The roles and status of women
in predominately Muslim societies
This is a massive topic that we will need to expand into an entire section of
our web site containing many essays.
For now, we would like to republish one item which demonstrates progress
towards equality for women in the Middle Eastern country of Kuwait. It is a news
release by the Muslim Public Affairs Council on the occasion of that
country granting women the right to vote and the right to vote for public office
for the first time:
Kuwaiti women gain right to vote:
(Washington, DC – 2005-MAY-24) -- The Muslim Public Affairs Council and the
Muslim Women's League welcome the long overdue decision by the Kuwaiti
Parliament last week to give Kuwaiti women their right to vote and contest
elections for the first time. The all-male body voted to approve the move 35-23,
amidst opposition by conservative Muslim members.
Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah said he planned to name a woman
minister. Kuwaiti women now join their counterparts in neighboring Qatar, Oman
and Bahrain in having the vote. The finalized amendment comes after several
years of debate and struggle by Kuwaiti women.
"This is a celebration for democracy even though it is 45 years late,"
said Jassim al-Gitami, head of the Kuwaiti Human Rights Association, told
reporters. The next parliamentary elections in Kuwait -- the first opportunity
for women to run -- will be in 2007.
Legislators who fiercely campaigned against women's suffrage argued that Islamic
teachings bar women from participating in political life. In reality, the Qur'an
mandates equal rights and equal participation of men and women in public life.
"We hope that this is the beginning of a trend that will be followed by the
few remaining Muslim countries who continue to deny women the right to full
participation in society," said Laila Al-Marayati, spokesperson for the
Muslim Women's League.
During the time of Prophet Muhammad, women actively participated in the
equivalent of voting, known as baya (which was a way of endorsing political
It is ironic and troubling, then, that those forces who opposed the measure
projected themselves as defending Islamic values and teachings. However, the
outvoted minority did manage to pass an addendum to the bill which created a
condition that women’s political rights ought to be practiced within the "boundaries
of Sharia" (Islamic law). According to the Kuwait News Agency, the
law states that "a Kuwaiti woman, voting and running for political office,
should do so while fully adhering to the dictates of Islamic Sharia."
Exploiting Sharia to maintain a status quo that deprives women of their
God-given rights is a violation of Quranic principles. Such manipulations on
Islamic grounds fail once more to serve the image of Islam or its understanding
by people around the world.
"We congratulate the Muslim men and women of Kuwait for such an achievement,"
said Senior Advisor Dr. Maher Hathout. "We support the minority’s right to
express its opinion, but they should not rely on a false sense of Islamic
legitimacy in their goal to maintain the status quo or advance their personal
"Kuwaiti women gain right to vote," Muslim Public Affairs
Council, 2005-MAY-24, news release.