AUGUST 23, 1948
HYDE PARK, Sunday—I received the other day a copy of an address delivered this year at the International Bar Association in the Hague by Behan H. Kalenderian on "Social Legislation Under Islam." I read it with great interest. Mr. Kalenderian described the Islam religious and legal system and some of the resulting so-called social customs. Of course, he acknowledges that the religious ideas have been imposed by the sword whenever necessary, but points out that after forced introduction they benefit mankind, because, "Islam immediately accepted the hypothesis that equality is corollary of brotherhood, and equality of men before the law became and is a major premise of Mohammedan religious and legal theory."
When one reads such high praise and ideals of a religious and legal system, one is tempted to look for results. What are the conditions in countries under Islamic law today?
The structure of society in the areas where these theories are predominant seems to sanction many inequalities and great variation in their social pattern.
Mr. Kalenderian's address states: "This law, through its eventual development, is adaptable to every conceivable exigency. Arabic is unrivalled as a vehicle of ideas." This is excellent if the ideas and ideals lend themselves not only to the theories, but also to practical achievements.
I am intrigued by this statement (which deals with the rights and duties of women in the Mohammedan countries): "A woman under Islamic law occupies a position of peculiar privilege." As soon as she is of age, it seems, the law invests in her all the rights of an independent person. She is entitled to share with her brothers in her parents' estate. The proportion may be different, but the disparity is regulated by just appraisal.
The power of the father to impose the status of marriage on his children is recognized. This is known as jabr and is conceded with various modifications. After the age of fifteen every contract of marriage entered into on behalf of a youth or girl is dependent upon his expressed consent. Among the Hanafis and the Shiahs, however, the children of both sexes, upon maturity, are free to contract marriage.
As one thinks of the women and children starving along the roadsides, and who must appeal to the world for help in their dire need, one wonders if the leaders are giving much thought to the equality of all individuals and have planned for the good of the little man as well as the man at the top.