Sunday, October 16, 2011

Expat women struggle for rights granted by religion - Arab News

JEDDAH: Many expatriate women in the Kingdom suffer in their quest to deal with Khula (the Islamic right of a woman to divorce or separate from her husband under certain circumstances), child custody and other marital affairs.

Indian, Pakistani and Filipino women are afraid to speak about their suffering marriages in public due to the social stigma related to divorce. They feel they lack credibility in comparison to men.

Mahira Tahir, a 38-year-old Indian living in Jeddah, told Arab News, “My first fear is that I will not be believed. Our culture and society rooted have a way of disregarding women suffering, and most men get away with all their wrongdoing.”

According to her, most women who have problems at home and apply for Khula do not get their rights. “Men usually do not allow a separation, and there is no consequence for them. If I were Saudi, I feel I could have obtained my rights more easily, and honestly, I do not want to go to the embassy to defame my family. Why isn't there an easier way for expat women to escape this turmoil?”

Sultan Hisham, a 39-year-old Saudi married to an expat says he feels pity for men who do not give women their right to divorce.

“Women might be known to be hasty, but so are men,” says Iman Khalid, an Indian executive living in Jeddah. “Yes, I believe we should be given a period to reconcile, but what after that? What if I can't stand the man at all? Islam has given me the right to move out.”

Iman thinks that no man should interfere with God's law.

In the Holy Qur'an, Allah says, “So when they have reached their prescribed time retain them with kindness or separate them with kindness, and call to witness two just ones from among you.” (65:2)

Iman thinks that society should look at the injunction the way it is. “Allah uses the word ‘kindness,’ but in our culture, divorce is looked upon with respite, as if it were evil and unforgivable.”

The Indian expatriate wonders, “If it is OK in the eyes of the Almighty, then who are we to judge?”

Hamdan Khalid, a 33-year-old Saudi engineer, believes no woman should be kept within the confines of a house when the couple are not compatible. Instead, he thinks women should contact their embassies and get an official decision endorsed. “If at all it is not possible, it is allowed in Islam and you should keep trying in courts. Even though it might take a lot more time, do not give up on your struggle to what is your fundamental religious right.”

Islam preaches peace and supports women through laws prescribed to them in the Qur’an and Sunnah. “My religion gives women their rights, but the system and people work against it, abusing the meaning of the holy text,” says Shaista Iqbal, a 49-year-old Pakistani doctor in Jeddah. She feels men in power and those preaching have to hold the noblest character. “But in India and Pakistan, women have lost trust in masked preachers who issue fatwas (religious laws or decrees) for their own convenience.”

According to the Qur’an, there is no supremacy for men or women in the spiritual sense. “Contrary to popular belief, women are liberated in Islam. It is just that women should learn more about their rights and fight for them,” says Lubna Fahim, a 46-year-old Indian woman who married a Saudi living in Jeddah. She thinks women should not be dictated rules that may not be true, but believe in what Allah says, for it is the only truthful way.

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