While fundamentalist rulings put a ceiling on the rights of all, the greatest victims have indubitably been women.
Through selectively interpreting the Qur’an, the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet), and Sharia (a code of religious law), most Muslim fundamentalists legalize their brutal and inhumane behaviour in the name of religion.
The problem, certainly, is not Islam, but fundamentalism, which uses Islam as a shield.
Marieme Helie Lucas, an Algerian sociologist and founder of the “Women Living Under Muslim Laws” international solidarity network said Islamic fundamentalism is not a religious movement. Rather, it is a political one. In her view, it is the extreme right wing using religion as a cover. She further continued that it is a populist movement, which therefore gives it legitimacy.
Around the world
There are thousands of examples around the world which show how women are the victims of fundamentalism. For example, in 1990, Iraq issued a decree allowing men to kill their wives, daughters, or sisters for adultery. Now, for a fundamentalist, it can be argued that a hand of a thief is more valuable than the life of a woman.
In Pakistan, women who claim to be raped are often imprisoned for having committed “zina
” -- sex outside of marriage. To prove that a rape occurred, women must produce four male witnesses. Under the law, the testimony of a woman carries only half the weight of a man’s. In rape cases, women’s testimony carries no weight. Prior to these laws, an estimated 70 women were imprisoned in Pakistan.
In India, Muslim women who were divorced had no right to receive the provision of financial support before the 90s.
Honour killings are not acceptable in certain parts of the Muslim world, and are rarely prosecuted. Should a father believe that his wife or daughter has dishonoured the family, it is his prerogative to punish -- even kill -- her.
As women’s social equality has advanced, a wrangle has formed within societies where fundamentalists attempt to reassert more conventional gendered roles -- this happens predominantly in Islamic societies where there is no division between state and religion. All institutions are seen as religious in nature, and the state itself is considered a religious institution.
Religious fundamentalism has been on the rise since the 1960s, growing over the past 15 years. From the 1970s Moral Majority activism in the US, to state-sanctioned religious revivalism in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, to the ascension to power of Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood, briefly, in Egypt, and the Ennahda party in Tunisia in the aftermath of the Arab Spring -- there is reemergence of religion, backed by organized movements.
This rebirth is neither unsystematic nor distinct -- it is entrenched in broader historical processes of globalization, secularization, and in some cases, democratization.
Social media, democracy, and fundamentalism
The digital rebellion and other forces of globalization, the amplified predisposition of governments to eliminate religion from politics, and the wave of democratization in the last few decades conjointly enabled a religious revivalism.
To that end, IS dexterously utilizes YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook to transmit organized propaganda, which has turned out to be a resourceful means to employ young men and women across the world to its cause: Men as fighters; women as wives.
Freedom of religious expression is one of the core values of democracy and facilitated by secular regimes, which permits religious groups to spread their otherwise marginal philosophies, reinforce organizational structures, and line up supporters.
While Islamist parties were voted into power in the course of democratic processes in Egypt and Tunisia, dictatorships, such as Bashar al-Assad’s brutal pursuit of a secular agenda in Syria, provided a justification for religious movements to mobilize and condemn the cold-blooded means by which that secularism was secured.
The same process undid the oppressive rule of Iran’s Shah in 1979.
The threats by fundamentalist religious groups restrict women’s freedom and empowerment.
From sexual violence in South Sudan by the IS, to the abduction of young women and girls by the Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, women’s freedoms are increasingly under threat.
If the Turkish system were to collapse and be replaced by an Islamic theocracy, we can be certain that women’s progress will be reversed
Women are frequently viewed as easy targets. The execution of Samira al-Nuaimy, a female human rights lawyer in Iraq, by the IS is a case in point.
Likewise, sexual violence perpetrated by IS against women of minority groups such as the Yazidis, the Kurds, and even fellow Muslims abducted as prisoners-of-war, is often a way of asserting male dominance.
Turkey’s women are the most liberated in the Muslim world. This was attained not by way of Islamic reformation but through secularism established by the founder of the modern Turkish republic Kemal Ataturk.
Kemal advocated secular education and had always admired Western culture.
He pursued a program of Westernization that affected all aspects of Turkish life -- women were granted the right to vote and veiling was prohibited.
If the Turkish system were to collapse and be replaced by an Islamic theocracy, we can be certain that women’s progress will be reversed, and women will be at the mercy of the mullahs. In countries where there has been a raise in fundamentalism and reversal to strict religious law such as in Pakistan, Sudan, and Afghanistan -- women are targetted with vengeance and brutality.
Therefore, if we want to proceed as a society which respects human rights, peace, and security, we must not be stuck in laws which are proven to be harmful for women.
The constitutional expert Shahdeen Malik, senior advocate, Bangladesh Supreme Court once said that we must focus on the benefit of the society while drafting any law as the law should not facilitate anything that is damaging for society.
So, if we have laws that prove to be harmful for the women, then we should make necessary amendments to address the loopholes immediately.
Barrister Sara Hossain, a lawyer at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and an honorary executive director of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), also once said that while drafting a law, universal human rights should not be ignored, as laws that involve human rights issues should not be differently implemented in developed and developing countries.
Thus, we must consider what is good for women while thinking of any reform within the society.
Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed is Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and a research assistant at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA).