Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Muslim Women Find an Ally for More Rights: The Koran

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Muslim Women Find an Ally for More Rights: The Koran

Article excerpt

Courageous figures like Indonesia's Siti Musdah Mulia are showing Muslim women how to break out of bondage by using the Koran.

Indonesia's Siti Musdah Mulia is a name to remember. That's because she is showing Muslim women how to break out of bondage by using the words of the Koran.

Dr. Mulia was raised in a traditional Indonesian Muslim home and an Islamic boarding school. She was barred from contact with men. She was not allowed to laugh out loud. If she socialized with a non- Muslim, she was made to shower afterward.

Growing up, she traveled to other Muslim countries and found ways to understand Islam other than the rigid orthodoxy of her upbringing. Having earned a PhD in Islamic political thought, she has become a significant force in Indonesia and elsewhere for Muslim women's rights. In 2007 she received the International Women of Courage award from then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Mulia is one of several courageous Muslim feminists who are challenging conservative male interpretations of Islam. As Isobel Coleman, a leading American authority on Islamic feminism and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told me: "Half of those men have never read the Koran in their own language."

Mulia is one of several Muslim women in Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries profiled in a new book by Dr. Coleman, "Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East."

Instead of blatantly waving the banner of democracy, certain to raise charges of being tools of Western cultural imperialism, these women are quietly working within the culture, rather than against it, citing progressive interpretations of Islam itself as justification for women's empowerment, particularly in education and the workplace.

Coleman applauds the work of a global women's movement, musawah ("equality" in Arabic), in researching how the laws of Islam elevated women's rights in Arabia upon the faith's 7th-century arrival there. Islamic laws prohibited the killing of girl babies, upheld the right of women to own property, the right to choose their own husbands and impose conditions on the marriage, and to divorce their husbands. …

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