Bangladesh Retreats on Women’s Rights After Cleric Protest

, by AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh’s military-backed
government has backed down from a policy to
ensure equal property rights to women amid angry
protests by Muslim clerics that the move would
override Islamic law.

The country’s law minister Hasan Arif said the
government "does not have any plan to enact any
laws that goes against the Koran and the
traditions of Prophet Mohammad," a government
statement said.

Arif gave the assurance to top Islamic clerics
and scholars late on Tuesday, after Islamic
groups warned of nationwide protests, saying they
would not tolerate any law that went against
sharia, the Islamic law code.

Sharia is based on the teachings of the Koran,
prescribing both religious and secular duties,
from prayer to alms-giving, as well as penalties
for law-breaking. There are many interpretations
of the sharia.

The clerics’ complaints followed a new government
policy announced last week which stated women
should have equal property rights.

Bangladesh, whose population is 90 percent
Muslim, has a secular legal system but in matters
related to inheritance and marriage Muslims
follow sharia law.

Sharia practised in Bangladesh’s inheritance law
generally stipulates that a girl would inherit
half of what her brother gets. Women groups have
long protested against the disparity and demanded
equal rights.

The minister’s comments came after Islamist
parties and top clerics called protests across
the country this Friday against what they called
“laws against Islam.”

The leader of the group Mufti Fazlul Haq Amini
said that despite the government’s assurances
they would go ahead with protests until the
“anti-sharia” provisions were officially dropped.

"The new government policy has mentioned there
would be equal property rights for women which is
directly against Islam and the holy Koran. We
will not tolerate anything that goes against the
sharia," he told AFP on Wednesday.

The government had shown “scant regard” for the country’s Muslims, he said.

But Shirin Akhter, head of one of the largest
women’s groups in the country, said she hoped the
government would ignore the criticism.

"The policy spells out clearly that women should
have equal rights to property, which includes
inheritance. Our hope is that the government does
not get distracted by any so-called religious
group," Akhter, president of Working Women, said.

P.S.

* From AFP, Mar 12, 2008. Circulated by South Asia Citizens Wire | April 10-11, 2008 | Dispatch No. 2502 - Year 10 running.