Why don’t men give women the rights guaranteed to them by religion?

Published: December 10, 2015

A woman wearing a black veil. PHOTO: ALAMY

Pakistani women are playing an active role in society and have attained success in fields that were considered to be ‘no go zones’ a few years ago. Although they are taking strides towards prosperity and financial independence, further efforts need to be made in order for them to gain their share of honour and dignity.

Could you have imagined, a decade ago, that Pakistan would have scores of female fighter pilots in its Air Force?

Could you have imagined a year that Pakistan’s soil would be emboldened with the memory of a female martyr, Flying Officer Marium Mukhtiar?

Many of you are nodding your heads and patting yourselves on the back.

We have pinned up female success stories, from Malala YousafzaiSharmeen Obaid Chinoy to Benazir Bhutto, on our green and white flag and are applauding ourselves for achieving gender equality. Pakistan loves its women now. Pakistan is progressive. Pakistan is great.

Hold the applause for a few minutes while you read this article. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but somebody needs to set the narrative straight.

The fact is that the truth about women in Pakistan is highly eschewed.

There are two opposing certainties that we need to deal with and assimilate in our consciousness without contradiction and confusion.

  1. Women in Pakistan have achieved great success.

This is the part where you can breathe easy. This is the narrative that has inspired many articles and confetti showers. I will spare you the individual stories. We all know them like the back of our hands.

(Malala, Sharmeen, Benazir)

  1. Women in Pakistan are oppressed, tortured, raped and killed.

This the part where you hang your head silently in acknowledgement while the first narrative gnaws at you.

The truth is that Pakistan has seen many individual female success stories from women who have beaten the odds, persevered through horrendous circumstances and broken through the stereotypes that held them captive. However, women as a collective, still have a very dark and sordid place in Pakistan.

Women in the urban sector of the country are living a better life as compared to the ones living in the rural side. Life for the latter is very tough. They start their day well before sunrise and continue working till late in the evening – their work is considered their duty; moreover, they are also excluded from domestic decision-making processes.

It’s typical of us to make huge claims about being good, practicing Muslims, but when it comes to being fair to women we tend to turn a blind eye, or use self-created interpretations of Islamic laws, to deprive women of their rights.

Islam is the religion that formally granted women a status they had not enjoyed before. It preaches moral, spiritual and economic equality.  There are many Quranic verses, hadith and countless quotes from prominent Islamic scholars pertaining to women’s rights regarding education, marriage and divorce.

Share of property for women

Distribution of inheritance is an example where the people of Pakistan violate Quranic verses with impunity and use all possible arguments and methods to deprive a woman of her share in the property.

One of the most common arguments expressed by the brothers is that they bear all the costs of their sister’s wedding with her share of the inheritance. According to Islam, Allah (swt) grants brothers twice the share of each sister, not just for their own use but because it is required of them to look after their sisters too; and not doing so is in violation of the edicts of the Quran.

In rural areas, certain customs are followed to avoid giving women their share in the property. The worst of these practices are followed in the province of Sindh, where feudal lords marry off their women to the Holy Quran, so they property is kept within the family.

Women who are married off to the Holy Quran are moved to a secluded room where they are expected to cut ties with the outer world. This form of oppression has been in practice for decades and has not been abolished.

There have been instances where men have killed their daughters and sisters over property shares.

Does that sound like gender equality to you?


Many misconceptions about dowry also exist in our society. The preferred practice suggested by Islam is that the groom gives the mutually pre-decided haq mehar (dower from the groom) to the family of the bride for wedding preparation. This practice is followed in Muslim countries of the Gulf region but not in Pakistan. In Pakistan, unfortunately, the groom and his family are more interested in the dowry. Haq mehar, which is a gift for the bride is considered by many as the bride’s security settlement against divorce.

A relative of mine underwent acute panic when her father-in-law asked his son to pay her haq mehar on the second day of marriage. The poor girl, because of her lack of awareness, thought that her husband was paying her the haq mehar because he wanted a divorce.

Allah (swt) and the Holy Prophet (pbuh) have not encouraged vast spending when it comes to the wedding, but many of us go beyond our means to fulfil the terrible customs prevalent in society to make sure their ‘status’ is not adversely affected.

Preference for a male offspring

In the Quran, it has been clearly stated that granting a child is His prerogative, but unfortunately, a woman is made to suffer if she fails to give birth to a son.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), in numerous hadith, declared the birth of a girl a great blessing for the parents but many couples show ingratitude upon a girl’s birth, without realising that the Prophet (pbuh) promises jannah (heaven) for the parents who succeed in raising their daughters well.

Before Islam, girls were killed right after birth, and now, in the modern era, mothers abort the foetus under pressure once the sex of the child is determined.

In today’s scenario, we have many cases where daughters have proven to be better help to aging parents as compared to the sons. In search of greener pastures, often enough, men forget their duties towards their parents and their well-being.

Baby-making machine

Another problem in Pakistan is unplanned pregnancies. Couples who already have three or four children opt for abortions upon the conception of other children because they feel they can’t afford to feed an additional mouth. The lack of sex-education and, in most cases, contraceptives is the main reason behind such abortions. Not only are abortions harmful to the health of the woman in question, they can also prove to be fatal. If a woman becomes pregnant, it is the responsibility of the husband to facilitate her and allow her to give birth to the child. If a child cannot be afforded, the use of contraceptives is essential.

Polygamy in Islam

The right to four marriages is again an idea gravely misunderstood in our society. This right has been given to men under the condition that his is able to provide an identical lifestyle to each of his wives. Many a times, men use this extract as a threat to their wives without realising that under Islam she is not supposed to be in any form of detriment were he to actually marry a second, third or fourth wife. While we run to accept the first half of the commandment, we deliberately ignore the part that talks about dealing equally with each wife.

Honour killing

A few weeks ago, I was shocked to read in the newspapers that a father had killed two of his daughters because they opposed his second marriage, after the death of their mother. A similar incident happened in Karachi, where a father killed his 11-months-old daughter due to a brawl with his wife because he couldn’t find soap in the bathroom.

Islam was revealed to abolish the barbaric customs prevalent in the society but unfortunately, even today we have leaders like Israrullah Zehri, representative of Balochistan in the Senate of Pakistan, who defends the killing and burying of women alive.

During his speech in the upper house of the parliament, he defended his clan’s crime by saying,

“These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them.”

In addition to this, the Hudood Ordinance has clauses that are against Islamic principles and is responsible for depriving women of their rights in certain situations. We have examples in Islamic history where perpetrators of crimes against women received immediate punishment upon the women’s complaint, but our society is not interested in simplifying laws to give speedy justice to women and to reduce their suffering.

In rural areas, a common problem is that the nikkah (marriages) and divorces are not registered. Many husbands divorce their wives verbally and women are sent to jail for marrying other men after the divorce, as the jealous ex-husband files a complaint to the police claiming that he had never really divorced her in the first place.

In most cases, due to the unavailability of evidence, the woman and the second husband serve the punishment. The misuse of the law in such cases has made it an instrument of oppression in the hands of vengeful former husbands and other members of the society.

The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act 2006 provided some relief to women, but a long struggle still awaits us in giving women their due rights to get timely justice. Many laws are passed against the customs of vani and swara, in which the girl suffers. However, no concrete steps have been taken to completely abolish the barbaric customs.

People, for their own vested interests, hide or distort Islam and promote a negative image of the religion. They confuse the followers who lack religious knowledge and also allow the global community to malign Muslims.

Islam is the religion that was unveiled to eradicate the laws of illiteracy practiced against women for 1,400 years, but sadly medieval customs have prevented this from happening. Despite the Holy Quran asking Muslims to embrace Islam completely, many men only comply with edicts that meet their standards of suitability.

I hope the media, a powerful tool in our society, and religious scholars, belonging to all sects, start playing an effective role in creating awareness regarding women’s rights. Let’s hope we can all make an effort to ensure that women – all of them, not just a select few – get the justice they deserve.

Khurram Zia Khan

Khurram Zia Khan

The writer is the media manager of Asiatic Public Relations and tweets @KhurramZiaKhan (twitter.com/KhurramZiaKhan)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • wb

    The very fact that one looks for women’s rights in religion instead of plain common sense, general knowledge and science proves that he/she is an extremist of any religion that he/she follows.

    Religion – in some cases – is believed to be direct word from GOD.

    Why then, does religion poorer, weaker than common sense? If there was no compulsion in religion, everyone would be an atheist. And atheism (which should not be an -ism) gives the best rights to humans.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    Why are we taking Malala, Sharmeen & Benazir? Seriously Benazir? One of the most corrupt politicians known to Pakistan and wife to 10%?Recommend

  • Abuzar Jamil

    All these things will only be clear to us if we study Quran for the sake of guidance from ALLAH. The current trend of reading it in Ramadan for sawab and for wazifa which are to obtain worldly gains has corrupted us socially and mostly we fail to implement the true message of Quran in our social routines.Recommend

  • Time Is Up

    Please change title from “..religion?” to “Islam?”. Because your discussion only covers Islam, not other faiths.Recommend

  • Nael

    Why should anyones rights even only be limited to those given by religion. Its true religious rights were revolutionary when they appeared over a thousand years ago but society has evolved and we know we can do better now.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Why is this misinformation and distortion being propagated? There is no religion on earth that gives the same rights to women as men. All religions were made and dominated by men and they will always favor themselves at the expense of women. That is why not too many religions have female Gods. Abrahamic religions are more culpable than others. For every single verse you can quote that ‘favors’ women, there are 10 others that don’t. Please don’t cherry pick to prove a point. The extremists do the same thing.Recommend

  • zoro
  • anon

    Those eyes……. <3Recommend

  • UtkarshSinghNain

    Or, you know, you could enforce secular laws and give women the same rights as men.Recommend

  • Sane

    Very correct.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Your misogyny shows blatantly.Recommend

  • siesmann

    So true.There comes a time when God has to be retired.I know He/She won’t mind-he/she knows how His/her name is being caluminized.Recommend

  • Jahanzeb Awan

    Women are not dependent upon men for any rights. Men have usurped the rights of women but men surely cannot give or grant any rights upon women. Please correct the title of your article! Jahanzeb AwanRecommend

  • Abuzar Jamil

    Islam is the pure and final true version of all the faiths.Recommend

  • Abuzar Jamil

    There is no compulsion in religion.Recommend

  • Azmat Ali

    This is all a futile debate in an illiterate society such as Pakistan’s. Go to Pakistani cities. The general populace lives almost like any other global city. The women work, they go out and have fun, they bring up families and take care of their homes.
    What is perceived as religious persecution of women, by men, is simply the irrational and jingoistic use of religion by an illiterate populace that, for the most part, still dwells in the stone age, intellectually. People who live on subsistence farming, who have no real education to speak of, no exposure to the world beyond their day-to-day struggle to survive; those people cannot be expected to accept and adopt the liberal and moderate norms of the global village.
    Stop bad mouthing the religion, any religion, and start addressing the social inequities. A sea change in attitudes and behavior is only a generation away.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    We don’t like to follow corrupt people. Find a Mother Teresa and we all will follow her.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “Why don’t men give women the rights guaranteed to them by religion?”

    As soon as you bring religion into anything that has to do with freedom, you lose the argument. Religion is about control atleast the way it is being used now a days.Recommend

  • ارشد حسین

    @siesmann and @wb I think God cannot be retired but some of the people who wanted him retired have become RETARDED.Recommend

  • ارشد حسین

    When women started to take all labour jobs, Political Domination, Lead Think Tanks, Expert Drivers, Expert Cook, etc etc equivalent to men in WEST. We will think to accept it in EAST.Recommend

  • Erum Mashood

    Quite well expressed and detailed write up on women”s rights !! Goodjob !
    No doubt islam is the only religion that has given and stressed so much on womens rights but unfortunately muslim men have exploited it thus making women financially weak so couldnt speak up for her rights! Read a detailed article recently in a magazine which gave a census of women in jails for years and dont have enough to hire lawyers even who can speak for them. Pity on this nationRecommend

  • Aalia Suleman

    Agree totally. To answer the question in the title, men do not give women their rights because of their ignorance of religious texts and lack of education. Religion is taken for granted and, for the most part, only transferred through word of mouth in our society. Hence, if the father thought that women should be beaten, the son will do the same even if he is a great maulana. He will not study what exactly the Quran and the Sunnah have to say about it. Religious values in our country are primarily culturally inherited traits and habits rather than self-studied, pondered over, and adopted ways of living a life and treating people. Hope that answers your question Mr. Khurram Khan.Recommend

  • Simla

    I think the advertisement by ‘SecondWife.com’ tells me more about women’s right in a certain religion.Recommend

  • wb

    Was that supposed to be a funny quip? Or was that supposed to be smart?

    Your line reads like Rahman Malik hosting Saturday Night Live. A mumbling, bumbling buffoonery.Recommend

  • Abuzar Jamil

    If the true word is preserved by ALLAH, than we should seek guidance from it. It is preserved for a reason for the whole of humanity.Recommend

  • Xyz

    Ha ha ha!!!! Said only by Muslims! Please get out of this narrow mindedness….it borders on ridiculous.Recommend

  • Xyz

    Religion … Especially organised religion….has always been about control…. All through the history Someone has always exploited people’s fear and insecurities by touting religion for personal gain.Recommend

  • siesmann

    What you say is not untrue.But if the mouthpieces of one’s religion insist on women to be subjugated,none is willing to accept your version of the truth.Recommend

  • ارشد حسین

    Neither your comment funny nor smart… Recommend

  • maynotmatter

    Imagine your frustration when after your death you realize there is no jannat nor jhanoom…….just void….lights off…..nothing. How much absolutely deceived you would feel that you lived in the notion of following God or Allah or Bhagwan whatever you want to call and in the end realize it was all “man made”. Every form of the “All Mighty” through various religion asks you to be a better man, with your comments and dogmatic thinking, do you feel that you are a better man ? …Think about it. Cheers.Recommend

  • maynotmatter

    Expand your thinking man. Such dogmatic thinking only reflects blind belief. true beliefs do not make such insecure statements.Recommend

  • maynotmatter

    Very simple tool called google will help you see that Vedic time in Hinduism was even better when it came to equal rights of sexes. It was post Mughal invasion that all forms of social evil like veils and sati came into being. Hindus had to start forcing their daughters to stay home to save from muslim invaders. And if the author is cherry picking the point why is Saudi Arabia the land of Mecca-Medinah forcing strict laws on it’s women including no freedom to drive.Recommend

  • Abuzar Jamil

    The fact that QURAN confirms the arrival of previous Messengers and the fact that QURAN and the last Messenger (PBUH) are a way of guidance for the whole of humanity and the fact that ALLAH says this in the QURAN too and the fact that QURAN is in the same shape as it was 1400 years ago and the fact that for a person to be Muslim, it is compulsory that he acknowledges the previous Messengers as Messengers of ALLAH. These are enough reasons for me to think like this and believe in them. There are more, if you want me to write them down for you than please let me know.Recommend

  • http://khailaurkhilari.wordpress.com Khurram Zia Khan

    Sati is part of Hindu culture and it is stopped by Mughals. You have lot of misconceptions about Muslims and Mughal’s rule. Islam in sub continent not spread by force but due to good behavior of Muslims and also because of the efforts made by Sufi saintsRecommend

  • http://khailaurkhilari.wordpress.com Khurram Zia Khan

    Please read Quran and Hadees carefully. Islam did not suppress women. Prophet emphasize that education of women is more important than men. Rights like share in inheritance and few others which women don’t have were granted to them in IslamRecommend

  • Jayman

    If you get past your brainwashing and take the trouble to research the subject, Islam was created after taking bits from Christianity and others. It came much later and it represses its followers like no other. It is “pure” alright.Recommend

  • ارشد حسین

    Ha Ha Ha. I can see your frustration. Think ! If you find yourself in Jahannam. Think Again for me ! If there is no Jannat or Jahannum then why should i frustrate, but always happy for not going on jahannum.Recommend

  • Abuzar Jamil

    I did my research brother. But if we talk about bits and pieces and you do your research and study Bible than you will find out that Christianity(one given to Prophet Jesus not today’s Paulism) was created by taking bits from Judaism, similarly before that, Judaism was created by taking bits from teachings of Abrahamic Sects. Making it easy for you, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all part of Abrahamic Sects and they all teach one thing which is fundamental for all of them and that is the Oneness of ALLAH. Same was the case in sects before that but the point is that you will not find one true uncorrupted versions of those religions, they got polluted over time and the one unpolluted and uncorrupted evidence of Islam is Quran and Hadith. Please study Quran than you will know what I am talking about. You may be confused that I am using the word sect for Islam, Christianity and Judaism, don’t be because Religion is the same from Adam to Muhammad(PBUH), different teachings given to humans through Prophets over a period of time resulted in the formation of different sects.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Christianity teaches the “Oneness of ALLAH”? Are you even serious?? Your religion plagiarized from other religions and if you understand chronology, you will know which came first. The plight of nations that follow your religion is there for all to see. I rest my case. I don’t even want to reply to your definition of the word “sect”. It is ludicrous beyond belief.Recommend

  • Simla

    Muslim invaders came to India to plunder. What good behaviour is that. Sati was not stopped by Mughals. Try Google before you post nonsense.Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    “Why don’t men give women the rights guaranteed to them by religion?”

    It is because of culture, not religion.Recommend

  • Jayman

    …except your own religion. The penalty for apostasy (leaving a religion) is death in Islam. Recommend

  • Rajiv

    It’s your ‘opinion’ , other people may have different views.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    So you need a religion to tell you that women should be given basic human rights.

  • Jayman

    I have read it. Read verse 4:24 and 33:50.Recommend