There are few women interpreters in
the history of Islam because women are seen to be the subject of the Islamic
shari’a and not its legislators. Yet even the few interpreters who have appeared
during the long history of Islam have been kept at the periphery, their views
never allowed to influence Islamic legislation. Moreover, even men interpreters
who were open-minded about women were marginalized and, in some cases, found
their authority questioned.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.