The Doha Debates take place in Doha, Qatar, eight times a year. The most recent debate, broadcasted by BBC World News on June 6 and 7, was titled, “This House Believes That Muslim Women Should be Free to Marry Anyone they Choose”.
Based on the title, one gets the immediate impression that Muslim women have absolutely no say in whom they can and cannot marry. Using the words “free” and “Muslim women” in the same sentence about marriage makes it seem like we are all handcuffed and locked away until our prince arrives with the key. Moreover, phrasing the topic so broadly makes any succeeding argument dependent on ambiguous interpretation of its generality, which in my opinion limits the the dialogue. Yassir Qadhi, a debate panelist, describes how challenging it was to form his argument, given his reservations with the way the topic was phrased.
Asra Nomani , Bombay-born American author and journalist, and Dr. Muhammad Habash, a Syrian MP and Muslim cleric, spoke in support of the motion. Qadhi, a Muslim American cleric, took the opposing stance, along with Dr. Thuraya Al Arrayed, a female Saudi writer, columnist and member of the advisory board of the Arab Thought Foundation. Both panelists argued Islamic Law prohibits Muslim woman from marrying a non-Muslim man. Qadhi started out string by framing his argument with the notion that one gives up certain freedoms when adhering to religion. Since a “Muslim” submits to the laws of Islam, there is no such thing as absolute freedom. I agree with him.
There is already a consensus amongst Islamic scholars that makes this debate illegitimate based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah, therefore the debate rather futile unless you can undoubtedly prove that it is not Islamically illegitimate–something neither the proponents or opponents did. It seemed the debaters were more concerned with showing their own opinion, rather than the opinion of Islam. Non-scholarly opinions have no place in a debate with consequences as far-reaching as the identity of future Muslim generations.
This was made particularly obvious on the opposing side, when Al Araayed, (met by serious criticism from the audience) said “women are too immature to know what’s best for them.” Moreover, on the opposing side, Habbash changed his stance on the entire topic, initially saying he believed a Jewish or Christian man must affirm the Prophet Muhammad in order to marry a Muslim women, and then modifying his answer to say the man must only respect the Prophet Muhammad. Holy smokes! A Syrian MP is saying he would indeed allow a Muslim woman to marry a Jewish or Christian man if he respected the Prophet Muhammad! Ha! Political upholstery at its finest: “I’m a religious politician but I can be liberal and change my position when it contradicts with the mainstream point of view.” As Qadhi effectively pointed out, his statement is in effect mute; Jews and Christians do not believe in Muhammad as a prophet, therefore they cannot truly respect him.
To further prove my point that this debate is ineffective, Asra Nomani injected an absolutely secular point of view in an absolutely religious topic, charging anyone who dared prohibit Muslim woman from marrying non-Muslim men as adhering to their personal interpretation of Islam. She also said she believed Muslim women should have the right to marry each other. As I pointed out earlier in support of Qadhi’s stance, you simply can’t argue for absolute freedom in religion. Unfortunately, I cannot take her argument seriously, as she cited no theological evidence in support of it.
Fortunately, I am not alone. In an opinion poll of Arabs across the Middle East, 89 percent of women strongly object to the proposition, citing the Qur’an as their justification.
Non-Muslim feminists take note: Based on this poll, it is clear that Muslim women believe their freedom lies within the teachings of Islam.