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News Analysis

National Park Service Promotes 'Women's Rights in Islam'

Mon, October 7, 2013

From the National Park Service videos promoting women's rights in Islam.

From the National Park Service videos promoting women's rights in Islam.

Produced for the National Park Service, the New York-based Women’s Rights National Historical Park’s website has posted a three-video series arguing that Islam is a force for women’s rights.

In one video, we hear that:

“Seventh century A.D. Islam gave women the right to be involved in politics, the right to earn and keep her own money. Islam gave women the right to work outside of the home. Islam gave women the right to own property. Islam gave women the right to divorce. Islam gave women the right to choose who she marries. Islam gave women a whole bunch of rights that western women acquired later in the 19th and 20th Centuries. And we’ve had these rights since the Seventh Century A.D., and it’s just not acknowledged worldwide.”

A Muslim woman states, “People think that Islam oppresses women and there’s no equality, but they’re wrong.”

The first in the three-video series can be seen here. The second can be seen here.  The third can be seen here.

Viewers are left with the impression that the oppression of women in Muslim countries is rare, when it is actually the norm. Needless to say, the presentation leaves out the ideological basis for this oppression.

A look at the videos shows, for example, that viewers don’t learn about the rising problem of Female Genital Mutilation in the United States. The Clarion Project posted this informational video about FGM

Nor is the problem of honor killings in the U.S. addressed, information that is readily available. Muslim anti-Islamist activist Dr. Zuhdi Jasser documented the honor killing cases of Aiya Altameemi, age 19, of Maricopa County, AZ; and Shaima Alawadi, of El Cajon, CA.  In 2009, Noor Faleh Almaleki, 20, was run down by a car driven by her father, who thought she was “too Westernized.”

Instead, the message of the videos focuses on negative stereotypes of Islam and its adherents.

“People think of us as if we do anything wrong, even if it’s really small, everyone in the religion is the same way,” says Badia, a young girl at the AnNur Islamic School in Schenectady, NY, in one of three videos.

Under the videos shot at the AnNur School, the caption reads, “Children in Schenectady, NY discuss their experiences and challenges with negative Muslim stereotypes and assumptions.”

The videos were funded by a non-profit organization called Friends of Women’s Rights National Historical Park, not taxpayer money. The website explains the purpose of the videos is  “part of the park’s ongoing effort to share the story of the women’s rights movement and show that the fights for human and civil rights – including the freedom to worship – are struggles that continue to this day.”

Rather than having videos defending Islam’s record on women’s rights, videos are needed that will shine the light on what is really happening to women in the Muslim world. A small look around at the Muslim world shows why calls to action are so urgently needed:

Saudia Ararbia

In Saudi Arabia, it is widely known that there is a ban on women driving cars.  On September 28, Al-Arabiya reported that Saudi Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Luhaydan claimed driving "could affect" a woman’s ovaries and pelvisAl-Arabiya also reported that over 11,000 women have signed a petition calling for the freedom for women to drive.

In June, 2013, Manal al-Sharif, the “Woman Who Dared to Drive, gave this TED Talk about her bold action in support of a woman’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia.

The UK Daily Mail reported in 2011 that Saudi scholars concluded allowing women to drive would lead to more sex, pornography, prostitution, divorce and homosexuality.


In Yemen, the eight-year-old bride of a 40-year-old man died in September from internal bleeding relating to their wedding night consummation. Human Rights Watch also documented this story and proposes an end to child marriage.


The Clarion Project recently reported accounts of young Tunisian women, Chechnyan women and Al Qaeda widows traveling to Syria to wage sexual jihad. Also included were accounts of young female Syrian refugees being forced into sexual slavery, or “pleasure marriages.”


This German report documents the selling of young female Syrian refugees into sex slavery as well.


In Egypt, a 23-year-old woman, whose pro-army cell phone ringtone (“May God Reward the hands”), was recently soaked with gasoline and nearly set on fire by an Islamist male colleague.

The Muslim Brotherhood, recently ousted from power in Egypt, claimed in March that a United Nations call for women’s rights violated Sharia law.

Al-Arabiya reported “the Brotherhood said the U.N. statement undermined Islamic ethics by calling for women to work, travel and use contraception without their husbands’ permission.”


Al-Shabaab’s recent terror attack at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall has brought the Islamist group into the spotlight. In 2008, 13-year-old Asha Ibrahim Dhuhulow was stoned to death in Somalia for adultery.  Her aunt claimed she was actually gang-raped by three men.


A similar story was reported from Nigeria in August, 2013. There, another 13-year-old girl, Bariya Magazu, who was mentally disabled, was charged with zina (unlawful sexual intercourse) and publicly whipped shortly after giving birth to her child. She had been coerced into sex. After the whipping, she had to walk home alone.

Also in Nigeria, Amina Lawal was charged with adultery and sentenced to stoning in 2002. She was acquitted.


Human Rights Watch described women’s rights violations in 2010 in Indonesia, where Sharia law does not allow the association of unmarried persons of the opposite sex (seclusion).

One case was described by a woman named Rohani, whose 17-year-old daughter was visited for one hour one night by her boyfriend in 2009. While the visit was supervised by Rohani and another daughter, community members physically attacked the young man to defend the seclusion law.

The Sharia police and the regular police then detained them overnight, while never apprehending the attackers. Members of the community tried to force the couple to marry and later demanded that Rohani pay a fee for her daughter’s offense, in the form of personal goods.

The same Human Rights Watch article addressed women and compliance with Sharia-dictated attire (headscarf). Noncompliant women were stopped and threatened with punishment at roadblocks and Sharia police patrols. 

In January, controversy erupted over an Aceh province Sharia law which prohibited women straddling motorbikes.


This summer, a young woman, mother to two children, was stoned to death in Pakistan for the crime of having a cell phone.


In Malaysia, over 90% of Muslim women are victimized by FGM.


The denial of basic human rights to women is a global problem in Muslim-majority countries, and one that that Muslims and non-Muslims need to confront, not gloss over as did the National Park's Service.