Muslim goes on to write about women’s rights in

Muslim faith-based organizations
(FBOs) can be of great help to Muslim feminists as they are assumed to have a
comparative advantage over secular NGOs because of their supposed ‘cultural
proximity’ within Muslim communities. There is a dire need for more literature
in this field that critically analyses the advantages and disadvantages of both
systems (FBOs and NGOs) and suggest how both systems can work together. There
is a need for NGOs to propose innovative strategies that incorporate and
integrate religious views with women’s everyday lived experiences. There is a
need to analyze the scope of the impact of such efforts through a feedback loop
within the FBO or NGO so that further efforts can be constantly re-designed
while taking into account the changes made by their efforts. Kirmani’s paper
helps in filling the gap in the literature which is an essential first step in
advocating for women’s rights in an organized fashion.



Kirmani goes on to write about
women’s rights in relation with development. Development is a difficult term to
understand and explain but Kirmani handles it in a concise and comprehensive
way. How she defines development informs the rest of the paper.

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She starts with a smart
definition and then goes into more detail about the different approaches about
development and how fundamental disagreements with religious leaders have
influenced prevailing strategies and perceptions  In all of the approaches to understanding ‘development’,
the role of religion has largely been neglected both at the theoretical and
practical levels. But as the developmental practice has
improved and evolved over the last ten years efforts have been made to increase
the role of religion in development. Kirmani analyzes the possible casual
factors for this. There has been a growing awareness amongst development theorists
of the importance of considering non-economic factors when approaching
development, especially considering the resurgence of religious practices and
beliefs. Developments practitioners are realizing that development is not
solely about statistics and quantifiable tangible goals that can be crossed off
a displayable checklist. It is about the lived experiences of those effected
particularly women and their individual relationship with their culture and


Kirmani then
analyzed the pros and cons of using Islam to promote women’s rights. Methods of approaching women’s rights advocacy in Muslim communities
generally fall into two overlapping categories: the involvement of religious
leaders as advocates and partners in the promotion of women’s rights; and the
promotion amongst women themselves of gender-sensitive analyses and
interpretations of Islamic texts and concepts. These methods have been used largely
in the areas of reproductive health and in relation to family laws, as these
are the areas in which Islam is most often invoked in order to curb women’s
rights. Religious leaders are trusted and followed so their support will
increase the credibility of such efforts. This important considering that women’s
reproductive health has been a kind of taboo in such religious conservative
societies even through the scripture talks openly about it. This is where one
must clarify the distinction between socio-cultural norms that claim to be
representative of the religion and the actual religion itself. Any religious
injunction passed must be scrutinized and derived from authentic sources. In my
opinion one of the main issues is that the primary sources of Islamic thought
are solely in Arabic which most of the common masses in the sub-continent are
not familiar with. This leads to confusion as those who translate the text also
interpret it in accordance with their own perception and give too much
weightage to the historical analysis of the text that was carried out in the
patriarchal society in which it was revealed. Some organizations mentioned in
the paper aim to educate and engage with religious readers in dynamic discussions
and hope that they will pass this knowledge to the masses. This operation seems
to be effective on paper since religious leaders are held in high regard but
might not work in practice as Islamic leaders tend to have their own hidden
agendas and motives. Development agencies must give religious leaders an
incentive to reach a compromise and assist them in their endeavors. Though
these efforts have been successful in places like Kenya and Philippines there
might be different results in the sub-continent due to socio-cultural factors
especially considering lack of education and taboos revolving around the
concepts of reproductive health and family planning. It might be a better plan
to empower women by encouraging them to adopt a more pro-active approach and
engage in gender-sensitive discourses. Especially in countries where sharia law forms the basis of all
legislation it is imperative for women to reclaim their religion and bring
about positive change from within the framework of Islam. This struggle plays
itself out not only on a global or societal level but also on a very personal
and individual level. There is a certain internal struggle that comes with
trying to reconcile one’s religious identity and one’s gender identity and
sexuality. This is not only a politically correct move but for some it is
following the true religion. It is also an effective way to communicate the
feminist message to men who may otherwise not be open to such discussions. In
my opinion the successful involvement of men depends on the cultural, political
and social nuances of Islam in that area. Many religious leaders who are men
(along with their largely male followers) are driven by extrinsic motives that
have more do with political power as compared to actual religious
enlightenment. Kirmani is assuming that the reason women underappreciated in an
Islamic context is mostly because of textual misinterpretations without giving
much weightage to the fact that such misinterpretations may be intentional and
may serve a hidden purpose. So instead of further empowering such men by
communicating through them they can be bypassed if development agencies would
shift the power and give a voice to the believing women. One can best represent
a cause if they have lived through such experiences first-hand that drives them
to struggle for their rights. One issue with this is that it may be difficult
to receive the amount of funding that already established FBOs such as Islamic
Relief receives. Dealing directly with gender sensitive issues may become
difficult depending on where the donations are coming from. The example that
Kirmani gives of a zakat based donor
agency would restrict the organization to engage in activities that are seen as
directly benefiting the poor, such as providing humanitarian relief in
emergency situations, rather than engaging in activities that do not yield
immediate results and may not align with their beliefs such as advocacy.


In conclusion,
Kirmani has written a comprehensive analytical piece that gives equal weightage
to all the different shades of this multi-dimensional issue. She correctly
states that while there can be no singular strategy for the attainment of
gender equality, those advocating for women’s rights must include but not be
confined to a concern for religion and the intersectionality of identity that
interacts with and clashes with one’s religious beliefs.