Living in a society dominated by men life is not, but regardless women in the Middle East, predominantly Muslims, continue to fight for change as they balance their traditional roles with those of modern society. In the Middle East a person’s religion is a way of life, the basis of their identity. It defines a person’s beliefs and morality as it sets strong guidelines for behaviors between both men and women. Without Religion, it is said society would “fall apart” forgetting about their God and responsibilities that carry their honor.
For many religious Middle easterners their faith gives them a powerful sense of who they are. While many feel this powerful sense of support others feel a religion’s rules or morals can also restrict a person’s freedom. This burden tends to fall on women in the Middle East where most religions are developed and led by men (Harik and Marston 53). Followers know as Muslims practice what is known as Islam, the religion of many Middle Easterners. This practice began in the seventh century A. D from the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed (Harik and Marston 54).
In the beliefs of Islam it is said that there is only one god and His messenger is Mohammed. The basic practices required by Muslim’s are called the five pillars, in which Mohammed’s revolutionary teachings express that all people are equal in God’s eyes. This meaning that men and women of all classes should share the same spiritual rewards as well as sacrifices. Not only are Muslims expected to live pure and modest lives but they are also to serve God by working for social justice. This is something that
Muslims don’t abide by as women rights as still to this day faced with great injustice (55). Men seem to hold absolute power leaving women with few, if any rights. This leaves women feeling unvalued and treated as little more than piece of property. In Mohammed’s revolutionary teaching women are also to be protected and treated equally by men yet in many countries of the Middle East they do not (58). For women marriage is a great arrangement as in order to marry someone a male guardian has to grant approval.
The minimum age for a girl to get married is seventeen but judges can also marry a minor girl with consent of her father. Muslim women may not marry a non-Muslim but for a male its ok to (Afary). Besides some of the issues women may face in their her relationship, there are other is handling your classes Middle Eastern / Muslim women faces. For instance women in traditional lands such as Saudi Arabia are to remain strictly obedient to men (Harik and Marston 59). Under the Taliban women have to wear a burka giving them restrictive head to toe covering.
As appose to that of a lighter veil in which is more common in urban centers. The enforcements of these laws are usually done by religious police and the ministry. If women are to go against these actions then women are severely beaten for showing their wrist, hands, or ankles. They are also tormented for begging in the streets as they are left with nothing but their own will (Afary). Many inequalities still do exist within the Muslim society. In Muslim societies such as Kuwait, women face issues with their right to vote and their right to run for political office.
Under the reading of Islam it is interpreted by Kuwait’s that women are forbidden to hold a position of authority, but this interpretation makes no senses as under Islam it really states people are all equal (Korman 94). Other Kuwait’s believe that women are voting through their father or husband who cast a vote for the entire family not leaving a women’s voice unheard (95). Two great issues for women as we can see have been the right to vote and the right to run for political office.
This was acted on in the year 1999 by Sheik Jaber III, past ruler of Kuwait, who issued a royal decree granting women the right to vote. Unfortunately, on November of 1999, the National Assembly voted down the measure, due to time, claiming it was not right to grant those rights for Kuwaiti women yet (Korman 94). Yet inequalities may not be the case for women in more westernized nations as they receive greater freedom (60). This is where the great diversity between modernist Muslim’s and conservative Muslim’s come in.
Modernist Muslims argue genuine Islam is compatible with modern west society and political ideas such as democracy and the equality of women. The views of women in society are supported by revelations of the prophet Mohammed. On the other hand we have conservative Muslims where they believe in following their traditional ways and those rules set out by the patriarchal society based on strictly Islamic ideas (61). For most Middle East largely traditional and more prevalent among educated and progressive Muslims there is a strong movement called Fundamentalism.
In Kuwait, conservative Muslim women wrestle with other groups that find ways to reconcile modern practices with Islamic tradition. This struggle has heated up in the last years since the Gulf War, as it reflects the intense debate regarding women’s rights (Korman 94). To Westerners, Middle Eastern women are what the media has always chosen to reflect on dressed in black veils, subordinate to the men of their families and oppressed by their societies and state alike. It is rare that the diversity in the Middle East is shown, let alone when it pertains to women .
As with everything else in the Middle East, the situation is full of conflicting images. Though Kuwait is situated in the most conservative part of the Muslim world, Kuwaiti women drive, are allowed to travel alone, and enjoy a central role in their own families. Yet this does not seem to be new or controversial to the conservative Kuwaiti society (Afary). In the year 2000 women have been able to vote in almost every country except in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Women in Kuwait have were promised the vote, but lost their right in a 199 Parliament vote on the issue.
Kuwait lacks an organized women’s rights movement but they have been working to uphold a committee that has not yet resumed full activities since the Gulf War. Women’s social cultural society- committees dealing with cultural affairs, social activities, while statistical studies on women have shown cases of Kuwaiti women married to non- Kuwait’s receive (Country reports on human rights practices for 1993). Middle Eastern women have become politically active in recent years. During the Gulf War in which, women’s groups protested against the Iraqi occupation.
They protested on government policy’s buy constant marches on the National Assembly pressuring them to reform the right for them to vote (Korman 95). Many women fear they won’t be able to run for political office, a compromise, decided upon by members of parliament. Thankfully the Women Affair committee and Union of women societies have given women a voice in political affairs. From inequalities to great mile stones made, tradition and change has come long ways for Middle Eastern women and Muslim women. Over the years women have gone from being treated as a piece of property to being treated as actual human beings, equal to men.
Although many improvements have been made in the way Middle Easterners see a Muslim women’s role in society, there continues to be discrimination towards women in the modern and traditional Islamic society. Regardless of the battles these women may face, Middle Eastern women to this day continue to fight for their rights in hope that one day their traditional roles will balance out with modern society. For now Middle Eastern women will struggle in order to succeed for their future rights and for those of future women.