Part II: Islam and the New Order

Oct 04, 2012

            This new series provides a platform for women to engage in a free and fluid exchange about pivotal Middle East issues. For the first piece, women across the region were asked this question:

What should be the role of Islam in your society? And what should be Islam’s role in your government?

Amal Habib, Human rights activist and member of al Wefaq opposition, Bahrain

           Islam, like other religions, is a code of ethics. This code should be open for discussion and interpretation that can differ according to time, place and other variables in the development of humanity. But no religion or interpretation should be imposed forcefully. People should be free to express, criticize, adopt any religious or secular belief or idea. Freedom of choice is not only a basic human right, but also an Islamic principle and at the core of my understanding of Islam.
            According to the Koran: (Sura 2:257) There should be no compulsion in religion. Surely, right has become distinct from wrong; so whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress, and believes in Allah, has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.
            The same applies to Islam’s role in government. It provides instructions for how people should deal with each other and emphasizes just treatment: (4:58) Verily! Allah commands that you should render back the trusts to those, to whom they are due; and that when you judge between men, you judge with justice. Verily, how excellent is the teaching which He (Allah) gives you! Truly, Allah is Ever All-Hearer, All-Seer.
           How to attain justice is an issue that should always be open for debate. The human experience has concluded that democracy is the best way to ensure justice. Some people would say democracy does not contradict Islam. This is key to my understanding of Islam.
           Another principle is equality. In a society that used to honor people based on their tribe or color, Islam presented this principle: (49: 14)  O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female; and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognize one another. Verily, the most honourable among you, in the sight of Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you. Surely, Allah is All-knowing, All-Aware.
           When I read this, I understand that all people are equal and the only their actions distinguish them. This is not only a modern, human rights concept; equality is at the core of how I understand Islam. Islam should play a primary role in reminding Muslims of ethics.

Sawsan Karimi, Faculty member of the University of Bahrain

            The question assumes that Muslims, regardless of their diverse affiliations and identities, are monolithic and they all have one understanding of “Islam”. Different interest groups have employed Islam to serve their agendas. Women, however, have yet to improve their status and benefit from what Islam can offer. Muslim women, need to study Islam and reexamine it from a woman’s perspective rather than a male-dominated one.
           Islam can play a fundamental role in laying the grounds for human rights, justice, freedom of expression, democracy and equality among sexes, classes, and ethnic groups. There is a famous saying by Imam Ali “If he is not your brother in Islam, he is your equal in humanity.” Imposing Islam contradicts with the fundamental Islamic notions of shura (consultation) and/or Imamat (leadership). Islam should allow and nurture the multiplicity of expressions of faith and beliefs in society and government. 

Mariam al Rowaie, Women’s rights activist, Former President of the Bahrain Women Union

            In my community Islam plays a role in enhancing the perception of equal rights and duties for all citizens. When making policy the government should take Islamic values into account such as the inherent respect for freedom of opinion and expression. It should consolidate the values ​​of tolerance and acceptance of others by providing equal opportunities for its citizens in education, employment and dignity.

Intsar Saed, General Director of Cairo Center for Development, Egypt

           Islam is a great religion that reforms Muslims' behavior and organizes their relation with others on the basis of equity and non-discrimination. Islam orders governments to preserve citizens' rights without distinction.

Antelak Almutawakel, Chairperson of Youth Leadership Development Foundation, Yemen

           Islam provides society with a set of principles and ethics that help in managing relations between individuals, groups and families. Islam should play a lesser role in the government but it could be used as a motivation for transparency and a strong work ethic. As a Muslim country, the sharia should be the main resource of laws and regulations. A Muslim government, however, should provide for all its citizens, both Muslim and non-Muslim.   

Sondos Asem, Chief Editor of the Muslim Brotherhood's official English-language website, Egypt

           The primary role of Islam in society is to create harmony and an environment conducive to the worship of Allah. Islam’s economic system, if applied, reduces debt and increases diligent investment due to its lack of reliance on interest. To achieve the objectives of the January 25 revolution, Islam should play a defining role in governance as well. Islam proscribes an egalitarian system of government that ensures separation of powers, checks, balances, and accountability while prioritizing justice and the welfare of all citizens.

Dr. Sallama al Khafaji, Independent High Commission for Human Rights, Iraq

           Islam started not only as a religion, but as a guide for people. Mosques weren’t places for prayers only; they were places for building individuals and strengthening their relationships through offering education and other social services that are the building blocks of any healthy community. This should be Islam’s role in society.
           Islam should play a role in society’s education. Islam will go beyond the material facts and develop more essential characteristics. Islam can teach people how to live their daily lives, how to think and solve their problems, how to deal with their children and how to lead happier lives.
           Islamic law, the Sharia, is broader than any constitution because it includes details on everything from buying groceries to dealing with international affairs. Governments should borrow what is relevant from Islam that will develop better civil countries. Governments can refer back to the Sharia in order to solve all kind of issue like ethnic conflicts. They will find clear rules beside examples.

Wajeeha Al-Baharneh, Vice President of the Bahrain Women’s Society

           Islam (like other religions) calls for implementing peace, coexistence, tolerance, and diversity while rejecting violence in society.  Islam also encourages diversity and the strengthening of ties to eliminate the causes of hate towards each other.
           Islam had and will continue to play its social role based on sublime teachings, but the problem lies in Muslims who either drifted away from those teachings, disobeyed them to achieve their interests, or implemented them superficially. Islam supports societal norms and values like social justice, human dignity, equality and the three freedoms of belief, speech and expression. Islam eradicates discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, and color.


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