Susan Carland, the Muslim convert married to The Project’s Logie-winning host Waleed Aly says sharia law can be used to promote women’s rights.
Carland told an audience including feminist Eva Cox in Sydney‘s inner-west that a hardline, Islamic legal system was compatible with feminist goals.
Promoting her new book ‘Fighting Hislam: Women, Faith and Sexism’, the Monash University lecturer said sharia law could be used to persuade Muslim men that it was wrong to stone or lash women for adultery who had been raped.
The hijab-wearing writer told the function at the Gleebooks bookstore, in Glebe, how an American lawyer had used sharia law to criticise Pakistan’s punishment for adultery.
‘For those of you that don’t know, if a woman is raped she can be punished for adultery,’ Dr Carland said during a question and answer session on Wednesday night.
‘The woman I interviewed said, “I could go to them with these human rights justifications for why it’s wrong but I know that if I do that, they will double down on this law because they will feel it’s an insult to their culture and their tradition and their religion”, so she said, “Why would I just not use the sharia to make the argument this is wrong?”.’
Under sharia law, a woman’s word is worth less than that of a man.
A female rape victim also needs the word of four male witnesses to be exonerated in Pakistan where Islamic clerics order punishments.
Dr Carland said her interview subject had argued against punishment for adultery on religious grounds with a ‘massive manifesto’ that was compatible with sharia law.
‘Those are the things we need to be focusing on,’ she said.
Dr Carland, who converted to Islam when she was 19, said Muslim women in Western countries often felt more comfortable discussing women’s rights in a religious context than their counterparts in conservative, Muslim-majority nations.
‘Living in Western countries gives these women freedom, particularly with theological interpretations, than women living in other countries where they have things like blasphemy laws,’ she said.
‘Some of the most interesting or challenging theological stuff to come from Muslim women has come from Western countries because the government doesn’t care what you say.’
She also said feminism existed within Islam, and not just the secular West which separates religion and state.
‘One of the criticisms made of second wave feminism was that it was very uni-dimensional in its focus. It was very middle class, white, educated, heterosexual and secular in its approach,’ she said.
‘You can have secular feminism, you can have Islamic feminism, you can have all different types of feminism.’
Veteran feminist Eva Cox, who was in the audience, politely told Dr Carland she disagreed with her take on Western feminism.
‘I’m older and I’ve been around for a long time. I actually defend the second wave,’ she said to laughter and replies of ‘fair enough’ from Dr Carland.
Controversial Islamist psychologist Hanan Dover, who has previously represented terror suspects and made anti-gay comments, had Dr Carland sign a copy of her book.
Dr Carland’s book, published by Melbourne University Press, interviews Muslim women about sexism in their own community and outside their religion.
Secular Muslims, like British anti-extremism activist Maajid Nawaz, reject sharia law.