14 April 2011

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday April 13, 2011
In defence of women’s rights

We have long been told that human rights has no place in religion, especially Islam, so it was an incredibly profound experience to listen to imams saying that it is crucial to defend human rights, especially women’s rights.

WHEN things are really miserable, what we need most is hope. Sometimes that comes by meeting people who behave in unexpected ways.

I have just returned from a meeting of human rights defenders organised by the Carter Centre and Emory University in Atlanta, USA. The theme this year was Of Heaven and Earth: Religion, Belief and Women’s Rights.

To say that it was an extraordinary meeting is to put it mildly.

The participants, from all over the world, were people who fight all sorts of human rights violations, especially of women’s rights.

There was a woman journalist from Jordan who had led a campaign against honour killings (the killing of women for allegedly dishonouring their family names, sometimes just by looking at a male stranger). The campaign was so successful that today, people can be jailed for a minimum of 10 years for it.

There were those fighting for justice for the women rape victims of soldiers during the war in the “Democratic” Republic of Congo and those who successfully made more than 40,000 villages in Senegal pledge to end the horrific custom of female genital cutting (FGC).

The most astonishing aspect of the conference for me was that so many of these human rights defenders were religious leaders, both Muslims and Christians.

When for so long we have been told that human rights has no place in religion, especially Islam, it was an incredibly profound experience to listen to imams saying that it is crucial to defend human rights, especially women’s rights because the violations are in fact un-Islamic.

I listened open-mouthed as Tostan, an NGO in Senegal, a mostly Muslim country, described how for many years they had worked to educate religious leaders, tribal chiefs and “cutters” themselves that FGC is not an Islamic practice, and that there is nowhere in the Quran that says it should be performed.

Village by village they went educating people but without judging their long-held beliefs and customs.

Tostan understood that people had been doing FGC for years simply because it was tradition.

They brought together chiefs from different villages, all Muslims, where some practised FGC and some did not, thereby disproving that it was Islamic.

I listened as Imam Cherif Diop described how human rights is not incompatible at all with Islam.

A custom like FGC only brings misery, ill-health and even death to young girls. Therefore it cannot be Islamic.

Oureye, a former cutter, an immensely dignified old lady, described how she had followed her grandmother’s and mother’s roles as cutters in the village.

“Although I did not go to school, I was always keen to learn,” she said.

So when she heard that Tostan was conducting programmes to educate people on health and human rights, she joined.

What she learned from the programme led her not only to abandon FGC, even though it meant a substantial loss of income but to also become one of the best educators against FGC.

When I listened to these wonderful people, I wondered which country was really more developed.

Senegal, where there was change for the better led by religious leaders, or Malaysia, where religious leaders have no interest in bettering our lives on earth, only supposedly for the afterlife.

Indeed, recently, despite there being no Quranic or health evidence for it, our National Fatwa Council passed a fatwa that made female circumcision a must for Muslim women.

In Malaysia, although it can be done in very sterile conditions, it remains an unnecessary procedure and meant to supposedly control female sexuality.

The chair of the conference was former US President Jimmy Carter who, with his wife, have made it their mission to defend human rights everywhere.

They have programmes, for instance, in Liberia that provide access to justice to victims of the recent civil war, especially women who have suffered rape, and children born of those rapes.

The couple are profoundly religious people in the Southern Baptist Christian tradition but see defending human rights as part of their duty as Christians.

A few years ago, they left the church they had attended all their lives because it had issued a statement that wives must always submit to their husbands.

To the Carters, this was a gross violation of women’s rights.

As the former president put it: “I support human rights because I am a Christian; I am a Christian because I support human rights.”

Similarly, Professor Abdullahi An-Naim, an Islamic scholar teaching at Emory University, who had once been a political prisoner in Sudan, stressed that “I support human rights because I am a Muslim; I am a Muslim because I support human rights”.

By that he meant universal human rights, not some special Muslim version of it.

When I read of what was happening at home, where both religious leaders and politicians treat women with such disdain, I wonder if perhaps I should move to Senegal instead.

At least there I can see change for the better.