Opposition to Women's Political Rights in Kuwait
London, 24 May 1999
All rights reserved.
While welcoming the decision by the Kuwaiti Amir, Shaikh Jabir As-Sabah to
reinstate women's right to participate in the democratic process, Liberty
for the Muslim World is dismayed by opposition to this decision, which is
said to emanate from within certain Islamic circles inside Kuwait.
Rather than criticising the decision to permit women's participation in
political life, Islamists would have been expected to oppose, as a matter
of principle, denying women their legitimate right not only to vote but
also to be nominated to parliament if this is what any of them desires to
do. Denying women the right to actively participate in the administration
of state and society and in decision-making at all levels has been
considered by a number of renowned contemporary Islamic jurists and
thinkers a violation of a fundamental Islamic value. For, as is evident
from both doctrine and practice, Islam holds both men and women equally
responsible for carrying out the injunction of enjoining good and
forbidding evil; a principle whose materialisation in modern life is best
accomplished through democratic procedure.
Liberty is astounded by the current opposition to women's political
participation at a time when women have accomplished great successes in
every single sphere of economic and social activity. Kuwaiti women in
particular, and Arab women in general, have achieved high standards of
education, have been actively engaged in business and have held senior
administrative posts in both private and public sectors. It is just
unacceptable, and illogical, that all such activities are permitted and
lawful whereas political activity is forbidden or prohibited.
Liberty for Muslim World regrets that opposition to women political rights
is attributed to Islam whose heritage is full of examples that point to
effective and valuable political activity on the part of women especially
during the Prophet's era and the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphate. It
is true, however, that such activity took forms that were congruent with
local custom and recognised norms. But, above all, Islam in principle does
not prohibit women from political activity that is permissible to men.
Liberty appeals to those who protest granting women political rights on
religious grounds to reconsider their positions by reviewing the manner in
which they arrived at such a conclusion. Out of fairness to Islam and
women, they ought to distinguish between the male tendency in certain Arab
societies to restrict some spheres of public activity to men and the
Islamic position vis-à-vis the participation of women in public life. It
may be helpful for such purposes to engage in an open and clam dialogue
and to avoid resorting to fatwa-issuing as a means of silencing those who
Liberty for the Muslim World
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