Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Focus on the rights of women in Islam

The Koran puts women on an equal footing with men but over the centuries the patriarchal culture distorted the “human rights and democracy of Islam” to suit their own needs giving the fairer sex an inferior status according to Azizah Y. al-Hibri, Professor of Law at the University of Richmond in the United States.

The changed conditions for the Muslim women in the Western societies were highlighted by the Lebanese-born US academician calling for interpreting the Koran with relevance to the new environs without forcing Islam to falsely conform to Western culture.

Speaking at a Brussels event chaired by Shada Islam, an eminent journalist, Professor al-Hibri called the Koran, a “seamless web of interconnected ideas” but warned that with the passage of time it has been distorted by culture.

Citing the Holy Book’s references, the learned speaker pointed the Koran said that men and women are created from the same nafs (soul), and the Prophet himself said that women are the split halves (i.e. the same) of men, with the same religious and ethnical duties.

The Prophet expected them to play a major role in both the family and the community, the speaker added. Stressing over and over again the equality of women and men in the eyes of Koran, the professor cited ancient jurists as recognising married Muslim women as fully independent legal and financial entities, entitled to the fruit of their labour, with the same financial thimmah (capacity) as men.

Throwing out the prevailing ideas of inequality, al- Hibri highlighted the recent initiative of Muslim jurists in Morocco with the revival of an ancient line of thinking about women’s personal status code - recognising that both men and women in marriage should draw up a financial agreement relating to how they dispose of their separate incomes, property allocations or joint investments.

Drawing a line of demarcation between culture and religion, the professor urged the Muslim women to adapt to the Western culture without sacrificing the religion.

Calling for adoption of a jurisprudence that is suitable to their culture, adding, “We do not have to invent the wheel,” she warned that Islam jurisprudence should not be distorted to conform to Western societies and cultures.

Citing the Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, al-Hibri reiterated that every human being is entitled to have his or her freedom of belief to be respected by the state as part of their human rights.

Reacting to a fallacious Western approach towards Islam of “false accommodation,” al-Hibri urged the Muslim women in the Western societies to borrow from the ancient Islamic tradition which gives women financial and legal independence. Al- Hibri expressed the opinion that these beliefs fit well with a Western culture that recognises the rights of women.

Commenting on the widespectrum of intra-Islamic sects, Professor al-Hibri said, “Everybody shares Koran but unfortunately there are difference in some parts of the Muslim world.”

Quoting from her personal experiences, al-Hibri discounted the role played by these.

Commenting on Ahmadias, al-Hibri said, “I know but I don’t know enough about Ahmadias,” but in the same vein, asked to comment on Wahhabism and Saudi Arabian influence, she said, “I do not want to comment. Instead of cursing the dark, I am going to light a candle.”

Pope mesmerises, Brown struggles

Change is in the air across the Atlantic

Change is the catch word in the US today, be it in the presidential campaign or in the US financial and social outlook and it manifested itself in a crystal clear way in two transatlantic visits last week.

German-born Pope Benedict XVI became the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to walk into New York’s East synagogue, a Jewish place of worship dating back more than a century and designed in Byzantine style.

The Pope was welcomed by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, an Austrian-born Jew. I had the fortunate coincidence of meeting Schneier at a meeting last year at the Council of Europe, Strasbourg where he had told me the moving story of losing most of his family in the Holocaust.

Later, speaking to diplomats from 192 countries at the United Nations, the Pope endorsed stronger “collective” action to protect human rights, preserve the environment and end humanitarian crises.

Hinting at different flashpoints and ongoing battles around the globe, Benedict, representing a sixth of the world’s population, cautioned that intrusion into any country’s internal affairs or an international conflict must only follow a search for “even the faintest sign of dialogue or desire for reconciliation.”

Earlier, Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of millions of Catholics around the world, got a red carpet welcome as he was received at the airport by President George W. Bush himself along with thousands of Americans.

No president in American history has picked up a visiting leader from the airport before and it also marked President Bush’s fifth meeting with two successive popes, a record again for any US president.

Bush explained the reason for the Pope’s special status, “One, he speaks for millions. Two, he doesn’t come as a politician; he comes as a man of faith.”

One quick look at the front pages, the TV channels of different media outlets and even talking to the common person on the street, it became apparent that the other visitor, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown failed miserably to get any attention in the US media as limelight was hogged by the first visit of a Pope to the White House in almost 30 years.

As the British media will make one believe that Brown got overshadowed by the Pope’s visit, a walk down the recent past points to more than that. Brown was flying back to United Kingdom as little known on the New Continent as he was when he flew across the Atlantic.

The emergence of French and German leaders, on behalf of the European Union, on the horizon of the transatlantic diplomatic canvas has taken the shine off the old “special relationship,” which Brown mentioned during his trip.

During the John F. Kennedy memorial lecture in Boston, Brown told his audience, “I am pleased that over the past half century the special relationship between America and Britain which John Kennedy prized remains strong and enduring - so firmly rooted in our common history, our shared values and in the hearts and minds of our people that no power on earth can drive us apart,” concluding with a note, “For the first time in human history we have the opportunity to come together around a global covenant, to reframe the international architecture and build the truly global society.”

Although US administration has openly supported Brown’s intentions to withdraw from Iraq, political pundits highlight subtle euphoria generated in Washington by French decision to supplement troops in Afghanistan.

“No question the relationship is changing for the better and President Sarkozy gets a lot of credit for that,” President George W. Bush was quoted as saying during Sarkozy’s visit.

On the other hand, Germany is slowly but steadily cementing ties with the US.

Speaking at the “Conference on Germany in the Modern World” at Harvard University, April 12, 2008, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs recalled “two great transatlantic speeches,” the famous speech by George Marshall some 60 years ago in which he announced the plan that became a hallmark of American statecraft” and a second speech “by Chancellor Willy Brandt,” in Harvard in 1972 “to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Marshall Plan and establish the German Marshall Fund of the United States.”

Stressing the relationship of US-EU and not US-UK as highlighted by British premier Brown, the German minister Steinmeier told his audience, “For the past 60 years the transatlantic relationship has been the world’s transformative partnership. America’s relationship with Europe - more than with any other part of the world - enables both of us to achieve goals that neither of us could achieve alone.”

Hailing American leadership, the German leader candidly defined the need for “new concepts, a revitalised alliance and particularly renewed American leadership in the world.” Together, the EU and the US account for nearly 37 percent of global trade in goods and 45 percent in services with the flow of transatlantic trade and investments being the largest in the world and hovering around a billion US dollars everyday.