Women, Islam and human rights
This thesis explores the position of women in contemporary Muslim societies. It examines whether restrictions placed on them are the result of Islamic edicts and how human rights documents address those restrictions. It looks at the position of women in the areas of family law, political and legal participation and veiling with particular reference to Pakistan and Iran. The thesis begins by exploring how Islamic scripture is used tn endorse opposing views of women. On the one hand is a body of literature, generally termed as conservative, that sees women as intellectually weak and in constant need of male guidance. I argue that this literature is actually based on an inconsistent approach to Islamic sources and show how Muslim women are using alternative, exegetical works and rulings from orthodox and contemporary scholars with classical training as a source of empowerment. Based on the findings of the case studies it is argued that human rights standards, embodied in the International Bill of Human Rights, overlook many aspects of Muslim women's suffering and in particular how their socio-economic status affects their ability to escape abuse suffered at the hands of private, non-state actors. I then contend that both Muslims and human rights advocates must begin by acknowledging that they have failed the plight of Muslim women. Muslims by acting on conservative arguments and human rights advocates by overlooking the reality of women's lives. I argue that both Islam and human rights can work together to empower women but firstly human rights advocates need to take on board the different criticisms levelled at their theory. Muslims also must endeavour to prove the authenticity of their challenges to conservative understandings of Islamic sources by educating at grassroots level and by taking on the task of Islamic scholarship through established centres of Islamic learning.