Saturday, March 15, 2008

On Qurrat al-'Ayn and the Emancipation of Women: A more liberal regime doesn't necessarily lead to greater rights for women in the Middle East

Qurrat al-'Ayn (Táhirih) is cited as an important historical figure who fought for women's rights. -gw

Lewis points out that emancipation of women in the Middle East has been most pronounced in pre-2002 Iraq and the former South Yemen, which were both ruled by comparatively repressive regimes, and lags behind in Egypt, one of the most tolerant and open Arab societies. He cites this as evidence that a more liberal regime won’t necessarily lead to greater rights for women, and further notes that the more conservative and fundamental the regime, such as Iran and most of Afghanistan (before 2002), the less pronounced women’s rights are. Lewis thinks that while the need to modernize is accepted throughout the Middle East even among the most anti-Western fundamentalists, the emancipation of women is seen as Westernizing and a betrayal of true Islamic values. This is an area Wafa Sultan has talked about extensively, pointing out that even modernization accepts Western tenets and accomplishments, and she suggests that women’s rights can be accepted in the Middle East in the same way.

There have been historical figures in the Middle East who have fought for women’s rights. Shi’ite Persian Qurrat al-’Ayn (1814-1852) became a follower of the Bab (forerunner of the founder of the Baha’i faith) and preached without a veil and denounced polygamy.

Victoria Stoddard
Book Review:
“What Went Wrong”
by Bernard Lewis
About Us: We are the Internet & Democracy group based at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School

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