The status of women in the Muslim world is a controversial subject. The position accorded to women by Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet differs vastly from practice within various Muslim societies. Over the centuries, various pre- and post-Islamic cultural values have crept into the body of religious corpus and have become embedded as “God’s laws”.
Well-defined and well-enforced property rights are one of the fundamentals for prosperity. In particular, women’s property rights are fundamental to women’s own economic security as well as wider economic development.
Our analysis of six different Muslim countries has concluded that the correct application of the rights granted by Islam can encourage female empowerment and promote the generation of wealth. The present lack of women’s property rights is classic example of institutional disconnect between theory and practice in Muslim countries.
Most Westerners and many in the world of Islam are unaware of the rights granted to women by Islamic Law. These comprise independent ownership of property and the right to trade, buy or sell. Islam has provided clear cut strategies for empowering women – to augment their status, and to add to the social and economic wellbeing of society. The full and proper implementation of women’s property rights and the consequent economic freedom will promote female entrepreneurship.
Women’s status becomes particularly important when they are responsible for managing loans and savings. They benefit from microfinance services that enable them to generate and control their own income. Research shows that credit extended to women has a significant impact on their families’ quality of life and especially benefits their children. The enforcement of property rights also brings immense social gains and strengthens the position of the underprivileged, the most fundamental tenet of Islam. Asset control gives women greater confidence and decision-making power within households and helps protect against the risk of domestic violence.
It is clear that if Muslim countries acted to bring their laws, and even more importantly their practices, in conformity with the Qur’an and the practice of Prophet Muhammad, they would ensure well-protected property rights for women. It is crucial that Muslim countries and societies focus on identifying and eliminating discriminatory practices, including complex or antiquated legal systems and the local customs and traditions which are often conceived as part of Islam. They must create and implement policies that empower women to own, administer and manage property.
Islam provided the platform for these steps 1,400 years ago. It is time for Muslims to use that platform.
This article is based on the research paper “Muslim women and property rights” by Azhar Aslam and Shaista Kazmi, published in the June 2009 edition of Economic Affairs.