JEDDAH, 25 May 2007 — Family problems such as divorce and domestic violence are difficult to face in predominantly Muslim countries let alone in the West. Many Muslim men and women in the US are confused or ignorant about their rights in Islam and fail to incorporate them or follow them in resolving their problems. Add to that the negative stereotypes about Islam regarding women and human rights, especially after Sept. 11, and the conundrum of American Muslims becomes obvious.
“Muslim women face many problems regarding family issues such as abuse,” said Azizah Al-Hibri, professor of law at the University of Richmond. Al-Hibri in 1993 founded “Karamah,” a Muslim women lawyers’ human rights group that aims to give voice to Muslim women — who are generally perceived to be oppressed — and defend Islam by explaining its true tenets.
“Our main activity is educational. There is ignorance about Islam and confusion between traditions and religious rulings among Muslims themselves, who bring these convictions with them from their original countries,” Al-Hibri told journalists at the US Consulate here on Wednesday. She is in Saudi Arabia meeting women and talking about NGOs in the US and about Karamah.
Karamah, which means dignity, is a charitable and educational organization that focuses on the domestic and global issues of human rights for Muslims. It is committed to research, education and advocacy work in matters pertaining to Muslim women and human rights in Islam, as well as civil rights and other related rights under the US constitution. Karamah has expanded its activities to Europe as well and has also established the Network of Muslim Jurists to discuss issues pertaining to Islamic jurisprudence among Muslim scholars.
“We cooperate with judges, lawyers, civil societies and university professors. We also serve as expert witnesses in cases concerning divorce of a Muslim couple, for example because the judge wants to know more about mahr (dowry) in Islam,” said Al-Hibri.
She added that after 9/11, cases of domestic violence among Muslims increased perhaps due to the pressures they are under. With regard to this, Karamah is creating awareness about Islam’s stand on abuse and giving sensitivity training to social workers, police and lawyers. It is also helping abused women get help. Karamah also tries to help reach agreements in divorces or problems of mixed marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Karamah considered establishing Islamic courts in the 1990s to act as arbitration courts but decided against that. “I think that there aren’t enough qualified personnel to work in them. It is too early for this idea,” she said.
Al-Hibri, who teaches Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) on financial and family matters in Richmond, is currently completing a book on the Islamic marriage contract in American courts. She has traveled extensively in the Muslim world in support of Muslim women’s rights and has acted as consultant to the Supreme Council for Family Affairs in Qatar in the development of that country’s personal status code.
“I think that Islamic fiqh is deeper and better than Western codes of law. I don’t prefer that the state codifies Islamic law because it would depend on and enforce one school of Islamic teachings. I think it is better to allow for the diversity of Islamic teachings,” she said.