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Women and Islam

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Religious institution has a profound impact on any and every society. Social norms, mores, and expectations are mostly defined by our belief systems, even if we ourselves don't practice a religion. Government too is always based on common agreement upon what is right and wrong, and who is to rule. A society can experience violent opposition and revolutions because of radical religious groups. There's no doubt about it. In any society, small or large, primitive or modern, religious institution plays a leading role. Islam is no exception. This paper will explore three critical aspects of Islamic society. The first is Democracy. Just how incompatible is an Islamic society with democracy? Secondly, how are women treated by Islamic society? Are they treated as equal to men, and why? Lastly, is Islam conducive to human rights? Is this reflected by Islamic governments? All of these questions and more will be considered in the following.

It's definitely not the first time it's been asked. Can Democracy really function in an Islamic society? Some say yes, some say no. But the answer doesn't seem to be quite so black and white. The Muslim countries in the world today are all different, and all have or have had different relationships with democracy. In order to better understand the answer to this question, we must look at some of the factors that influence the relationship between Islam and Democracy. According to Daniel E. Price, there are seven major categories of influences on the relationship between Islam and Democracy. These are historical influences, regime strength, regime strategy for dealing with political Islam, Islamic political groups, modernization/economics/demographics, politicized sectarian, ethnic, linguistic, or class cleavages, and minority religious groups.

In history, there have been several notable aspects of society that have influence on Muslim countries. Colonialism has obviously induced a sort of backfiring from Radical Islam, and it is for this reason that most Muslim Countries that have had a history of Colonialism have a stronger presence of Radical Islam. These countries include Algeria, Syria, and Egypt. There is a stronger lingering hostility toward ideas attributed to the West (liberalism and democracy) and Westernized classes because of their association with the former colonial overlords. (Price, 1999:138). International conflict such as defeats in wars contribute to humiliation for many Muslim groups, and exacerbates their Radicalism. Also, enforced secularization of a government has historically enraged groups and caused them to typically resort to violence.

When authoritarian regimes can't control societies, it has a negative impact on democracy. A weak regime can be a result of things such as an unstable or ineffective bureacracy and economy, rapid social change of any kind, and often dependence on other world powers such as the United States.

It is quite evident when looking at history that the strategy of a regime to control its people is a deciding factor in whether Democracy will be a result. When studying past Regime strategies, it's obvious that whenever repression is used, some form of Anarchy, revolution, or Authoritarianism will result. This was the case in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and partially in Iran and Algeria. Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, and partially Iran and Algeria all used some form of accommodation

or co-optation and all resulted in some form of Democracy. Clearly a repressive regime is not conducive to Democracy, while accommodation

is. It is evident that repression nearly always results in authoritarianism and violence. This is often the case in Muslim countries. If a government is a secular government, the anger of the Islamic political groups will be exacerbated even further.

Islamic political groups have an enormous impact on a regime. Islamic political groups inside Muslim countries will not hesitate to let the government know if it's not happy with any part of it. Foreign governments are not exempt from their outpours of anger, as the United States has learned all too well. Islamic political groups as religious institutions do not seem to be comfortable with the idea of Democracy, but if a government is not repressive, and is very friendly to Islam, the groups tend not to be too unaccepting of it. If a group is not happy with a government, revolution is usually a very viable option for them, as happened in Afghanistan. John J. Macionis writes that revolutions share a number of traits: Rising expectations, unresponsive government, radical leadership by intellectuals, and establishing a new legitimacy. A prime example of this was the Shah of Iran, which was overthrown in 1979.

Cleavages have been shown to widen the divide between governments and Islamic opposition groups. These include sectarian, regional, and class cleavages. These are what intensified the animosity between the Assad regime and the Islamic Action Front in Syria. (Price, 1999:143). If ethnicity or linguistics are politicized then they can be a very serious cleavage as well.

Minority religious groups in Muslim countries have proven to radicalize political Islam in that country, not by fault of their own, but simply because that is the nature of Islamic religious institutions. These groups are usually viewed by Islamic political groups as "agents of the West", and serve as a nasty reminder of colonialism to them. In Islamic law, Jews and Christians are considered second-class citizens. Other religions are not recognized. When they are granted equal civil rights, it is likely that anger from radical Islamic groups will follow.

Economic development is viewed as a prerequisite for the growth of Democracy. Most Muslim countries are poor nations, so this is a definite hindrance to Democracy. It is also evident that extreme wealth in leadership is not conducive to democracy either, because usually the leaders will hoard their wealth. Obviously this case is not uncommon, as demonstrated by Saddam Hussein, former Iraqi president, who owned thirteen palaces, while many of his people did not even have enough food for proper nourishment. Poverty will also increase the likeliness of authoritarian rule, which is not Democratic.

Modernization has proved to both support and attack Democracy. Social mobility, defined by John J. Macionis as "change in one's position in the social hierarchy" (Macionis, 1992:188), will probably make a country more democratic, but if there is disruption in the modernization process, it will probably be less democratic. Modernization is not a favorable thing in most Muslim countries.

Clearly Democracy is not an impossibility for Islamic governments. However, it is evident that there are a significant

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