By Ameer Ali –
The current focus on reforming the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, which is long overdue, is only one of several gender discriminatory issues with which Muslim women not only in Sri Lanka but also in other parts of the world are grappling with. In this struggle, which women are destined to win eventually, there are some fundamental issues that should be understood by concerned public.
When the Quran introduced and the Prophet and after him his immediate successors implemented reforms regarding the status of women in seventh century Arabia the impact was nothing short of revolutionary. Given the context of the time when the female half of the Arab world, for that matter even in Christendom, was treated with contempt as no more than heaven-sent gadgets for males’ sexual pleasure and items of material assets, which could be disposed of in any way men wished, the permission granted by Islam for women to inherit, own and manage property, to demand respect from and be counted by men as worthy participants in societal affairs, and above all this the unprecedented responsibility bestowed upon them in the affairs of the family, were indeed unique and revolutionary.
If one were to engage in an intentional reading of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet one cannot miss to delineate the progressive direction along which the Quranic spirit leads the reader regarding the status of women. The ultimate objectives of human freedom, justice and equality as enshrined in the Quran apply equally to men as well as women. Had that progressive path set by the Quran been followed by successive generations Muslim women within the restrictions that nature itself has imposed on them would have attained equal status with men long time ago. However, what happened in history was a betrayal and that progressive direction was halted and even reversed in the readings and interpretations of medieval theologians who were all males and products of patriarchal societies. With all their erudition and sharp minds these scholars remained prisoners of patriarchal values and norms. Patriarchal cultures essentially disfavour women. While the Muslim women were deliberately kept illiterate the theologians monopolised the task of interpreting the holy texts and dictating to the women what their rights were if any, how they should exercise those rights, what their duties were and what consequences would follow for failing in those duties. These theologically oriented norms were obviously gender biased and reversed the progressive direction of the Quran. This regression is now being checkmated by Muslim women themselves, thanks to modern secular education.
One of the positive legacies of European colonialism is secular education. While traditional religious teaching by the conservative ulema continued to indoctrinate Muslim children the art of reading and writing the so called holy language, Arabic, without understanding a word of it, state aided secular education not only taught the kids new sciences but also more importantly the art of reasoning, questioning and thinking. What the Quran itself demanded from its readers originally but subverted later by medieval theologians has now entered the Muslim world through the backdoor via secular education. Although it took a long time for Muslims to take advantage of this new development and even longer for Muslim women to get access to secular education, which explains why the Muslim world is still far behind the others in scientific advancement, this education has now thrown the gauntlet to centuries old received wisdom on women affairs.
It is true that female literacy is the lowest among Muslims. Yet, even the relatively small numbers of Muslim women who have benefitted from secular education are turning into a formidable force determined to halt the regression. These are the Muslim feminists who are reading and interpreting the very same texts which the male theologians monopolised for centuries. Laleh Bakhtiar’s The Sublime Quran published in 2007, in spite of its shortcomings and controversies, was the first translation of the Quran by a Muslim woman and before her scholars like the Moroccan Fatema Mernissi have done their own research and provided new meanings to the traditional interpretations of the holy texts. What is happening now is that Muslim women are entering the field of ijtihad (individual effort and endeavour) a highly laudable branch in Islamic epistemology in order to discover the objective truth in relation to the status of women that has not been told before. There are also dozens of eminent Muslim male scholars like Khalid Abu al-Fadl, the late Muhammad Arkoun and Basam Tibi who are also challenging some of the conservative thinking on the status of women in Islam.
In a country like Sri Lanka where religious conservatism has an iron grip over the Muslim community it is going to be a hard struggle for Muslim women to break their shackles. The marriage market where matrimony has become a matter of money, in the job market where employment providers are dominated by males, in the field of public recognition for female intellectual achievements, and in the social structure the odds are heavily stacked against Muslim women. Even the mosques are not prepared to open their doors for women to perform their daily prayers.
That some women are receiving physical threats for agitating for justice and equality is therefore not surprising. It is encouraging however to note that a group of progressive male Muslim intellectuals like those in the Kandy Forum, is openly supporting the current agitation for reforming the Marriage and Divorce Act. Revising this act should not be delayed but that alone is not going to elevate women’s status to the desirable level. Kandy forum should champion the women’s cause and lead a social reform movement within the Muslim community. That in turn will strengthen the Muslim women’s agitation for freedom, justice and equality. In the final analysis it is modern education that will be the catalyst to advance the status of Muslim women. Here again it is not the quantity of education but the quality that matters. In this context Muslim education in Sri Lanka requires serious review.
TheHorsesFoot / November 30, 2016
Any change to the age of marriage is welcome.
Islam forbids child marriage as evidenced by the following verses in the Quran.
Evidence 1: Quran 4:6 (part):
“Make trial of orphans until they reach the age of marriage; if then ye find sound judgment in them, release their property to them;…”
Thus implying that the age of marriage should at least equate to an age where an individual is sufficiently mature in order that property can be released to him/her.
This is further emphasized in Quran 6:152 (part):
“And come not nigh to the orphan’s property, except to improve it, until he attain the age of full strength;…”
Regarding the marriage contract the Quran describes it as a solemn covenant between husband and wife. Quran 4:21 (part):
“And how could ye take it when ye have gone in unto each other, and they have Taken from you a solemn covenant?”
The Arabic wording used to describe “solemn covenant” is used for the most deepest and intense contracts such as what God took with his prophets:
“And remember We took from the prophets their covenant: As (We did) from thee: from Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus the son of Mary: We took from them a solemn covenant:”
It is doubtful that a child can make such a solemn pledge.
The basis for child marriage is the alleged marriage of the prophet Muhammad’s to the child Ayesha at age 9 or 11. This is based on very shaky historical accounts narrated by individuals who lived 100 to 300 years after the prophet had died. It is not based on the Quran. It is unlikely that the prophet would have done such a barbaric act or condoned such a practice.
In addition, you have mentioned how the mosque doors are not open to women. This is greatly unfortunate since the Quranic mandate on Jummah prayers are for all believers, and not men alone, as is evidenced as follows:
“O YE WHO BELIEVE! When the call is proclaimed to prayer on the Day of Assembly, hasten earnestly to the Remembrance of Allah, and leave off business (and traffic): That is best for you if ye but knew!” Quran 62:9
No caveats or exceptions are given in the surah
Thevas / November 30, 2016
Then how about Ayesha? She was just 9 when an old man married her!
Example is better than advice.
S.Modaya / November 30, 2016
It is not just Muslim women who are oppressed in SL.
All women are oppressed.
Muslims and Tamil women doubly so because they are minorities in the Sinhala male dominated sexist and racist public and political national culture in Miracle of Modyas
jim softy / November 30, 2016
So, why you dalits do not go to Tamilnadu had experience the best ?
Native Vedda / December 1, 2016
jim softy dimwit
“So, why you dalits do not go to Tamilnadu had experience the best ?”
They will go when their Sinhala speaking brethren are ready to join them.
When are you leaving?
Samuel Jayaweera / November 30, 2016
I believe still the courage of srilanken Muslim women remains not enough. They can come forward and request their rights. Malaysians do it better. Even some women in iran too have come forward by today than hd been two decades ago.
So long Azwer the like politicians are alive in the country, not much will be made for muslim folks.
Amarasiri / December 1, 2016
Dr. Ameer Ali
RE: Sri Lankan Muslim Women’s Struggle For Freedom, Justice & Equality: Some Fundamental Issues
Yes. We need to focus on the Sri Lankan Muslim Women’s Struggle For Freedom, Justice & Equality. This is a larger problem with Religion and Tribal Traditions inter-twined.
See what is happening in Afganistan and other places. The Legal Marriage age for a girl is 16. However the families marry, or rather sell off their daughters as young as 9 yeas old.
Same with Samaneras, novice Buddhist monks, boys, being “recruited” when they are 7 years old, just like what Buddha did to his son, Rahula.
This is how Muslim men treat their wives, the Afghan Tribal version.
Thai Baby Monks falling asleep while meditating
Nishadha D. / November 30, 2016
Excellent review and clarity brought forth in a manner I have never encountered before. I wish many can benefit from this article and that it would be translated into Sinhala and published in the newspapers. Thank you!
Amarasiri / November 30, 2016
Dr. Ameer Ali
RE: Sri Lankan Muslim Women’s Struggle For Freedom, Justice & Equality: Some Fundamental Issues.
Thank you for a succinct and well written article. The Struggle continues.
1. “The current focus on reforming the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, which is long overdue, is only one of several gender discriminatory issues with which Muslim women not only in Sri Lanka but also in other parts of the world are grappling with.”
Yes. This has been a long struggle. It is comparable to slavery.Continued struggle is needed if women are to be freed from slavery.Rem,ember, in Saudi Arabia, women can’t drive, courtesy of Wahhabies.
2. “When the Quran introduced and the Prophet and after him his immediate successors implemented reforms regarding the status of women in seventh century Arabia the impact was nothing short of revolutionary.”
Yes, it was revolutionary for 7th Century Arabia. However, we are in the 21st century. Don’t use the camel that much, and used modern technology, courtsey of the age of reason abs science and technology.
3. “Had that progressive path set by the Quran been followed by successive generations Muslim women within the restrictions that nature itself has imposed on them would have attained equal status with men long time ago. However, what happened in history was a betrayal and that progressive direction was halted and even reversed in the readings and interpretations of medieval theologians who were all males and products of patriarchal societies. With all their erudition and sharp minds these scholars remained prisoners of patriarchal values and norms. Patriarchal cultures essentially disfavour women.”
Not only to women, even reason was downgraded, relative to revelation as interpreted by the theologians. That resulted in the decline of Islamic Science and Philosophy.
4. “One of the positive legacies of European colonialism is secular education. While traditional religious teaching by the conservative ulema continued to indoctrinate Muslim children the art of reading and writing the so called holy language, Arabic, without understanding a word of it, state aided secular education not only taught the kids new sciences but also more importantly the art of reasoning, questioning and thinking. What the Quran itself demanded from its readers originally but subverted later by medieval theologians has now entered the Muslim world through the backdoor via secular education.”
Age of Reason and enlightenment.
Muslims still can’t accept the facts and reason, even with observations and data, being blinded by revelations, as interpreted by theologians.
5. “That some women are receiving physical threats for agitating for justice and equality is therefore not surprising. It is encouraging however to note that a group of progressive male Muslim intellectuals like those in the Kandy Forum, is openly supporting the current agitation for reforming the Marriage and Divorce Act. “
This is an important development. The theologians will not give up theur grip easily.
6. Why did Islamic Science decline? Al Gazali , the Theologian?
Stupidest Muslim Vs Neil Tyson – How ideology can ruin intellectual power
This is not a debate between some Muslim and Neil Tyson. But this video shows the thinking of some very well educated 21’st century Muslim (I don’t know he is ignorant, stupid or dishonest. But he is one for sure) and Neil Tyson speaking in a lecture about how Muslims intellectual power ruined by an ideology
Adrian / November 30, 2016
Dr. Ameer Ali.
Do we need Religion to understand men and women? Just common sense would do. Men & women are the creations of the genes. Their minds are designed to think that each other are beautiful and everlasting. The genes then takes the escape route through males & females who are ever willing to procreate for these romances and mislead concepts.In between we may come across o ring theory, baptisms, ever lasting eternal life etc. Better to leave them to remain as faith without fighting for their validity.
Rights and responsibilities are different. Every human whether male or female has same feelings. They have to consume food, require shelter, & receive necessary benefits as available. On discriminatory grounds these cannot be denied. These equal rights have to be ensured to the people by law abiding states.There is no point fearing unethical religious practices if you are doing the right thing as others. Concept of god cannot exclude even human beings, if you understood what it is by logic.
Sampath / November 30, 2016
It would be great if you can trace back your and our history which will give you a lesson that most of the .
Willingly or not you and me have kind of faith when it come to the purpose of life and death. Some time you may say that you don’t think of it, it means your ignorance is kind of faith about the purpose of life and death.
SO what I suggest you is let others to free to think and feel comfort with their religion just you are free to be ignorance of thinking of purpose of life and death and then shape the life accordingly.
Mallaiyuran / November 30, 2016
“SO what I suggest you is let others to free to think and feel comfort with their religion just you are free to be ignorance of thinking of purpose of life and death and then shape the life accordingly.”
And you too. Don’t demand you have to think for the people who are called practicing the same religion you are practising. Don’t attempt to use something as a religious law, if somebody who practice your religion cannot accept it.
If a Muslim girls does not want to marry at 16 you don’t force her. If an adult girls want to marry another religion man don’t tell her that Allah is denying it. Quran cannot think for an adult. Adult has to think for him/herself.
Native Vedda / December 1, 2016
“Just common sense would do.”
Are you being serious?
Lanka Rani / November 30, 2016
CT editors enough now on Muslims and there problems with everyone, particularly WOMEN!
Muslims are as big a problem as are Sinhala Buddhist nationalists and Balu Sena in Miracle of Modayas – and they are perfect partners who are tangoing together!
We need to focus on the BIG PICTURE – more pressing issues, like the protesting students and the RAGE on the ROADS due to pile up of traffic and pollution haze in Colombo due to the hold that super luxury car business has on corrupt politicians.
The Winter of discontent in Sri Lanka has certainly arrived with VAT taxes are piled onto the poor, while the Corrupt clowns in the Diyawenna parliament of Morons get massive salary increases – 100,000 for weddings and funerals according to Bond Scam PM Ranil Wickramasinghe!
Focusing on Muslims is a distraction from the massive fraud and corruption of the Ranil-Sira, UNP-SLFP Jarapalanaya govt. that is selling Lanka to the Chinese and the US to pay for the national Debt of corrupt politicians who looted and are looting Lanka!
Muslim Mullahs who hate women and want them to where Black cloaks and hide our faces, and the BBS are good for each other! Muslims women should deal with their men and stop being so cowardly.
With Muslims its always the same old story of Divide, Distract and Rule! Muslims are as big a problem as are Sinhala Buddhist nationalists in Miracle of Modayas! Let us not fall into this identity politics trap of Hot Air. Indeed they are good partners of the BBS and Muslim Mullah!
Amarasiri / November 30, 2016
“CT editors enough now on Muslims and there problems with everyone, particularly WOMEN! “
Neither 12 year-old girrs and 12 year-old boys want to be raped, legally or not.
Lanka Rani, as a 12 year-old girl, would you have liked to be put on the throne in te evening and raped at night? Almost all the Muslim girls do not want that.
The downgrading and removal of constitutional rights of Muslim girls and women is a problem and unethical in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Every Muslim women with common sense would want it, and any rights given in the 7th century upgraded to the 21st century.
Once this discrimination is removed, there will be no need to bring the sibject of MMDA.
Then we can talk about rapes of women by men, and rapes of boys by monks.
Child Abuse by a Monk in Habaraduwa
She sent her grandson to school with the idea of providing him with proper education to make him a good person. The Buddhist monk in charge of the temple asked her to send the child to the temple and she sent him there because they were poor. There was no possibility for them to pay the money for tuition fees. That was the reason why they sent the boy to the temple school.When the child began to refuse going to the temple school so adamantly, grandmother had to look for the reason. It was then only that she discovered that the child who was sent to learn good behavior, ethics and Buddha’s Dharma from the monk had in fact been abused by the monk.
Dinuk / November 30, 2016
Round and Round the Muslim Mulberry Bush we go!
Ceylonese / November 30, 2016
Bullocks, A load rubbish.
Sengodan. M / November 30, 2016
A most welcome article from a Muslim intellectual. More and more male Muslim intellectuals should join him in this progressive campaign!
AVB / November 30, 2016
Very well explained Dr. Ali.
As you know, so many people, Buddhists as well as Muslims, have so many myths hard-coded in their brain/mind, planted by their loved ones in their childhood (and genetically). Everything they see and hear are filtered through those myths or hard-coded perceptions..It’s hard for them to get out of them, it will take time.
With the good teachers like you, we are getting there sooner.
The Oracle / November 30, 2016
Dr. Ameer Ali – an intellectual, has not once mentioned the Buddhist philosophy in his entire article.
Amarasiri / November 30, 2016
“Dr. Ameer Ali – an intellectual, has not once mentioned the Buddhist philosophy in his entire article.”
The Subject is MMDA and Muslim women’s rights. Not Buddhist Philosophy or the Theory of Evolution.
Want to know more about Buddhist Philosophy and Buddhist Practices, and alternate opinions?
Why We Believe in Gods – Andy Thomson –
AboutMyWife / November 30, 2016
Sri Lankan Muslim Women’s Struggle For Freedom, Justice & Equality? I think they doing great and happy as long as you feed them more fat and let them sleep a lot with responsibility.
To be honest Muslim women are are luckiest among others in SL, because they have very less responsibility, they don’t get up early in the morning to go to work, they don’t have to fight jump onto crowded bus’ footboards, hardly they do the shopping including grocery, they worry less about their dresses or pressing their dress is easy as black Abaya is their dress, most of their men do business that allows their hubbies to often stay at home and help them in their duties, majority of them are not educated above 10th standard that hubbies or tuition teachers take care of kids’ school works, they never get bored as Shakthi TV is doing a good service on that end with back-to-back Indian serials, hardly they walk thanks to increased number of tuk-tuks there to carry them, even for a ‘opa-dhupa’ talk they don’t have to walk nowadays as there is all sort of chat programs readily installed on their smart-phones, they get chubby like broiler chickens, but hubbies love it more.
Belive me, majority of Muslim women are either unaware of these rights issues are going on, if not, it not cup of their tea.
In fact, it is the Muslim men who have to cope up with all these really suffer.
jim softy / November 30, 2016
Aboutmywife is correct.
In Islam, women are there only to make chuldren. So, do that very well. If the husband has money, first wife has to give permission to get any number concubines for him. He also can rape with any female servents helping the house.
Mohamed / December 1, 2016
Didn’t you know that giving birth to a child + bring the child up is the most difficult task in the world than anyone else could possibly claim with another task.
Of course, it is the primary task, responsibility and role of a woman, that makes her the most powerful word in the world in any language, “Mother”.
I haven’t seen one, do you know of any machines doing this task in your area? The reason I asked is the way you put that holiest responsibility as “make children”
Just imagine, if this black Abaya is worn by women belong to other sections, what will be the crime rate in Sri Lanka with burglary, theft, killing, hubby cheaters, wife cheaters, pregnancy among students, kidnaps, fathers raping kids and why even grandsons will take their grandmas to hotels and lodges.
Thank god, it is only Muslims who wear black Abayas, we still have a peaceful and decent country.
justice / November 30, 2016
If Muslim women of Sri Lanka are content to be treated like slaves, in the name of religion, what can anyone do?
This is a matter regarding Human Rights, and not, religion.
There should be a paragraph about it in the proposed constitution.
The author should take this up with Muslim MPs.
Equality of the sexes too should be ensured.
It must be discussed in the UNHRC and a directive issued by consensus to all Muslim nations.
The Muslim / December 1, 2016
Equality of the sexes too should be ensured?
Lol, fix wombs in men? trim the excessive curves in women? Change the genes?
Gender equality is false propaganda of West to hoodwink those sick activists who suffer from inferiority complex for nothing. See that nature itself shows us that women are different from men.
Equality complete BS. But there is respect. Respect women for her womanliness. Respect men for his manliness. If you try to look for equality between Apple and Orange, you become an idiot.
Men should be men, women should be women. That is the beauty of nature. As a human being, you are responsible, to respect each other.
Mohamed Marzook - UK / November 30, 2016
A commendable article by Dr. Ameer Ali explaining the issue in a nutshell.
SinhalaPropaganda / November 30, 2016
Sinhala terrorists are up in arms about Muslim child marriage but have no problem with their armed forces and saffron-clad priests raping and sexually abusing children. They are given impunity and celebrated as heroes. Sick depraved nation of human-beast hybrids.
The Muslim / December 1, 2016
Can’t blame poor monks. Sex is a basic human need. Unfortunately, thousands of years back, this was not considered maybe. The result is bad now.
If they argue Islam deprives rights of women, what about deprivation of rights of monks?
Spring Koha / November 30, 2016
Cogent, and well written. Thank You Dr Ali.
I am sure that our Muslim citizens will continue to search for answers that will satisfy the progress that has been made over the years.
However, I am one who subscribes to the ONE Sri Lanka. That is equality for all regardless of gender, race and religion. That means that sometime in the future we must all respect the same one law.
Sri Lankan law as I understand is as follows:
The age of consent in Sri Lanka is 16. However girls belonging to Sri Lanka’s Moor and Malay minorities representing approximately 10% of the national population are allowed to marry after 12 years of age and below the age of 12 with the approval of the religious leader, Moulavi and either father, brother, uncle, grandfather.
Note that the Mother who arguably is the best qualified to judge her daughters’ readiness, has NO say in the matter.
I am confident that our Muslim brothers will do the right thing. In good time.
BBS Rep / December 1, 2016
Dear Dr Ameer Ali,
Justifiably many comments here admire you for coming out on the side of the liberation of Muslim women. However trying to work out mechanisms of justice within Islam and the Quaran, an implausible concept of an omniscient god, pulling and pushing every aspect of human life, is not an exercise in real intellectual debate. At some point the real intellectual must come and slay the dragon, the dragon that all religions are – Buddhism included. Hafeel Farisz in his writing titled “On the need for introspection: The rise of intolerance and warped narratives” which I am sure you read, goes beyond the limitations you have placed yourself in, and attempts quite well to call a spade a spade. You blame the medieval and present day Muslim theologians subverting the progressive aspects of the Quran, which many true intellectuals would argue no matter from what ever way one sees, is nothing but a book of contradictions, concoctions, prevarications and at the end subvert the intellect in every which way. I hope that you will come out of the cocoon called Islam and the Quran, and be a true intellectual than come out only halfway and subvert the debate even more.
Kautilya / December 1, 2016
Government of Srilanka needs to have just one law of the land for all citizens disregarding religious background. In predominantly Muslim countries, western women also have to wear like Muslim women, Sharia law is law of the land for all.
The government needs to encourage mix marriages between all cast and creed to eradicate the 16th century tribal behaviour. Cash rewards to be introduced for couples who marry across faiths. An yearly bonus for such couple who stay married.
Mr. Sirisena, do you want a United (Eksath) Srilanka? then remove all the differences that are baseless but harmful to the harmony, peace, and law and order of Srilanka. However, if you want to get Buddhist votes and win the election (that is what leaders beginning with Bandaranayake used as the strategy), so be it. You will be just another opportunistic politician. Long live the stupid voter.
Native Vedda / December 1, 2016
“Government of Srilanka needs to have just one law of the land for all citizens disregarding religious background.”
I do take your point.
What are you going to do about Buddhism which is being given state sanctuary and importance?
In case if you are not aware of it here is the schedule that you would have ignored until now:
CHAPTER II – BUDDHISM
9. The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).
Please let us know how you propose to remove the above chapter from the new constitution.
“Cash rewards to be introduced for couples who marry across faiths. An yearly bonus for such couple who stay married.”
Have you been looking for a potential son in law from outside your community?
Muhandiram / December 1, 2016
The age of Ayesha when she married is highly mistaken due to some unreliable narration. Here are some undeniable facts which PROVE that she was anything between 15 and 19 years at the time of her marriage.
1. The marriage took place around year 2/3 of the Hijra year.
2. Her older sister, Asma, was 10 years older than her and she died at the age
of 100 years in the Hijra year 73. That means, she was 29 years old when
the marriage of Ayesha took place which would make Ayesha 19 years old when
3. Ayesha was engaged to be married to another person about 8 years before
Hijra. She should have been at least 9 or 10 years old at that time if she
were to take up responsibilities of a wife. The marriage did NOT take place
as the proposed groom feared persecution.
Since, her marriage to the Prophet took place at least 10 years later, she
should have been at least 19 years old when she married.
4. She took part in the early battles of Islam that took place in Hijra 2.
Those below the age of 15 years were NOT allowed to take part in these
battles. That means, she should have been at least 15 years when her
marriage took place.
There are many other facts which establish beyond doubt that the narration that she was 6 years old when she married the Prophet is False. The foregoing alone should suffice for now.
Spring Koha / December 1, 2016
We have to accept your ‘facts’ since many of us would not have been around some 15 centuries ago.
I am reliably informed though that those old prophets liked their crumpet young and fresh. Not for nothing were those chosen known as hand maidens.
Let us not worry too much about the past. Now, it’s all about the future.
dayal / December 3, 2016
i was one of your students 50 years ago. your articles are excellent like you lectures. we learn hundreds of things from your insight sir.