Dossier 14-15: Islam and Women's Rights: A Case Study

Publication Author: 
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im
September 1996
Word Document114.97 KB
number of pages: 
Given the rising tide of Islamisation in Muslim countries and its call for wider recognition of Shari'a as the primary legal basis of Muslim nations, concerns about Shari'a's conflict with human rights standards must be addressed. Such conflict and tension between historical formations of Shari'a and modern standards of human rights is readily illustrated by the situation of women in Muslim countries today.

The status and rights of women are a major human rights concern in all parts of the world: women are consistently oppressed, discriminated against, and denied their rightful equality with men. Although the situation has recently improved in some developed countries, I believe that it is by no means satisfactory anywhere in the world today.

The present focus on Muslim violations of the human rights of women does not mean that these are peculiar to the Muslim world. As a Muslim, however, I am particularly concerned with the situation in the Muslim world and wish to contribute to its improvements.

The discussion is organized in terms of the status and rights of Muslim women in the private sphere, particularly within the family, and in public fora, in relation to access to work and particularly in public affairs. This classification is recommended for the Muslim context because the personal law aspects of Shari'a, family law and inheritance, have been applied much more consistently than the public law doctrines. The status and rights of women in private life have always been significantly influenced by Shari'a regardless of the extent of Islamization of the public debate.

A. Shari'a and the Human Rights of Women

This part begins with a brief survey of the general principles and rules of Shari'a which are likely to have a negative impact on the status and rights of women. This includes general principles which affect the socialization of both men and women and the orientation of society at large as well as legal rules in the formal sense. The most important principle of Shari'a influencing the status and rights of women is the notion of qawama. Qawama has its origin in verse 4:34 of the Koran which states that:

"Men have qawama (guardianship and authority) over women because of the advantage they (men) have over them (women) and because they (men) spend their property in supporting them (women)".

According to Shari'a interpretations of this verse, men as a group are the guardians of and are superior to women as a group, and the men of a particular family are the guardians of and are superior to the women of that family.

This notion of general and specific qawama has had far reaching consequences for the status and rights of women in both the private and public domains. For example, Shari'a provides that women are disqualified from holding general public office, which involves the exercise of authority over men, because, in keeping with verse 4:34 of the Qur'an men are entitled to exercise authority over women and not the reverse.

Another general principle of Shari’a which has broad implications for the status and rights of Muslim women is the notion of al-hijab, the veil. This means more than requiring women to cover their bodies and faces in public. Several verses can be quoted to illustrate how Islam controls women's dress mode, movement and life outside the home. Verse 24:31 of the Qur'an states that:

"And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veil over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons or their sisters' sons or their women…"

Furthermore, verse 33:33 states that:

"…And stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former Times of Ignorance; …"

Verse 33:59 requires women to:

"…cast their garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested".

According to the interpretations of the above, women are supposed to stay at home and not leave it except when required to by urgent necessity. When they are permitted to venture beyond their home, they must do so with their bodies and faces covered. Al-hijab tends to reinforce women's inability to hold public office and restricts their access to public life. They are not supposed to participate in public life, because they must not mix with men even in public places.

In addition to these general limitations on the rights of women under Shari'a, there are a number of specific rules in private and public law that discriminate against women and highlight women's general inferiority and inequality. In family law for example, men have the right to marry up to four wives and the power to exercise complete control over them during marriage, to the extent of punishing them for disobedience if the men deem that to be necessary. In contrast, the co-wives are supposed to submit to their husband's will and endure his punishments. While a husband is entitled to divorce any of his wives at will, a wife is not entitled to divorce, except by judicial order on very specific and limited ground. Another private law feature of discrimination is found in the law of inheritance, where the general rule is that women are entitled to half the share of men.

While a husband is entitled to divorce any of his wives at will, a wife is not entitled to divorce, except by judicial order on very specific and limited ground.

In addition to their general inferiority under the principle of qawama and lack of access to public life as a consequence of the notion of alhijab, women are subjected to further specific limitations in the public domain. For instance, in the administration of justice, Shari'a holds women to be incompetent witnesses in serious criminal offenses regardless of their knowledge of the facts. In civil cases where a woman's testimony is accepted, it takes two women to make a single witness. Diya, monetary compensation to be paid to victims of violent crimes or to their surviving kin, is less for female victims than it is for male victims.

The private and public aspects of Shari'a overlap and interact. The general principles of qawama and al-hijab operate at the public as well as the private levels. Public law discrimination against women emphasizes their inferiority at home. The inferior status and rights of women in private law justify discrimination against them in public life. These overlapping and interacting principles and rules play an extremely significant role in the socialization of both women and men. Notions of women's inferiority are deeply embedded in the character and attitudes of both women and men from early childhood.

This does not mean that the whole of Shari'a has had a negative impact on the status and rights of women. Relatively early on, Shari'a granted women certain rights of equality which were not achieved by women in other legal systems until recently. For example, from the very beginning, Shari'a guaranteed a woman's independent legal personality to own and dispose of property in her own right on equal footing with men, and secured for women certain minimum rights in family law and inheritance long before other legal systems recognized similar rights.

These theoretical rights under Shari'a, however, may not be realized in practice. Other Shari'a rules may hamper or inhibit women from exercising these rights in some societies. According to one author, Pastner, "while legally recognized as economic persons to whom property is transmitted, Muslim women are constrained from acting out economic roles because of other legal, as well as ideological, components of Muslim female status". Customary practice in certain rural Muslim communities denies women their rightful inheritance under Shari'a. While strict application of Shari'a would improve the status and rights of women in comparison to customary practice in these situations, the position of women under Shari'a would nevertheless fall short of the standards set by international human rights instruments.

This is Shari'a doctrine as it is understood by the vast majority of Muslims today. Significant possibilities exist for reform, but to undertake such reforms effectively, we must be clear on what Shari'a is rather than what it can or ought to be. Some Muslim feminists emphasize the positive aspects of Shari'a while overlooking the negative aspects. Others restrict their analysis to the Qur'an, and select only verses favoring the status of women while overlooking other parts and failing to take into account the ways in which the parts they select have been interpreted by the Shari'a jurists. Neither approach is satisfactory. Shari'a is a complex and integrated whole and must be perceived as such.

The status and rights of Muslim women are affected by the negative as well as the positive aspects of Shari'a. In fact, its negative aspects may receive greater emphasis than its positive aspects in some Muslim societies today. Moreover, Shari'a jurists have developed specific jurisprudential techniques which control and limit the prospects of reform within the framework of Shari'a.

As will be explained in the final section on Islamic reform and human rights, modernist Muslims may need to challenge and change those techniques before they can implement significant reforms.

B. Muslim Women at Home

The human rights of Muslim women have been directly and continuously affected within the family by Shari'a, because its relevant aspects have remained in force under the legal systems of the vast majority of Muslim countries. This control which Shari'a exercises over the private realm of the home and family is so entrenched, and its violation of human rights so clear, that it may explain in part why some Muslim countries refuse to ratify the relevant human rights instruments or at least enter reservations on their obligations under certain human rights treaties.

For example, Egypt is one of the very few Muslim countries to have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women of 1979. It entered, however, a reservation to Article 16 of the Convention which provides for the equality of men and women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations during the marriage and upon its dissolution. The Egyptian reservation specifically stated that since these matters were governed by Shari'a, Egypt had to derogate from its obligations under the Convention.

The Shari'a personal law enforced in Iran is not significantly different from that prevailing in Sunni countries like Egypt except for the additional affront to the human dignity of women and the serious violation of their human rights caused by the institution of mut'a or temporary marriage, peculiar to Shi'a jurisprudence. According to this type of marriage, a man is entitled to take as many "temporary wives" as he can afford in addition to his four "permanent wives". In contrast to regular marriage which is contracted theoretically for life, mut'a marriage is contracted for a specific period of time, in terms of years, months, days or perhaps even hours.

In addition to the discrimination and humiliation this type of "marriage" causes to the unfortunate temporary "wife", it demeans all women and degrades the institution of marriage itself. Despite these and many other extremely serious social and human rights implications of this type of "marriage", it is still practiced in Iran today.

Some Muslim countries have introduced limited reforms in the family law field. These appear to be more likely to survive traditionalist and fundamentalist backlash than the Iranian ones discussed above, because of their modest nature. The 1979 amendments to the personal law of Egypt "were carefully formulated to forestall any unnecessary confrontation with conservative religious elements. These amendments maintained the husband's rights of unilateral divorce and polygamy while seeking to balance those rights by some procedural and financial guarantees for the wife. In Pakistan, the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance of 1961 introduced some reforms. Among other measures, it instituted a network of Arbitration Councils to deal with divorce, polygamy and maintenance of wives. Now, the written permission of the Arbitration Council is required before a married man can take another wife.

These reforms are only small steps toward redressing human rights objections to the status of women under Shari'a, and yet they are criticized by traditionalist and fundamental groups as un-Islamic. The repeal of the Iranian reforms and the threat of revision of the Egyptian and Pakistani reforms suggest (to one author) the need to use legitimate Islamic methodology in rendering such reforms. I agree with this recommendation and add that the reforms must also go far enough to guarantee the full human rights of women in family and inheritance law.

C. Muslim Women in Public Life

A similar and perhaps more drastic conflict exists between reformist and conservative trends in relation to the status and rights of women in the public domain. Unlike personal law matters, where Shari'a was never displaced by secular law, in most Muslim countries, constitutional, criminal and other public law matters have come to be based on secular, mainly Western, legal concepts and institutions. Consequently, the struggle over Islamization of public law has been concerned with the reestablishment of Shari'a where it has been absent for decades, or at least since the creation of the modern Muslim nation states in the first half of the twentieth century. In terms of women's rights, the struggle shall determine whether women can keep the degree of equality and rights in public life they have achieved under secular constitutions and laws.

In Pakistan, for example, the 1973 Constitution dealt with fundamental questions in relation to the role of Islam in constitutional and other public affairs. However, such issues are rarely finally resolved by constitutional provisions. In fact, constitutional guarantees clearly did little to settle questions pertaining to the status and rights of women in Pakistan.

Article 25 (2) of the 1973 Constitution prohibits discrimination based solely on gender. Article 27 (1) outlaws discrimination against qualified candidates for federal service solely on the basis of gender. Among the Principles of State Policy, Article 34 states that:

"Steps shall be taken to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life".

The 1973 Constitution also provides for universal adult suffrage and reserves a certain number of seats for women in the National Assembly and regional assemblies in addition to their right to compete for non-reserved seats. Unfortunately these provisions have been contested and their practical value diminished in variety of ways.

The Council of Islamic Ideology was one of the institutional mechanisms that tended to diminish the value of constitutional protections for women's rights. According to Article 230 (1) (c) of the 1973 Constitution, this Council is authorized to "make recommendations as to the measures for bringing existing laws into conformity with the Injunctions of Islam and the stages by which such measures should be brought into effect. This mandate was taken seriously throughout the Zia ul-Haq period during which the Council played an active role in the implementation of policies of Islamization.

One component of the new Education Policy adopted by Zia's regime in 1978 was the progressive segregation of men and women in higher education and the establishment of separate women's universities. As one observer commented:

"Such an eventuality could not but have disastrous repercussions on both women's higher education and their career opportunities. At a time when women were breaking ground in new fields – for instance, engineering, town planning, architecture, aeronautics – a women's university could not possibly offer these subjects to the few pioneers then undertaking them in a co-educational institution". (Hussain, The Struggle of Women in the National Development of Pakistan, in Muslim Women 198, 210-211)

Pakistani women have been concerned with the implications of the policy of Islamization for their careers and successfully have protested against encroachments on their role in public life. Zia ul-Haq's regime did show some sensitivity to protests and demands by women's organizations. He appointed the first female cabinet secretary in Pakistan's history, and later appointed a female minister of state.

In 1979 he established a Women's Division within his cabinet whose activities included co-sponsoring of a conference which recommended the elimination of stereotyping of women in textbooks, the projection of a more responsible and positive image of women in national life, and greater representation of women in educational administration and policy-making. In response to protests by the All Pakistan Women's Association and seventeen other women's groups against instructions by the Minister of Information restricting the appearance of female models in commercial advertising, Zia's regime declared that it "had no intention whatsoever to debar them (women) from taking an active part in national affairs”.

With the election of Benazir Bhutto as the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan, one expected more action in support of women's right to public life. Nevertheless, one must not underestimate the power of the proponents of Shari'a in Pakistan or any other Muslim country. Neither women's organizations nor politicians can afford to disregard or downplay the Islamic factor. Numerous studies show that a variety of economic and social factors contribute to the current status and rights of women in the Muslim world and to their own perceptions of and reactions to their situation. But these studies also emphasize, in one way or another, the Islamic dimensions of these same factors.

The Islamization slogan appears to have aroused considerable excitement and enthusiasm in Pakistan. Even the Pakistan People's Party, presently in power after the death of Zia ul-Haq, has declared its commitment to Islamization policy and continues to compete with the Islamic parties in this regard. But there are problems, as one observer noted:

The matter, however, becomes complicated and contentious when an attempt is made to translate the slogan into actual policies. Not much imagination is required to realize that the vision of an Islamic social order entertained by the Ulema (Ulama, traditional religious scholars) differs radically from that envisaged by educated and articulate women. But even Sunni politicians of the religious-oriented parties are by no means unanimous in their conception of an Islamic state.

This comment applies throughout the Muslim world, including Iran where differences exist among Shi'a politicians. Educated women and other modernist segments of society may not be able to articulate their vision of an Islamic state in terms of Shari'a, because aspects of Shari'a are incompatible with certain concepts and institutions which these groups take for granted, including the protection of all human rights. To the extent that efforts for the protection and promotion of human rights in the Muslim world must take into account the Islamic dimension of the political and sociological situation in Muslim countries, a modernist conception of Islam in needed.

Islamic Reform and Human Rights

I have referred several times to the need for Islamic reform to protect and promote human rights in the Muslim world. Such reforms must be sufficient to resolve human rights problems with Shari'a while maintaining legitimacy from the Islamic point of view. On the one hand, it is futile to advocate reforms which are unlikely to be acceptable to Muslims as satisfying the religious criteria of Islamic reform.

Islamic reform needs must be based on the Qur'an and Sunna, the primary source of Islam. Although Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the literal and final word of God, and Sunna are the traditions of his final Prophet, they also appreciate that these sources have to be understood and applied through human interpretation and action. As I have pointed out above, these sources have been interpreted by the founding jurists of Shari'a and applied throughout Muslim history. Because those interpretations were developed by Muslim jurists in the past, it should be possible for modern jurists to advance alternative interpretations of the Qur'an and Sunna.

An Adequate Reform Methodology

I have elsewhere argued extensively for this position and advanced a specific reform methodology which I believe would achieve the necessary degree of reform. The basic premise of my position, based on the word of the late Sudanese Muslim reformer Ustadh Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, is that the Shari'a reflects a historically-conditioned interpretation of Islamic scriptures in the sense that the founding jurists had to understand those sources in accordance with their own social, economic, and political circumstances.

In relation to the status and rights of women, for example, equality between men and women in the eighth and ninth centuries in the Middle East, or anywhere else at the time, would have been inconceivable and impracticable. It was therefore natural and indeed inevitable that Muslim jurists would understand the relevant texts of the Qur'an and Sunna as confirming rather than repudiating the realities of the day.

In interpreting the primary sources of Islamic in their historical context, the founding jurists of Shari'a tended not only to understand the Qur'an and Sunna as confirming existing social attitudes and institutions, but also to emphasize certain texts and "enact" them into Shari'a while de-emphasising other texts or interpreting them in ways consistent with what they believed to be the intent and purpose of the sources. Working with the same primary sources, modern Muslim jurists might shift emphasis from one class of texts to the other, and interpret the previously enacted texts in ways consistent with a new understanding of what is believed to be the intent and purpose of the sources.

This new understanding would be informed by contemporary social, economic and political circumstances in the same way that the "old" understanding on which Shari'a jurists acted was informed by the then prevailing circumstances. The new understanding would qualify for Islamic legitimacy, in my view, if it is based on specific texts in opposing the application of other texts, and can be shown to be in accordance with the Qur'an and Sunna as a whole.

For example, the general principle of qawama, the guardianship and authority of men over women under Shari'a, is based on verse 4:34 of the Qur'an quoted earlier. This verse presents qawama as a consequence of two conditions: men's advantage over and financial support of women.

The fact that men are generally physically stronger than most women is not relevant in modern times where the rule of law prevails over physical might. Moreover, modern circumstances are making the economic independence of women from men more readily realized and appreciated. In other words, neither of the conditions - advantages of physical might or earning power - set by verse 4:34 as the justification for the qawama of men over women is tenable today.

Neither of the conditions or advantages of physical might or earning power-set by verse 4:34 as the justification for the qawama of men over women is tenable today.

The fundamental position of the modern human rights movement is that all human beings are equal in worth and dignity, regardless of gender, religion, or race. This position can be substantiated by the Qur'an and other Islamic sources, as understood under the radically transformed circumstances of the day. For example, in numerous verses the Qur'an speaks of honor and dignity for "humankind" and "children of Adam", without distinction as to race, color, gender, or religion. By drawing on these sources and being willing to set aside archaic and dated interpretations of other sources, we can provide Islamic legitimacy for the full range of human rights for women.

Similarly numerous verses in the Qur'an provide for freedom of choice and non-compulsion in religious belief and conscience. These verses have been either de-emphasized as having been "overruled" by other verses which were understood to legitimize coercion. Women's and human rights organizations could therefore rely on those verses of the Qur'an which extol freedom of religion rather than those that legitimize religious coercion. For example, verse 9:29 of the Qur'an was taken as the foundation of the whole of dhimma, and its consequent discrimination against non-Muslims.

Relying on those verses which extol freedom of religion rather than those that legitimize religious coercion, one can argue that the dhimma system should no longer be part of Islamic law and that complete equality should be assured regardless of religion or belief.

The same argument can be used to abolish all negative legal consequences of apostasy as inconsistent with the Islamic principle of freedom of religion.

Reference has been made to the possible need to challenge some jurisprudential techniques of Shari'a in order to implement the necessary degree of reform. One of the main mechanisms for development and reform within the framework of Shari'a is ijtihad-independent juristic reasoning to provide for new principles and rules of Shari'a in situations on which the Qur'an and Sunna were silent. By virtue of its rationale and textual support, ijtihad was not supposed to be exercised in any matter governed by clear and categorical texts of Qur'an and/or Sunna because that would amount to substituting juristic reasoning for the fundamental sources of Islam. According to the prevailing view in Shari'a, ijtihad should not be exercised even in matters settled through ijma, (consensus).

Some of the problematic aspects of Shari'a identified in this Article, however, are based on clear and categorical texts of Qur'an and Sunna. To achieve the necessary degree of reform, I would therefore suggest that the scope of ijtihadbe expanded to enable modern Muslim jurists not only to change rules settled through ijma, but also to substitute previously enacted texts with other, more general, texts of Qur'an and Sunna despite the categorical nature of the prior texts. This proposal is not radical as it may seem because the proposed new rule would also be based on the Qur'an or Sunna, albeit on a new interpretation of the text. For example, the above-mentioned categorical verse 9:29 regulating the status of non-Muslims would be superseded by the more general verses providing for freedom of religion and inherent dignity of all human beings without distinction as to faith or belief.

I believe that the choice of texts to be implemented as modern Islamic Shari'a is systematic and not arbitrary; it is based on the timing and circumstances of revelation as well as the relationship of the text to the themes and objectives of Islam as a whole. Moreover, I maintain that the proposed reinterpretation is consistent with normal Arabic usage and apparent sense of the text. It is neither contrived nor strained. The ultimate test of legitimacy and efficacy is, of course, acceptance and implementation by Muslims throughout the world.

Prospects for Acceptance and Likely Impact of the Proposed Reform

In addition to this methodology's own Islamic legitimacy and cohesion, at least two main factors are likely to affect the acceptance and implementation of this or any other reform. It must be timely, addressing urgent concerns and issues facing Muslim societies, and it must be disseminated and discussed in Muslim countries. I believe that my proposal will be acceptable to Muslim peoples if offered in an effective and organized manner. Paradoxical as it may seem, I suspect that the proposal may face difficulties of dissemination and discussion precisely because it is timely.

This proposal is timely because Muslims throughout the world are sensitive to charges that their religious law and cultural traditions permit and legitimize human rights violations; hence the efforts of contemporary Muslim authors to dispel such allegations. Governments of Muslim countries, like many other governments formally subscribe to international human rights instruments because, in my view, they find the human rights idea an important legitimizing force both at home and abroad. Moreover, as explained earlier, many emerging women's organizations and modernist forces are now asserting and articulating their demands for justice and equality in terms of international human rights standards.

Nevertheless, the proposed reform will probably be resisted because it challenges the vested interests of powerful forces in the Muslim world and may upset male-dominated traditional political and social institutions. These forces probably will try to restrict opportunities for a genuine consideration of this reform methodology. It is equally likely that they will attempt to obstruct its acceptance and implementation in the name of Islamic orthodoxy. Proponents of Shari'a will also resist it because it challenges their view of the good Muslim society and the ideal Islamic state.

Consequently, the acceptance and implementation of this reform methodology will involve a political struggle within Muslim nations as part of a larger general struggle for human rights.

I would recommend this proposal to participants in that struggle who champion the cause of justice and equality for women and non-Muslims, and freedom of belief and expression in the Muslim world. Given the extreme importance of Islamic legitimacy in Muslim societies, I urge human rights advocates to claim the Islamic platform and not concede it to the traditionalist and fundamentalist forces in their societies. I would also invite outside supporters of Muslim human rights advocates to express their support with due sensitivity and genuine concern for Islamic legitimacy in the Muslim world.

As I have tried to show throughout this Article, the problematic aspects of Shari'a are not the sole underlying causes of human rights violations in the Muslim world. Other extra-Islamic structural and socio-economic factors also contribute to human rights problems. But the primary objectives of this Article have been:

(1) to address the extent to which Shari'a-related factors contribute to human rights violations in the Muslim world; and

(2) to propose a way of overcoming that particular dimension of the status of human rights in the Muslim world.


This Article began with the general premise that human rights violations reflect the lack or weakness of cultural legitimacy of international standards in a particular society. In accordance with this premise, because Shari'a, as the accepted version of the law of Islam, is inconsistent with certain human rights, those rights probably will be violated in the Muslim world, regardless of formal participation in international human rights instruments. This is likely to occur even if Shari'a is not constituted as the formal legal system of the country in question. As a religious and ethical code, Shari'a has far-reaching political and social influence, irrespective of its official legal status in Muslim countries. The evidence reviewed above from case studies of several Muslim countries illustrates Shari'a's extensive influence under very different cultural and legal conditions.

Therefore, because Muslim countries are more likely to honor those human rights standards which have Islamic legitimacy, human rights advocates should struggle to have their interpretations of the scriptural imperatives of Islam accepted as valid and appropriate for application today. Authority for this re-intepretive activity comes from the fact that contemporary majority perspectives on Shari'a are not necessarily the only valid interpretations of the scriptural imperatives of Islam, a fact which was recognized by some modernist Muslim reformers. Unfortunately, little has been done so far to develop a comprehensive reform methodology. In terms of human rights concerns there has been little effort to reconcile Islamic law with fundamental human rights, especially in relation to women and non-Muslims. Reform efforts have so far been confined to the family law area, and even there they have tended to be inadequate and open to reversal. A much more comprehensive and effective reform methodology is required to provide genuine and lasting Islamic legitimacy for human rights in the Muslim countries.

In the final part of this Article, I have explained briefly what I believe to be an adequate Islamic reform methodology aimed at achieving greater legitimacy for human rights in the Muslim world. As indicated in that section, however, this methodology does not offer an easy or quick solution to all human rights problems. In fact, strong resistance can be expected not only from those with vested interest in the status quo, but also from some of the beneficiaries of the proposed reforms. For example, some educated women are Islamic fundamentalists. Nor do I suggest that reformulating Shari'a alone will alleviate all human rights violations. Economic and other factors and forces must also be addressed. Yet, the extent of observance of human rights standards in any country is affected by prevailing attitudes and conceptions regarding who is a human being entitled to the full range of human rights. In the Muslim context, these attitudes and conceptions are significantly influenced by commonly held views concerning the scriptural imperatives of Islam.

Rethinking these scriptural imperatives is therefore one critical strategy for advancing human rights in Muslim countries. Human rights advocates have few allies in most parts of the world, including almost all Muslim countries. They need to enlist the support of powerful cultural and religious forces. Support will come if they look for it in an intelligent and sensitive manner.

Reproduced from: WILDAF News, Issue No. 6, 1994, pp. 1-25
(First published in Harvard Human Rights Journal 13, 52 (1990), pp. 36-52)
Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF)
2nd Floor Lenbern House, Union Avenue, L. Takawira Street, P.O. Box 4622, Harare, Zimbabwe.