Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Women Rights Revisited!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi • kbatarfi@al-madina.com

In Islam there is a principle known as “sad althara’a.”
The idea is to avoid anything that may lead to sin or wrong-doing. Therefore, since women driving may lead to situations where they might be harassed or taken advantage of, we don’t allow them to drive. The same goes for women working and studying in mixed environments.
Covering faces and wearing black cloaks are not required of women in Islam. These customs developed on the basis of the general “sad althara’a” principle in order to avoid temptations that might lead to improper relations. Other things that resulted from this principle include not opening up the country to very much-needed foreign investment, foreign expertise and tourism.
There are others, too, such as setting up branches of highly reputable international universities and scientific institutes and teaching English in the first years of primary school. Fears of the corrupting influence of Western culture on Islamic and Arabic values has led to the closing of many windows of opportunity which might have led to good reforms and improvements in our society, economy and education.
This has in turn produced the present situation in which women, the better half of our nation, as well as followers of different schools of religious thought, have been marginalized, their talents under-utilized, their opportunities reduced and their rights limited. I would argue that this principle has been abused for a long, long time and it is now time for us to think carefully in order to regulate and control the way we apply and use it.
Going for easy solutions to difficult and complex problems may lead to crazy situations. One could argue that the best way to stop traffic accidents would be to prohibit cars and use camels and horses instead. Or that we must shut down the Internet because it allows people to access pornography. Or since traveling to Western countries allegedly leads to improper indulgence, we should limit travel to those areas only to elders and to situations which could be classed as emergencies. These are not just funny ideas; some people actually consider them to be good and correct solutions.
Islam has limited what is prohibited to a list. Anything and everything not listed is allowed, is “halal.” Doing it the other way round would obviously be un-Islamic and therefore unacceptable. We don’t need a “fatwa” to tell us whether we can do things Islam has never prohibited.
If someone is in some confusion about the “sad althara’a” principle, he or she ought to refer the matter to a council of authorized and specialized Islamic scholars representing all regions and all Islamic schools of thought. Those scholars should investigate all related dimensions and issues while consulting with all concerned parties. They must make sure the perceived dangers are real and that the benefits realized will exceed the possible harm. Only after doing so can we accept the rule.

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