The role of women in the Islamic world is an interesting – and possibly critical – one in many ways. I’m currently reading an excellent history: “The Middle East On The Eve Of Modernity: Aleppo In The Eighteenth Century” by Abraham Marcus.
Marcus devotes a lot of the book to the domestic economy of Aleppo – an important trading city in the 18th Century – and explores (among many, many other things) the roles of women, which were wider than I had presumed.
In the modern Middle East, the question of the role of women remains a central one, and one that many think will unlock a path to an Islam that can live within itself. Blogger Ali Eteraz has emailed me a few times to point me at his blog, Eteraz, and after reading it for a while, it’s one that I’ll highly recommend.He has a post up citing a recent oped in Pakistan concerning the potential changes in Pakistani law concerning women and testimony (attention is mostly paid by the media to issues of rape) and there was a kernel of the oped that was too important not to pull up and try and show around.
The essence of the fundamentalist argument is that Islamic law is a specialized science, decipherable only to people who spent many years of study in the subject. The experience of ordinary people, particularly the ordinarily pious or the ordinarily impious person, is irrelevant. What counts is what the truly pious think.
There are two problems with this approach. The first is that piety, especially when it comes to women’s issues, often turns out to be a riotous blend of ignorance and prejudice garnished with a fig leaf of morality. The second is that it excludes anybody who is not a certified and recognised Islamic scholar from having any say as to what law should be.
This is a point made in passing that rang like a bell for me as I read it. The foundation of Western society is the notion that the power of the state – codified in the law – is subject at some level to the will and opinion of the common citizen.
A world where that view of Islamic jurisprudence was dominant would be a world where I’d sleep far better at night. Read the whole thing, as well as Ali’s entire post (hell, read and bookmark his entire blog…).
We’re hammering ourselves against a wall, and it’s painful. But cracks and daylight are appearing. Slowly, too slowly, but they are there.