Late last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a family law bill that the Afghan parliament passed with an overwhelming majority. The United Nations has stated that this law "legalizes rape within marriage and bans wives from stepping outside their homes without their husbands' permission."
The Muslim Public Affairs Council decries the practice of forcing obedience onto women and believes that it is a cultural, patriarchal and un-Islamic practice. This law effectively forces women to get their husband's permission before looking for a job, going to the doctor, or receiving education, and grants custody of children to fathers and grandfathers only. Senator Humaira Namati, a member of the upper house of the Afghan parliament, said the law was "worse than during the Taliban. Anyone who spoke out was accused of being against Islam."
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressed her concerns and objections about this law directly to Afghan President Karzai and President Obama: "I was deeply concerned because I do not think it reflects the values of the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan" and that "this was a law that does impose harsh restrictions on women and children." ?
While it may be that President Karzai quickly signed the bill into law in order to garner support in the upcoming presidential elections, he is fundamentally denying equal protection under the law to both men and women, a direct contradiction of the teachings of the Quran. Specifically, the Quran says, "O you who have attained to faith! It is not lawful for you to [try to] become heirs to your wives [by holding onto them] against their will" (4:19).
"Silence guarantees disastrous consequences for the rights of women around the world," said MPAC Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati. "While politicians play politics with Islamic law, women continue to pay the price."
Afghanistan's new law is just one of a series of recent developments that seriously undermine women's rights for millions. Over the weekend, a video turned up on the Internet of a 17-year old girl being mercilessly beaten in public by the Taliban in the Swat valley of the Northwest Frontier Province in Pakistan.
In response to the Taliban beating, President Asif Ali Zardari issued a strong condemnation and ordered an investigation on the matter. However, it was President Zardari who recently signed a peace deal with the Taliban in Swat to enforce penalties and sentences under the auspices of "sharia law."
The United States must not allow President Karzai to forget that the constitution and various international treaties signed by Afghanistan guarantee equal rights for women. The Afghan government is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines equality in dignity and rights regardless of religion or sex. Article 22 of the Afghan Constitution also explicitly reiterates the equality of men and women before the law.
Similarly, the United States government must not allow militants in Pakistan to hijack the judicial system to serve their own benefit -- this will inevitably trigger horrendous consequences for the women and children of these regions.
We, as Americans, must remind ourselves and Muslims around the world that the principles of human rights must be upheld in any law emanating from sharia and not induce cultural and gender bias into juristic interpretation.
As noted by Dr. Maher Hathout in his book "In Pursuit of Justice: The Jurisprudence of Human Rights in Islam":
"The fact that this misogynistic juristic tradition, for example, citing women as being deficient in intellect, or insisting on absolute wifely obedience to her husband, has arisen is noteworthy, since it runs counter to the Qur'anic message of equality of the sexes with regard to marriage."