By Dr. Badria al-Bishr
18 March 2013
There is nothing worse than a slogan with contradicting meanings or a law that fails to implement justice as it initially stipulated. I have a painful example of this. A reader wrote me a letter saying: "My dad - God bless his soul - used to love the glorification of God a lot...He used to say he has a place in heaven and have many castles (there). But he was very cruel with my mother. He dragged her from her hair while she screamed. These scenes I (will) never forget."
As the reader implies, the man's pious look perhaps did not reflect on his behavior. Parties claiming to be Muslim tell us otherwise and therefore some Muslim groups rejected the United Nations declaration to combat violence against women after 131 countries agreed on it last week.
Islamic parties always obstruct world organizations and commissions that work to protect women from violence under the excuse that some details oppose Islam. Before I engage in a discussion, I would like to remind you that the declaration of freeing slaves was also opposed when some saw that enslaving people was a right protected by religion. But no one dares to articulate such a defence anymore.
Islam And Women
In their work to combat violence against women, commissions and organizations depend on revealing incidents from reality like the attempted murder of Malala Yousufzai in Pakistan for defending her right to learn, the gang-rape incident of a college student who rode the bus in New Delhi and the rape of a Swiss tourist in front of her husband also in India. As organizations and commissions do so, these Islamist parties depend on a sick imagination that defends the right of marrying a child by using the excuse that the Prophet Mohammed - peace be upon him - married Aisha when she was just a child. They forget that the prophet's first marriage was to Khadijah when she was 45 years old and that he was loyal to her until her death. They also forget that she was the first whom he resorted to for consultations when Islam’s revelation fell upon him. They know however that marriage of children was a valid tradition allowed due to givens of time up until our mothers' generation. But time has now gone beyond that and this is no longer possible.
What is strange is that these Islamist parties which oppose protecting women have a slogan that says "Islam lionized women, liberated them and raised their value." On the other hand, these parties are among the first of defenders of incidents against women on the levels of insult, exploitation for marriage issues, circumcision, forced marriage and marriage for the sake of unannounced divorce.
This time, some opposing Islamist parties commented on a detail they had reservations about. They either hinted or clearly revealed their stance regarding the notion that "forcing a woman to sleep with her husband is violence." They do not view it as violence but as a right! What are the Islamists frankly telling us? That the wife is the husband's property and he has the right to drag her from her hair if she refuses to sleep with him and thus he can force himself upon her? Or as some jurists put it when they define a dowry as the amount of money paid by the husband to the wife in exchange of renting her body? Does a human approve of such a concept that degrades the humanitarian relation between man and wife after God made it one of "love and mercy"? Of course these parties will stand in the middle. They do not dare to approve of this violence but they will fight addressing it by law out of fear that a man's right over his wife is limited.
A female jurist who contributed to formulating the Moroccan personal status laws told me that some jurists were hesitant in approving the laws when they thought of their wives but that when reminded that violence may one day target their daughters, they approved immediately. That's why I say, think of your daughters and do not stand halfway. Move, but please move forward!
Dr. Badria al-Bishr is a multi-award-winning Saudi columnist and novelist. A Ph.D graduate from the American University of Beirut, and an alumnus of the U.S. State Department International Visitor program. Her columns put emphasis on women and social issues in Saudi Arabia. She currently lectures at King Saud University's Department of Social Studies.