Byline: Heather J. Carlson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Women's rights advocates have won sweeping reforms of marriage and divorce laws in Morocco and Egypt by basing their arguments on an unlikely source - the Koran.
The latest reforms were in Morocco, where the parliament in February approved landmark changes to a 46-year-old family law by granting women property rights in marriage and the right to divorce.
Supporters of the changes - including King Mohammed VI - relied on verses from the Koran to support the reform.
"We showed in Morocco that there is no such thing as a contradiction between Islam and modernity, and there is no contradiction between Islam and equality between men and women," said Aziz Mekouar, Moroccan ambassador to the United States.
The reforms also placed new restrictions on polygamy, requiring a husband seeking a second wife to first demonstrate to a judge that he can provide for the second wife as well as he has the first.
Morocco also raised the minimum age of marriage for women from 15 to 18 - the same age for men.
In Egypt, female politicians and activist groups relied on Islamic teachings to help pass changes to the country's personal-status laws, making it easier for women to get a divorce.
In the past, Egyptian men could divorce their wives at will, but women had to prove they had been injured or harmed. Women now can get a divorce based on incompatibility.
The key to the legislative victories in both countries was that women's rights advocates based their arguments on the Koran and worked within the existing political system, said Diane Singerman, an associate professor at American University specializing in Middle Eastern politics.
"It represents a learning curve within the women's movement," she said at a recent forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "Now the women's movement is poised to do more extensive lobbying."
She added, "These women basically turned Islam into an asset."
In both Morocco and Egypt, as elsewhere in the region, family law is based on Islamic law or Shariah, whereas most other laws have a secular basis.
The Koran clearly spells out that women and men are to be treated equally, said Maysam Al Faruqi, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University. But in some cases, she said, the text has been misinterpreted to deny women their rights. …