Tag Archives: Women in Islam

Pew: Women In Society

Pew:The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society Part 5

Women In Society

In nearly all countries surveyed, a majority of Muslims say that a wife should always obey her husband. At the same time, there also is general agreement – at least outside sub-Saharan Africa – that a woman should have the right to decide for herself whether to wear a veil in public.

Muslims are less unified when it comes to questions of divorce and inheritance. The percentage of Muslims who say that a wife should have the right to divorce her husband varies widely among the countries surveyed, as does the proportion that believes sons and daughters should inherit equally.

In some, but not all, countries surveyed, Muslim women are more supportive of women’s rights than are Muslim men. Differences on these questions also are apparent between Muslims who want sharia to be the official law of the land in their country and those who do not.

Women and Veiling

Muslims in many of the countries surveyed generally favor a woman’s right to choose whether to wear a veil in public.30 This view is especially prevalent in Southern and Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, including at least nine-in-ten Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina (92%), Kosovo (91%) and Turkey (90%).


There is less agreement among Muslims in the Middle East-North Africa region and South Asia. While more than eight-in-ten Muslims in Tunisia (89%) and Morocco (85%) say women should have the right to choose whether they wear a veil, fewer than half in Egypt (46%), Jordan (45%), Iraq (45%) and Afghanistan (30%) say the same.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the one region surveyed where most Muslims donot think women should have the right to decide if they wear a veil. The only country in the region where a majority supports a woman’s right to decide is Senegal (58%); by contrast, fewer than a third support giving women this right in Nigeria (30%) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (29%).

Wives’ Role

Muslims in most countries surveyed say that a wife should always obey her husband. In 20 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims believe a wife must obey her spouse.


Muslims in South Asia and Southeast Asia overwhelmingly hold this view. In all countries surveyed in these regions, roughly nine-in-ten or more say wives must obey their husbands. Similarly, in all countries surveyed in the Middle East and North Africa, about three-quarters or more say the same.

Across Central Asia, most Muslims say that wives must obey their husbands, although views vary from country to country. Opinion ranges from nearly nine-in-ten in Tajikistan (89%) to about half in Kazakhstan (51%).

In most of the Southern and Eastern European countries surveyed, fewer than half of Muslims believe a wife must always obey her spouse. Russia is the one exception, with 69% of Muslims taking this view.

Women and Divorce

Muslims in the countries surveyed are not united on whether women should have the right to terminate a marriage.31 In 13 of the 22 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims say a wife should have this right. Most Muslims in Central Asia and in Southern and Eastern Europe hold this view, including 94% in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 88% in Kosovo, 85% in Turkey and 84% in Albania. Tajikistan is the only country surveyed in these two regions where a minority (30%) says women should have the right to initiate divorce.


Opinion is less unified among Muslims in South Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region. Large majorities affirm women’s right to divorce in Tunisia (81%), Morocco (73%) and Bangladesh (62%), but only about a quarter or fewer say the same in Pakistan (26%), Egypt (22%), Jordan (22%) and Iraq (14%).

In Southeast Asia, only a minority of Muslims believe women should be able to divorce their husbands, including as few as 8% in Malaysia.

Inheritance Rights for Women

In 12 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims say that sons and daughters should have equal inheritance rights.32 Most Muslims in Central Asia and in Southern and Eastern Europe hold this view, including 88% in Turkey and 79% in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In these regions, Kyrgyzstan is the only country where fewer than half (46%) support equal inheritance rights.


In South Asia and Southeast Asia, opinion differs widely by country. More than half of Muslims in Indonesia (76%), Thailand (61%) and Pakistan (53%) support equal inheritance rights, but fewer than half do so in Bangladesh (46%), Malaysia (36%) and Afghanistan (30%).

Across the Middle East and North Africa, fewer than half of Muslims say sons and daughters should receive the same inheritance shares. Palestinian Muslims (43%) are most supportive of equal inheritance rights in this region, while support is low among Muslims in Morocco and Tunisia (15% each).

National Context and Gender Attitudes

Attitudes toward gender issues may be influenced by the social and political context in which Muslims live. For instance, levels of support for equal inheritance by sons and daughters is often more widespread in countries where laws do not specify that sons should receive greater shares. Indeed, in most countries where laws do not mandate unequal inheritance for sons and daughters, a majority of Muslims support equal inheritance. For example, nearly nine-in-ten Muslims in Turkey (88%) say all children should receive the same inheritance. Similarly, more than three-quarters of Muslims in post-communist Bosnia-Herzegovina (79%) and Kosovo (76%) hold this view. By contrast, in most countries where laws specify that sons should receive greater shares than daughters, a smaller percentage of Muslims favor equal inheritance, including a quarter or fewer in Jordan (25%), Iraq (22%), Morocco and Tunisia (15% each).

Women’s Views on Women’s Rights

In some, but not all, countries Muslim women are more supportive of women’s rights than are Muslim men. For example, in 12 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, Muslim women voice greater support than Muslim men for a woman’s right to decide whether to wear a veil in public. In the remaining 11 countries, opinions of women and men do not differ significantly on this question.


Similarly, when it comes to the issue of equal inheritance for sons and daughters, Muslim women in nine countries are more likely than Muslim men to support it. But in the 14 other countries where the question was asked, the views of women and men are not significantly different.

In none of the countries surveyed are Muslim women substantially less likely than Muslim men to support a woman’s right to choose to wear a veil or the right to equal inheritance for daughters and sons.


Attitudes of both Muslim women and men may reflect the prevailing cultural and legal norms of their society. For example, in Morocco, 87% of women say a woman should have the right to choose to wear a veil, as do 83% of men and 85% of all Moroccan Muslims.33 Yet, just 14% of Muslim women back equal inheritance for daughters and sons, compared with 15% of Muslim men and 15% of Moroccan Muslims, overall.34

Sharia and Women’s Rights

Overall, the survey finds that Muslims who want sharia to be the law of the land in their country often, though not uniformly, are less likely to support equal rights for women and more likely to favor traditional gender roles.


Differences between those who want sharia to be the official law and those who do not are most pronounced when it comes to the role of wives. In 10 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, supporters of sharia as official law are more likely to say wives must always obey their husbands. Especially large gaps are found in Albania (+44 percentage points), Kosovo (+34), Bosnia-Herzegovina (+34) and Russia (+33).

Muslims who favor an official role for sharia also tend to be less supportive of granting specific rights to women. For instance, in six countries, those who want Islamic law as the official law are less likely to say women should have the right to divorce, including in Russia (-34 percentage points), Morocco (-19) and Albania (-19). However, the opposite is true in Bangladesh (+13) and Jordan (+12).

Additionally, in seven countries, supporters of sharia as the official law of the land are less likely to say sons and daughters should receive equal inheritance. And in five countries, those who favor sharia as the official law are less likely to believe a woman should have the right to decide whether to wear a veil in public.


30 The Quran states that a woman should dress modestly, but it does not specifically require that she wear a veil. See Quran 24:30-31. Informed by certain hadith, however, all main legal schools of Islam (madhhab) mandate that women should veil. See Siddiqui, Mona. 2012. “Veil.” In McAuliffe, Jane Dammen, general editor. Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an. Brill. See also Hasan, Usama. 2011. “The Veil: Between Tradition and Reason, Culture and Context.” In Gabriel, Theodore and Rabiha Hannan, editors. “Islam and the Veil: Theoretical and Regional Contexts.” Continuum International Publishing Group, pages 65-80. (return to text)

31 According to most major schools of Islam (madhhab), a woman is permitted to divorce her husband under certain conditions. See Jawad, Haifaa A. 1998. “The Rights of Women in Islam: An Authentic Approach.” Palgrave Macmillan, page 8. (return to text)

32 The Quran specifies that a son should receive two shares of inheritance for every one share given to a daughter. See Quran 4:11. (return to text)

33 Moroccan law does not require or forbid wearing a hijab. See Gray, Doris H. 2008. “Muslim Women on the Move: Moroccan Women and French Women of Moroccan Origin Speak Out.” Lexington Books, page 109. (return to text)

34 Moroccan laws adhere to the Quranic injunction that sons should receive twice the inheritance of daughters. See Sadiqi, Fatima. 2010. “Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa 2010 – Morocco.” Freedom House. (return to text)

Anatomy of the veil

Lebanese women speak to Joumana Haddad about their decisions to wear the veil.


“Religion is used as an ideology. The veil imposed on or expected of women is an instrument of control in the same way that in Mao’s China people had to wear Mao jackets, and women were not supposed to wear any makeup” -Azar Nafisi


Rawan, 29, says she took up the veil only last year, because she “was having trouble finding a suitor” in her community, in which veiled girls are more eligible than those who are not. “It was not out of religious conviction, really. I mean, I am a believer and all, I even fast all of Ramadan, but I never imagined myself wearing the veil. I had to change my mind recently. I want to get married and start a family, and I have hit an age that doesn’t allow me the luxury of being obstinate about my principles.” Rawan, a college graduate, has a fiancé now, a distant cousin who lives in the United States, and she doesn’t regret her decision. She considers herself pragmatic, and looks forward to starting a new life with her husband-to-be. “Who knows?” she adds, “Maybe once we are married he’d allow me to take it off again. In any case, it doesn’t matter that much to me. I am getting used to it and the only thing that really bugs me is that I have beautiful hair and I feel a bit sad sometimes because I have to hide it when I go out.”


Fida, 24, tells a completely different story. “I hate it. It is alienating and I despise myself for wearing it. My parents forced me when I was 17. Particularly my mother. She kept repeating to my ears that it is haram to show my hair in public and that I’d be a pariah in the family if I didn’t cover it. She reminded me of one of my unveiled aunts who got rejected by the whole family for having run off with a communist back in the seventies. She is their black sheep and they refuse to talk to her until this very day. Now every time I look at myself in the mirror I feel I am looking at someone else. I am my own stranger. It is not compatible with my spirit, my beliefs, and my opinions. But I don’t dare to take it off. Not only would I be ostracized, but my older brother won’t let me get away with it. I wish I had the guts to ask my brother how come I found a bottle of whiskey hidden in his wardrobe the other day.”


Noha, 21, made the decision herself when she was merely 8-and-a-half years old. Practically a baby. “It is what I always wanted, and when I told my parents, they resisted at first because I was so young, but then they surrendered because of my insistence. The veil is my identity and I can’t imagine myself not wearing it. It would feel so awkward to go out without it. I would feel naked. I am convinced a woman should have a decent appearance”. When asked why she doesn’t simply dress decently, like many other women, and what is so indecent in showing one’s hair, Noha’s discourse shifts from persuaded to confused: “I don’t know. I admit I do ask myself that question sometimes, but I don’t know the answer. I simply accept it and I feel peaceful inside.”


Rou’a, 41 and married, asserts that she chose to wear the veil because “a woman needs to protect herself.” When I asked her: “Then how come so many veiled women are equally harassed,” she replied: “because some men are animals.” And when I commented: “So you think that instead of punishing the men who are acting like animals, a woman should cover herself up?”, she mumbled something about modesty and dignity. Then I went on: “But don’t you feel that this way of stamping you and differentiating you from a man is a way to say you are a man’s property?”, she counter-attacked: “I respect myself and I refuse to be an object of lust like so many women out there.” Ironically, when we met, Rou’a was wearing extremely tight jeans that hid nothing of her voluptuous curves.


Hiba, 34, assured me enthusiastically that the veil was her choice and her choice alone. “So many people think that the veil is imposed on us and that is not true. Most women choose willingly to wear it because they know that if they didn’t they would upset Allah and go to hell.” I told Hiba that the alternative she gives for not wearing the veil is hardly a choice, since the threat of burning in hell is a form of intimidation that compels women to veil themselves, while imagining that they are the ones who want it. I asked her: “If there was no risk of religious and social condemnation, if there was no pressure whatsoever, whether direct or indirect, then we could talk about a choice, don’t you think?” She refused to comment and accused me of being brainwashed before turning her back on me.


All the women interviewed above for the purpose of this article are close friends, students, or acquaintances. The five testimonies I briefly reported here are excerpts from 26 lengthy conversations that I had with veiled Lebanese women from both Shiite and Sunni communities, which might become the subject of a book along with interviews with women from other Arab/Muslim countries. Obviously, 26 cannot represent a significant sample, and I do not pretend that I conducted a study. But the variety of backgrounds and classes I tried to confer with about this particular issue, versus the quasi-automatic similarity in the pretexts and arguments given to me, was quite impressive in its general lack of coherence and consistency. At some point, after the easy and debatable mantras of “It is my choice,” “I respect myself,” and “the prophet said so,” there seems to be a wall that is erected between us, a wall that prevents any further deepening of the discussion. Needless to say it is a wall made in great part of the refusal to think/compare/assess. Is veil the only problem? Is it even a problem? Not necessarily, but it one of the symptoms of a culture that is plagued with blindly giving in to religion.


As a Saudi novelist friend told me yesterday: “Islam is submission” (Al Islamou tasleem). You do not ask questions. You do not try to reason with it. You simply accept it even if and when it clashes with your common sense and logic. “That is why,” he said, “liberals who try to argue with hard-core believers using the language of reason can never win. They’d better defend their right to their own positions and opinions, and ask for those rights to be respected in the frame of universal human rights, instead of delving into the mayhem of convincing the other side.”


Convincing is not an option then, nor a quest, especially when you are dealing with absurd de-facto non-negotiable ‘truths.’ But raising doubts is possible indeed. And I hope in all modesty that I have left some of those 26 women wondering after our heart-to-heart conversations. Whether this will lead some of them to change their minds is irrelevant. The changes within are much more important than the outside appearance in this context.


Freedom is a slow process that starts with daring to ask yourself the uncomfortable questions.


How do I know that? Because I can imagine Fida’s hopeful smile while she is reading this.


Follow Joumana Haddad on Twitter @joumana333

Joumana Haddad is author of many books, among which “I Killed Scheherazade.” Her latest book, “Superman is an Arab – On God, marriage, macho men and other disastrous inventions” (Westbourne Press, London, 2012) is now available in Lebanese bookshops and on Amazon.

Bra Photo Forces Muslim Woman into Hiding

This is a story about Muslim intolerance. It’s also a story about how dangerous it is for Muslim women to step out of line. Sooraya Graham wasn’t targeted by her parents or her brothers. Unlike Malala, she wasn’t living in a dangerous part of the world. Instead all this took place at a Canadian university.

Sooraya Graham wasn’t trying to criticize Islam. She was trying to criticize Western perceptions of how Muslim women live. And the behavior of Muslims proved those perceptions were right all along.

Unfamiliar pill bottles have become all too familiar to Sooraya Graham. Anti-depressants and anxiety medication have found a home in her life where they were previously unwelcome and unneeded.

Graham sits at home, wondering what she ever did to deserve such a fate.

Kamloops, the city she once called home, is now just a memory. While Graham wishes it were a more distant one, this memory remains very much at the forefront of her life. Living more than 800 kilometres from Kamloops is enough to remind her on a daily basis. Citing safety reasons, Graham requested her specific location not be revealed.

Apart from being uprooted and reliant on medications just to get by, Graham is also slowly giving up her religion, that until the past year, was an integral part of her.

All of this is a direct result of one innocent but provocative piece of artwork.

In March 2012¸Graham went through one of the most trying experiences any budding artist can experience.

Graham — a Canadian Muslim — was, at the time, a fourth-year fine arts student at Thompson Rivers University (TRU).

After composing a breath-taking photograph intended to foster a societal discussion about women — particularly Muslim women and the niqab, or face veil — Graham put her artwork on display as part of a class project for TRU fine arts professor Ernie Kroeger.

“I was trying to create a discussion point for Muslim women, for veiled women and to kind of just show light of how we are just normal women,” Graham said in a March 2012 interview in The Omega.

The reaction that followed was beyond anything she had ever imagined.

According to Graham, her artwork was stripped down from its display and taken away by then TRU World international student advisor, Sahar Alnakeb.

“They weren’t willing to give it to me if I was going to put it back on the wall,” Graham said in March 2012. “They were holding it hostage, I guess you could say.

“We’re  always told that our voice is important and that we can say something with our art. It is shocking when someone tries to silence that.”

Alnakeb, also a female Muslim, left her business card on the wall in place of Graham’s work. She would eventually return the work to Graham, after which it would was put back on display. TRU also compensated Graham for damage to the piece.

Alnakeb would issue an apology to Graham via email.

“As an International Student Advisor I do apologize for removing your picture, at that time I was aiming to support my female Muslim students who have found it offensive [to] students but now I see it was a mistake. Sorry for the inconvenience,” was all that Alnakeb wrote to Graham on Wednesday, April 11, 2012.

That last part is very important. The offensiveness here did not come from Terry Jones. It came from a Muslim woman. The entire scam of Islamophobia is there to restrain criticism of Islam from both inside and outside Islam.

That is the most important thing to understand. Islamophobia and the constant claims of offensiveness are there to censor not only criticism of a religion but any behavior by members of that religion deemed offensive by Islamists.

“You know, that 15 minutes of fame, I wanted it to be literally 15 minutes and done,” Graham said. “I wanted the injustice to be solved because when Sahar did that, she pushed so many boundaries.”

After the story quieted down within the media, things did not follow suit in Graham’s life. She received death threats via email, hate messages were stuck on her car windshield and the front door to her home, the tail light on her car was broken and she was followed around campus by other Muslim students who disapproved of her art. She wasn’t comfortable going to, from or within school without travelling in a group.

“I didn’t feel safe on campus. I went to a counsellor and told her about it and I was stressed,” Graham said. “I tried to express it. But at the same time, I had no proof. They just said, ‘Oh, you’re just being paranoid.’”

Would the college have dismissed Graham as being paranoid if she were being threatened by Canadian conservatives? Unlikely. She would have had 24 hour protection.

Eventually, Graham’s parents would convince her to pick up and leave TRU and Kamloops. Not only was she leaving behind her city and her university, she was leaving behind four years of studies towards her fine arts degree, which she has still been unable to complete. Now she doesn’t even know if she wants to finish her degree and has come to the conclusion that she certainly does not want to pursue a career as an artist, as she once did.

As a direct result of the incident, Graham has found herself slowly losing touch with her religion, something that was once so important to her. She is no longer allowed to travel to places in the Muslim world like Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Dubai due to the danger she faces after her artwork and story circulated the international Muslim community.

“As a Muslim, what do I do about Mecca?  That’s gone for me now. Permanently,” Graham said. “It’s an R.E.M. song. I’m losing my religion. It’s changed me. At this time, maybe it’s a good thing.”

Left unsaid in the story is how big that controversy became and the Mecca connection and the Saudi presence on campus.

The Saudi Education Centre in Kamloops, which is funded by the Saudi Arabian government and provides support to Saudi students and their families, is taking issue with the photo.

“The artist didn’t approach the artwork let’s say in a very professional way that can state and can clarify the information and clarify the idea behind the picture,” said centre president Trad Bahabri.

The question is how deep the Saudi presence at Thompson Rivers University goes and how much that connection influenced the treatment of Soraya Graham.

A year ago Soraya Graham was talking about Niqabi rights.

Graham wears the niqab as a personal choice.

She believes that some people in Canada have the misconception that women who wear the niqab are somehow oppressed or forced into doing so. That is a part of what motivates her art.

“In a lot of Western media, you often see the veiled woman as oppressed, or as a fundamentalist, or this pacifistic woman,” Graham said. “And that’s not the case. I think it’s something that needs to be broken as a stereotype.”

But now Graham has discovered that there is no personal choice in Islam.By