Sunday
25 February | 2024

Lahore, Pakistan

Misperceptions about rights, roles and identity of women in Islam

‘Under Islamic law and tradition, a woman had an independent social and legal identity and enjoys civil, political, economic, and cultural rights as well as inherit, divorce, receive alimony and child custody’

We have convened conference on ‘Women in Islam’ to dispel the deep misperceptions that exist about the rights, roles and identity of women in Islam. The caricature that dominates the perception of women in Islam and the Muslim society is one painted on the ignorance of the Islamic history and roles that women had played. This caricature is a result that the perception of our religion has largely been hijacked after 9/11 by extremists who do not represent our faith and I feel a special responsibility to counter this propaganda and perception.

It offends me as a Muslim and a Pakistani to the core of my heart that the face of Islam unfortunately in much of western public perception are the likes of Osama Bin Laden and not of the likes of Benazir Bhutto – a politician who served as the 11th and 13th prime minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996. For a fuller understanding, it is essential to distinguish between Islamic principles and law, and social practices espoused by some patriarchal societies. It is a distinction that xenophobes, Islamophobes and obscurantists would not like to make because they believe in discrimination, a first step towards tyranny.

Islam forbids injustice against people, nations, and women. It shuns race, color and gender as a basis of distinction among persons. Islam treats women as human beings in their own right, not as chattel. Under Islamic law and tradition, a woman had an independent social and legal identity and enjoys civil, political, economic, and cultural rights as well as inherit, divorce, receive alimony and child custody. Islamic history attests to the outstanding role played by Muslim women in all walks of life – education, enterprise, economics, politics and governance.

‘In context of progressive and enlightened message of Islam, it is for Pakistan and other OIC countries to express deep disappointment at restrictions imposed on human rights of women and girls, especially their right to education and work, in Afghanistan’

Even today, millions of Muslim women continued to dominate multiple fields – politics, education, health, science, commerce- in Muslim societies, citing Megawati Sukarnoputri, the first Muslim female president of Indonesia, Najla Bouden, prime minister of Tunisia; Tansu Çiller, prime minister of Turkiye, Aisha Elsafty, a computer scientist at the University of Cambridge; Anousheh Ansari, first Muslim space explorer and astronaut, and Malala Yousufzai, the youngest Muslim girl to have won the Nobel Prize.

In Pakistan’s history, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s sister Fatima Jinnah was at the forefront of the independence movement and in the struggle for democracy. My mother, Benazir Bhutto, was the first Muslim female prime minister. She was elected to office by a huge majority, after a long and difficult struggle against dictatorship. She carried out a wide-ranging reforms during her premiership that empowered women in Pakistan. She has been a source of inspiration, for the women of Pakistan, for the women of the Islamic countries, and for women – and men – across the world and across generations.

It is my mission to ensure that her demand for the rights of women – and men – of Pakistan is fulfilled – the right to justice and equality, freedom and prosperity. Like countries around the world, we have made progress. And like countries around the world, we face many problems that we have to overcome today. In Pakistan, women  had held prominent positions in every facet of life: as cabinet ministers, the governor of State Bank, speaker of the National Assembly, judges in the superior judiciary and as federal and provincial secretaries to the government, district commissioners and district police officers, army generals, fighter pilots, ambassadors, and UN peacekeepers.

In the context of the progressive and enlightened message of Islam, it is but natural for Pakistan – and other OIC countries – to express our deep disappointment at the restrictions imposed on the human rights of women and girls, especially their right to education and work, in Afghanistan, as all those restrictions are contrary to the injunctions of Islam. I sincerely urge the Afghan interim government to reverse these restrictions and enable the women of Afghanistan to make their full and invaluable contribution to the development and progress of their nation.

“Nor can we ignore the plight of the millions of Muslim women living in non-Muslim countries who face obstacles in the enjoyment of their rights, including their right to freedom of religion. The Hijab ban in some countries is a denial of their freedom. We must counter the denial of religious and cultural rights to Muslim women in non-Muslim societies and negative stereotyping and discrimination against Muslim women. Nor can we forget suffering of Muslim women in situations of conflict and foreign occupation, such as in Palestine and Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

These are excerpts of a speech of Minister for Foreign Affairs Bilawal Bhutto during a Pakistan-sponsored conference on ‘Women in Islam’ at the UN headquarters in New York

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