Bangladesh retreats on women’s rights after clerics protest

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.


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