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Muslim women can reshape Islam

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Something special went unnoticed last week when the US State Department gave out its first awards for "women of courage" to 10 foreign recipients: Seven of the women had demonstrated their honored bravery within Muslim countries.

Were these awards another US effort to help reform Islam? Possibly. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice simply praised the honorees for "combating attempts to dehumanize women." And the awards were pegged to International Women's Day, March 8.

Still, the winners, selected from 82 women nominated by US embassies, came from only eight nations, five of which are largely Muslim (Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iraq, Maldives, Saudi Arabia). That carries a message about the churn for change among Muslims.

It's possible that at least one woman activist from Iran should have made the cut. But then she would have been tagged a US agent. Last week, the clerics who rule in Tehran detained 33 women activists as they protested for five other women on trial for a 2006 demonstration against discriminatory laws. Such arrests show that female dissenters in Iran are a big threat to the Islamic regime.

Mullahs in many Islamic nations are nervous these days about educated women smartly arguing against post-Muhammad interpretations of the Koran that treat women differently than men. If anyone on the State Department's list comes closest to fulfilling that role, it is Dr. Siti Musdah Mulia of Indonesia.

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