An Iranian human rights lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, won the Nobel Peace prize over the weekend, illuminating tension between orthodoxy and liberalism in the Muslim world.
Ebadi served as a judge until the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran when the Ayatollahs came in and took her job away from her. Ebadi then started practicing law and started fighting for women's rights and the cause of democracy, according to The Statesman, an English language paper in Calcutta.
Ebadi also represented political dissidents and investigated a series of murders of writers and intellectuals that occurred in the late 1990s.
She has spent time in jail and been forbidden to practice law. However, according to The Statesman, she is a spokeswoman for changing Iranian laws that take away the rights of women.
According to Reuters news agency, the conservatives in the Iranian regime view the award as serving the Western political agenda in Iran.
Assadollah Badamchian, a conservative leader in Iran, told the Iranian Student News Agency that the award was disgraceful and said it was backed by enemies of Iran, mainly the United States.
Reformists see the prize as encouraging change in a system that has suppressed the rights of women.
"After this prize, Iran and other regional countries will pay more attention to women's rights to avoid being accused of violating them," political analyst Morad Veysi told Reuters.
Reuters also reports that the reformist newspaper put Ebadi on the front page, but that more hard-line publications put the story in the back or ignored it completely.
Ebadi strongly believes that Islam and democracy are compatible.
"There is no contradiction between an Islamic republic, Islam and human rights. If in many Islamic countries, human rights are flouted, this is because of a wrong interpretation of Islam," said Ebadi in an interview with Newsweek magazine.
She said she wants to introduce a version of Islam that gives women more individual rights and promotes democracy.
Since the election of pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami in 1997, women have more rights and can participate in many professions that were once closed to them.
However, they cannot testify in court, have unequal rights over children in custody battles and cannot leave the country without their husband's permission.
Ebadi told the French daily, Le Monde that if things do not change then the Islamic Republic cannot go on.
"We want reforms pursued in a serious and radical way," she said.
-Compiled by Sarah Stiles
Iranian woman wins Nobel prize
Published: Wed Oct 15, 2003 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 05:29 p.m.