The Status of Women in Syria – A debate

Striding ahead without fear by hubha Singh [Thanks *Norman*]
Women Empowerment: Syria stands out as a leader in the Middle East when it comes to women power.

Syrian Women have won several rights not available to women in other Arab countries. An important one is the custody of children till the age of 15 years in case of marital disputes. Another hard-won right on the cards is the right to children of marriages between Syrian women and non-Syrian fathers to take the nationality of their mother. It is in actual fact a right given to children to be able to retain Syrian nationality, but has been a matter of concern to women in Syria…. [Josh L. Arab countries which have granted women the right to give their nationality to their children are Iraq, Algeria, Morocco and Tunis and Egypt. See Bassam AlKadi’s article on this, 20 February 2009]

Syria has 86 per cent literacy. Women’s literacy levels went up from 33 per cent in 1980 to 79 per cent in 1999. Primary education is free and compulsory in Syria; over 51 per cent of university graduates in Syria are women. … Women are well represented in the judicial system, the General Prosecutor is a woman and there are 170 women judges and 250 assistant judges. Statistics are difficult to come by but the most favoured jobs for women are in teaching, medicine and healthcare. 57 per cent of teachers in Syria are women although fewer hold senior positions in higher education….

OTW – an SC commentator adds:

Syrian women are better off then many in the neighborhood. Compared to a North African countries, literacy among Syrian women, especially in the country side, is much higher. However, in 2004, Morocco made a giant step by enacting a new family code, which is to be applied without deference to religious affiliation (universal as opposed to sect based). In the new law, much of the offensive language against women was removed. It also established equal rights including the rights to initiate divorce, custody, and to share marriage assets were also established, along with significant improvement in inheritance, and strict controls on polygamy. Many of these are rights that Syrian women, particularly Muslim women, have yet to attain.

At the same time, a woman in Morocco still needs her husbands approval before she can get a job. And especially in rural areas, as I mentioned above, illiteracy continues to be a much bigger problem in Morocco than in Syria.

I am extremely proud of Syrian women and I do not have to look further than my own family to see reasons for such pride. Yet, I do believe that the road is still long and arduous, and with the recent increase in religiosity, it is becoming harder, especially regarding the enactment of modern universal personal status laws (including family laws), that are applicable to all Syrians independent of religion. Even Syrian penal code, continues to treat “honor crimes” with offensive leniency, opening the door for economically motivated murderers to hide behind it. This is not to mention the absurdity of the notion of “honor crime” in itself.

Alle – another commentator adds:

The article portrays Syria as if it was outstanding in the region, which it isn’t. It’s among the top five Arab countries or so, but by any global standard, it’s still in a poor place. One should be realistic about that, but the article completely avoids all the downsides to these issues (eg. family law being run on sectarian grounds by religious courts).

Read: “Some Observations about Syrian Women” by Damascus Dreams

Syrian Women protest the 2003 US war on Iraq

Syrian Women protest the 2003 US war on Iraq

No one in Damascus wears traditional Arab clothing (the colorful abayas and jilbabs you see in the souq). Everyone wears Western clothing, i.e., long skirts (denim is really in), pants, jeans etc. …. Most women here wear hijab, and many also wear the monteau. Monteaus are basically chic coats, similar to the kind women wear in the U.S. over a suit or a dress, but they are ankle length, and worn over normal clothes when a woman goes outside of her home. It’s like a jilbab, but it’s not loose or flowy, but more fitted. The typical Syrian hijab is tucked in, tight around the face, and not flowy or big. Women almost always wear high-heeled shoes, and a coordinating purse. The overall effect is a look that’s “smart” in the British sense of the word: Women always look well-dressed, neat, ironed, and well-groomed, with nothing shabby or untidy.

Dr. George Jabbour, “Syrian Women and Human Rights.” Paper presented at the “Woman in Syria Today” conference, Rida Said Hall, Damascus University, 25-26 June 2006.

Article 7 prohibits the subjection of anybody to torture. Sometimes, there are references to torture in Syria. There are those who claim that some cases of torture have ended in death. At any rate, I know of no woman who has been tortured, or died as a result of torture. It is worth mentioning that Syria has recently joined the International Agreement against torture.

The first paragraph of Article 8 provides that it is prohibited to enslave anybody, and that slavery and slave-trade are banned in all forms.” Syria, of course is committed to this prohibition. Yet, an issue relevant to this paragraph should be discussed. In the past, there used to be cases of young girls hired to serve in the houses of the rich; in some cases all contact between the girl and her parents was cut off for ever. Now, was this hiring a form of slavery? These cases are receding; but have they ended completely?…..

Article 12 & 13, about the freedom of movement and the right of departure raises some questions. The rules of departure constrain a wife’s right, since she cannot leave Syria without permission from her husband…. The advocates of women’s rights in Syria are actively trying to abrogate this restriction, whose implications become more complex when the wife is of non-Syrian nationality or ethnicity. The attempts of non-Syrian wives of Syrians to run away with their children from Syria are not rare….

Article 18 invites some meditation. It concerns the freedom of creed and the freedom of every individual to embrace any religion he/she may choose. Here there are factors suspected of contributing to the change of religion without real conviction of the newly-adopted religion. How? In Syria, a Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim wife, often Christian; but a non-Muslim man (a Christian) cannot marry a Muslim woman. A non-Muslim wife has full freedom to retain her religion. But the inheritance system prevents inheritance when the religions are different. So, a Christian woman will lose her natural right to inherit her husband if she keeps her religion. Thus, there is a factor to convince her to embrace Islam, even if she is not convinced of it….

VI Concluding Remarks
Women in Syria enjoy their rights more than in most Arab and Islamic countries. This has been the result of a large scale of opening-up to contemporary civilization at an early stage in which only Egypt and Lebanon have preceded Syria. The government in Syria is keen to empower women; it is capable of doing so, and practices what it preaches…..

I conclude with something that happened several years ago. I was teaching the subject of human rights in a course of the high police command (of colonels nominated to be promoted to the rank of brigadier). I found it difficult to convince them to accept the ideas of Fatema Al-Mernissi about women or to take her ideas seriously. The colonels vied with each other in speaking against the principle of equality between men and women. That was years ago; but I think the situation has already undergone a radical change since then.

Syrian Women’s Rights Activist Bassam Al-Qadhi: “Because Of Articles 548 And 192 of the Penal Code, [A Man Who Perpetrates An Honor Killing] Gets Only Three Months to Three Years in Jail”…

Some facts about Syrian Women:

  • Women first entered the diplomatic corps in 1953. In 2004 women made up 15% of the corps. The first lady ambassador was appointed in 1998 in Syria’s mission to Belgium. Mrs. Seba Nasser.
  • Currently Syria has four women ambassadors in Athens, Paris, Kuala Lumpur and Bragh.
  • The percentage of women in the Syrian parliament is 14% which is the highest in the region, 3.4% on average in other Arab states.
  • Syria has 170 women judges, 250 assistant judges.
  • Syria appointed the 1st woman minister in the Arab world in 1976. Since, women have been ministers of culture, expatriate affairs, social affairs, labor, and higher education.

On Laws about disciplining children…(in Arabic)

Jane Gabriel speaks to four women
from different organizations based in Damascus in this podcast:

In Syria, decree 121 specifically bans organisations working for women’s rights, but many women’s groups and associations have met informally in private places for years. In this podcast, women from four different organisations based in Damascus speak to Jane Gabriel about their efforts to improve the status of women through research, campaigning and education. Some are working with social surveys of public opinion; others are in dialogue with moderate religious leaders. All of them are trying to get the personal status and punishment codes reformed. As activist Mouna Ghanem says “it is very very discriminatory….for example the punishment of rape, whereby if the man rapes a woman and decides to marry her he will not be punished, they don’t really ask the women if she wants to marry this man or not, she just has to marry him because he raped her, so she is the victim twice”.

Syria: Women’s role in agriculture

Women’s labour input is disproportional to their control of agricultural resources. An FAO study in Syria found the following pattern of ownership among women:

  • land: only 5%
  • animals: about 7%-8%, but with variation according to the type of livestock and the area of the country (males own about 97% of sheep, 93% of cows, 96% of goats and even 98% of chickens); and
  • agricultural machinery: 1%.

The agrarian reform of the late seventies redistributed land to all farmers, and Shari’s law recognizes the right of women to inherit. But practice has not yet caught up with the law. Most Syrian women are apparently culturally pressured to waive their right to land inheritance in favour of their brothers or sons.

Socio-demographic correlates of psychiatric morbidity among low-income women in Aleppo, Syria, by Wasim Maziak, Taghrid Asfarb, Fawaz Mzayekc, Fouad M Fouadd and Nael Kilziehe….

Women generally suffer more than men from common mental disorders, and discrimination against women adds to their mental sufferings….Predictors of women’s mental health in the logistic regression analysis were; physical abuse, women’s education, polygamy, residence, age and age of marriage. Among these predictors, women’s illiteracy, polygamy and physical abuse were the strongest determinants of mental distress leading to the worse outcomes….

Why most women in Syria do not smoke,” by Wasim Maziak, Taghrid Asfara, and Jeremiah Mock, Syrian Center for Tobacco Studies.

Beliefs and attitudes related to narghile (waterpipe) smoking among university students in Syria

Conclusions: The rise in narghile smoking as a trendy social habit appears to be occurring despite considerable appreciation of its potential health risks. Permissiveness of adult family members towards narghile use by young female members, especially in the presence of a strong taboo against female cigarette smoking may contribute to the continuous spread of narghile smoking among women in Syria.

Jean Leon Gerome

Jean Leon Gerome

Upper class Syrian women speak to ABC

Comments (22)

norman said:


I am very sad , I was the one who presented the article and i was the only one not mentioned , I am going to cry to sleep to night , I hope you can live with that.

April 26th, 2009, 12:06 am


Off the Wall said:

We appear to have started on the wrong foot here . In no way I was referring to your other posts, and my phrase was simply an uncalled for rash to lumping your post in a category of posts that we see every day here that are dismissive of anything good in Syria. I apologize for that . My response was motivated by the fact that I have personally known some of these Syrian women and men who sacrificed a lot to improve literacy and to guarantee some of the rights that did not exist 30 or 40 years ago. Dismissing their accomplishments is not something I take lightly. But that is no excuse . Please notice that I acknowledged the truth of what you wrote. Please visit more often and please post at much higher frequency, we need every voice and I had no right questioning your sincerity.

As for the article failing to stress the negatives, i do not hold such against a “column filler” article, which has more of a “travel literature” tone than that of a serious social commentary article as evidenced by its focus on dress styles, tobacco flavors, and nightclubs.

Finally, I respectfully beg to differ with you and with Norman on the notion of what is reasonable and what is undemocratic. To begin with, most of the societies that sanction these inequity laws as being traditional and thus consistent with the conservative nature of these societies are also societies that have no real press freedom, or appropriate level civil society institutions. In many cases, activism on behalf of women and children is delegated to international and mostly intergovernmental organizations, whose margin of action is regulated by intergovernmental agreements governing these organizations. There are little or no mechanisms to gauge whether the society itself is really in favor of these laws. Secondly, the objective of democracy is not merely the rule of majority, but it is the protection of the minorities from the majority. A fundamental question that must be answered in this regard is the extent at which the majority in any society can maintain and enact laws that are against basic human rights?. These are issues for debate, and I hope that all of us can debate them openly.

April 26th, 2009, 1:31 am


majedkhaldoun said:

You do not have N.Y.,or Florida as Israel State,you have many jews live there.there are more jewish lives in USA than there are jews in Palastine.
Many of palasinians, who are refugees of 48,left but have evidence of owning land in palastine, they refused to sell it to jews,Israel confiscated them,and build something there, such as houses,hotels,or goverment bldgs,I believe they deserve to be paid rent,this is also the reason why arab should not recognize israel as a jewish state,since it deprive the palastinians of their ownership rights

April 26th, 2009, 2:11 am


norman said:


Sorry budy , but i think you are giving us a lecture in general , not specific to Syria , the Syrian government in my humble opinion gives the people of Syria the tools of equality and leave to them the chance to advance to their best ability.

I think that the reason that women get halve the man inheritence is to keep wealth in the family or the tribe.

By the way Syria has been very good over the years in protecting the minorities,

I believe president Assad one said that the Syrian people has to mature into the change that they need to take and get forced into it because we know it is better for them , they have to be convinced and that can take time , The Internet and satellite TV can help , seeing what other people are doing can change the minds about doing certain things.

April 26th, 2009, 2:23 am


majedkhaldoun said:

Islam does not regulate divorce,and the rights of women,after divorce,I believe women are entitled to 1% of the man wealth,for every year she spend with her husband,up to 50%, also women must be able to get divorce completed within three months, and should not drag for more than three months.

April 26th, 2009, 2:33 am


norman said:

This is interesting,it is time , Syria and Iraq can be a great power in the Middle East.

Syria reaches out to ‘friend’ Iraq
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS – Syrian Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Otari made regional headlines by landing in Baghdad on Wednesday to meet his Iraqi counterpart, Nuri al-Maliki. This is the most senior Syrian visitor to the war-torn Iraqi capital since Otari’s predecessor Mohammad Mustapha Miro made the trip in August 2001, and it raises hopes that bilateral relations – which have been strained since 2003 – are on their way towards repair.

The Syrian delegation included the ministers of economy, finance, transportation, irrigation – and notably, interior. Maliki said that the visit was “historic”, while Otari called for a “comprehensive change in bilateral relations” between Iraq and Syria.

Ordinary Iraqis attach great importance to the visit, since it makes them once again feel “accepted” in the greater Arab family. Few senior officials have dared make the trip to Baghdad in recent

years. Moreover, this is Syria, a country committed to Arab nationalism and still ruled by the Ba’ath Party, that is making overtures to occupied Iraq – adding further symbolism in the eyes of ordinary Iraqis.

Along with Otari’s 12 ministers, many state-run and independent journalists traveled to Baghdad – many of whom are visiting the capital for the first time.

Relations between the countries became strained in 1980, when Saddam Hussein went to war against Iran. Ties had been tepid since rival branches of the Ba’ath Party came to power in 1963. Saddam engaged in a terror campaign against Syria which resulted in Damascus closing down the border with Iraq until 1998.

Between 1998 and 2003, Syria and Iraq resumed bilateral trade and limited political relations. This was again broken with the US invasion of Iraq. Syria tried to work with former prime ministers Iyad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, but this was strongly vetoed by the George W Bush White House which blamed Damascus for most of the turmoil in Iraq after 2003.

In 2006, Maliki, a long-time resident of Damascus, came to power and also tried building bridges with the Syrians. Still, tangible results remained elusive until US President Barack Obama came to power in January. Among other things, Obama needs an Arab helping hand to walk out of Iraq with as much face-saving for the United States as possible. To do so, he needs a heavy Arab presence in Iraq so that regional players – and not only Iran – can help rebuild Iraq in the post-US era.

One reason for the rapprochement is political and security-related; the other is economic. Politically, Syria is waiting for US troops to start withdrawing from Iraqi towns and cities in the summer of 2009. Damascus has publicly said that it does not want a humiliating exodus for the Americans from Iraq, although it remains categorically opposed to them having been there since 2003.

A vacuum will be left that is going to be filled either by Iran, the Saudis, the Syrians – or a combination of the three. Syria and Iran do not agree wholeheartedly on how a post-US Iraq should look, and Syria finds itself closer to the Saudi position.

Iran wants to maintain Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shi’ite Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Iran-backed Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), while Syria wants a militia-free Iraq, be these armed groups Sunni, Shi’ite or Kurd.

Learning from the Lebanon experience, the Syrians are not comfortable being surrounded by neighbors who are armed to the teeth, living in lawlessness.

The SIIC, which is fully backed by Iran, has been demanding an autonomous district for Shi’ites in Iraq, similar to the Kurdish area in the north. In addition to refusing any further partition, Syria realizes that if such a formula were implemented, it would mean that the Sunnis, who traditionally have fallen under Syrian protection, would be left in central Iraq – with no oil.

Syria and Saudi Arabia want certain rights for the Sunnis, like a greater say in decision-making, higher representation in parliament, and amending of the de-Ba’athification laws passed by the Americans in 2003. The two countries also want a general amnesty for thousands of political detainees being punished as a community at large for having produced Saddam.

As of today, Syria has excellent relations with non-state players like Muqtada and heavyweights in the Sunni community like Mahmud al-Mashadani, the ex-speaker, Iyad Allawi, the secular ex-prime minister, and President Jalal Talabani.

Last year, Syria appointed Nawaf al-Fares, who hails from a prominent mixed Syrian-Iraqi tribe, as its ambassador to Baghdad. Fares will play an important role in finding common ground for Syria with Iraqi players, mainly the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, which controls the post of speaker. More importantly, thanks to tribal relations, Syria can exert strong influence on Iraqi Sunni tribes, who now form the bulk of the Awakening Councils and were once engineers of the so-called Sunni insurgency.

Along with the Mahdi Army, which reigns over the Shi’ite community, the Awakening Councils are the most powerful military group in Iraq, surpassing the Ba’athists or al-Qaeda. Syria can moderate the behavior of these groups, making sure that arms are not used in the wrong direction once the Americans start withdrawing.

Arming Awakening Councils was originally the brainchild of the Bush White House, which wanted them to counter-balance Iranian influence on the Iraqi street and help combat al-Qaeda. Maliki was never enthusiastic about them, and has been searching for creative ways to either tame – or exterminate – them. He perhaps now sees a natural friend in his Syrian counterpart, whose country can – with Saudi Arabia – pull the right strings to keep the 150,000-strong army under relative control and see to it that they are disarmed or integrated into the Iraqi army.

Economically speaking, bilateral trade between the two countries during its heyday in 1998-2003 did wonders for both countries. This is something Maliki wanted to discuss with Otari. When the war began six years ago, bilateral trade had reached $1.5 billion. In November 2000, Syria opened the 800-kilometer oil pipeline running from the Kirkuk oilfields to the Syrian port of Banias, receiving 150,000 barrels per day from Iraq.

The pipeline’s capacity is 300,000 barrels per day. Syria received the Iraqi oil for around $10-15 a barrel, using it for local consumption and then exporting its own oil at $24. For Saddam, the deal was also very tempting because it secured around $2 million a day for Iraq. Iraq is already seeking offers from foreign companies to rehabilitate the Kirkuk-Banias pipeline after a Russian company, Stroytransgaz, failed to do the job.

Tension between Syria and Iraq was due to a sharp opposition to the war of 2003. All the current decision-makers in Baghdad wanted that war to happen, seeing it as their only chance to get rid of Saddam. Syria, although having played host to many of these dissidents (including Maliki), had many reasons for objecting to a war on its traditional enemy. One was ideological: in Arab eyes, it is wrong for an Arab country to be invaded and occupied by a foreign power.

The other was economic, since Syria had benefited tremendously from trade with Saddam’s regime since 1998. Syria offered sanctuary to millions of Iraqis fleeing the mayhem that followed the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. That resulted in a chorus, at the highest levels in Washington, accusing Syria of supporting the insurgency that immediately broke out against the US.

The Syrians cried foul play. They pointed to a variety of measures they had taken, like creating a sand wall along the border to keep cars – and terrorists – from crossing and control and observation centers dotted on the border to monitor personnel. Near Hirri, a small village on the Syrian-Iraqi border, the Syrians built an earthen ramp to prevent cars from crossing. In the conservative city of Hama, 16 preachers who ordered their followers to fight the Americans in Iraq were arrested in September 2004. If anybody was to be blamed for not catching people, said Damascus, it would be the Iraqis and Americans.

Between 2003 and 2005, the Syrians were divided on what they wanted from Iraq. The moderates wanted Iraq to stabilize, fearing that civil war would cross the border into Syria. These people argued that Syria should not support a Sunni insurgency in Iraq that had the potential to spill into Syrian territory.

They remember only too well that in 2004 armed militants who had been to Iraq returned to Damascus and carried out a terrorist attack in the posh Mezzeh neighborhood, killing a schoolteacher and a policeman. Last October, an Iraqi car was loaded with 200 kilograms of explosives and used in a terrorist attack on the road to Damascus International Airport.

Incidents such as these are why Syria believes it must be firm with the border issue and cooperate with both the Americans and Iraqis to maintain security in Iraq. Counter-terrorism will be high on the agenda of Syrian Interior Minister Bassam Abdul Majid and his Iraqi counterpart, Jawad al-Bulani.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

April 26th, 2009, 2:44 am


majedkhaldoun said:

Islam gives women, generaly half the men inheritance,but some time the man and the women get equal amount,as in parent inheriting their children,or the brother and sister from one parent inheriting his brother or sister.
woman get sometime twice as man get,as one dies and has no kids,and no brother or sister,the mother get 1/3,and the father,is etitled to 1/6,and the husband get 1/2,this has been altered,against what God said.

April 26th, 2009, 2:47 am


Shai said:


I was kidding you about Bar Harbor, Maine (my wife and I loved that place, went there on holiday once).

I agree with everything you said in comment #3 above. But with all due respect, I don’t see the issue of self-determination of Jews in Israel coming up for discussion anytime soon (at least not with Israel). The main issue that must be addressed is the Palestinian right for self-determination. They have that right (and have always had that right), no less than Jews do. They deserve a state of their own, Palestine.

April 26th, 2009, 3:29 am


majid said:

MAJEDKHALDOUN said, “I believe they [Palestinians] deserve to be paid rent,this is also the reason why arab should not recognize israel as a jewish state,since it deprive the palastinians of their ownership rights”

Be careful Majed, rent is not all.

The landlord (the Palestinian) has the legal right to evict the ‘tennant’ and use all the means available (including force) to ensure eviction.

April 26th, 2009, 3:35 am


Joshua said:

Norman – Ya Hakiim – forgive me, I have sinned. Thanks for the article and good discussion as always. Joshua

April 26th, 2009, 4:49 am


Majid said:

Shai said, “They [Palestinians] have that right (and have always had that right), no less than Jews do. They deserve a state of their own, Palestine.”

Congratulations. The more you emphasize Palestine, the more humanly authentic you would look and the less deceptive you would appear!

Hopefully next time around you would come back with PALESTINE NOW, not 10 to 20 years down the road. At least YOSSI would be able to fulfill his oath sooner and would be able to joke around.

April 26th, 2009, 5:03 am


alle said:

Off the Wall — Hey, no problem. I actually sounded pretty grumpy in response too. We’ll see about the commenting, though, I don’t think I can keep up with the crazy pace at SC 🙂

I absolutely agree with the rest of your comment, by the way, and I think we’re on the same page politically. When I said “undemocratic”, that was sloppy wording, and you’re right about minority protection. However, I do think one has to be very aware about what is politically realistic, or there is a risk that legitimate rights issues such as these are arranged against democratic reform, which would be very unfortunate.

April 26th, 2009, 8:04 am


Off the Wall said:


I agree, it was a general lecture. Some of it is specific to Syria and some is more general. I do believe that the first family in Syria is an enlightened family with a demonstrable tradition of respect for women rights. Bashar is not a stranger to women equality and to their issues, he was raised in a family that believed in women rights and his father enacted and supported substantial reforms. It is my understanding that with respect to government jobs, Syria maintains a strict equal pay policy, and that is remarkable. It is also a government policy to continuously expand women role in the government and to demolish glass ceilings in their way. I must give credit where credit is due. As for minorities, you are absolutely right, and syria’s protection of minorities has been a blessing not only to Syria but to minorities in neighboring countries.

That said, and I am now talking strictly with respect to women issues, I believe governing is not enacting laws only, it is also enforcing these laws, and striving to achieve even better laws by removing unfair and in-equitable articles. The personal status laws continue to be a major hindrance to women and the source of much misery. Honor killing laws remain on the books and even a woman judge, who can be very sympathetic to the victim of the crime will be bound to abide by them. I am not asking for Syria to awake one day and find all of these laws abandoned, but at the same time, moving in that direction has been slow at best. One may say that honor killing is not even a major issue in Syria as it is in tribal Jordan. I agree, but it still occurs and many of the murders are economically motivated (theft of share of inhertiance). It suffices for the murderer to claim that he suspect his wife or sister, and he can get away with 3 months to 3 years for a murder.

Islam is against the concentration of wealth. The inheritance laws, complex as they are, divide the wealth into as many pieces as possible, and i am not at all knowledgeable enough to argue for or against the wisdom of that. Or the wisdom of giving the woman half of what her brother gets. I am more concerned with laws that govern the woman status in the family particularly with respect to her children. If the father is absent on travel, it is the uncle not the mother who is considered to be the child’s official guardian and his signature will be required if the child is to go on a school trip. I do not know if that is being practiced anymore, but a school principle, or a cop, can enforce that if they chose against the mother’s will. An uncle or a brother can forbid his unmarried adult niece or sister from travel if her father is absent, how fair is that? of course if anyone can correct me, and say that this is no longer the case i would be extremely happy.

Agree 100%, and thank you. I will try to keep the crazy peace on SC untill your next visit 🙂

April 26th, 2009, 3:15 pm


Off the Wall said:

Thank you for the information,
Seems that Islam has given women significant rights they did not enjoy in many countries. The question is, who took these rights away? and how come these rights do not show up in practice in many countries that claim Sharia as the main source of law.

April 26th, 2009, 3:29 pm


Frank al Irlandi said:

What a delightful juxtaposition of Jeromes Orientalist painting with the interview with the Syrian ladies who know far more about the US than US ladies do about them.

It is worth viewing the range of Jerome’s work to see how often the theme of the fair skinned female slave crops up. It is a striking illustration of the concept of orientalism.

Thanks for including it.

April 26th, 2009, 6:54 pm


majid said:

OTW said, “Seems that Islam has given women significant rights they did not enjoy in many countries. The question is, who took these rights away? and how come these rights do not show up in practice in many countries that claim Sharia as the main source of law.”

OTW, you cannot continue to blame Sharia laws for every misfortune including those of women. This is a very narrow minded attitude to a problem which existed since the beginning of man. You cannot separate economics from women’s rights. I believe you are aware of the economic impact on social and political issues. Even before Islam came some women in Arabia enjoyed rights that many women of today either don’t enjoy or only recently began to do so. For example, the first wife of the Prophet was a wealthy businesswoman, and basically she chose Muhammad as her husband and not the other way around. The wife’s Prophet Aisha commanded armies in battle and she had and still has tremendous impact upon the lives of Muslims – half of the Muslims ethics originate from her hadiths about the Prophet by the way. Mamluk Egypt was ruled by a woman. And there are many examples that support that in fact Muslims and the Sharia are not behind so-called civil legal systems. Women in Islam can chose to be the initiators of divorce if they stipulate that in the marriage agreement, and they always had this right enshrined in the Sharia. Some Western countries did not recognize women as PERSONS in their legal systems until as recently as 1927 (Canada for example).
Women’s fortunes vary in various societies depending on how easy it is for a woman to become the major bread winner. What you see in Western societies in terms of women’s liberation cannot be divorced from the transformation that took place in the economic arena which allowed the woman to go out and seek a career outside her traditional role as a housewife. Even so-called civil laws get abused in practice by either party when it comes to economic disparity between the two parties. If one party is the major bread winner, then unless it has the good will to build a life in harmony with its better half you will see abuse. You may say but this abuse doesn’t go unpunished in western societies. That is true, but it also happens at a greater cost that may include the breakup of families and at the cost of the well being of the child. Sharia laws also have arbitration mechanisms that very often resolve such conflicts more efficiently and to everyone’s best interests. I hope that you become more objective about the merits of the Sharia laws that have proven their relevance over a period of almost fifteen centuries.
On the other hand, I do not consider that showing a woman scantily clad in a media or in public as a sign of woman’s liberation. In fact, very often it would be the opposite. I know of women here in the west who would insist on wearing Muslim dress because they feel more liberated than those women who go around showing their feminine ‘assets’. If you look at the Turkish PM’s wife for example, you cannot but express admiration for her as a PERSON in addition to her elegant appearance. I remember that you once mentioned a flawed theory falsely accusing me of ‘identifying with the stronger’. I believe this theory applies in this case to those who believe that woman’s emancipation in the Muslim world can only happen by following the Western model. That is totally incorrect. Muslims have everything they need in their legal system to build a social contract among their sexes without having to emulate or borrow from the West.

April 26th, 2009, 7:42 pm


norman said:


I am not very bright , but from what I understood is that Islam gave more to women than we see today in Islamic countries , for one simple example is the right to drive , I am sure they were riding horses at that time so why can’t they drive in KSA , I think the case is that people who claim to follow Sharia laws are really not doing that and that is giving bad name to Islamic laws.

I hope i made my self clear.

April 26th, 2009, 8:05 pm


majid said:

NORMAN, you made yourself clear enough as usual.

But it is the ignorance of the one who doesn’t understand Sharia laws which is behind what you call a ‘bad name’. If he wants to dig deeper into the subject then he may succeed in relieving himself of his prejudices. If not then he can continue to live with the prejudices and he is not going to make a difference anyway.

April 26th, 2009, 8:23 pm


Majid said:

OTW, Norman, other Arabs,

You may want to buy and read this book to gain some insight into the real treasures of Islam:

Perhaps it is fortunate (and ironically unfortunate) that it is non-Arabs like the author of the book who are active uncovering the treasures hidden in Islam, while so-called Arab intellectuals are enchanted with the outward facade of a system that has proven irrelevant to Muslim societies.

April 26th, 2009, 11:42 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Majid
First of all, both my wife and I insisted that our marriage contract includes the provision of equal rights including the right to initiate divorce (3ismatuha beyadiha). So I am more than aware of that provision. We are practitioners of it.

I am not blaming every misfortune on laws. I know that other socio-economical factors exist. And i must emphasize that I am very pleased with Syria’s progress on that front, as well as with the progress made in Tunisia, Lebanon, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Morocco, among others. I am focusing on the laws because they are, to one degree or another, under government control, and if well and thoughtfully calibrated, can be changed gradually. We did not elect Barak Obama and then enacted the civil right laws, it was the other way around. The civil right laws opened up economic, educational, and service opportunities, provided for a better platform, albeit not yet ideal, and allowed the country to elect our first African American president when the time was right.

A major thrust of your argument is that Islam provides for a wide margin of freedom. I never contested that, and if true Islam is to be, one more time, the source of dignity and equality of women in Syria or other places, why would I argue against that, despite of my own preference of a fully secular society. I am arguing for the abolishment of the parts that are inconsistent with basic human rights, and I do not buy the argument that these rights are a western concept, for they have been enshrined in Islam before the west “discovered” them as you and others have demonstrated.

Dress style argument is irrelevant to our discussion. In many countries, including Syria, what a women wears has nothing to do with the degree of freedom she enjoys. Relating the two is a western myth, and many Muslim women here in the US and around the world are shattering this myth daily. I have been to a couple of commencements in which the valedictorian was a young Muslim woman wearing a scarf. I have been to a hospital, a government office, and few class rooms in which the doctor, official, professor or TA, (the figure of authority), were women with scarves. I personally take no stance on this issue because i consider it a personal freedom issue, much like, choice of religion. I take offense though with any state that forces hijab, as much as with a state that forces “sufoor”. You get my drift. However, Shirin Abadi has once chided a western journalist narrow mindedness on this issue. Her argument was that in Iran, universal hijab was an equalizer that allowed many young women from pious middle and lower middle class families to attend school and college as it removed a strong cause for parental or extended family objection. I have no reason to arguing with or against that, but what she says makes a lot of sense given the conditions prevalent before the revolution in Iran.

Finally, i am beginning to think that we should, in current discourse, separate the word Sharia from the so called Sharia laws. The former is what must be rediscovered, the latter is what has been maligned over centuries of ignorance, creeping tribalism, and bad customs that have nothing to do with Islam. What do you think of this proposal?. Does it make sense? I wish Karim gets on the wave here, he is as you are, very knowledgeable about these and many other issues.

Finally, while I like to think of myself as a secular humanist, my consciousness is definitely informed by Islam.

April 27th, 2009, 1:35 am


majid said:

Thanks OTW for the clarification. I think you and I are on the same page. We’re just saying the same thing differently.

April 27th, 2009, 2:26 am


Rua said:

FALSE INFORMATION: “Another hard-won right on the cards is the right to children of marriages between Syrian women and non-Syrian fathers to take the nationality of their mother.”


April 16th, 2014, 2:36 am


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