Did Women Create Burqa Culture?

The upcoming French vote on the burqa ban has got me thinking. Did women have equal power to create the burqa? And who benefits from this garment?

Some charge that rejecting the burqa comes from fear of the other, or ethnocentrism. I’m in sync with cultural relativism, so long as no one is being hurt. But buqas and “burqa cultures” don’t give women equal power. And women certainly did not have equal sway in creating the customs of these societies.

Think about the laws that exist in places where women are required to cover up in burqas or niqabs (facemasks) or various other veilings.

Is it likely that women decided that men could easily demand a divorce, but women could get one only with difficulty?

Is it likely that women created the notion that sharing a husband with other women might be nice?

Did women create the idea that an adulterous man be punished by burial up to his waist before being stoned, while a woman must be buried to her breasts – and one who escapes, escapes the stoning?

In these cultures, when a woman is raped it is her fault. She obviously let some hair fall from her covering, or she allowed an ankle to show. Everyone knows that no man could resist such things. Did women decide that women, and not men, are responsible for men’s sexuality?

Did women originate the notion that after rape, the victim must be killed to restore the family honor?

Did women clamor for a burqa that limits their power and autonomy – keeping them from driving and getting jobs that are far from home? Did women design this garment that prevents small pleasures like seeing clearly or feeling the sun and the wind?

And who benefits?

Men benefit from easily obtaining a divorce, but not allowing their wives the same privilege. Men benefit from the sexual variety of having many wives, while women are left to share one man. Men benefit by more easily escaping a stoning. And men can rape with impunity since women fear reporting sexual assault, lest their families kill them. Men gain power when women are incapable of getting jobs and income. How much easier is it to beat women for the infraction of straying outside the home, or letting a wrist show, when they are black and blue blobs, and not human beings?

It is common to make accusations of ethnocentrism when one culture rejects the practices of another. Often the fears are valid.

But if a powerful group creates a culture that benefits themselves to the detriment of others, the critique is not about ethnocentrism. It is about human rights.

Georgia Platts

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  1. Did Women Create Burqa Culture? « Free Us Now Weblog…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  2. Women in Islam
    In the midst of the darkness that engulfed the world, the divine revelation echoed in the wide desert of Arabia, with a fresh, noble, and universal message to humanity:“ O Mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, who created you from a single person (Adam) , and from him (Adam) He created his wife [Hawwa (Eve)], and from them both He created many men and women; and fear Allah through Whom you demand (your mutual rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely Allah is Even an All-Watcher over you” (Qur’an 4:1)[18].

    A scholar who pondered about this verse states: “It is believed that there is no text, old or new, that deals with the humanity of the woman from all aspects with such amazing brevity, eloquence, depth, and originality as this divine decree “[19].

    Stressing this noble and natural conception, the Qur’an states:“ It is He Who has created you from a single person (Adam), and (then) He has created from him his wife [Hawwa (Eve)], in order that he might enjoy the pleasure of living with her. When he had sexual relation with her, she became pregnant and she carried it about lightly. Then when it became heavy, they both invoked Allah their Lord (sayin): ” If You give us a Salih (good in every aspect) child, we shall indeed be among the grateful” (Qur’an 7:189).

    “ The Creator of the heavens and the earth. He has made for you mates from yourselves, and for the cattle (also) mates. By this means He creates you (in the wombs). There is nothing like Him; and He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer” (Qur’an 42:11).

    “ And Allah has made for you Azwaj (mates or wives) of your own kind, and has made for you, from your wives, sons and grandsons, and has bestowed on you good provision. Do they then believe in false deities and deny the Favour of Allah (by not worshipping Allah alone)” (Qur’an 16:72).

    The rest of this paper outlines the position of Islam regarding the status of woman in society from its various aspects — spiritually, socially, economically and politically.

    1. Spiritual Aspect
    The Qur’an provides clear-cut evidence that woman is completely equated with man in the sight of God in terms of her rights and responsibilities. The Qur’an states:“ Every person is a pledge for what he has earned” (Qur’an 74:38). It also states:“ … So their Lord accepted of them (their supplication and answered them), “Never will I allow to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female. You are (members) of one another…” (Qur’an 3:195).

    “ Whoever works righteousness — whether male or female — while he (or she) is a true believer (of Islamic Monotheism) verily, to him We will give a good life (in this world with respect, contentment and lawful provision), and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do (i.e. Paradise in the Hereafter)” (Qur’an 16:97).

    Woman according to the Qur’an is not blamed for Adam’s first mistake. Both were jointly wrong in their disobedience to God, both repented, and both were forgiven. (Qur’an 2:36, 7:20-24). In one verse in fact (20:121), Adam specifically, was blamed.

    In terms of religious obligations, such as the Daily Prayers, Fasting, Poor-due, and Pilgrimage, woman is no different from man. In some cases indeed, woman has certain advantages over man. For example, the woman is exempted from the daily prayers and from fasting during her menstrual periods and forty days after childbirth. She is also exempted from fasting during her pregnancy and when she is nursing her baby if there is any threat to her health or her baby’s. If the missed fasting is obligatory (during the month of Ramadan), she can make up for the missed days whenever she can. She does not have to make up for the prayers missed for any of the above reasons. Although women can and did go into the mosque during the days of the prophet and thereafter attendance at the Friday congregational prayers is optional for them while it is mandatory for men.

    This is clearly a tender touch of the Islamic teachings for they are considerate of the fact that a woman may be nursing her baby or caring for him, and thus may be unable to go out to the mosque at the time of the prayers. They also take into account the physiological and psychological changes associated with her natural female functions.This is clearly a tender touch of the Islamic teachings for they are considerate of the fact that a woman may be nursing her baby or caring for him, and thus may be unable to go out to the mosque at the time of the prayers. They also take into account the physiological and psychological changes associated with her natural female functions.

    2. The Social Aspect

    a) As a child and an adolescent
    Despite the social acceptance of female infanticide among some Arabian tribes, the Qur’an forbade this custom, and considered it a crime like any other murder.

    “ And when the female (infant) buried alive (as the pagan Arabs used to do) is questioned: For what sin, was she killed?” (Qur’an 81:8-9).

    Criticizing the attitudes of such parents who reject their female children, the Qur’an states:“ When news is brought to one of them, of (the Birth of) a female (child), his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad new he has had! Shall he retain her on (sufferance) and contempt, or bury her in the dust? Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on?” (Qur’an 16:58-59).

    Far from saving the girl’s life so that she may later suffer injustice and inequality, Islam requires kind and just treatment for her. Among the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in this regard are the following:“ Whoever has a daughter and he does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favor his son over her, God will enter him into Paradise” (Ibn Hanbal, No.1957).

    “ Whosoever support two daughters till they mature, he and I will come in the Day of Judgment as this (and he pointed with his two fingers held together)”.

    A similar Hadeeth deals in like manner with one who supports two sisters. (Ibn-Hanbal, No.2104).

    “ The right of females to seek knowledge is not different from that of males. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim” (Al-Bayhaqi). Muslim as used here including both males and females[20].

    b) As a wife
    The Qur’an clearly indicates that marriage is sharing between the two halves of the society, and that its objectives, beside perpetuating human life, are emotional well-being and spiritual harmony. Its bases are love and mercy.

    Among the most impressive verses in the Qur’an about marriage is the following:“ And among His Signs is this, that He created for you wives from among yourselves, that you may find repose in them, and He has put between you affection and mercy. Verily, in that are indeed signs for a people who reflect” (Qur’an 30:21).

    According to Islamic Law, women cannot be forced to marry anyone without their consent.

    “ Ibn Abbas reported that a girl came to the Messenger of God, Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and she reported that he father had forced her to marry without her consent. The Messenger of God gave her the choice… (between accepting the marriage or invalidating it)” (Ibn Hanbal No. 2469). In another version,“ the girl said: Actually I accept this marriage but I wanted to let women know that parents have no right (to force a husband on them)” (Ibn Maja, No.1873).

    Besides all other provisions for her protection at the time of marriage, it was specifically decreed that woman has the full right to her Mahr, a marriage gift, which is presented to her by her husband and is included in the nuptial contract, and that such ownership does not transfer to her father or husband. The concept of Mahr in Islam is neither an actual or symbolic price for the woman, as was the case in certain cultures, but rather it is a gift symbolizing love and affection.

    The rules of married life in Islam are clear and in harmony with upright human nature. In consideration of the physiological and psychological make-up of man and woman, both have equal rights and claims on one another, except for one responsibility, that of leadership. This is a matter which is natural in any collective life and which is consistent with the nature of man.

    The Qur’an states:“ And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them, and men are a degree above them” (Qur’an 2:228).

    Such a degree is Quiwama (maintenance and protection). This refers to that natural difference between the sexes which entitles the weaker sex to protection. It implies no superiority or advantage before the law. Yet, man’s role of leadership in relation to his family does not mean the husband’s dictatorship over his wife. Islam emphasizes the importance of taking counsel and mutual agreement in family decisions. The Qur’an fives us an example:“ . . . If they (husband wife) desire to wean the child by mutual; consent and (after) consultation, there is no blame on them . . .” (Qur’an 2:233).

    Over and above her basic rights as a wife comes the right which is emphasized by the Qur’an and is strongly recommended by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him); kind treatment and companionship.

    The Qur’an states:“. . . But consort with them in kindness, for if you hate them it may happen that you hate a thing wherein God has placed much good” (Qur’an 4:19).

    Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:“ The best of you is the best to his family and I am the best among you to my family”.

    “ The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and best of you are those who are best to their wives” (Ibn Hanbal, No.7396).

    Behold, many women came to Muhammad’s wives complaining against their husbands (because they beat them) – – those (husbands) are not the best of you.

    As the woman’s right to decide about her marriage is recognized, so also her right to seek an end for an unsuccessful marriage is recognized. To provide for the stability of the family, however, and in order to protect it from hasty decisions under temporary emotional stress, certain steps and waiting period should be observed by men and women seeking divorce. Considering the relatively more emotional nature of women, good reason for asking for divorce should be brought before the judge.

    More specifically, some aspects of Islamic Law concerning marriage and divorce are interesting and are worthy of separate treatment[21].

    When the continuation of the marriage relationship is impossible for any reason, men are still taught to seek gracious end for it.

    The Qur’an states about such cases:“ When you divorce women, and they reach their prescribed term, then retain them in kindness and retain them not for injury so that you transgress (the limits)” (Qur’an 2:231). (See also Qur’an 2:229 and 33:49).

    c) As a mother
    Islam considered kindness to parents next to the worship of God.

    “ And We have enjoined upon man (to be food) to his parents: His mother bears him in weakness upon weakness…” (Qur’an 31:14). (See also Qur’an 46:15, 29:8).

    Moreover, the Qur’an has a special recommendation for the good treatment of mothers:“ Your Lord has decreed that you worship none save Him, and that you be kind to your parents . . .” (Qur’an 17:23).

    A man came to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) asking:“ O Messenger of God, who among the people is the most worthy of my good company? The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, your mother. The man said then who else: The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, Your mother. The man said then who else? The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), Your mother. The man asked, then who else? Only then did the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) say, Your father” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

    A famous saying of the Prophet is “ Paradise is at the feet of mothers” (In al’Nisa’I, Ibn-Majah, Ahmad).

    “ It is generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them”.

    3. The Economic Aspect
    Islam decreed a right of which woman was deprived both before Islam and after it (even as late as this century)[22], the right of independent ownership. According to Islamic Law, woman’s right to her money, real estate, or other properties is fully acknowledged. This right undergoes no change whether she is single or married. She retains her full rights to buy, sell, mortgage or lease any or all her properties. It is nowhere suggested in the Law that a woman is a minor simply because she is a female. It is also noteworthy that such right applies to her properties before marriage as well as to whatever she acquire there after.

    With regard to the woman’s right to seek employment it should be stated first that Islam regards her role in society as a mother and a wife as the most sacred and essential one. Neither maids nor babysitters can possibly take the mother’s place as the educator of an upright, complex-free, and carefully-reared children. Such a noble and vital role, which largely shapes the future of nations, cannot be regarded as “idleness”.

    However, there is no decree in Islam which forbids woman from seeking employment whenever there is a necessity for it, especially in positions which fit her nature and in which society needs her most. Examples of these professions are nursing, teaching (especially for children), and medicine. Moreover, there is no restriction on benefiting from woman’s exceptional talent in any field. In addition, Islam restored to woman the right of inheritance, after she herself was an object of inheritance in some cultures. Her share is completely hers and no one can make any claim on it, including her father and her husband.

    “ Unto men (of the family) belongs a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, and unto women a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, whether it a little or much – a determinate share” (Qur’an 4:7).

    Her share in most cases is one-half the man’s share, with no implication that she is worth half a man! It would seem grossly inconsistent after the overwhelming evidence of woman’s equitable treatment in Islam, which was discussed in the preceding pages, to make such an inference. This variation in inheritance rights is only consistent with the variations in financial responsibilities of man and woman according to the Islamic Law. Man in Islam is fully responsible for the maintenance of his wife, his children, and in some cases of his needy relatives, especially the females. This responsibility is neither waived nor reduced because of his wife’s wealth or because of her access to any personal income gained from work, rent, profit, or any other legal means.

    Woman on the other hand, is far more secure financially and is far less burdened with any claims on her possessions. Her possessions before marriage do not transfer to her husband and she even keeps her maiden name. She has no obligation to spend on her family out of such properties or out of her income after marriage. She is entitled to the “Mahr” which she takes from her husband at the time of marriage.

    An examination of the inheritance law within the overall framework of the Islamic Law reveals not only justice but also an abundance of compassion for woman[23].

    4. The Political Aspect
    Any fair investigation of the teachings of Islam or into the history of the Islamic civilization will surely find a clear evidence of woman’s equality with man in what we call today “political rights”.

    Both in the Qur’an and in Islamic history we find examples of women who participated in serious discussions and argued even with the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) himself, (see Qur’an 58:1-4 and 60:10-12).

    During the Caliphate of Omar Ibn al-Khattab, a woman argued with him in the mosque, proved her point, and caused him to declare in the presence of people: “A woman is right and Omar is wrong”.

    Although not mentioned in the Qur’an, one Hadeeth of the Prophet is interpreted to make woman ineligible for the position of head of state. The Hadeeth referred to is roughly translated: “A people will not prosper if they let a woman be their leader.” This limitation, however, has nothing to do with the dignity of woman or with her rights. It is rather, related to the natural differences in the biological and psychological make-up of men and women.

    According to Islam, the head of the state is no mere figurehead. He leads people in prayers, especially on Fridays and festivities; he is continuously engaged in the process of decision-making pertaining to the security and well-being of his people. This demanding position, or any similar one, such as the Commander of the Army, is generally inconsistent with the physiological and psychological make-up of woman in general. It is a medical fact that during their monthly periods and during their pregnancies, women undergo various physiological and psychological changes. Such changes may occur during an emergency situation, thus affecting her decision, without considering the excessive strain which is produced. Moreover, some decisions require a maximum of rationality and a minimum of emotionality – a requirement which does not coincide with the instinctive nature of women.

    Even in modern times, and in the most developed countries, it is rare to find a woman in the position of a head of state acting as more than a figurehead, a woman commander of the armed services, or even a proportionate number of women representatives in parliaments, or similar bodies. One can not possibly ascribe this to backwardness of various nations or to any constitutional limitation on woman’s right to be in such a position as a head of state or as a member of the parliament. It is more logical to explain the present situation in terms of the natural and indisputable differences between man and woman, a difference which does not imply any “supremacy” of one over the other. The difference implies rather the “complementary” roles of both sexes in life.

    Previous Table of Contents Next

    [18] “From it” here refers to the kind, i.e. “from the same kind, or of like nature, God created its mate.” There is no trace in the Qur’an to a parallel of the Biblical concept that Eve was created from one of Adam’s ribs.” See Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, note No.504.
    [19] El-Khouly, Al-Bahiy, “Min Usus kadiyat Almar’ah,” Al- Waa’y Al-Islami, Ministy of Wakf, Kuwait, Vol. 3, No. 27, June 9, 1967, p.17. Translated by the writer.
    [20] Some less authentic versions add ‘male anf female’. The meaning, however, is sound etomologically even as it is consistent with the over-all nature of Islamic duties in applaying equally to males and females unless special exemptions are specified.
    [21] A separate paper clarifying the position of Islam with regard to plygamy (polygyny) is available from The M.S.A. Islamic Book Service, P.O. Box 38, Plainfield, IN 46168. It is sufficient to say here that polygamy existed in almost all nations and was even sanctioned by Judaism and Christianity until recent centuries. The Qur’an is the only revealed scripture that explicitly limited plygamy and discouraged its practice by various stringent conditions. One reason for not categorically forbidding plygamy is that in different places at different times, there may exist individual or socidal exigencies which may ploygamy a better solution that either divorce or a hypocritical monogamy while indulging in all types of illicit relations.
    [22] For example, it was not until 1938 that the French Law was amended so as to recognize the eligibility of women to contract. A married woman, however, was still reqyuired to secre her husband’s permission before she could dispense with her private property. See for example Al-Sibaa’i, op. cit., pp.31-37.
    [23] For a good discussion of this point, also for the acceptance of women’s witness according to Islamic Law, see Abd al-Ati, Hammudah, Islam in Focus, pp. 117-118 and Al-Sibaa’i, mustafa, Al-Marah Baynal Fiqh Walqanoon (in Arabic) pp.31-37.
    look at:
    http://www.islamunveiled.org/eng/ebooks/swoman/swoman_woman.htm

  3. Historical Perspectives
    One major objective of this paper is to provide a fair evaluation of what Islam contributed (or failed to contribute) toward the restoration of woman’s dignity and rights. In order to achieve this objective, it may be useful to review briefly how women were treated in general in previous civilizations and religions, especially those which preceded Islam (Pre-610 C.E.)[1]. Part of the information provided here, however, describes the status of woman as late as the nineteenth century, more than twelve centuries after Islam.

    Women in Ancient Civilization
    Describing the status of the Indian woman, Encyclopedia Britannica states:” In India, subjection was a cardinal principle. Day and night must women be held by their protectors in a state of dependence says Manu. The rule of inheritance was agnatic, that is Descent traced through males to the exclusion Of females “[2].

    In Hindu scriptures, the description of a good wife is as follows: ” a woman whose mind, speech and body are kept in subjection, acquires high renown in this world, and, in the next, the same abode with her husband “[3].

    In Athens, women were not better off than either the Indian or the Roman women.

    ” Athenian women were always minors, subject to some male — to their father, to their brother, or to some of their male kin”[4].

    Her consent in marriage was not generally thought to be necessary and ” she was obliged to submit to the wishes of her parents, and receive from her husband and her lord, even though he were stranger to her “[5].

    A Roman wife was described by an historian as: ” a babe, a minor, a ward, a person incapable of doing or acting anything according to her own individual taste, a person continually under the tutelage and guardianship of her husband “[6].

    In the Encyclopedia Britannica, we find a summary of the legal status of women in the Roman civilization[7]:

    In Roman Law a woman was even in historic times completely dependent. If married she and her property passed into the power of her husband… the wife was the purchased property of her husband, and like a slave acquired only for his benefit. A woman could not exercise any civil or public office…could not be a witness, surety, tutor, or curator; she could not adopt or be adopted, or make will or contract.

    Under perpetual tutelage, whether married or unmarried, as late as the Code of Christian V, at the end of the 17th Century, it was enacted that if a woman married without the consent of her tutor the might have, if he wished, administration and usufruct of her goods during her life[8].

    According to the English Common Law:… all real property which a wife held at the time of a marriage became a possession of her husband. He was entitled to the rent from the land and to any profit which might be made from operating the estate during the joint life of the spouses. As time passed, the English courts devised means to forbid a husband’s transferring real property without the consent of his wife, but he still retained the right to manage it and to receive the money which it produced. As to a wife’s personal property, the husband’s power was complete. He had the right to spend it as he saw fit[9].

    Only by the late nineteenth century did the situation start to improve. ” By a series of acts starting with the Married women’s Property Act in 1870, amended in 1882 and 1887, married women achieved the right to own property and to enter contracts on a par with spinsters, widows, and divorcees”[10]. As late as the Nineteenth Century an authority in ancient law, Sir Henry Maine, wrote: ” No society which preserves any tincture of Christian institutions is likely to restore to married women the personal liberty conferred on them by the Middle Roman Law[11].

    In his essay The Subjection of Women, John Stuart Mill wrote:We are continually told that civilization and Christianity have restored to the woman her just rights. Meanwhile the wife is the actual bondservant of her husband; no less so, as far as the legal obligation goes, than slaves commonly so called[12].

    Before moving on to the Qur’anic decrees concerning the status of woman, a few Biblical decrees may shed more light on the subject, thus providing a better basis for an impartial evaluation. In the Mosaic Law, the wife was betrothed. Explaining this concept, the Encyclopedia Biblica states: “To betroth a wife to oneself meant simply to acquire possession of her by payment of the purchase money; the betrothed is a girl for whom the purchase money has been paid”[13]. From the legal point of view, the consent of the girl was not necessary for the validation of her marriage. “The girl’s consent is unnecessary and the need for it is nowhere suggested in the Law”[14].

    As to the right of divorce, we read in the Encyclopedia Biblica: ” The woman being man’s property, his right to divorce her follows as a matter of course”[15]. The right to divorce was held only by man. “In the Mosaic Law divorce was a privilege of the husband only… “[16].

    The position of the Christian Church until recent centuries seems to have been influenced by both the Mosaic Law and by the streams of thought that were dominant in its contemporary cultures. In their book, Marriage East and West, David and Vera mace wrote[17]:Let no one suppose, either, that our Christian heritage is free of such slighting judgments. It would be hard to find anywhere a collection of more degrading references to the female sex than the early Church Fathers provide. Lecky, the famous historian, speaks of (these fierce invectives which form so conspicuous and so grotesque a portion of the writing of the Fathers… woman was represented as the door of hell, as the mother of all human ills. She should be ashamed at the very thought that she is a woman. She should live in continual penance on account of the curses she has brought upon the world. She should be ashamed of her dress, for it is the memorial of her fall. She should be especially ashamed of her beauty, for it is the most potent instrument of the devil). One of the most scathing of these attacks on woman is that of Tertullian: Do you know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserters of the divine law; you are she who persuades him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert — that is death — even the Son of God had to die. Not only did the church affirm the inferior status of woman, it deprived her of legal rights she had previously enjoyed.
    look at:
    http://www.islamunveiled.org/eng/ebooks/swoman/swoman_histo.htm

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