Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, July 12th, 2020

Changing status of Islamic women in South Asian region


 Changing status of Islamic women in  South Asian region

Women’s status, as put in the Sharia’h by Prophet Muhammad  is rested on a view of women as dependent on men, not their equals, but entitled to considerations, economic as well as social, both within and outside marriage.  Within marriage, a wife should be paid mehr.  If Muslim marriage was a simple civil contract between two equal partners, there would have been no rationale for the provision of mehr, which would then appear to be an unreasonable condition in terms of contract law.  It was provided because women were not seen as equal to men.  Based on the same principle, the Sharia’s enunciation by Prophet, ordained that when divorce took place the wife should be shown consideration by way of a fair and reasonable economic settlement in her favour.
Position analysed and explained
The Islamic conception of the woman is not founded on the principle of gender equality.  For this reason, the original message directed the husband to take care of her material needs and to make a fair and reasonable settlement with pro-woman attitude in the event of divorce.  What is important here is to visualise the tendency inherent in the Quran and the Prophet’s injunctions.  They did not abolish slavery, true; but, it can be argued that they tried to humanise it. They did not abolish polygamy, true; but they prescribed a maximum where there had been none.  Their view of women bears the stamp of the time, true; but they took a step forward by enjoining that the women should be treated well.  They did not place women on a par with regard to property, true; but they incorporated in their institutes the right of a woman to have property of her own.
In the light of the inherent tendency, several countries have pressed forward with reforms.  It is in two directions.  First, they have laid down conditions that must be fulfilled before the husband can take on another wife, and, second, they have decreed that institutions or persons other than the husband – the courts, the Qazis, etc- must satisfy themselves that the conditions laid down are indeed met in the particular case.  Different laws and codes were enacted, though mostly in Muslim countries, with a view to provide considerable concessions to women in society.  For instance in Morocco (1958), Iraq (1959), Singapore (1968), Iran (1975) and in South Yemen (1974).  In country after country the law now provides that no divorce is to be effective or to be recognised until the courts have passed a decree to that effect.
Legal status in Pak constitutions
In Pakistan the women were conscious enough from the start.  They agitated in the early fifties against the Prime Minister when he married his secretary and took her as his second wife.  The agitation continued until Ayub Khan, who had captured power in 1958, enforced the Muslim Family Ordinance in 961 which put certain restrictions on polygamy and oral divorce. The said Ordinance provides that no husband, during the subsistence of an existing marriage, can contract another one without the previous permission in writing of a government-appointed ‘Arbitration Council’.  Under it, the husband is obliged to state in writing his reasons for wanting to marry again, and also to specify whether the permission of the existing wife has been obtained.  The Council then asks him and his existing wife to nominate representatives.  Next, it ascertains whether another marriage is necessary and just’.  Even if the council sanctions another marriage, the wife can apply to the Collector for a revision and says the law, ‘His decision shall be final and shall not be called in question in any court.  It also provided that a wife can sue for divorce where her husband has taken another wife in contravention of the provisions of the Ordinance.  If the court finds that the temperaments of the two are irreconcilable or that the marriage has broken down it can decide on a divorce.  This Ordinance could not be undone even during Zia-ul-Haq’s regime when the orthodox Ulema was closest to state power in Pakistan.  Muslim women are undergoing change the world over.  The orthodox Ulema can hardly restrain this forward marching.  More and more Muslim women are challenging medieval theological formulations or simply ignoring them.
Status in 1973 constitution
The 1973 Constitutions of Pakistan was prepared in the background of the debacle of its Eastern Wing, resulting in the handing over of  rule to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.  His was the first elected government in the history of Pakistan since its inception in 1947.  Under this constitution vast fundamental rights were given to citizens without making any distinction on the basis of sex, caste, religion etc.  In sphere of religion, as mentioned in part II of the constitution every citizen was free to profess, practise and propagate his religion.  Even religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.  But like the Constitution of 1962 sufficient Islamic provisions were inserted in Part IX of the constitution.  It is provided that all existing laws shall be brought in conformity with the injunctions of  Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah and referred to as the injunctions of Islam.  No law shall be enacted in Pakistan which is repugnant to such injunctions.  Establishment of a Council of Islamic Ideology was retained and its number was fixed 8 as minimum but not more than 15, remaining its functions, more or less, same as was in the Ayub constitution.  In the constitution of 1973 Bhutto specifically provided that Islam would be the state religion, and the head of state a Muslim.
Despite the fact that Bhutto and his government represented the people of Pakistan in a democratic way within months of the assumption of the new dispensation, orthodox fundamentalists began to overpower the government.  Months after coming to power Bhutto allowed a record number of persons to go for ‘Haj’ – the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.  He made Friday into a national holiday, founded various government organisations for propagating Islamic teaching, encouraged the Arabic language and introduced the Quran into school curricula.  On 22nd February 1974 Bhutto organised the historic Islamic Summit Conference at Lahore. He fulfilled the religious demands before they could force his hand, as one of his opponents remarked,’ Mr. Bhutto is the biggest maulana of them all.  In fact he should be called “Maulana Larkanvi”.

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is Professor and Head of P.G.Department of Political Science, BNMU, West Campus, P.G.Centre, Saharsa-852201 - Bihar, India

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