Health experts from around the world gathered in Kuala Lumpur to discuss Islam and its role in Muslim women’s health.
KUALA LUMPUR: Muslims’ misunderstanding of their own religion is a major factor for the low health standards and violence among women in Islamic countries, heath experts discussed yesterday during a meeting yesterday.
One of the health issues raised at the Level Expert Consultation on Islam and Women’s Health was female genital mutilation – a procedure involving the partial or total removal of a woman’s genitalia, often performed in the name of Islam.
Professor Hamid Rushwam, the chief executive of the International Federation of Gynaecology Obstetrics, pointed out in his talk yesterday that the practice, also known as female circumcision, had its origins in Africa some 2,000 years ago rather than in Islam.
“There is actually no mention of female circumcision in the Quran [the holy text from which Muslims refer to for divine guidance] nor in any authentic hadith [the recordings of the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings, actions and tacit approvals],” he told the audience.
“The only hadith that touches upon it is weak [not verified], and we even have fatwas [juristic rulings] from Islamic scholars declaring it as not obligatory.”
Despite that, he revealed that many Muslims, particularly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, perform the surgery on the daughters between the ages of 7 and 10.
He said that in Africa alone, over 90 million girls over the age of 10 had undergone female genital mutilation, whereas 3 million were at risk.
The consequences of such a procedure range from haemorrhage, psychological trauma to infertility and even death.
Violence against women
Meanwhile, Dr Hedieh Mirahmadi, the president of the World Organisation for Resource Development and Education, highlighted in her talk the case of Muslims erroneously using a verse in the Quran to justify hitting their wives.
“Cruelty against women has become common in the Muslim world and goes hand in hand with the rise of violent extremism of every type,” she said in her talk “Violence against women and girls”.
The verse in question (4:34) states the steps a husband should take when his wife is found disloyal, and is translated by Islamic scholar Yusuf Ali as follows:
“… As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them [first], [Next], refuse to share their beds, [and last] beat them [lightly]; but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means [of annoyance]: For Allah is Most High, great [above you all].”
But Hedieh said yesterday that the Arabic word daraba, which had been translated as “beat” in the above verse, appears 58 different times within the Quran under different meanings, including “to separate”, “to oscillate” “to incline towards” and “to move”.
“There are no social considerations in this day and age to prevent us from interpreting the word daraba in 4:34 with compassion, with linguistic knowledge and with full appreciation of the context,” she said in her talk.
“A single, literal interpretation of the word is nearly impossible given the multitude of meanings and applications of the verb.”
She said that several renown scholars had issued a fatwa declaring that since the broader message of the Quran was to promote love and affection between husbands and wives, the verse 4:34 should be seen as a passage that promoted reconciliation.
“The word daraba does not mean to beat, nor admonish, but to bring the spouse closer to forgiveness and acts of compassion and love,” she quoted the fatwa.
Translating into action
The aim of the three-day consultation, jointly organised by International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), is “to study and review the evidence which can be used as a basis for advocacy, awareness, programme planning and mobilising resources to speed up progress of Muslim women’s health”.
“We want to discuss basic issues affecting Muslim women, such as why some are not allowed to go to hospitals even in times of emergency,” Dr Raj Karim, the adviser to the IPPF director-general, told FMT.
“This [consultation] is really just about the fundamental basic right to healthcare.”
Raj also pointed out that Islam does not prevent people from seeking healthcare as misunderstood by certain Muslims.
On the contrary, she said Islam asked people to seek healthcare and it was the misconceptions over the religion that were jeapordising Muslim women’s health.
“Whatever has come out of this meeting, or whatever recommendations or suggestions [that arise] will be translated into action, whether it’s for advocacy, implementation or networking,” she added.
“We want to raise it to beyond policy-makers.”
She said the culminations of the issues discussed among the experts and the next steps they would take would be announced on Monday.