Ruined by Reading

My Take on The Doha Debates & Muslim Women’s Freedom To Marry

Posted in Feminism, Religion by M on June 15, 2009

Click here to watch The Doha Debates – Muslim Women’s Freedom To Marry

Should Muslim women have the right to choose who they marry? Of course. I highly doubt many intellectuals would say no. This debate addresses this issue. Asra Nomani and Muhammad Habash argued that Muslim women should have the right to marry anyone they want, while Thuraya Al Arrayed and Yasir Qadhi argued that they should not be allowed to marry who they want.

Before you start thinking Thuraya Al Arrayed and Yasir Qadhi are horrible people, I should say that the topic title is a bit misleading. I really dislike how the question was posed: Do you think women should have the right to choose who they can marry? Although both sides address the issue of forced marriages, the debate is actually about whether or not Muslim women can marry non-Muslim men (or other women, for that matter).

Asra Nomani starts by talking extensively about how Muslim women are oppressed by forced marriages, which is true, but not really what this is all about, and not something that anyone on the panel disagreed with. She says that women should have the right to choose to marry absolutely anyone, regardless of religious prohibition. She argues the social aspect of the issue.

Muhammad Habash agrees with Nomani but attempts to address it from a religious perspective by saying that the traditional interpretation of the topic (Muslim women can’t marry non-Muslim men) is wrong. Personally, I don’t think he has the knowledge or qualifications for this.

On the other side is Yasir Qadhi, who agrees with Nomani’s point about forced marriages – they are wrong, against Islam, and it’s wrong that people use Islam to excuse it when it’s a cultural practice. But he also says that as a Muslim, you are to submit to the will of God and follow the rules and one of those rules is that Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslim men.

Thuraya Al Arrayed argued the social aspect as well, stressing that the acceptance and permission of the family is of utmost importance in a marriage. She also says that Islam gives women a right to choose within certain limits, which means Muslim women can’t marry non-Muslims.

For starters, I like that both sides had a female voice instead of a woman’s issue being talked about solely by men, as is often the case. But Yasir Qadhi is really the only person I agreed with in this debate. I felt that Nomani and Habash were too liberal to the extreme on one side, and even Al Arrayed was a little too traditional for me on the other.

I agree with almost nothing that Nomani says. At around 37:59 she accuses Qadhi of belittling women’s minds and the “you’ve got to be kidding me” look on the face of the girl in the gray hijab is priceless. (Or at least, I’d like to think that’s what she’s thinking.) I thought she was being pretty unfair to him and what he said throughout the entire debate, actually.

I’m all for moderation. I consider myself to be a feminist and a Muslim, but as a Muslim there are certain rules and guidelines that I hold myself to. One of those is that as a Muslim woman, I can’t marry a non-Muslim man. If you get rid of all the beliefs that go along with Islam, then what is left? Ultimately it is a personal choice, but I dislike it when people try to assert that Islam allows women to marry non-Muslim men.

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8 Responses

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  1. Elizabeth said, on June 19, 2009 at 4:05 am

    Fascinating topic. As a feminist, of course my knee-jerk reaction is that any woman should be able to marry whomever she chooses. But I also agree that, as a Muslim woman, you should have the choice to follow the tenets of your faith, which decrees that you cannot marry a non-Muslim. Things are never quite as black and white as they seem….

  2. Sunday Salon: Long Time, No See « said, on July 5, 2009 at 6:07 am

    […] to do with my blog. I discussed the issue of Muslim women and marriage, and the Doha debate on it here. I also discussed my decision to wear hijab, and the issue of working and independence while […]

  3. […] my reaction to the Doha Debate on women’s choice to marry whomever they want, it should be apparent that I really don’t like Asra Nomani. Which is cool, because I’m […]

  4. […] my reaction to the Doha Debate on women’s choice to marry whomever they want, it should be apparent that I really don’t like Asra Nomani. Which is cool, because I’m […]

  5. j.doe said, on July 31, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    I think the essence of the problem is in the last paragraph of your article. You see, you may think that as a Muslim woman, you can not marry a non-Muslim man. That is your right. But you will also have to tolerate if not respect, that not every Muslim female or male holds this interpretation to be true. Whether it is a tenet of Islam or not, is quite open to discussion. Even if you disagree with that.

    So when you dislike that other Muslims try to assert the exact opposite, they most likely feel the same way, when other people ie. yourself assert who they can or can not marry, because at the end of the day it is a matter of interpretation and these are relative depending on who you ask.

    Islam is very abstract on many issues, basic and complicated ones. Many think so, while many find it (Islam) to map out every single action with precision and rigidity. Two different opinions parted only by the multitude of the opinions inbetween. Tolerance needs to be enforced not one way but both ways.

    Nobody enjoys the right to define “orthodox Islam”. And even selfproclaimed followers of orthodox islam have their own interpretations of things. This is unavoidable. Afterall that is why you have sectarian differences.

    Instead of focusing on what will be left if this or that is removed or addressed differently, it would be better if tolerance was practised rather than the arrogance when it comes to religious views on matters. Because what Islam is or is not, can be answered in different ways.

    So it would be great if one could open ones mind to the extent where it is “live and let live”. Muslims are not a homogenous group and this should be remembered even when dealing with seemingly “simple” issues. As long as nobody is forcing you to do this, there should not be a problems. Judgementalness and arrogance are paralyzing illnesses among Muslims today and effectively a threat to co-existance.

    I regret this got perhaps too long.

    Nice blog btw! I have decided to take up reading and will start off with your to read list.

  6. Rakib said, on September 29, 2009 at 9:18 am

    Im a muslim boy. I want to know that, can i marry my mothers causin sis. Please let me know the muslim rules..

    • ruinedbyreading said, on September 29, 2009 at 4:41 pm

      From a male’s perspective, women he is permanently forbidden to marry are:

      * Father’s wives
      * Mothers and above (i.e. grandmothers, great grandmothers etc, maternal or paternal)
      * Daughters and below (i.e. granddaughters, great granddaughters etc)
      * Sisters (regardless of whether it be one’s real sister, sister with whom your mothers are the same but fathers different or whether it be a sister with whom your fathers are the same but mothers different)
      * Aunts (i.e. one’s mother’s/father’s sister, again regardless of whether it be their real sister, sister with whom their mothers are the same but fathers different or whether it be their sister with whom their fathers are the same but mothers different)
      * Nieces (i.e. daughters of brother/sister regardless of whether they be one’s real brother/sister, brother/sister with whom your mothers are the same but fathers different or brother/sister with whom your fathers are the same but mothers different)
      * Foster Mother (i.e. lady by whom one was breast fed before the age of two)
      * Foster Sister (i.e. a female who was breast fed by the same lady as one was)
      * Mother-in-law and above (i.e. grandmother-in-law, great grandmother-in-law etc, maternal or paternal)
      * Daughter of wife from another marriage (with the condition that both husband and wife have been alone together)
      * Daughter-in-law and below (i.e. son’s wife, grandson’s wife etc)

      Your mother’s cousin’s sister is still technically you’re cousin, and you can marry your cousin. But you can ask your imam or something just to be sure if you want.


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