Understanding Islam On Women

By Hakim Ouansafi
June 10, 2009 - MidWeek
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An unidentified Muslim man in a Manama, Bahrain, coffee shop watches President Obama’s Cairo speech

Editor’s note: Hakim Ouansafi is the president and chairman of the Muslim Association of Hawaii.

In his column “Just What We Need, Islam Day” (May 20), Jerry Coffee argues against having a state-sponsored Islam Day based on his (mis)understanding of Islam’s position on women.

To support his argument, Mr. Coffee quotes James Arlandson, whose hatred for Islam is well-documented. His writing, like state Sens. Hemmings and Slom, and others before them, is no more than a string of superficial indictments and factual inaccuracies based on bigotry, intolerance or failure to understand the basic principles of interpretations of the Quran. Relying on such sources for Islamic knowledge is no different than asking the KKK for their opinions of African Americans.

It is true that there are texts in the Quran (like other Holy books) that seem to go against women’s rights. For example: “Men are in charge of women ...” (Sura 4:34), or “Husbands are a degree above their wives” (2:228).

Read in the context of Islamic law, the verse would read as follows: “And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them” (2:228). The verse recognizes that women have similar rights to men, and denotes men’s responsibility in maintenance and financial responsibility. Muslim jurists don’t interpret “degree” in terms of superiority or inferiority. Rather it is a question of defining responsibilities and “If the man does not work and support his wife then he loses that degree.” This is further confirmed in the Quran (4:19) and (49:13).

Mr. Coffee’s bias and out-of-context approach with the Quran could be applied to the teachings of the Bible, and one could find things like cutting off the woman’s hand (Deuteronomy 25:11-12), raping the daughter (Judges 19:24-25), silencing the woman (I Timothy 2:11-14), or even stoning the woman (Deuteronomy 22:13-24), but this would not be right. I would be portraying the Bible in a manner that is not only un-Islamic but is stooping to a level that is beneath the principles that Islam demands.

Mr. Coffee’s theory is easily shattered by the fact that educated women converting to Islam outnumber that of men four to one, and continues to rise. And the fact is that while we have yet to elect a woman president, Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey have all democratically elected female leaders.

Conversely to what Mr. Coffee would like MidWeek readers to believe, Prophet Muhammad, our only role model, said: “The most perfect believers are the best in conduct, and the best of you are those best to their wives.” In his Farewell Pilgrimage, he said: “Lo! My last recommendation to you is that you should treat your women well.”

Hakim Ouansafi reads the Quran at home while his cat Peanut relaxes

In fact, under Islamic Law a woman is considered an independent entity with the inalienable rights to choose her husband, work, acquire education and dispose of her wealth and property as she desires.

There is no scope in this article to show the invalidity of Arlandson’s other errors. A more accurate list on women’s rights is:

The irrefutable right and duty to obtain education, express their opinion and be heard, have their own independent property, work to earn money if they need it or want it, equality of reward for equal deeds, right to provisions from the husband for all her needs and more, right to negotiate marriage terms of her choice, right to obtain divorce from her husband (even on the grounds that she simply can’t stand him), right to keep all her own money (she is not responsible to maintain any relations), right to get sexual satisfaction from her husband, custody of their children after divorce, right to refuse any marriage that does not please her.

Unfortunately not all Muslims treat women according the Quran’s teaching. Similarly not every Christian American treats women as they should, as evidenced by the 5.3 million women who are abused each year in this country. Domestic violence in the world is rife, with the highest ration being in Peru (a predominantly Catholic country). We must all stand against it.

Mr. Coffee’s offensive approach is the polar opposite of where our country is headed under the leadership of our president. President Obama is building bridges and reaching out to restore relationships America once had with the Islamic world. In fact, in 1796 the first nation to recognize America was Morocco by signing the Treaty of Tripoli. In his speech last week in Cairo, President Obama said, “the truth is that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles - principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

Additionally, he said, “So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.”

The American people have given our president a mandate for a new direction after eight disastrous years. Passing the Islam Day resolution proves that Hawaii is leading by example and our lawmakers are strong, not acquiescing or yielding to the pressure of the vocal minority who are motivated by personal agendas, intolerance or ignorance.

Our local leaders should be applauded for being courageous and keeping the aloha spirit alive and well.

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