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The situation regarding the relationship between Islam and women in Islamic countries has been an important issue of debate especially among researchers in the fields of gender and feminist sociology. In particular, this issue has become acute 20 years following the Iran’s Islamic revolution. Relating to the effect on women subordination, some feminist observers are now holding the view that the Islam religion could be described as one of the worst case of patriarchal religion by legitimizing gender inequality and oppressing women. Other scholars have argued that this situation has resulted from the Western ethnocentrism. To date, several issues continue to be raised within the confines of this debate. However, it remains to be a debatable question if the situation of women in Islamic countries such as Iran can accurately be analysed using the western eyes which are largely feminist. Researchers have been keen to investigate the possibility of feminist views in Islam and the connection between Islam and patriarchy. The experience of Islamic revolutions in Iran following the 20 years may help define the relationship between women’s situation in Iran and the religious movement. In this paper, the possibility of making the case that Islam is not patriarchal is analysed and recommendations for further research provided.
In general, a majority of religions around the world tend to assume a patriarchal view in defining the relationship between the men and women. The relationship shown by Adam and Eve has been seen to symbolize the way women are perceived among different religions. According to Al Hibri, God is declared to be male and man was the sole being created in God’s likeness. Eve later became the symbol of temptation and iniquity against God and was declared to be less likely a candidate for redemption and an eternal life in heaven compared to man. Some scholars have however pointed out that the Islam religion, compared with other religions; embrace the idea of patriarchy in greater magnitudes. These scholars have identified that in the Koran, several verses such as Surah 4 clearly legitimizes gender inequality. Additionally, the scholars cite the Sharia (the Islamic law) and the hadith (Prophet’s life stories) to have the same teachings promoting gender inequality. Tackling the question why these observations are made, sociologists such as Rita Liljestrom notes out that a number of differences exist between the Islam and the Christian religions especially in their attitudes towards the subject of sexuality. These differences have been identified to be the cause of the different views towards sexuality. According to the Christian church, sexuality is attacked and reduced to something that can be seen to be sacrilegious and sinful and signifies the division of humans into two elements: body and soul. In Christianity, one is believed to be civilised after having victory of the soul over the body, diligence over lust and spirit over flesh. Contrary to the Christian religion, the Islam regards sex as a taste of paradise and never disavows sex. However, the Islam attacks women in a rather different way. Women are perceived as the living agents carrying the dangers of sexuality as well as its immeasurable social disparaging forces.
These differences in the views on the nature of sexuality have largely been seen as the cause for different strategies to control the problems that may emerge from sexual activities. For Islam, it is critical to restrict the women’s sexual powers over women since women are perceived to be active compared to men in terms of sexual power. This restriction meant to prevent having women’s sexual power over men results to an isolation of women and men and not as it may be claimed to be patriarchy. The sexuality of a woman in Islam is therefore concealed by all limits and her looks or behaviours must not be reveal her sexual power because this will remind men of their weakness. A famous Arab feminist, Fatima Mernessi put forward an argument that the Christian view of the individual being torn in between two sides which are good and evil, instinct and reason and flesh and spirit comes out to be very different from what the Islam believe. She argues that sexual inequality among the western societies is mainly based on the belief in the biological weaknesses of women. Contrary among the Islam religion, the entire system is based on the basic assumption that all women are sexually powerful and dangerous thus need to be avoided. The sexual institutions embraced in Islam such as repudiation, polygamy and sexual segregation can entirely be perceived as strategies used to constrain the women’s power. These are the reasons why the Koran can be seen to maintain a robust man’s superiority and a strong dominion over women. It is therefore the responsibility of a man to keep a woman under his shield and control. While these connotations are well convincing that the Islam is not encouraging gender inequality, a few questions must be answered to further strengthen these meanings. Muslim feminists have also come out to claim that the issue relating to hard patriarchal believes in Islam emanates from the dominating views of the Islam not essentially originating from the Islam religion. The meaning by this observation made by Muslim feminist is that this whole concept is from the imaginations of the west that the attitudes of Islam towards women is one of the most problematic one.
Individuals claiming that Islam is patriarchal support their claims from the state of women in Iran after revolution. The existing situation among Iranian women, two decades following the Islamic revolution has brought out the much heated debate about the case of declaring Islam as a patriarchal religion. In general, since the revolution in 1979, the women’s share of resources and rights has immensely deteriorated in Iran. This is as a result of the regressive policies set by the Islamic regime in Iran. There has been compulsory veiling, stoning women to death and sex segregation, traditions which have being practiced for over two decades. The traditional marriage laws and the reduced occupational and educational opportunities have further made women to suffer significantly. The family legislations such as the family protection law became reprieved following the Revolution and were declared incompatible with the Islamic canon laws. The revolution also saw the restoration of the rights to polygamous marriages and the minimum age for women to be married was reduced from 18 to 13. According to article 1133, men can divorce their women any time as they wish but women may only make only a singly request and this is done for exceptional reasons. In terms of employment, employment rate in Iran reduced from 12 % to 6% from 1976 to 1986 leading to several unemployed women. Additionally, the Islamic Republic of Iran introduced new policies to demobilize secularized Iranian women and encouraging them to participate in social, political and military operations. While the population of employed women increased from 6% in 1986 to 9% in 1996, this percentage is still low compared to the rate of women employment before revolution. Women education was also affected after the revolution as education policies were put in place to segregate females in preliminary schools. Over 100 areas of specialization in over 431 universities were prohibited to women. The government claimed that according to the shari’ah, the course were only appropriate for males.
Although the government introduced these policies the numbers of women attending universities did not change since they enrolled in other courses. However, after lifting the bar on women to study in some disciplines, the percentage of women in colleges has incredibly increased. Lastly, the women‘s situation in Iran may not solely be explained as subordination. Women have considerable power to act and their resistance against their discriminators in especially the educational system can be used as an example. Women in Iran have also been known to resist in wearing the Islamic veils despite the well set punishment to the detractors. For instance, back in the year 1993, 113,000 women were detained for not complying with this particular dressing code. These examples indicate that women in Iran, despite the policies, have been able to resist and form active resistance groups.
Conclusion and Further Recommendations
In conclusion, while it may not be denied that the Islam religion is patriarchal, some elements focusing on the place of women in Islam should be examined for the gain of the entire community. Muslim states and the global sphere are experiencing rapid transitions, interconnections and various discourses about human rights, Islamic rights, pluralism and most essentially, women’s rights. It is a call to all Muslim men and women to take leading roles in assessing the state of patriarchy in the Islam religion and in the context of the cultures, the states and the general din, al-Islam. Also of importance is to see these connections with the traditional origins so as to transform and strengthen policies which are foundational to the basis of continuing values and traditions. If these concepts are not taken into consideration, Muslim men and women may fall prey to blindly following the Islam traditions. A careful examination of the impacts of the Muslim community in preserving what is desirable and prohibiting the undesirable should be examined. In terms of family laws, it is important to propose new policies which consider the place of women in real-life experiences and their potentials as part of complete human agency in the fulfilment of Allah. All in all it is not possible to make the case that Islam is not a patriarchal religion since some practices still reflects this nature but the kind of patriarchy practised in the Islam religion should be for the benefit of the Muslim society at large.