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Shirin Ebadi: No Liberty for Women


Sunday, November 26, 2006


Today, I found an interesting comment by Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace prize in 2003. She is known for her fierce campaign and pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights, especially for the rights of women and children. She was in India this week for a four-day tour.

Speaking to the media, she said, "When men can decide on their attire, why such a liberty is not provided to women?".

This statement was her response to the query about the imposition of hijab on women. According to her, she is both against the forced wearing of the hijab as well against forcing women not to wear it. She believes that it is women's rights and according to a famous saying, women's rights are human rights.

She further said that all the limitations have always been imposed on women, men are free to wear whatever they want to whether in Islamic countries or western countries, it always depends on who benefits from such impositions. Thus she believes in the new interpretation of Islam which complies with human rights.

I cannot agree more with her statements. I also think that a new interpretation of Islam is necessary so as to really represent the compliance of Islam with the modern concept of human relationship and human rights.

However, I have a little reservation on her statement that "men can decide on their attire", while women are restricted to certain form of attire, i.e. hijab, thus do not have any liberty to choose their desired attire.

In Islam, there are certain codes of conduct for both men and women. In a matter of attire they both must follow a certain dress code. And if we go by the Holy Book, it is clearly described there that both men and women should wear decent clothes so as not to invite harm of any form to any one of them.

For men, the most private parts of their bodies are between their navel and their knees. Thus it is a must for all men to cover this area (from navel to knees) of their bodies.

As for the women, their bodies, from head to toe, are their private parts. Thus they are urged to wear "decent" attire so as to be able to keep their privacy intact. According to the Holy Book, the wearing of a hijab is not a must for women but it is "advisable" or "desirable".

The message in the Holy Book is clear: decency of clothing for both men and women.

Thus when Shirin Ebadi said that men can choose any attire they want while women do not have the same liberty, it, according to me, is incorrect. In my opinion, both men and women have the same liberty to choose whatever attire they like to wear as long as it is in compliance with the general norms practiced in the society. Decency is the norm, and not rigidity. Hijab is not a must, but decency is.

Islam is not a rigid religion. On the contrary, it is quite a flexible one. Unfortunately, Islam has been hijacked by those "Muslim clerics" in such a way that it is now being projected as a very rigid religion. A new interpretation of Islam is hence necessary to project the true color of Islam.

Can anyone share ideas to re-intrepret Islam?



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