CLIO TALKS BACK: Maria Vérone on the “Modernization” of Islam

Maria Vérone
Several days ago, Clio came across an intriguing text about the “modernization” of Islam, written by a French woman lawyer and published by the International Council of Women. The author, Maria Vérone, a dedicated feminist, was one of the first French women to be admitted to the French bar; she had worked as a teacher and a dancer before studying law.  She presided over the Ligue Française pour le Droit des Femmes [French League for Women’s Rights] for many years. By the early 1930s she had been tapped to head the pathbreaking Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality, appointed by the League of Nations, and she continued to be active in international legal circles, engaged with studying, comparing – and attempting to advance – the status of women in the law both in France and worldwide.

Here is what she wrote about the status of women in Islam.

“After long centuries of lethargy, Islam is awakening from its slumber. By a sort of return to primitive religion, Musulmen, as pious as they are broadminded, may now be found who declare, text in hand, that the Prophet never intended to place women in a state of servitude. The Veil, they say, is not obligatory; instruction should be given to girls as well as to boys; polygamy is permitted but not enforced; on the contrary, men are forbidden to abuse their rights. The Egyptian (Islamic) Civil Code has been framed in this spirit, recognising that woman, married or single, has full civil capacity; in this spirit, too, Musulman Tribunals have recently given certain judgments, suing a man for damages towards his ex-wife, whom he repudiated soon after the marriage, she having been compelled to leave the occupation which she followed as a single woman.

“In Iran, in Syria, in Irak, in Palestine, all the Musulmen inhabiting these parts of Asia have seen the rise of Feminist Associations; Congresses have been held in the more important cities, where the Delegates appeared unveiled before high authorities, where programmes of new demands have been drawn up, and certain reforms are already on the way to accomplishment. In Europe, the young King of Albania, believing that the emancipation of women is not a sign of revolution or of irreligion, has begun by forbidding the use of the Veil, as a start, greater changes may follow. In Northern Africa, pecuniary difficulties, stronger than the most ancient custom, are doing away with polygamy. Men, if not because of sentiment, at least in their own interest, marry only one woman, and this completely changes the moral position of the family; should an era of prosperity follow, it may be that a generation brought up in utterly different surroundings than those of its ancestors, may not desire to return to ancient customs.  So, by good will or perforce, the world is changing."

Do you know, Clio asks, when these words were written and published?  Can anybody guess?

Would any of you imagine that it dates from 1937 – well over 75 years ago?

Source: Maria Verone, “The Evolution of the Family throughout the World,” International Council of Women: Bulletin, 16:3 (November 1937),18-19.