the 45-year old man's niece.
This custom is known in Punjab and Sindh province as "vani", and in the tribal areas of North-West Frontier province, the practice is called "swara". Essentially it is the same in all three provinces; a tribal council (called a panchayat in Punjab, a jirga in Sindh and NWFP) orders a male to expiate a crime by sacrificing a girl relative in marriage. Vani marriage was outlawed at the start of 2005 by the Pakistani government, after a case in Multan in 2004 where a three-year old girl was married off to a 60-year old man. Muslim clerics solemnize these marriages, and even offer dire threats to girls and their families if they do not comply.
In November 2005 a panchayat in the village of Sultanwala in Punjab ordered that if five girls did not comply with orders of vani marriage, they should be abducted, raped or killed. The girls had been ordered as vani compensation in 1996, when they were aged between six and 13 years, after a male relative had shot a family rival. The girls had then been married "in absentia" by an Islamic cleric.
Vani marriages can be ordered against girl children who have not even been born. In Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab on April 7, 2006, a case of vani came to light where a council ordered that four as-yet unborn girls from one family should be promised as compensation for a murder committed eight years earlier.
A few days later Naheed Akhtar, a 24-year-old woman from Mianwali in Punjab, lodged a police complaint against her father for having her married off. She and her "groom" had been only one-year-old at the time of the "marriage". The vani contract had been agreed in 1982, for a murder which had happened in 1960. The woman also sued Irfan, her "husband" who had been one at the time of the marriage. She also sued the "husband" who was married to her elder sister as part of the vani arrangement. An imam, Maulvi Noor Muhammad, had performed the "marriages".
In the same month (April), a jirga had ordered a family in North-West Frontier province to provide a girl in "swara" compensation to a family whose daughter had eloped with one of their kin. The "guilty" family had no girl children, so it was ordered by the jirga to purchase a girl. A 13-year old girl was bought at a market in Peshawar for 53,000 rupees ($876). Because the girl was emotionally distraught, she was rejected by the family.
On April 17, 2006, it was reported that two girls from Mianwali, aged 12 and 7, had been ordered as vani for an affair carried out by their brother. The 12-year-old was to be given to a 28-year-old man, and the 7-year-old to an 8-year-old boy. A Muslim cleric had performed a marriage ceremony without the girls present, but no marriage papers had been filed.
In May 2006, a 9-year-old girl from Dera Ghazi Khan petitioned to have her father sued under Islamic law for marrying her off in a vani deal. Her brother had engaged in an affair with a girl from the family of her "husband". Her husband, Shaukat Hussain, had forced her to engage in sexual intercourse. The petition stated that an Islamic cleric, Manzoor Hussain, had been bribed to falsify marriage documents to claim that she was 18. A court petition was also launched by the girl's brother against the cleric, the girl's "husband" and father-in-law.
Vani and swara marriages are abuses of young girls' human rights. In May last year an 11-year-old boy was strangled after being offered as a vani marriage partner to a family who had earlier kidnapped his elder sister. In June a local government minister in Sindh province was named as one of the members of a jirga which gave a girl away in vani marriage. Dr Sohrab Sarki of the Pakistan People's Party was a former member of the national parliament.
The denial of a child's rights was highlighted in June where a man from Punjab province "sold" his 13-year-old step-daughter to one of his friends, to cover a 16,000 rupees ($266) debt. In the same month two Sindh girls, ages six and eight, were given in marriage to cover the price of three buffaloes. In the same month, the highest court in Pakistan annulled the marriage of five girls who had been given away by the jirga attended by Sohrab Sarki. Five girls had been involved, with the youngest being one year old, and the eldest five years. The same court also ordered an inquiry into the "buffalo" transaction.
Women Under Islam (Part Four of Four)
by Adrian Morgan
Female Genital Mutilation
Much has been written on the so-called "circumcising" of women, more appropriately called female genital mutilation or FGM. Globally, 130 million women and girls are said to have been "circumcised". As a cultural practice, FGM has probably been in existence for thousands of years. It has traditionally happened across Equatorial Africa, yet in the East and Horn of Africa it appears more widespread, probably as a result of Islamist influence.
In Yemen and Saudi Arabia the custom takes place, but in Saudi Arabia it is common only in the south of the kingdom. In the United Arab Emirates FGM is not illegal, though public hospitals are forbidden from carrying out the procedure. It was primarily a custom of Somali, Omani, and Sudanese expatriates. However, there have been stories of European Muslims been sent to private clinics in UAE to have the operation. A study from the mid-1990s found that 30.8 percent of girls between the ages of 1 and 5 had undergone FGM.
In Egypt, at least 90 percent of women are believed to have undergone FGM. In 2005, a report by UNICEF had claimed that 97 percent of Egyptian women aged 15-49 had undergone the operation. Here, the issue has been a source of controversy. A CNN broadcast from 1994, in which a 10-year-old girl in Egypt was shown being "operated upon" by an unskilled practitioner, caused a hostile reaction. Egypt sued CNN for $500 million for damaging its reputation, but the case was thrown out by courts.
In 1995, after President Hosni Mubarak announced his intention to ban the practice, he was persuaded to drop prohibitive legislation. The move to ban FGM had been supported by Dr. Mohammed Syed Tantawi, the Mufti of Egypt, but had been fiercely opposed by the Sheikh of Al Azhar University, the largest Sunni theological college. Even a gynecologist from Cairo University, Dr. Munir Fawzi, stated: "Female circumcision is entrenched in Islamic life and teaching." However, FGM was banned in general in Egypt in 1996, but was allowed in some circumstances if carried out by a doctor.
In November 2006 an international conference of scholars took place at Al Azhar in Cairo, and the general consensus was that the practice was "un-Islamic". In a final statement, the scholars announced: "The conference appeals to all Muslims to stop practicing this habit, according to Islam's teachings which prohibit inflicting harm on any human being." Finally, on June 28 2007, it was announced that the Egyptian health ministry had banned the medical profession from carrying out FGM, effectively outlawing it universally. On Sunday June 24 the Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa had said that there was no Islamic justification for FGM.
The edict by the Mufti and health ministry had come after an 11-year-old girl, Budour Ahmed Shaker, died after such an operation on June 21. Budour's mother had paid a doctor in Mina, just south of Cairo, $9 to perform the operation. The procedure had gone wrong and the girl died from an overdose of anesthetic.
There is one Hadith in the collection of Sunan Abu Dawud which claims that Mohammed approved of the practice for girls. Book 41 (Kitab Al-Adab or "General Behavior"), Hadith 5251 states: “Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband”.
Though Sunan Abu Dawud is not regarded as "sahih" or "authentic" in the manner of the Hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim, the above Hadith is often quoted by Islamic scholars as a justification for FGM. The "spiritual leader" of the Muslim Brotherhood is Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He has stated: "It is reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to a midwife: 'Reduce the size of the clitoris but do not exceed the limit, for that is better for her health and is preferred by husbands'. The hadith indicates that circumcision is better for a woman's health and it enhances her conjugal relation with her husband. It's noteworthy that the Prophet's saying 'do not exceed the limit' means do not totally remove the clitoris... Anyhow, it is not obligatory, whoever finds it serving the interest of his daughters should do it, and I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world."
The World Health Organization has long campaigned for FGM to be abolished. Three "types" of FGM are described. The method approved of by Qaradawi is Type 1: "Excision (removal) of the clitoral hood with or without removal of all or part of the clitoris." Type 2 is "Excision of the clitoris, together with part or all of the labia minora (the inner vaginal lips). This is the most widely practiced form." Type 3 (sometimes called infibulation) is extreme: "Excision of part or all of the external genitalia (clitoris, labia minora and labia majora), and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening, leaving a very small opening, about the size of a matchstick, to allow for the flow of urine and menstrual blood. Also known as pharaonic circumcision." There is a Type 4, which refers to pricking, stretching or cauterizing. Type 4 rarely happens in Muslim communities.