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March 11, 2013

We are celebrating Women’s Month. March 8 was Women’s Day, made possible by legislation authored by my mother, former Senator Santanina Rasul, who was not just the first Muslim woman elected to the Senate but the first Muslim ever re-elected Senator and the last Muslim Senator. These alone require that I speak up on the statement of Ismael Kiram that a woman cannot speak on weighty issues. I wonder where he got his idea about Sharia prohibiting women from being heard on substantive matters.


Women have been elected as heads of state in Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Turkey. (Unfortunately, in the United States, the home of democracy, a woman President is still but a dream.) Even in Iran, controlled by the ayatollahs, women have been elected to their parliament and constitute 9% of the members. Saudi Arabia held elections for municipal council positions in 2007 and has appointed women to senior government positions. For a monarchy with a country the democratic system of which is virtually inoperative, this is a significant event. Recently, 30 women were appointed to the Saudi Shura Council.


On March 7, two of them two women (Nihad al-Jishi and Thuraya al-Arrayed) even met their counterparts in the United Kingdom Parliament. Female membership in the Shura council is a milestone for the reform of women’s rights in conservative Saudi Arabia.


According to Thuraya, “Our role in the Shura Council is to be part of the debate about every issue raised in the Council. … where women’s voices should be heard”.


One cannot say that Iran, the center of the Shia faith, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the heart of the Sunni faith, will violate sharia.


My parents believed in equality between men and women. My mother would cite that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) married his employer, Khadija, who became one of the Holy Prophet’s trusted advisers. Another exemplar is the Queen of Sheba, who – while not a Muslim – was cited in the Qur’an (Surah 27, The Ants, or an-Naml). Historians have named her Bilqis. While the Holy Qur’an has described majority of male kings and rulers as despots, the Queen of Sheba is described as a fair and enlightened monarch.


Finding out that King Solomon or Suleyman, with a huge army, had sent a message that she submit herself to God, she consulted her generals and leaders: “She said, ‘Counsellors, give me your counsel in the matter I now face: I only ever decide on matters in your presence.’” Qur’an 27:32

The generals and counselors: “They replied, ‘We possess great force and power in war, but you are in command, so consider what orders to give us’.” Qur’an 27:33

She did not agree with the military approach and decided to offer a gift to Sulayman instead – a peaceful approach to the resolution of conflict. “She said, ‘Whenever kings go into a city, they ruin it and humiliate its leaders – that is what they do – but I am going to send them a gift, then see what answer my envoys bring back.’” Qur’an 27:34-35.


Why would the Holy Quran cite a woman ruler as a fair and enlightened monarch as well as a peacemaker, if the intent is to declare as un-Islamic the mere act of speaking on important matters? It seemed to me that a faith that had such women exemplars, cannot possibly deny women their right to participate. Thus, I find it incredible that what my parents taught us would be considered un-Islamic or a violation of sharia.

Princess Jacel Kiram, fluent and sincere, has done a wonderful job acting as a spokesperson for her father, Sultan Jamalul III. There is not a single commentator who has not been won over by the Princess, who has also earned the sympathy of millions of Filipinos who saw her on television. With all due respect, one has to ask how Ismael, the brother of Sultan Jamalul III, could do any better.


Blog AminaAmina Rasul is the president of Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy.

Follow her on Twitter @aminarasul.