Muslims Pushing For Women’s Rights Globally

A Tunisian woman demonstrates against terrorism. (Photo: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)
A Tunisian woman demonstrates against terrorism. (Photo: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)

Tunisia is taking one step closer to full gender equality, following new proposals by President Beji Caid Essebsi. In a speech on National Women’s Day he announced the formation of a new committee to study how to achieve gender equality in all fields.

In particular he is seeking to end the Islamic inheritance system that sees women inherit half of what a man receives.

He also called for the government to allow Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men.

His calls were supported by the Diwan al-Ifta, a religious institution comprising senior scholars in charge of issuing religious edicts.

Egypt’s Al-Azhar slammed the proposals as un-Islamic.

Dr. Abbas Shuman Deputy of Al-Azhar, issued a statement in response to the Tunisian Diwan al-Iftar.

“The call for equality between men and women in matters of inheritance deprive women and are an injustice. They contradict the laws of sharia. The inheritance division is clearly laid out in Quranic verses which are not subject to interpretation and which cannot be changed according to circumstances, time or place.  It is one of the few subjects that appeared in the book of Allah where it is specific and not general. They all appear in Surat al-Nisa.

“On this subject all scholars of Islam, from all time and today, agree.”

Shuman also slammed the idea of intermarriage.

 “The call to allow a Muslim women to marry a non-Muslim will not benefit women as some people think because the non-Muslim does not believe in the religion of the Muslim woman and he probably wouldn’t allow her to take part in the rituals of her religion,” he said. “She will hate him for it and their marriage will be unstable.”

Despite the objections of conservative figures, activists around the world are fighting for gender equality.

For example in the UK, a British traffic-safety campaign featuring a nursery-school-age child wearing a hijab  was dropped following outrage from Muslim women’s rights activists.

The Children’s Traffic Club London, produced by Transport for London, consisted of books featuring Ramzi, a Muslim girl aged three or four, who wears a hijab while travelling around the city.

“You are sexualising a four-year-old girl. It is as simple as that,” said Gina Khan, an activist for Islamic women’s equality. “The reason a female is covered is so men don’t look at her. How can you integrate in society if you have a four-year-old girl wearing a hijab.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who chairs Transport for London, apologized for the images which will no longer be used.

“We apologize for any offence caused by this content and we will not use these designs in future,” a TfL spokesperson said.

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Elliot Friedland
Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.