A Declaration of the Rights of Women in Islamic Societies

This originally appeared in the Fall, 1997 issue of Free Inquiry

If you feel that you agree with the main points of the following Declaration, please add your name to it.  Show the Declaration to as many people as possible, and get them to sign as well.


We, the undersigned, believe that the oppression of women anywhere in the world is an offence against all of humanity and an impediment to social and moral progress. 


We therefore cannot ignore the oppression of women by orthodox and fundamentalist religions. History shows that these religions were devised and enforced by men claiming divine justification for the subordination of women. We cannot forget that the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, with the Torah, the Bible and the Koran as their respective holy texts, consider women to be inferior to men physically, morally, and intellectually. 

We also note that, whereas women in many countries have largely succeeded in improving their lot, their sisters in the Islamic world, and even within Islamic communities in the West, have been unable to rise above the inferior position imposed upon them by centuries of Islamic custom and law. 

We have watched as official Islamisation programs in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, the Sudan, and Afghanistan, among others, have led to serious violations of the human rights of women. Muslim conservatives in all Muslim countries, and even in nominally secular India, have refused to recognize women as full, equal human beings deserving of the same rights and freedoms as men. 

Whilst Islam may not be the sole factor in the repression of women, and local, social, economic, political, and educational forces as well as the persistence of pre-Islamic customs must be taken into account, nevertheless, Islam and the application of the Sharia, Islamic law, remain major obstacles to progress in the rights and status of women. 

Women in many Islamic societies lack personal autonomy. Before marriage they are under the tutelage of their father or other male relative. They are expected to marry a husband chosen by their family, obey their husbands, bring up children, stay at home, and avoid participation in public life. At every stage of their lives, they are denied freedom of choice. They may be forbidden to acquire an education, prevented from getting a job, and thwarted from exploring their full potential as members of the human community. 

We therefore declare that ... 

1. The subordinate place of women in Islamic societies should give way to full social and legal equality. 

2. Women should have freedom of action, be able to travel alone, be permitted to uncover their faces, and should be allowed the same property and inheritance rights as men. 

3. No girl or woman should be subject to ritual mutilation of her person.

4. No girl should be forced into marriage, and no girl should be permitted to marry until fully physically mature. Every woman should be free to marry a man of her own choice without permission from a putative guardian or parents, or to remain single if that is her choice. Muslim women should be free to marry non-Muslims. They should be free to divorce and be entitled to maintenance in the case of divorce. 

5. Women should have equal access to education, equal opportunities for higher education, and be free to choose their subjects of study. They should be free to choose their own work and should be allowed to fully participate in public life-from politics and sports to the arts and sciences.

6. Every woman should be free to enjoy all of the rights enshrined in the relevant UN Covenants. 

To achieve these basic human rights for women, we call upon all governments:

1. To institute a civil state and a uniform code of civil laws separate from and independent of religious institutions, but allowing free choice of religious belief and practice. 

2. To bring questions of women's rights and status out of the religious sphere and into the sphere of the civil state.

3. To enact a uniform civil code under which men and women have equality.

4. To pass legislation to enshrine the rights of women as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

And in the name of justice, for the sake of human progress, and for the benefit of all the wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers of the world, we call upon all societies to respect the human rights of women. 

  • Reza Afshari, Iran, Political Scientist
  • Sadik al Azm, Syria, Philosopher
  • Mahshid Amir-Shahy, Iran, Author, Social Critic, and Founder of the Defense League for Rushdie, France
  • Masud Ansari, Iran, Physician, Author, United States
  • Bahram Azad, Iran, Scholar, Physician, United States
  • Parvin Darabi, Scholar, Homa Darabi Foundation, United States
  • Khalid Duran, Professor of Political Science, Editor and Founder of TransState Islam, Founder of the Ibn Khaldun Society, United States
  • Ranjana Hossain, Executive Director of the Assembly of Free Thinkers, Bangladesh
  • Mustafa Hussain, Sudan, Advisory Board, Ibn Khaldun Society, United States
  • Ramine Kamrane, Iran, Political Scientist, France
  • Ioanna Kucuradi, Philosopher, Turkish Human Rights Commission and Secretary General, International Federation of Philosophical Societies, Turkey
  • Luma Musa, Palestine, Communications Researcher, United Kingdom
  • Taslima Nasrin, Bangladesh, Author, Physician, Social Critic
  • Hossainur Rahman, India, Social Historian, Columnist, Asiatic Society of Calcutta
  • Siddigur Rahman, Bangladesh, Former Research Fellow, Islamic Research Institute
  • Armen Saginian, Iran, Editor, Publisher, United States
  • Anwar Shaikh, Pakistan, Author, Social Critic, United Kingdom
  • Ibn Warraq, India, Author, Why I Am Not a Muslim, United States

Identifications include countries of origin and current residence. Affiliations listed for identification only.