WE DON’Talways know when we are participating in something special and historic at the moment it is happening.
But this past weekend I have been privileged to be part of one such moment in time; Musawah, a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family was launched here in Kuala Lumpur.
Not that everybody appreciated the import of this moment.
As 250 scholars and activists, female and male, gathered in KL from some 47 countries to discuss what can be done to ensure that the equality and justice inherent in Islam is brought to the fore in all policies related to the family, there were people who claimed that what we were doing was “insulting Islam”.
The logic that ensuring Islam treats all its adherents, male and female, equally and justly is viewed as somehow insulting to the religion escapes me completely.
The Musawah (“equality”, not as some allege, “sameness”) gathering sought to find, within Islamic texts and jurisprudence, solutions to the contemporary problems facing women and men in ways that ensure that justice is served.
As many of the scholars pointed out, Islam brought justice to the society it was revealed to via Prophet Muhammad, especially to women.
If women feel that they are being treated unjustly in many societies today, it is not a failing of Islam but of interpretations of the religion that ignored its essential just and egalitarian spirit.
And the lives of many Muslim women today are pretty miserable. In many countries, women have little say over their lives, treated as they are as properties of their fathers, and then of their husbands.
They often cannot be educated, nor take jobs, nor have the freedom to choose when to marry or how many children to have. To protest against any of these conditions has often meant that these women have had to suffer violence or worse, death.
In many countries, honour killings, where men kill female relatives for perceived insults to their family’s honour, still occur and are explained away with so-called religious reasons.
In others, women are still subjected to female genital mutilation in the name of religion, despite the fact that the Quran says absolutely nothing about it.
Our own Muslim women may not suffer the same extreme humiliations but nevertheless do not always receive the justice that they deserve, and Islam extols.
Women abandoned by their husbands and bringing up their children single-handedly still cannot be considered guardians to their own children. Their husbands can summarily divorce them without much notice or with provisions for their living and that of their children.
Attempts to amend these laws to make them better for women have thus far been derided as “changing God’s laws”, never mind that they were already amended from the originally just ones to ones that are far less fair to women.
It was exhilarating to learn from these learned scholars that God does not discriminate between men and women, both His creations, the proof of which is in the Quran itself.
Nor does it allow for men to mistreat women, enjoining repeatedly that women and orphans be always fairly treated.
Even more exhilarating was to listen to people from Morocco, Turkey and Afghanistan talk about the strides they have made to better the lot of their societies by making family laws more just and equitable. None of this was easy, and took a very long time and hard and dedicated effort. But it paid off.
Today, Morocco has a family law that describes marriage as “an equal partnership” between a man and a woman.
Turkey, which is governed by an Islamist party, has a civil and penal code that were amended to ensure that women were treated as equals in the law and not as passive recipients of whatever male jurists decided.
Even Afghanistan managed to pass a law that gave women the right to contract their own marriages, rather than through their male relatives, despite a lack of stable government and institutions.
All of these countries did it while adhering to Islamic teachings, thus showing that Islam is no barrier to justice and equality. It is thus puzzling that anyone should be critical of this effort, as if leaving Muslim women mired in suffering is desirable.
Even more bewildering is that there are women who think that striving for justice and equality in Islam is somehow wrong, as if God means for the feminine gender to be discriminated against.
I came away energised by this meeting, secure in my belief that my religion will never abandon my sisters and I whenever we are in need. If they were not before, our eyes have been opened to the glory of Islam where God loves women equally as much as He loves men