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Gender justice in Islam

If someone asks me which is the most gender-just religion in the world, I would unhesitatingly say ‘Islam’. However, Muslims are seen today as most unjust towards their women, particularly their wives and daughters.

Recently I was shocked to read in the press that in Balochistan parents buried their daughters alive after shooting them and Senator Israrullah Zehri from that province justified it. Nothing could be more unfortunate.

The Qur’an which all Muslims believe to be the divine word strongly condemns the pre-Islamic practice of burying the girl child alive. On the Day of Judgement the Qur’an says the perpetrator would be asked: “For what sin was she killed?” (81:9). And this is still going on in the 21st century in a country which calls itself an Islamic republic. What could be more shocking?

The Qur’an is the first divinely revealed Book which accords not only equal dignity but also equal rights to women in the most unambiguous way. It declares in the second chapter (Surah Baqarah), verse 228: “And women have rights similar to those against them in a just manner.” All commentators agree that this is declaration of equality of rights for men and women. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in his commentary on this verse in his Tarjauman al-Qur’an says that (this verse) is a clear declaration of equality of sexes more than 1,300 years ago.Apparently the reason for killing those girls in Balochistan was that they intended to marry men of their choice.

It is well known that in Islam marriage is a contract and no nikah can be valid without specific consent of the woman. The Qur’an itself describes marriage as mithaqan ghalizan i.e. strong covenant. A contract cannot be unilateral. Both parties have to agree to it. Thus in Islam for a nikah to be valid two adults have to bear witness that such and such woman has agreed to marry so and so.

Not only that, the woman has every right to stipulate conditions under which she wants to marry and if the man does not agree to these conditions, marriage cannot be valid. Also, according to the Hanafi school to which a large number of Muslims adhere, a woman can also insist on what is called tafwid-i-talaq i.e. delegation of the right to her to divorce her husband on his behalf. Has this any parallel in any religious law in the world?

Also, since marriage is a contract, if a woman is married off in childhood by her wali she has the right to reject the marriage on achieving puberty. It is called in Shari’ah terms khyar al-bulugh i.e. option at puberty. Thus for a girl child if she is married off during her childhood she has the option to accept it or reject the match on achieving adulthood.

Thus in Islam the right of a woman to marry a man of her own choice is quite absolute, given by God, and not even her father can take it away from her. There is no way she can be married off without her specific consent in most unambiguous words. No school of Shari’ah law allows a man to marry a woman without her consent. This rule is firm like a rock.

Also, if man has hidden certain facts from his bride at the time of nikah (i.e. that he is impotent or HIV-positive, for instance), she is entitled to dissolution of her marriage as a matter of right. However, if a man discloses such facts before contracting nikah and she marries him knowing fully well, she will not be entitled to dissolution of marriage on those particular grounds.

Islam has also given the woman the right to liberate herself from a marital bond (khula’) and this right of hers is also absolute. I had read a few years ago that a woman from the Frontier province was murdered by her parents because she wanted divorce from her husband. Samia Sarwar was murdered in her lawyer’s office. There was little public uproar among Muslims, which was equally shocking.

The Holy Prophet (PBUH) allowed a woman called Jamila to obtain khula’ from her husband though he loved her and gave her a maintenance allowance as per her wishes. But because she did not like him, she said to the Prophet (PBUH), ‘I am afraid if I remain with him I may not be able to observe Allah’s hudood’. What an empowerment of women by Islam!

In this day and age, our patriarchal society, fiercely dominated by men of tribal/feudal values and customs, has deprived woman of all her Islamic rights. Horror of horrors, the flawed value system should even allow men to kill women in the name of family honour. Killing is the most un-Islamic practice, requiring that the killer be stringently punished. We must follow Islam, not tribal practices.
Source: Dawn
Date:9/5/2008

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