At an all-day Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID) conference on April 27th  the issue of discussion was one that has been a hot and misunderstood topic for some time now- women in Islam.  The conference, “The Rights of Women in Islam and Muslim Societies” featured an array of panelists speaking on topics from women and human rights to women’s political and social empowerment.  The conference was an excellent awaking on how cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation, confining women to the home, etc., in fact don’t cross over from Islam, but come from a lack of knowledge from people in ‘Islamic’ societies who cover ignorance in the name of religion. 

In this article, Radwan Masmoudi, founder and president of CSID, says “he believes the standard of human rights and of women’s rights in some Muslim-majority nations is ‘unfortunately unacceptable.’  In pre-Islamic Arabia of the 7th century, he notes, the teachings of Islam were actually ‘revolutionary’ with respect to the rights they gave women in comparison with other religions and other civilizations at that time.  For example, Dr. Masmoudi says, Islam gave women the right to vote, the right to own property, and the right to study.”

“Radwan Masmoudi says that the Qur?an respects men and women equally.  But local ‘cultural factors’– rather than Islam– determine what rights women are believed to have, and religion is ‘used to keep the status quo.’   He says that, because women are in charge of raising the children, it is especially important for them to be well educated and involved in society.”

In another article, Masmoudi is quoted:

“‘While Islam gave rights to women that were revolutionary 1400 years ago, compared with other religions and civilizations, …unfortunately that status was not always maintained.’ Now, he said, ‘If anything, we are unfortunately behind.'”

“As women are the ones responsible for raising and educating children, he said, ‘they determine the future of the Muslim society,’ making their treatment as full partners vital to the future of the Muslim world.”

This article, focusing on Erica Barks-Ruggles, the U.S. State Department?s deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, mentions:

“…in conference opening remarks that as she has traveled throughout the Middle East, she has been ‘very impressed by the strength, the intelligence, the education and the determination of women…to play a strong role in… the future of their societies.'”

“‘Their voices are increasingly being heard,’ Barks-Ruggles said, adding, ‘Sometimes we forget how much has changed in the last several years’ in the region. In terms of participation in the political process, she cited advances — in voting, election to office, or both — in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco and  Jordan, and even in Iran. There, she said, some women now serve in the parliament, and others have been ‘demonstrating actively for the last several years’ despite government crackdowns and jailings.”

“Like Masmoudi, Barks-Ruggles stressed that successful efforts to expand women’s rights must be ‘driven from within, for the community, from the community,’ with outside institutions playing only a supporting role.”