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Inequality of women in PA society: Religious duty or outdated bias?

Itamar Marcus  |
Inequality of women in PA society:
Religious duty or outdated bias?
PA TV shows the conflicting views

PA Mufti, Muhammad Hussein:
- A woman may not deny her husband "his right" to sex
- "A woman should obey her husband"


PA TV satire critiquing inequality of women:
Palestinian wife: "I want equality."
Husband: "Listen. Get up. Clean the house, wash, cook, and I am going inside to rest. When you finish cooking, come and wake me."

by Itamar Marcus

The Palestinian Authority religious establishment believes that a Muslim woman must obey her husband and must not reject his request for sex - because it is "his right." However, a satire broadcast on PA TV critiquing the inequality between men and women indicates that there are now different voices being heard in Palestinian society.

PA religious establishment demands women obey their husbands
In a series of questions during a special Ramadan religious program, the PA Mufti, the PA's highest religious authority, stressed that according to Islam, a wife must obey her husband in all areas of life. The overriding principle, according to the Mufti, is that she "should obey her husband and please him."

Some of the specific areas explained by the Mufti were:
1. A woman must not deny her husband sex when he wants it. "It is his right." Even if she wants to refuse because he did not fast or pray during Ramadan, she "has no right to deny him this right [to sex]."
2. "A woman must [only] leave home at the discretion of her husband." Therefore, if he permits her to go shopping for food in the middle of the night, it is permitted.

3. A woman should get up before dawn to prepare the pre-fast meal for her husband, if he asks her to. If she prepares the meal, she will get two rewards: one for participating in the religiously significant meal, and the second for obeying her husband.

4. Another PA cleric, Abada Sabri, wrote in the religious section of the official PA daily that the focused individual worship [I'tikaf] that is customarily performed in a mosque during Ramadan should be performed by a woman in a mosque only if her husband gives her permission to go. If he refuses her request, she should perform the worship at home.
Click to view

Challenging inequality of women

A recent PA TV satire, however, expressed a different perspective that implies rejection of a subservient role for women and highlights the inequality between men and women in Palestinian society. In the skit, a husband refuses his wife's demand for equality and help with the housework:
Wife: "I want equality, but not to do work plus more work... What would happen if you helped me with the housework?"
Husband: "Listen. Get up. Straighten up the house, wash, cook, and I'm going inside to rest. When you finish cooking, come and wake me."
[PA TV (Fatah), Aug. 11, 2012]
Click to view

The contrast between the official religious rulings promoting "obedience" and the satire challenging inequality, both broadcast by official PA media, may signal a growing debate within Palestinian society over women's rights.

However, it is important to note that by presenting their opinions as Shari'ah (Islamic law), the Mufti and religious leaders impede the chances for change in Palestinian society regarding women's rights. According to a poll by the Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies in 2010, 99% of Palestinians said religion was either important (85%) or somewhat important (13.7%). The poll found that "less than 1% considered religion not important." With religion playing such a dominant role in Palestinian society, change of social norms will be hard to achieve without the backing of the religious establishment.

Palestinian Media Watch has reported on the status of women in Palestinian society. To view more on this topic, click here

The following are the full texts: 

PA Mufti Muhammad Hussein
PA TV host: "A man doesn't fast and doesn't pray, but according to Shari'ah [Islamic] law - if he wants to have sex after the prayer [time] and [his wife] refuses, perhaps for the reason: 'You don't pray, and don't fast.'"
Mufti Muhammad Hussein: "That is not a reason."
Host: "Does she have the right [to refuse] according to Shari'ah?"
Mufti: "No. It's his right [to have sex]. Nonetheless, we say to him: You must obey Allah Almighty. Just as you want to satisfy your needs, which are in fact animalistic and impulsive, you must also observe Allah's duties and commandments, which are more important. Nonetheless, it is his right. This woman may not and has no right to deny him this right, especially during the permissible time, which is nighttime."
[PA TV (Fatah), Aug. 12, 2012]
Host: "What is the rule about women who go out shopping [at night during Ramadan] until 3:00 AM?"
Mufti: "In general, a woman must [only] leave home at the discretion of her husband. If she left home at his discretion and with his approval, there is nothing preventing it."
[PA TV (Fatah), Aug. 12, 2012]

Host: "What should a man do with his wife if she doesn't prepare the pre-dawn meal for him?"
Mufti: "In general, the woman should obey her husband and please him."
Host: "The pre-dawn meal is Islamic tradition."
Mufti: "They perform it together... The woman must help her husband and family by preparing the pre-dawn meal, so the whole family is involved. She will be rewarded for observing the tradition and also be rewarded for obeying her husband."
[PA TV (Fatah), Aug. 2, 2012]
Column, religion section of the PA daily, by PA cleric Abada Sabri:
"It is best to fulfill the focused individual worship [I'tikaf] during the last 10 days of Ramadan... A wife should do the I'tikaf [in the Mosque] only after getting permission from her husband. And if he denies her [permission to go] she is prohibited from doing it, and then it is preferable for the woman to do the I'tikaf at home."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Aug. 10, 2012]

Satire challenging inequality in PA society
Husband: "Afaf (wife's name), I don't get it. How long can the house stay like this? What are you thinking? That I'll hire a cleaner?"
Wife: "If only, Hussein, if only! You don't understand how much you could help me."
Husband: "Did you really believe what I said? I said that just so you - just maybe - would feel, would see, how necessary it is to straighten up the house and clean it. Look how much laundry is piling up everywhere. Move! Move! You're also late with dinner every day! What's with you?"
Wife: "What do you want me to do? We come home from work at the same time. You sit down, rest, relax, watch TV, and I'm doing the housework. When do you want me to finish it?"
Husband: "That isn't my problem. That has nothing to do with me. Isn't that equality?"
Wife: "Sure, I want equality, but not to do work plus more work. I mean - not just accounts, the children and expenses. No, [equality] with everything! What would happen if you helped me with the housework, hand in hand?"
Husband: "Great! That's all I need, [working] hand in hand. I should wash, sweep, and dust! Listen. Get up. Straighten up the house, wash, cook, and I'm going inside to rest. When you finish cooking, come and wake me."
[PA TV (Fatah), Aug. 11, 2012]