– BY DR. ASGHAR ALI ENGINEER.

(PUBLISHED IN DAWN, PAKISTAN,)

The Arab world saw great political turmoil in the beginning of 2011. The Tunisian dictator Zen el-Abidin was overthrown before January 2011 ended. Then a similar turmoil began in Egypt and hundreds of thousands of people poured in Tahrir square to protest against Hasni Mubarak, another long serving dictator who was forced to go and then Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Now all this has been much written about and need not be repeated but what concerns us here is about the role of women in these revolutionary changes in These Arab countries.

 

In all these countries women played very significant role right from Tunisia to the Yemen. No one can underestimate their role. Both in Egypt and Yemen women initiatives played most crucial role. In fact the Tahrir Square mobilization was due mainly to a young girl’s appeal on the face-book. As everyone knows the social media as face book is called played important role in mobilization in the Islamic world against kings and dictators.

In fact the role of women in political mobilization was so crucial that it was being expected that Nobel for Peace this year would be given to three women from Arab countries i.e. Tunis, Egypt and Yemen but instead it went to women from Africa and Yemen, the later a Muslim woman who also played crucial role in protection of human rights and political mobilization for overthrow of President Salih though there still remains stalemate in Yemen.

What is most important to note is the role of women in political mobilization in the3se countries and secondly it shatters the myth that Muslim women merely sit at home and are worth nothing more than domestic workers and house makers. Muslim women have proved once again that they can mobilize people far more efficiently and purposefully. It is also interesting to note that many women in Tunisia and Egypt were quite active in trade unions and used their experience gained in trade unions to proper use and brought about change in political structure.

But post-revolution a shadow of doubt hangs over them? What this democratic revolution will give them? Or will it take over the rights they had gained under dictatorships.  There is lot of truth in this as much as there is possibility of Islamic laws, as they are, being reimposed in these countries. In Tunisia Ennehda Party has won elections which describes itself a moderate Islamic party. But fortunately Ennahda leader Ghanushi has declared that there will be no change in gender laws which clearly means polygamy will not be re-imposed.

However, Libyan women are not so fortunate. The Libyan leader who is projected as the new Prime Minister after ousting Ghaddafi has already announced that Islamic laws will be the only laws imposed and polygamy will be reintroduced and there will be no more restrictions on it. Ghaddafi, undoubtedly a dictator and had to go, had done lot of good in introducing and consolidating gender justice in Libya. He had given equal rights to women as provided for in Qur’an. He abolished polygamy and gave women important role in public life.

He even maintained that to confine women at home is an imperialist conspiracy to paralyse half the population in the Islamic world. He, therefore, even created special force for women in the army and assigned them duties of body guards. It was undoubtedly a revolutionary step. Now all this is likely to be reversed and the Libyan leader specifically was mentioning polygamy. It will of course remain debatable if the Shari’ah laws as evolved during medieval ages when patriarchy reigned supreme should be re-imposed as it is or  suitable changes in keeping with spirit of Qur’anic values be reformulated?

To say that polygamy is permitted by Qur’an and hence must be reintroduced is really injuring the spirit of Qur’an. At best it is half truth. Polygamy has been allowed in Qur’an but in specific context and with rigorous conditions. Anyone who reads the two verses in Qur’an on polygamy i.e. 4:3 and 4:129 would see that for Qur’an justice is more central than multiple wives. And if justice is so important can polygamy be made rule?

In early seventies whenever a dictator declared his country to be an Islamic state, he would introduce Hudud laws (Islamic punishments for theft, adultery etc. as if these punishments were more central than what factors motivated a person to commit these crimes or punishing is more important than reforming a person. Similarly today when dictatorial regimes end a declaration is made that family laws will be introduced and polygamy will be permissible.

As this writer has always maintained gender justice is very central to the Qur’an provided Qur’an is read in proper context and today with greater and greater role being played by women in public life it is all the more important that gender justice be made equally central in the Shari’ah laws through contextual and normative understanding of Qur’anic verses and shari’ah laws being based on such an interpretation of the Qur’anic verses.

The present Shari’ah laws will not be acceptable to women as education and awareness among them increases and pressure for change will continue to gather momentum. In fact Qur’an unambiguously stands for gender justice and equipped women with all the rights men were given. We are surprised how male interpreters missed this and equally surprising is that Muslim women submitted to these interpretations.

 

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