Shirin Ebadi, Islam and Women Rights

Shirin Ebadi, Islam and Women Rights

Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel peace prize winner 2003, is among prominent moderate Muslim I admire. Not only has she got the gut to speak up her mind what she thinks right against the conservatives and/or radicals of her fellow Muslims, be they Iranian clerics or others; but she also talks straight and frank against some conservatives and/or radicals from the other faiths and cultures without worrying of being dubbed as “mellow” moderate. Something not every moderate Muslims dare say and do.

She’s also the vivid and candid voice of Islam to the world, giving proper explanation on the West misconception; the difference between the Quranic teaching and the ground realities done by some radicals or Muslim dictators which is more often than not nothing to do with religious teaching they subscribe to; but as usual, religion is used to cover up and justify their wrong-doings.

I wrote a piece in Jawa Pos entitled Nobel Perdamaian Shirin Ebadi– an article which I wrote specially for her– in which I explained how people from the other parts of the world fall into the trap of prejudice and generalisation when talking about Islam; and fail miserably to understand that in most cases what influence a person’s life and mindset is not what religion he/she belongs; rather the environment, (local) culture, ethnicity and status of his/her country. Points Shirin Ebadi repeatedly point out in many occasions.

This week, she visits India for a conference on human trafficking. An Indian english newspaper, The Times of India, interviewed her on Islami-Muslim related issues. Here’s the excerpt:

You’re a Muslim arguing for dynamic interpretation of Islamic laws to make women equal before law. What’s your message to those who believe Islam condemns women to an inferior status?

I say, look carefully in the Koran so that the oppressors cannot mislead you with selective quotes. Don’t let people masquerading as clerics claim monopoly on understanding Islam. Allah created us as equal, and when we struggle for equality, we’re doing what Allah wanted us to do.

Is it possible to follow every tenet of Islam in today’s world?

Many Islamic laws, like stoning to death, are not even there in Koran. But some laws need to be discussed. For example, Koran says during Ramadan a Muslim must fast from sunrise to sunset. It’s easy to do so in Iran or Saudi Arabia where the days and nights are almost equal. But if a Muslim goes to the North Pole, can he fast for six months, which is the duration of the day? So a third way is needed — and offered by Islam. The secondary laws say, implement the law in its spirit. In this case, divide the day(24 hours) into three equal parts, and use one part for fasting. By another law a rape victim has to produce four witnesses. This was to ensure no one will bring false testimonials. Today, the medical profession is such that it needs a single drop of blood to establish paternity. Surely it can serve in place of four witnesses!

Why is Islam among the most powerful religions, also the most dreaded?

Don’t fear Islam, fear the dictators who hide behind the flag. In the name of Shariat people justify rape, forced marriage, unlawful talaq. But Islam has different interpretations in different countries. In Saudi Arabia, a woman can’t even drive, let alone enter a political formation, while in Bangladesh and Pakistan women have become prime ministers. Again, stoning to death is permitted in Iran and Saudi Arabia but banned in Indonesia, Malaysia, Tunisia, Algeria. So I say, which Islam? Which interpretation? This applies to other religions and political ideologies too. China and the Soviet Union were both communist but was their interpretation identical? And Gandhi had to die because of wrong interpretation of Hinduism. I repeat, Islam is not responsible for human rights violation in undemocratic states, it’s the men. And men here doesn’t mean the gender but the patriarchal mindset. Many men are defenders of women’s rights, and many women uphold this thinking despite being victim