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Edited by the novelist Tim Symonds

In one of early Basira meetings in the Houses of Parliament, the Egyptian Muslim scholar Yasmin Amin said that there is Islamic law but nothing called ‘sharia law’, because the latter did not come in one command and it is not code.

My opinion is that this Islamic law derived from two separate sources: from verses of the Quran gathered 23 years after the death of the Prophet, and from the sayings and actions of the Prophet 250 years after his death by Muslim scholars (i.e. collected and recorded by humans subject to change). Both contradict the tenet of equality and justice for women, core values of any religion, despite the emphasis on these values in many other verses.

Those verses interpreted by four male scholars more than a thousand years ago have created a close, negative knit between religion and culture, each one enhancing the other, making it next to impossible to separate them, thus making all values of Muslim societies connected to women’s bodies such as modesty, virginity, purity of  lineage, and family honour. All are owned by the male guardian. No woman owns her own self. It is the male guardian who owns her life.

This connection created a society besieged (chained)  by a culture of fear and complete submission by women, because of fear of family, society and God.

A Moslem woman is completely besieged with this fear because she has been indoctrinated from a young age that these orders are coming from God,  and therefore Hell is waiting for her every step of the way if she does not obey. The equation between her submission to God and to her male guardian has stripped her from normal emotions and the right of questioning. Add to this her lack of rights of expression in society as a whole.  

Today, when the technological revolution ventilates all cultures and their injustices, and makes it impossible to hide, huge debates and discussions have been opened up, particularly on issues of women’s rights. In all Muslim countries we are witnessing debates between Reformers and Traditionalists. Traditionalists insist that any change in values – laws or modernity - is immoral and against God’s law, claiming that traditional law fully guarantees the natural order of life, the purity of society, and justice for women. Therefore it should never change. By contrast Reformers argue that change and progress are an essential part of the reality of life, that the many verses of the Quranic texts emphasise change is an essential part of human existence and must be taken into consideration and adapted to the benefit of the individual and society.  Otherwise these traditional laws suspend individual and societal consciousness and violate women’s rights in all aspects - but most important of all, they stand as an obstacle to the progress of society.
Up to today 20 Muslim country have signed many agreements to empower women, including the international  SIDOW agreement to stop violence against women, yet without exception all these countries have expressed reservations on certain articles in the agreement, in effect contradicting the heart and core of the Convention under the pretext  of  cultural and religious  privacy.

The question is where and why the Arab countries hold beliefs that are in contradiction to their value system in relation to the international agreement. Is it true or only justification to keep the status quo?  

Article 2 of SIDOW calls for an end to all laws and customs which discriminate against women.

‘Honour’ has the greatest consideration in Islamic societies. If a husband catches or even suspects his wife of misconduct, it is justified for him to kill her. Therefore, because it is ‘justified’, he faces either a very lenient or no punishment at all.

By contrast, if the wife catches her husband in the same act she faces the punishment of full crime, because that woman could be his second or third wife.

In a Lebanese documentary in a women prison, one woman was sentenced to death because she killed her husband when she caught him raping their daughter. This law is still current in Lebanon and Syria and many other Islamic countries.

Article 9 of the Convention calls for gender equality.

Muslim countries’ justification for their  reservations is the culture, that it is clearly stated in Quranic text men are superior to women (because men are the main providers). Thus they have the right of Guardianship and the authority.  

Some examples of inequality:

  • A man is naturally awarded by law the right to pass his nationality on to his children if he is married to a foreigner. A woman marrying a foreigner is denied this right. (In some countries the law has changed on this)
  • A man is allowed to marry a woman from a different religion or none.  By contrast a woman is denied that right unless the man converts to Islam.
  •  In the court a woman testimony is half the value of a man.
  • As a widow without a son, the wife is only entitled to a belated dowry (as specified in the marriage contract) and only one-eighth of her dead husband’s  estate. The remainder of the estate is divided according to sharia law, to be shared with the deceased husband’s mother/father/brothers/sisters.
  • If he has only daughters, they will inherit but share the estate with the father’s family. If the deceased husband has both sons and daughters, the daughter received only half of the share her brother receives, and still his parents will have shares.

While there is nothing in sharia about the right of a dead son’s children to his parents’ estate, religious scholars have legislated the recommended (suggested) Will gives the children of a dead son their father’s share from his parents, while a dead daughter’s children are denied that inheritance.  This clearly demonstrates deliberate discrimination between a dead son and a dead daughter.

All the above except the last are based on Quranic texts and interpreted by the 4 Jurists and legislated as a sharia law, violating the essence of equality in any legislation.

Article 15 calls for women and men to have the same rights in regard to freedom of movement and travel. This is the core of the suppression women face in such societies. This is known by all governments as the law of guardianship. According to Article 15 the cancellation of the guardian’s authority is impossible as women are incompetent and need and should have this guardianship all their lives.

This authority is misused by many guardians and represents the maximum degree of violence against women, yet Arab governments have not reached a decision whether to apply this Article in relation to SIDOW.

With the concept of guardianship, a woman needs written permission from her guardian to travel. The concept of guardianship gives the males – fathers, husbands, cousins, brothers, even a four-year-old son - complete authority to deny a woman education, travel, movement, choice of husband or authority to determine for herself at which age she will marry and who she will marry. These violations extend to physical beatings to discipline her if she shows any sign of disobedience.  

Most unfortunate is the fact beating is mentioned in the Quranic verse. Just over 20 years ago, during his visit to Holland, Yousif Al Qaradawi (a most famous Muslim Brotherhood leader) emphasized clearly this right.

When he was asked about beating a woman, he explained that the man should be 'lenient' in his beatings so as not to leave any visible mark, and to ‘use a short stick’!

This counsel as well relates to a saying of the Prophet that a man should not be charged for any method he might take to correct his off-spring because he ‘has the child’s best interests at heart’.
A few years ago a Saudi Imam raped and tortured his four-year-old daughter to death but was pardoned. The US government has become involved and asked the Saudi government to punish him.  

Under the interpretation of the 4 Muslim jurors which established what is understood as Islamic Family law, the guardian’s right to protect his honour is emphasised. This gives him the maximum authority even if that means killing.  The irony is that under the principal of keeping family issues within the home, the society at large remains silent.

Article 16

Article 16 equates male and females with all rights such as marriage contract, divorce, or custody. It remains one of the most complex articles. Muslim scholars use their authority through the religious discourse to put pressure on government to completely reject any of the items coming under this Article. And reject SIDOW as a whole. In sharia law, marriage is a contract. The guardian must be present and have full authority to marry off the woman at any age - even where a girl could be underage - to any man of the guardian’s choice, thereby denying her any choice.  

But since marriage is a contract comprise of upfront dowry and another belated one in the case of divorce . and stipulate  the woman conditions such as denying the husband the right of polygamy. The double standard shows when he does actually have a second wife her request is ignored under the justification that God allowed men to have other wives so who are you to stand in the way of God’s will? However, if she insists she is granted a divorce. The contract obliges the husband to pay the belated dowry and 3 months alimony  in the case of divorce.


In Islamic legislation divorce is a sovereign right to the man, either issued verbally or in writing. He is obliged to pay the promised belated  dowry (which may have lost its monetary value due to inflation after years of living in the relationship) which can put the woman in a position where she becomes a financial burden on her family.
(Male) Legislators have made up a law under which if a woman asks for divorce and initiates it, she is obliged to return all gifts given by the husband during the marriage, and to give away her dowry, and all rights to custody of children of the marriage.

This law is called Kholou.   

Custody of Children

Generally under Islamic practice, women have custody for daughters up to the age of 9, and for boys up to the age of 7. This varies from one country to another.

But a woman is automatically denied custody if she remarries, while the father is not denied his custody rights if he remarries.

The father can withdraw any money the mother may have put into a child’s saving account, while a woman is denied the same right if the father opens a saving account for a child.

Because the father’s right of guardianship remains in all cases, it makes it impossible for the woman to transfer a child to a different school or move her own residence to another location, or initiate a child’s separate passport.

The mother is denied from managing her child’s share of inheritance.  In the case of the father’s death the guardianship automatically goes to his father’s side, for example to his grandfather  or his uncle or any male relative from his side, any of which could have implications for the child’s/children’s maintenance expenses.

Discriminatory inheritance shares.

All the above is legislated and justified under the pretense of protecting Islamic values and the traditions of society.

Therefore many Islamic administrations claim SIDOW contradicts any national constitutional article which states all laws are derived from sharia law.