Some Afghan views on restrictions on women in the name of Islam

Most non-Muslim American’s, myself included, know relatively little about Islam. Unfortunately, what we do hear often comes from Muslim radicals, or anti Muslim hate mongers. I find it very interesting and enlightening to listen to discussions of Islamic teachings among Muslims. I belong to the Afghan Intellectuals Network on Facebook, which gives me a very good opportunity to listen in to such discussions among young Afghans (I snuck in with an age waver). You will get a very different picture of Islam in a very traditional society than you are likely to find in the American media. The following discussion was provoked by the announcement reported in the following newspaper article. I find the sharply conflicting views absolutely fascinating and hope that you do too. You might also be interested in my earlier blog on “Shariah and America” and comments on that blog:   “Comments on Shariah and America” 

President defends scholars’ guideline regarding women

by Mir Agha Samimi  Mar 6, 2012 – 16:18

KABUL (PAN): President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday said a guideline concerning women issued by the Afghanistan Ulema Council, involving the country’s top religious scholars, was in accordance with the Sharia.

Issued on Feb. 2, the guideline prohibits women from meeting men in public places like bazaars, offices and educational institutes. It said women, while travelling, must always be accompanied by male guardians.

But western media reports quoted some people as saying that the guideline was in conflict with the Constitution and amounted to curbing women’s right.

At a news conference in Kabul, Karzai said: “The Ulema Council, which issues a guideline every month, has in fact supported women in line with Islamic laws.”

Last Friday, the president added, the scholars handed out a statement that supported women’s stance in keeping with Islamic values. “It represents the country’s Islamic viewpoint and all Muslims of Afghanistan are bound to respect it.”

Wazhma Sadat  I am working on ways to stop the Ulema from making it illegal for women to travel. Inbox me if you want to work with me! You don’t have to be a woman, an Afghan, or a Muslim to disagree with this. This law is taking the most basic rights from women: the right to education. In a country with such limited resources, we travel thousands of miles away to gain education, so our kids won’t see the violence we’re used to today. And this law, if passed, will limit every sliver of hope we’ve built so far. If we’re talking about Islamic law, then the most respected Mullahs of Afghanistan need to learn the Sunnah of the prophet first, which includes respecting women, including women in the high-level decision-making process, and more importantly, the Fard (obligatory duty for every Muslim) of education for both men and women.

This post received 64 comments. Here are a few of the more interesting ones

M. Ishaq Ahmadzai So, Wazhma jan..what do you want to get from this? Are you interested in challenging the law/religion. Islam does allow in certain cases when there are no options available. A woman can give birth to a child in the presence of male doctor but only if there is no gynecologist.

Wazhma Sadat I guess I am just hoping that our so-called Ulama learn about the real facts of Islam before imposing their own racial, gender, ethnic based agendas in the name of Islam. Islam, Alhamdulellah, is much more fair that what we practice in the name of it in Afghanistan. I am Muslim. I live Islam. I wouldn’t challenge it. But I do challenge thoughtless, and baseless rules on vulnerable people of our country. If the government wants me to stop studying in another country because I am not traveling with a mahram, then they should pay for my father to come live with me. AND they should guarantee for my father to get a US visa, as well. These rulings are pathetic: totally political to suppress women, and minorities in many cases. We live in a society where we call each other Kafir! In Islam Takfeer is haram. But look at how we address different sects of Islam within the country. The Ulema should talk about eradicating opium production, corruption, ethnic based discrimination. They should educate us men and women of Afghanistan to have mutual respect to each other. But look at what they choose to talk about. A woman’s traveling alone has not created the mess we are in now. The Ulema’s baseless rulings have!

Please don’t think that I am pro seeing women in tight shirts and jeans in Kabul. I respect my culture and religion as much as anybody else. But I want the Ulema to understand the importance of education. AND the importance of women’s education, which would be hurt really badly by this rule.

Ali Sher Learn the importance of education at what cost ? I’m sure they have good reasons. We have to give them the benefit of doubt. We really do not know or do not have enough information as to what’s really going on in Afghanistan. All we see is what’s on Afghan TV and what I see is that things are getting worse and worse as the years are getting closer to DOJ.

Wazhma Sadat We do have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, including the women in Afghanistan. Not every woman who meets someone outside is dating. Innamal A’mal bennyyat. And ONLY Allah subhanahu ta’alla knows our intentions. Many women have had to work outside to support their dying family members. I don’t think every woman who talks to a man is wanting to attract the man. Remember the times that women came to the prophet and asked him questions, very openly.

Plus, we have lived the worst days in Afghanistan, not those who are in authority right now, including our president. He did not suffer poverty like all average Afghans did and still do. He did not see his wife get beaten in front of men on the streets by the Taliban for wearing white tumbaan. His female relatives did/do not have to choose prostitution to bring food to their family. Nor did any of these Ulema go through what an average Afghan goes through everyday. Do they think of the widows of our country? Do they think of the daughters who want to make their fathers proud… who want to help their ill mother gain better health? What about this is un-islamic?

True, we are getting close to yawm ul Qiyyama [The Day Of Resurrection – Day of Judgement], and I see the signs too. The signs include the hypocrisy of these people who discriminate everyone who is not like them. I see the signs when these ulama don’t talk about the hadith/Quran verses that talk about MEN lowering their gaze, but only impose laws on women. A society is never made sustainable if you have rules only imposed on a particular part of it. We know better what is going on in Afghanistan than those people who spend their weekends in Dubai.

Why don’t these Ulama remember Bibi Ayesha, Bibi Fatima, Bibi Rabia (who was the first person to introduce God’s love in Islam to the rest of the world). Did prophet Muhammad ever tell any woman not to go to school? Did he EVER force his wives to do anything? Anything?

In fact, what we call “dating” today, is allowed in Islam in certain circumstances like if we have the intention to marry the person and if we are meeting in a public place and if there is at least a third person present. What is not allowed is to force girls to get married before seeing the man (usually the old guy who is ‘buying’ a bride). This happens in Afghanistan and it IS un-Islamic. Think about it. For once, put yourself in an Afghan girl’s position, please.
Gaining education is fard in Islam. The Ulama and the gov. should be MORE islamic and build schools and make it MANDATORY for EVERY Afghan man and WOMAN to go to school BECAUSE it is Fard (like praying). They should make it illegal for people to stay illiterate, because amokhtan ilm ba hard wa zan musulman farz ast. The reason why we travel is not because we love leaving our families, and we love being at mercy of other people and countries. The reason why we travel is because our parents are not ministers to pay the bribe it requires to get into to Kabul University.

These are the signs I see and fear. I am saddened that Islam is not practiced the way it should be in Afghanistan, where women are respected, where corruption is non-existent, where education is at its peak, where hypocrisy has no room to live. This is the Islam I know of and I live for, Inshallah. The life in Afghanistan seems so far away from what I believe Islam is.

Wazhma Sadat

1: what the Taliban did was crimes against humanity. Not Islam AT ALL. I wouldn’t use the word “impose” here, since it has a diplomatic connotation. The Taliban were very far from anything close to that. And they still are.
2: Yes women get raped in the west, but who is comparing US with Afghanistan? The problems in other countries should not be the reason why we could justify our society’s flaws.
3: “We need to bring our women back to Islam so they can raise children that grow up to respect women and give them their rights. Our women are more and more involved each day in music, drama, movies, etc., etc.”?? — I am speechless. I think we need to bring our MEN back to Islam. Make them stop going to prostitutes and increasing the demand for such a terrible and un-Islamic practice. Make them stop harassing women.

Music, drama and movies have not been the problem in our history. I wish there were more movies if that kept us away from fighting with each other based on ethnicity, or if it kept us away from suicide bombing and other forms of crimes. Plus, if we watched movies like The Message, we would learn more about Islam than what our so-called, mostly illiterate Ulama have to offer.
4: dating in the west could mean whatever. Meeting with a non-mahram can be permissible according to Islam under certain circumstances.

Last: I don’t think it is the Ulama’s duty to “bring women back to Islam.” They are the reason why so many of people run away from Islam, sadly.

I am not going to fill everyone’s notification with more comments. I pray that we are all guided towards the right path. I pray that we all start thinking about major things like children dying in our country, women getting raped, small boys used for bachabazi, politicians using the people as their disposable promotional tool for fame. And most of all, I pray that we all strive to learn more about Islam and the beautiful path is has to offer through EDUCATION for ALL.

Abdul Waheed St  I just read your second comment…I totally disagree with You dear. Do You know what our Afghan Muslim females who have been studying on a scholarship in US or other countries do??? I guess You are one of the scholarship holders in US. Do You think that is the way a Muslim girl should live and study. They wear tight jeans and shirts with no scarf on their head, actually not studying there, but enjoying a few years of their life away from their parents.

[name withheld by request] It is not so my dear Waheed jan. Whenever we judge West we judge them from their clothes and Hollywood movies. But that is not the true reflector of US culture. Don’t look at their clothes, look at their mindset and the way of thinking.

Abdul Waheed St  Americans have a mindset of and thinking of occupying the world, killing innocent people, destroying peoples life, culture and basis. I think sending Afghan females abroad whether it is US or any other country is just destroying our culture and mixing our culture.

[name withheld by request]  Waheed jan the idea that Americas want to occupy the world and kill innocent people is what comes from Halwa Khoor Mullahs who don’t have the real knowledge of how the world works. If so then why is US spending billions of dollars a year in the world?

Abdul Waheed St  Well Walid Jan minds are different and everyone see the facts from different angels but I guess clever is someone who observes and sees the facts from every angel. US is spending Billions for their interest not for mine or yours…

[name withheld by request]  And if you look from the other angle, which you have never ever looked from, it is in our mutual interest. You need to widen your perspective rather than being strongly influenced by a Mullah who is less educated than you.

Wazhma Sadat  Salaam again! I am not going to go into details about what people wear or whether they continue to hold onto their values as Muslims and Afghans while abroad, because that is their personal choice and Allah is a better judge, inshallah. But if you are specifically talking about me, then you should learn more about me, brother 🙂

Additionally, who said we were talking about the US? How about women going to Jordan to study Islamic studies? One of the sad things about my education experience in Afghanistan was always lack of understanding of Islam! My teachers in many institutions in Afghanistan did not know much about Islam. I think by limiting people’s freedom to go abroad to get an education, we are limiting their opportunity to learn about many things that are not offered in Afghanistan, including a thorough understanding of Islam. Islam is not about judging people based on what they wear… the tightness of jeans does not determine people’s imaan. Who are we to judge.

I am sorry if you’ve had a bad impression of girls who’ve been abroad. I am sure I don’t have to tell you that no one represents one another. And that we are not to judge who wears what with what intention (Islamically). Plus, not everyone is away from home to “enjoy”… many study day and night with the hope to return. Let’s not generalize, inshallah.

Inam Ul Haq Humdard  Dear Brothers and Sisters please don’t give fetwas from your stomach while you have not studied Islamic Scriptures….. don’t read those books which are written by so called Muslims/Wahabis and for exact detail read those books which are written 200 years ago by ulemas of that time…….thanks

Abubakr Asadulla There is absolutely no limitation to women traveling in the Quran. There are a few contradictory Hadiths—5 to be exact— that point to limiting women’s travel distance.
1) Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (Radhiyallaahu Anhu) reported Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) as saying

‘It is not permitted for a Muslim woman to make a journey of a night unless accompanied by a Mahram.’

2)Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (Radhiyallaahu Anhu) reported that Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) said,

‘It is not permitted for a woman who has faith in Allah and the last day to make a journey of a day and night.’

3) Abu Saeed (Radhiyallaahu Anhu) reported Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) saying, ‘It is not permitted for a woman who brings faith in Allah and the Last Day to make a journey of more than three days unless she is accompanied by either her father, brother, husband, son or a relative who is her Mahram.’

4) Hadhrat ibn Umar (Radhiyallaahu Anhuma) reported Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) saying, ‘A woman must not make a journey of three days unless accompanied by a relative who is her Mahram.’

5) Hadhrath ibn Abbas (Radhiyallaahu Anhuma) reported that Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, ‘A woman must not make a journey unless accompanied by a Mahram or her husband.’

Based on Islamic principles, men and women have equal rights and Surah an-Nisa’ 4:1 states that men and women are created from a single soul (nafs wahidah). One person does not come before the other, one is not superior to the other, and one is not the derivative of the other. Thus, if they are equal in God’s eyes why are they being treated under TWO laws. If a woman can’t travel without a Maharam, why can’t it be expected from men to travel without a Maharam? Both men and women are vulnerable to Satan; why pick on women? The simple truth is that many of these attributed Hadiths to the prophet were written at a time of tribal warfare, when neither men nor women were safe to leave home. Those same rules can not be taken literally to pertain to the 21th century. Fortunately, women can travel safely and there is no apprehension about them being harmed any more than men, as long as appropriate judgment is used to their destination.

We have to remember that the earliest documents attributed to prophet (PBUH) are at least 100 years after he passed away. Moreover, it should be mentioned that many of today’s restrictions on women originate from after the prophet (PBUH) had passed away and they are a reflection of Arab customs and traditions rather than Islamic law. For example, Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow women to drive. Does that make it Islamic for women in Islam to stop driving?

Abubakr Asadulla Any philosophy left to the hands of semi-literate is a dangerous phenomenon. The interpretation and application of Islam isn’t a privilege of a few, on the contrary it is a collective endeavor. Islam was complete with the death of Prophet (PBUH) and any philosophy thereafter is left for interpretation and modification, as someone pointed out, in Islam we are gifted with the right to Ijma and ijtihad. Ijtihad representing my right to utilize my intelligence to conform with what my goal is to worship God, and Ijma to have a consensus amongst people for collective good, in situations that are unique to our time and era.

In opinion of many scholars, this restriction on women, assuming this Hadith is really from the prophet, had limited application and duration. Times have changed and so have dangers to men and women. Above all we have been given the Ilm of Aqalia (knowledge of common sense) which in my mind and I am sure others dictates equal rights for both men and women.

If there is fitna in society, it is the failure of societies to have appropriately educated its population. One cannot restrict women for men’s evils. There are millions of women that travel freely without a consequence, why are we picking on Muslim women? Limiting women’s travel is insulting to women and our creator, which calls men and women equals (Quran 3:195).

Unfortunately, the truth is that men and women are prone to haram regardless of travel or not. We shouldn’t pass a blank law categorically limiting women’s movements out of fear of a few that may transgress. If such is the case no man should be allowed outside of their rooms, let alone their homes. At the end of the day, instill the right tools in your family, give them the right tools to judge right from wrong and trust Allah that He will guide to the straight path.

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About wcoats

Dr. Warren L. Coats specializes in advising central banks on monetary policy, and in the development of their capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy. He is retired from the International Monetary Fund, where, as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department, he led missions to over twenty countries. Before then, he served as Visiting Economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and to the World Bank, and was Assistant Prof of Economics at the Univ. of Virginia from 1970-75. Most recently he was Senior Monetary Policy Advisor to the Central Bank of Iraq; an IMF consultant to the central banks of Afghanistan, Kenya and Zimbabwe; and a Deloitte/USAID advisor to the Government of South Sudan. He is currently a member of the Editorial Board of the Cayman Financial Review and until the end of 2013 was a member of the IMF program team for Afghanistan. His most recent book is entitled "One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina."
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