Today’s Solutions: June 08, 2023

Ziba Mir-Hosseini speaks passionately about her faith. She is Muslim, born in Iran. But she couldn’t accept the fact that as a woman she was not allowed to divorce her husband, under the terms of Islamic law. After she graduated from Cambridge University in the 1980s with a degree in anthropology, she returned to Iran to teach at a university. But she wasn’t allowed to work, because she didn’t obey the rule of always wearing a headscarf. On top of that, her marriage broke down. She wanted a divorce, but her husband refused permission.
Mir-Hosseini decided to study the law in great depth and started negotiating with the courts to grant her a divorce. She succeeded and returned to England. There, she continued her research into family law within the Islamic tradition. She discovered that many laws were based on ancient interpretations of the Quran, reworked to become local or national laws. And while many people see women as hopeless victims of these laws, Mir-Hosseini decided to become a pioneer in researching and fighting these legal systems caught between religious tradition and modern reality.
As a Muslim, she believes that Islam is just and that God is just. “A just God can’t discriminate against women,” she says resolutely. “A just God cannot treat women as second-class citizens.” But, she adds, “many laws do treat women as second-class citizens.”
Islamic sources of law are explained in ways that allow for the discrimination of women. We often hear about stoning as a punishment for adultery, or practices like female circumcision, but there are also laws that affect a woman’s right to education, employment opportunities, inheritance rights, dress and freedom to consent to a marriage. We need to ask, says Mir-Hosseini, “What is going wrong?” And that is the crucial question for Muslim feminism, according to Mir-Hosseini. Because, yes, she considers herself a Muslim and a feminist.
Islam and feminism together is often considered an oxymoron—two concepts that are so far apart, they can’t exist together. But in recent years, an international Muslim feminist movement has sprouted, and its voice is growing stronger. The surprise here is that they do this while holding up the Quran.
A good example of an organization that aims to give a face to new Muslim feminism worldwide is Musawah (equality), an international branch of Sisters in Islam, a pioneering Malaysian feminist group. Mir-Husseini is one the twelve founders of the organization, which was founded in 2009 and has since grown quickly in authority. Musawah now advises the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women…
This is an excerpt of a longer article that was printed in our March/ April 2014 issue. Download that issue, for FREE, here.

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