2. Dangerous liaisons: No place for polygamy in English law
4. Australian Muslim women start fighting a repressive patriarchal system
Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan and Religious Affairs Minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi told the National Assembly that the government would not support the reported recommendation by the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) that a divorce should go into effect within three months of a woman’s request for it, even if her husband did not respond by that time. The country’s top Islamic advisory body, the CII, had urged the government to amend divorce laws to give more say to women, triggering a controversy with religious hardliners vowing to resist the move. Minister for Law and Justice Farooq H. Naek said these were only recommendations of the CII and these would become law only if parliament approved them. He said that no law against the Holy Quran and Sunnah would be passed.
Under existing laws, men are free to divorce their wives, but a woman can only start divorce proceedings if she first surrenders her right to ‘mehr’, or money pledged to her at the time of wedding as a token of her husband’s earnestness. Existing laws allow a husband to divorce his wife verbally in private but CII recommended it should be done in writing. Though this proposal was received well by the progressive sections of society, there was a lot of hue and cry raised by many others. Many religious scholars objected to this as well due to the fact that all fiqahs (schools of thoughts of Islam) have their own rules regarding divorce and thus a decision should not be reached till ulema of all sects have been taken into confidence. The composition of the CII is such that it does not represent all sects of Islam, thus leading to this controversy. In order to bring reforms in the Muslim Divorce Laws, the CII should invite religious scholars of all sects to discuss this issue and then come to a unanimous decision, as it is obligatory for Muslims to study everything which is necessary for the physical and spiritual well being and development of the Muslim community. Islam has recommended ‘ijtihad’ to resolve issues according to that point in time. The literal meaning of ijtihad is to strive with one’s total ability and efforts to reach a goal to endeavour to deduce the divine laws of Shariah from the Quran and Sunnah. After reaching a consensus, the recommendation should be sent to the parliament as the government is duty bound to take such issues to the legislation. But to make this issue controversial even before the parliament has taken any decision regarding this matter is uncalled for.
The way the federal ministers distanced themselves from this recommendation show that the CII’s recommendation is being politicised. Criticism for the sake of criticism should be avoided. For example, some scholars opine that the former president Pervez Musharraf, according to his theory of enlightenment, had appointed such persons in the CII who were not capable of issuing religious decrees (fatwas). Such baseless allegations should not be taken seriously by the government and instead of being supportive of the CII, disowning its recommendations would stir more trouble. The only way to resolve this issue is to follow the spirit of Islam and include ulema of all fiqahs in the CII and then reach a consensus. By politicising the CII, the government would be giving in to hardliners who have tarnished the name of Islam due to their vested interests.
Dangerous liaisons: No place for polygamy in English law
Is there really any place for polygamy in English law, as a leading Muslim figure recently argued?
Rosa Freedman, November 19 2008 14.30 GMT
The bodies of the Knights Templar were surely spinning under their effigies last night, as someone they would have regarded as an infidel delivered a lecture within the walls of Temple Church entitled "Family Law, Minorities and legal Pluralism: Should English Law give more Recognition to Islamic Law?".
The lecture focused on Islamic marriages and divorces in this country, with Sheikh Faiz ul-Aqtab Siddiqi (of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal) speaking candidly on many areas. One such topic was that of polygamy, and the refusal of English law to recognise such relationships. Siddiqi boldly stated:
In a jurisdiction where rights are afforded to a mistress, or many mistresses, and where there are same-sex marriages … polygamous marriages should not be such an alien concept.
Siddiqi is a practising barrister, and has been involved with the process of reforming English law to accommodate Muslim cultural practices, especially within the area of family law. As a religious leader, he is at the conservative end of the spectrum. However, he is a well-respected member of a number of unifying Muslim organisations and is at the forefront of attempts to find common ground between sharia law and English law.
Later, after a question from the floor, he clarified his position as being one of confusion as to why relationships such as extra-marital affairs should be recognised under English law, and furthermore how men could be permitted to marry other men and women other women. He argued that if such relationships were not considered abhorrent, then current attitudes towards polygamy could not, and should not, be justified.
The main problem with using this argument in favour of recognition of polygamous marriages both inside and outside this country is that of proof as to whether these marriages have been entered into willingly and freely by the women involved. No one forces a person to have an extra-marital affair, or to enter into a civil partnership, but there is widespread evidence of the forcing of women into polygamous relationships in many religions and in many parts of the world. To compare consensual relationships with forced ones, whether physical or emotional coercion is used, is completely misguided.
Siddiqi said that polygamous marriages derived from the need to protect women from destitution, or from being "business for ... pimps". He alleged that prior to polygamous marriages female children were buried alive because they were seen as a burden to their parents. He spoke of the widows and divorcees left to starve; impoverished and abandoned. The Prophet Mohammad was said to have allowed polygamous marriages in order to give kind and benevolent men the opportunity to save these poor wretches.
He expressed the view that women are no longer in such a position today, glossing over – or, perhaps, forgetting – about women in places like the Indian subcontinent who are still viewed as being inferior to their male counterparts, with some female children still suffering terrible fates. He spoke of the opportunities and choices that women now have, which is true in the western world, but less so in predominantly Muslim countries where some women are denied education and other basic rights.
The crux of this argument was that polygamous marriages should be permitted in a country where sensitivity is professed for people's rights to individual and cultural needs. He asserted that these marriages would be relatively few in number; due to the advances made by women in society negating the need to "save" them from destitution, and that any entered into would be through the free choice of the woman. This line of reasoning contradicted his earlier remarks about the subjugation of women through their lack of knowledge of their legal rights in
The final position Siddiqi put forward by the for the acceptance of polygamous marriages under English law was that of the time-honoured herd mentality. He pointed to the 1.5billion Muslims living across the world, and asked the audience whether so many people could be deemed "stupid" or "wrong" for believing that polygamy is acceptable. The ability of leaders to influence large numbers of people's thoughts and actions does not necessarily mean that the underlying principles are correct. Far be it for me to equate religion with brainwashing, but we all know the answer when such logic is applied to groups such as the
November 17, 2008
A French appeals court on Monday reinstated the marriage of a Muslim man who had sought an annulment because his bride had lied about being a virgin. The husband sought an annulment after discovering on his wedding night in 2006 that his bride was not a virgin. In April, a court in
Australian Muslim women start fighting a repressive patriarchal system
Barney Zwartz, November 20, 2008
MUSLIM Australian women are starting to fight back against a repressive patriarchal system in which controversial Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali is seen as a champion of women's rights, a
- Muslim women fight patriarchal system
- Mosque 'increasingly irrelevant'
- Educator defends Sheikh Hilali
Leading Muslim spokeswoman Silma Ihram says new voices in the Muslim community, especially women, are bypassing the mosque as increasingly irrelevant — but the lack of structure also makes space for radical groups to seek recruits.
Ms Ihram, a noted educator who will present a paper to a National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies conference today, is one of several speakers about Muslim women fighting back from "second-class status".
In her paper, she defends Sheikh Hilali, who sparked outrage two years ago when he compared scantily clad women with uncovered meat, saying he is considered one of the most outspoken supporters of women's rights.
She says he was the main supporter for setting up the Muslim Women's Association despite objections from his own male-only mosque board, and is reputed to support women's choice in marriage, divorce and ethnic intermarriage.
She told The Age that the sheikh changed his message depending on the audience. "He has a conservative patriarchal community (at
"At the same time he has to deal with younger Australian women, whose rights he is championing. So he has this contradiction: he says one thing to one group and another to another. A lot of imams have this problem."
The paper says Muslim women in
Ms Ihram said both the West and Islam saw attitudes to women as a key battleground, whether it was non-Muslims focusing on the hijab (headscarf) or Muslims focusing on the "decadent and immoral" Sex and the City Western lifestyle.
"In the West, women have had their liberation and men are still getting over that. Muslim men are threatened."
She said many Muslim men believed their piety was demonstrated by how their women behaved. "They think, 'if I've got control of my women I'm a man'. What the boys do is irrelevant.
"The patriarchal argument can't tease out two separate strands: women as victims of sexual harassment and women as sexualised people who engage in consensual sex. They can't see these are different things."
Ms Ihram said new voices had begun to challenge the authority of ethnic religious leadership in the mosque, partly in frustration at the politics and limited capability of ethnic Muslim associations.
New organisations and leaders were emerging through Australian-born Muslims who responded to "media moral panics" and bypassed Islamic councils to present a moderate, local and English-speaking voice of Islam.
Women were starting to take leadership positions through their writing and as academics. "Women can speak out from the Muslim community into the mainstream, but it's very hard to get a platform into the Muslim community, to get constructive female voices."
Jamila Hussain of the University of Technology, in a paper offering "subversive thoughts" about Muslim gender relations, also to be delivered today, talks of discrimination against women in mosques, community gatherings, religious education and membership of Islamic organisations.
She said women were strictly segregated in mosques, and sometimes discouraged from attending at all. Usually they entered a small door at the back, and went to an area cut off by a barrier or wall so that sometimes they could neither see nor hear the speaker.
Yet Muslim women in