A proposed law to protect Afghan women and girls from abuses such as child marriage, bride barter and spousal abuse has created a furor in the past week, exposing a generational and religious struggle that persists in this traditional Muslim society despite a decade of Western-backed democracy and a constitution that enshrines women’s rights.
The drama erupted when a female legislator brought the bill before parliament May 16 and a group of conservative male lawmakers vehemently objected, saying it was contrary to Islam and Afghan culture. The backlash grew this past week, with protests at Kabul University by students of Islamic law, and some women activists now say it was a fatal mistake to bring the sensitive issue to parliament’s attention.
Since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, Afghan women have made substantial gains in access to jobs, education and public life. But the position of girls and women in family life has remained weak and subservient, and they are vulnerable to abuse. Now, with NATO forces preparing to withdraw in 2014 and Taliban influence on the rise, there are growing concerns that the gains could be reversed.
Undercover filming in some of the 85 councils operating in mosques and houses across the country has revealed that the courts, which are run by sharia councils, are ruling in favour of men meeting estranged wives or having access to children when they have found to have been abusive.
Sharia law has no formal place in any of Britain’s legal systems. However, the investigation found courts in London which follow it were making rulings on domestic and marital issues according to Islamic law which appeared at odds with English family law.
Although they are not legally binding, those who were subject to the rulings them felt they had to follow them as a matter of religious belief – or because they felt under pressure from family and community to do so.
In one case filmed by a BBC reporter for the Panorama documentary, an Islamic scholar from a sharia council ruled in a custody dispute that the children should be taken away from their mother and be placed with their reportedly violent father.
Police are investigating reports a gang claiming to be Islamic vigilantes have been confronting members of the public and demanding they give up alcohol and women cover their flesh in their ‘Muslim area’. The hooded men, who call themselves Muslim Patrol, have been filmed walking London’s streets and calling white women ‘naked animals with no self respect.’
The group is also shown taking ‘evil’ booze from revellers and film a cyclist being treated after a road accident, claiming they were injured because they were unclean.
In one exchange a member of the group says: ‘We don’t care if you are appalled at all’, before calling themselves ‘vigilantes implementing Islam upon your own necks’.
They have uploaded videos to their YouTube channel with the most recent three-minute clip causing a stir online. ‘The Truth About Saturday Night’, which was uploaded on Sunday, has already been viewed more than 42,000 times.
Members of the Constituent Assembly agreed last week to remove a proposed article which provided some constitutional support for gender equality — provided that such equality did not violate the provisions of Islamic Sharia law.
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Secularists had objected to women’s rights being made conditional on Sharia.This, they argued, would endanger the whole concept of equality, and could be used as a backdoor to strip women of civil and political rights they have already gained, like the right to be nominated for presidential elections or to hold high government positions, as well as the right to work and education.
Salafi forces, meanwhile, believed that openly granting the right of gender equality without restrictions was a Western idea that would endanger the provisions of Sharia, and would encourage secularists to challenge laws permitting polygamy or change Sharia-compliant inheritance laws.
So Egyptian women can be equal if their equality doesn’t violate the provisions of Islamic Sharia law.
Do they mean the provisions like these?
Under Islamic law, women are considered inferior to men
Under Islamic law, rape can only be proven if the rapist confesses or if there are four male witnesses.
Under Islamic law, Muslim men are allowed to have up to four wives at one time
Under Islamic law, a husband is allowed to beat his wife if the wife won’t obey him
Under Islamic law, women can’t be religious leaders or hold public office
Under Islamic law, women leave home without a male family member
How sad it is that Egyptian women will be relegated back to the status of chattel in this new dark age of Islamic totalitarian theocratic rule.
The four-member Geneva-based group urged member states to repeal laws criminalising adultery which have resulted in punishments ranging from the imposition of fines to flogging, hanging and death by stoning.
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“The issue here is not of criminalisation of adultery per se but the use of so-called Sharia laws on fornication and adultery to oppress and intimidate women and to uphold patriarchal and misogynistic social systems,” said Hassan.
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In a statement released here, the group of experts warned that maintaining adultery as a criminal offence – even when it applies to both women and men – means in practice that women mainly will continue to face extreme vulnerabilities, and violation of their human rights to dignity, privacy and equality, given continuing discrimination and inequalities faced by women.
The experts point out that in accordance with some traditions, customs and different legal systems, adultery may constitute a civil offence with legal consequences in divorce cases, in respect of the custody of children or the denial of alimony, amongst others. However, it should not be a criminal offence and must not be punishable by fine, imprisonment, flogging, or death by stoning or hanging, such as in the many countries where adultery continues to carry severe penalties.
The experts also said that provisions in penal codes often do not treat women and men equally and establish harsher sanctions for women, and in some [Islamic]countries, rules of evidence value a woman’s testimony as half that of a man’s.
Hassan told IPS the way these laws have been applied by all Islamic countries that have them on the books (and not all do) is to punish and terrorise women who are suspected of transgressing social mores.
The official is right. Here’s what the Reliance of the Traveller, the Classic Manual of Sacred Islamic Law, says about the legal penalty for those who fornicate, who have reached puberty, are sane and commit the act voluntarily, no matter whether the person is a Muslim or non-Muslim in an Islamic state:
o12.2 “If the offender is someone with the capacity to remain chase, then he or she is stoned to death . . .”
Rulings by informal religious “councils” and tribunals are sometimes no more “consensual” than rape, peers were told. The warnings came in the first ever full Parliamentary debate on the subject in the UK.
Baroness Cox, the independent peer and Third World campaigner, last year tabled a private member’s bill in the Lords setting out plans to rein in a network of unofficial self-styled “courts” which apply Islamic principles.
One study estimated that there are around 85 Sharia bodies operating in Britain, although there is no official estimate. They include legally recognised arbitration tribunals, set up primarily to resolve financial disputes using Islamic legal principles but which have taken on a wider range of cases.
There is also a network of informal Sharia “councils”, often operating out of mosques, dealing with religious divorces and even child custody matters in line with Islamic teaching.
The bill, which had its first full debate yesterday, would make it a criminal offence for such bodies to style themselves as courts or those chairing them to pose as judges.
It would also limit the activities of arbitration tribunals and explicitly require them to uphold equality laws including women’s rights.
Baroness Cox told the House of cases she had encountered including a woman who had been admitted to hospital by her violent husband who had left her for another woman but still denied her a religious divorce so she could remarry.
Another woman was forced to travel to Jordan to seek permission to remarry from a seven-year-old boy whom she had never met because she had no other male relatives, she said.
A third who came to see her was so scared of being seen going in that she hid behind a tree whole another told her: “I feel betrayed by Britain, I came to this country to get away from all this but the situation is worse here than in my country of origin.”
Baroness Cox said: “These examples are just the tip of an iceberg as many women live in fear, so intimidated by family and community that they dare not speak out or ask for help.”
A British Muslim, who married his second wife in a secret sharia ceremony, has been sentenced to life in jail for stabbing her to death in a ‘merciless’ attack.
Siraj Arif, 31, knifed Saiba Khatoon – who was 19-weeks pregnant – with such ferocity that two of the three kitchen knives he used snapped under the force of the blows in the row over their unborn baby.
Ms Khatoon’s seven-year-old son Farris, from a previous marriage, was woken by the noise and found his mother covered in blood, Manchester Crown Court heard.
Arif, from Smallbridge near Rochdale, had wed Ms Khatoon, 26, in a secret Islamic ceremony despite already being married for ten years.
His other wife, with whom he had three children, had given consent to the polygamous ceremony under sharia law and Ms Khatoon was said to be happy to be his ‘second wife’ while her family disapproved of their relationship.
When Farris discovered his mother in a pool of blood in her house in Rochdale, Greater Manchester and alerted neighbours, shouting: ‘My mum, my mum.’
She was found lying in the kitchen with a number of broken knives and their handles lying around her.
After the killing in May, Arif rang 999 and told police: ‘I had a fight, she picked a knife up and she told me she was going to kill my baby.
‘She told me either I’m going to kill the baby or kill you.
‘I ended up grabbing the knife and shoving it in her. That’s what I did.’
Saudi authorities have sentenced Najla Yehya Wafa, a 35-year-old Egyptian woman, to 500 lashes. Her family says she was arrested after a business dispute with a Saudi Princess. Leila Jamul, a 23-year-old Sudanese woman, was sentenced last July to death by stoning for adultery. She is being held in prison, meanwhile, with her six-month-old baby.
A Pakistani girl and an Egyptian woman have become the latest victims of Muslim extremists who hide behind Islam’s Sharia laws.
In countries where Sharia laws are enforced, women have often found themselves subjected to various forms of persecution and intimidation.
Tunisian women should be worried. This signals turning the clock backwards to sharia law and its shackles on women’s basic human rights.
Many Tunisian women are opposed to a proposed article in the new constitution they see as an Islamist ploy to reverse the principle of gender equality that made Tunisia a beacon of modernity in the Arab world when it was introduced six decades ago.
The National Constituent Assembly, elected after the downfall last year of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, is currently drafting a new national charter.
The NCA parliamentary committee adopted last week a proposed article that activists say would compromise rights enshrined in the Personal Status Code (CSP) promulgated in 1956 under Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba.
The article must still be ratified at a plenary session of the interim parliament.
The 1956 code was the first of its kind in the Arab world.
It abolished polygamy, under which Muslim men are allowed to have as many as four wives, and the practice of repudiation, under which husbands could divorce simply by saying so three times.
At the same time, it instituted not only judicial divorce but also civil marriage.