Editors note:The work of Prof. Nasr
Abu-Zeid has been subject of concerted attack by fundamentalist groups in Egypt.
He is currently in exile following charges of apostasy brought against him and
the ruling of the Apex court in Egypt ordering his divorce from his wife Dr.
The following extracts from the book "Women in the
Discourse of Crisis" by Prof. Nasr Abu-Zeid have been translated from Arabic by
The discourse over women in
the Arab world is generally discriminatory.
Once upon a time there was a people
called North which was white and rich, and a people named South which was
non-white and poor. The people North exploited, attacked and killed the people
South according to their needs.
Given the rising tide of
Islamisation in Muslim countries and its call for wider recognition of Shari'a
as the primary legal basis of Muslim nations, concerns about Shari'a's conflict
with human rights standards must be addressed.
Most commentary on the condition of
women in the Middle East assigns a central place to the role of Islam. In fact,
there have been important variations, as well as persistent similarities, in
women’s conditions in Muslim societies. To make sense of the varieties of
women’s real, concrete historical experience, we must avoid confusing analytic
and polemical goals.
Current writing on women in
the Middle East exhibits two equally vigorous, but so far divergent trends.
I have been asking questions such
as “What is the Islamic view of women?” and “What does it mean to be a Muslim
woman?” for a long time. I was born female to a Muslim family living in Lahore,
a Muslim city in a Muslim country, Pakistan. Not until 1974, however, did I
begin my serious study of women’s issues in Islam and — I am still shocked to
reflect — this happened almost by accident.
I was, at that time,
faculty adviser to the Muslim Students’ Association chapter at Oklahoma State
University in Stillwater.
History reveals that sexual
oppression of women, in one form or another, exists in every society in the
world. Nevertheless, it has been achieved by different methods, economically,
intellectually, physically and psychologically. The control of women’s bodies,
or in other words physical mutilation, was raised with the rise of
With the rise of
patriarchy, many customs and traditions were developed. Of these customs and
traditions, many have disappeared or were gradually abandoned, while some
A Roundtable on Strategies to Address ‘Honour Crimes’ was held in London from 12-13 November 1999. It was jointly organised by the Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law (CIMEL) at the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University and by INTERIGHTS, the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights, under the auspices of the CIMEL/INTERIGHTS ‘Honour Crimes’ Project.
The Call to Accountability Campaign is an international campaign supported by over 300 international religious,
women's rights and human rights groups whose goal is to raise public awareness about sexual violence against women in the Catholic church and hold accountable the individual and institutional leadership involved or complicit in this
The author is indebted to the American Association of University Women Education Foundation for an International fellowship enabling her to undertake this research and to Dr. Marlyn Tadros for her kind assistance in translating works relied upon in this paper.
Les mouvements politiques fondamentalistes et la campagne qu’ils mènent contre les femmes ont, au cours des années, suscité maints débats et sont devenus l’une des principales préoccupations de notre réseau.