Islam and Issues concerning the Muslim Woman
it true that Islam treats the Muslim woman unjustly and deprives her of
1- Women in the Pre-Islamic era lived in servility and misery. They had no rights whatsoever until the advent of Islam which liberated them and delivered them from the injustice which they had suffered for so long. Islam elevated the status of women and granted them all the rights of which they had hitherto been deprived and granted them the rights accorded to men. It is interesting to note that the rights granted to women by Islam more than fourteen centuries ago are the very same rights granted to women by the United Nations in the 1948 declaration of Human Rights. Islam also proved Eve’s innocence of tempting Adam to disobey God’s command, and of being the cause of his banishment from paradise. Islam also refuted the myth that Eve was the origin of evil in the world stating that it was Satan who tempted both Adam and Eve. This is stated in the following Quranic verse: “Then did Satan make them slip from the (Garden) and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been” [2/36].
2- Islam emphasizes the fact that all mankind, men and women alike, were created from one single soul: “Omankind! reverence God your Creator, who created you from a single person.” (4/1)
This Quranic verse signifies that men and women are both equal as human beings and in this respect one is not superior to the other. Furthermore the honour that God has bestowed on mankind includes both men and women as is clear from the following Quranic verse: “We have honoured the descendants of Adam.’’(17/70) The descendants of Adam signify all mankind and when the Quran refers to mankind, both men and women are addressed since when the Quran addresses one sex and not the other it addresses them as ”O men!” (Male) or “O women!”
3- The prophet Muhammad described the relationship between men and women in the following:“ Women are the counterpart of men and they have the same rights as they have obligations in equity ". The word counterpart indicated equality and men and women are equal in God’s sight and none is superior to the other except by virtue of their righteous deeds and piety. This is stated in the following Quranic verse:" Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to them will We give a new life, a life that is good and pure and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions.”(16/97) God Almighty also responds to the prayers and invocations of men and women alike: "And their Creator has accepted and answered them: Never will I suffer to be lost, the work of any of you, be you male or female: you are members of one another.” (3/195)
This means that men and women complete each other and that there would be no continuation of life in this world without their union.
4- After having read the aforementioned facts which Are quoted from the two authentic sources of Islam, namely the Quran and the traditions of the prophet. Can Islam still be accused of ill treating and wronging women? The problem is that some people unjustly misrepresent or confuse the difference between the principles and teachings of Islam which are just and humane and the conduct of some Muslims who treat women unjustly. Any objective and unbiased judgement of Islam should differentiate between the two cases. The degraded status of women in some Muslim communities is due to the ignorance that prevails and is not the result of the teachings or principles of Islam.
We find in the national survey of the United States 1 that conservatively at least one in four woman is physically assaulted by her male partner every year and about 10% of abused women are victims of severe violence. In the Emergency Department Settings it is estimated that 20-35% of patient women seek treatment because of abuse and in family clinics between 25-40% of patients report being abused etc.
Furthermore, it is well known how women were ill-treated in the middle ages in the west and was an old English proverb which is still quoted: A woman, ass, and wall nut- tree, the more you beat, the better be. - (An English saying, Oxf. Dictionary).
(II) Are Muslim women always dominated by men?
1- Islam granted the Muslim woman total economic independence and gave her the right to manage her Property, buy, sell, invest and donate money without her husband’s permission, providing that she had the legal capacity to do so. Neither her husband nor any male relative had the right to take a single penny of her money without her consent.2
2- No man, not even a girl’s father can force his daughter to marry a man against her will, and her consent to the marriage is essential. A young woman once went to the prophet to complain that her father wanted to force her to marry her cousin (her father's nephew) whom she detested and that her father wanted to gain an elevated status for himself by that marriage. The Prophet summoned the girl’s father and told the girl in her father’s presence that she was free to agree to the marriage or to refuse.The girl agreed to the marriage of her own free will and said to the Prophet:” O prophet of God.,I now agree to what my father desires and I only wanted the girls and women to know that this is not a father’s right." She meant that fathers do not have the right to force their daughters to marry against their will.
3- A woman is a man’s partner in the family and in brining up their children. No family can be happy and successful without the positive co-operation of both the husband and wife, without which the life of the family would be unstable and the children would be the victims of these circumstances. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, declared that men and women must both share responsibility when he said:
"You are all shepherds and you are all responsible for those whom you guard. A religious leader is responsible for his followers who adhere to his faith, and every man is responsible for his family, and every woman is responsible in her home and is responsible for her family.’’
The fact that a woman is held responsible for her family refutes her being dominated by men, since responsibility implies freedom which is incompatible with being dominated.
4- No man has the right to deprive a woman from exercising her legitimate rights in life nor has he the right to prevent her from going to the mosque to pray. The prophet said: “Do not prevent the women of God from praying in the mosques of god.”
If some Muslims do not abide by the Islamic rulings and laws concerning women that is due to their ignorance of the teachings of Islam or their misunderstanding of its just and humane principles.
(III) Why is a Muslim woman’s inheritance less than a man’s inheritance?
1- In the pre-Islamic era, women were deprived of the right of inheritance. However, with the advent of Islam, they were granted a definite share of the inherited estate, despite the opposition voiced by many Arabs at the time who considered that the right to inheritance was a privilege for men since they defended the tribe and fought its enemies.
In most cases in Islam the male heir inherits double the inheritance of the female: “God (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male a portion equal to that of two females”.(4/11) A hasty opinion on this matter may consider that such a ruling treats females unjustly for not granting them the same inheritance as males. However, the Faith of Islam is completely innocent of such an injustice, since the difference in the inheritance of males and females has nothing to do with favouring males and is based upon the responsibilities which are obligatory for men and not for women.
2- According to Islamic law it is a man's religious duty to maintain and provide for his wife, children and other members of his family which might include his father, mother and brothers and sisters if they are not able to support themselves. His wife, on the other hand is not charged with any financial responsibilities, and she is not even financially responsible for herself however wealthy she may be and her husband is responsible for her maintenance. If we understand this we will realize that when she inherits half of any inheritance, her financial position is still superior to a man’s financial position.
There are certain cases referred to in the Quran and explained in detail in Islamic law when the female’s share of the inheritance equals that of the male. Such a case is when the deceased person-man or woman-is childless and both his or her parents are dead, and he or she leaves maternal brothers or/and sisters, each of whom receives an equal share of the inheritance. Furthermore if a man’s wife dies and has a daughter by him or by a former husband, the daughter inherits double what her father or step father inherits. 3 The same rule applies to other cases and these shares are stated in the Quran and leave no room for dispute among the heirs. Many Egyptian Copts go to the Egyptian Islamic centre for legal opinions in order to follow the Islamic system of inheritance which settles all disputes between the heirs.
(IV) Why is a Muslim woman’s testimony in court not considered equal to man’s testimony?
1- Islam does not consider the testimony of one man to be equal to the testimony of two women in all matters: There are cases when the testimony of men is not accepted in matters that specifically concern women. This signifies that the testimony is not based upon the sex of the witness but on his or her experience and knowledge.
2- When we are concerned with affairs that entail purchasing, selling and financial transactions, we realize that, generally speaking, women’s experience is limited when compared to that of man who spend most of their time looking after their trade. Accordingly the rule applies in such cases, since the experience of one man is equal to the experience of two women. Thus it is not a matter of a lack of confidence in women or considering them to be inferior to men but it is a matter of one’s experience in the dealing of life and a judge has the right to accept the testimony of one woman if he deems it fit to do so. Furthermore no judge would accept the testimony of an illiterate inexperienced man and refuse the testimony of an educated woman who is successful in her career.
3- A most important factor in this matter is the biological aspect, namely the physiological phases through which women pass. These phases influence in most cases women’s behaviour, disposition as well as their memory. Women are more emotional and highly strung than men and they might be emotionally influenced by the position of a person on trial and might sympathize with him or her and that might unintentionally influence their testimony. The Quran stated that if there were two woman witnesses and one of them forgot any point or was mistaken concerning it, the other woman could remind her or correct her. This is stated in verse 282 of Sura two of the Quran:
“If one of them errs, the other can remind her”.
(V) Does Islam prohibit Muslim women form holding key positions in the state?
1- Islam does not deprive women of the right to be appointed in key positions in the state. A Muslim woman has the right to be appointed in posts that suit her nature, experience and qualifications. The saying of the prophet which some Muslim scholars considered as being a prohibitive rule against woman being appointed in key position was: “Unsuccessful shall be those who are ruled by a woman.” This referred to the daughter of Kisra the Emperor of Persia, whom the Persians had crowned as their ruler. This saying was misinterpreted by some jurists who believed that it applied to all women in all high positions. It behoves us to remember that in Sura 27of the Quran, the Queen of Sheba was praised for her wisdom and discretion. This praise indicates the extent of Islam’s respect for a woman who was the queen of her country.
2-Many Muslim Jurists in different eras regarded women who had a career or who were engaged in any activity with respect and admiration. The religious leader Ibn Hazm considered that women had the right to be rulers of a state.
The famous Islamic scholar Abu Hanifa was of the same opinion as Ibn Hazm. As for the religious leader Ibn Jareer Al Tabari, he declared that a woman is entitled to be a judge in all matters that are judged by a man with no exceptions. It has also been reported that the second Orthodox Caliph, Omar ben Al Khattab, appointed Al Shafaa’, daughter of Abdullah Al Makhzoomya as a judge of the prices and the weights and measures used in the market of the city and this religious and civil post demanded experience and acuity. 4
3- Although Islam does not deprive women of holding key positions in the state if they are qualified, women should not neglect their primary responsibilities towards their family, namely their husbands and children, since the family is the foundation of society, and destruction of the family institution leads to the destruction of the whole society. Therefore it is absolutely necessary for a woman who is successful in her career to attend to all her responsibilities and duties in her home, as a wife and a mother, for the welfare of her family and for society in general.
(VI) Does Islam command the Muslim Woman to wear a veil, and what are Islam’s rulings on a woman’s right to an education and a career?
1- The attire that Islam imposes upon the Muslim woman is so that she would appear in a decent and respectable mien in order to save her from any unpleasant remarks or from being harassed by irresponsible youths or men. Thus the Muslim attire for woman is to safeguard their honour and dignity and does not hinder their movements or activity. Islam does not command woman to cover their faces with a veil or to wear gloves, and this custom is the custom of certain communities for which Islam is in no way responsible.
Conservative and decorous attire is not only a virtue of Islam for it is also considered a virtue in Christianity. Christian nuns wear clothes that cover their hair and their body leaving only their faces and hands uncovered and the gospel commands women to cover their hair when praying. 5 Furthermore when a woman irrespective of her status whether she be the wife of the Head of a western state or a famous film star, is admitted into the presence of the pope, in the Vatican, she must cover her hair.
2- Islam definitely does not deprive women of an education. On the contrary it urges both men and women alike to seek knowledge and acquire learning. The Prophet said:
“ Seeking knowledge is an obligation imposed upon every Muslim man and woman." The history of Islam records the achievements of many women who excelled in religious sciences, literature and poetry. When the prophet married Hafsa who had only just begun to study the principles of reading and writing he engaged Al Shafaa’ Al’ Adawiya to teach her to improve her handwriting and her reading.
“ Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr, the Prophet's wife, was far more learned than many of the Companions of the Prophet who recommended that she should be consulted on religious matters, for she was very well versed in all branches of religion, in addition to her knowledge of literature and the principles of the lineage of the Arab tribes, which was a recognized science in that era.
3- Islam does not prevent any woman from working and having a career. She has the right to work provided she needs to work and she should choose the type of work that suits her experience, ability and qualifications. There are no religious laws, which prevent a woman from being educated or working. During the life time of the prophet many woman were engaged in various activities such as assisting the troops during the battles and treating the wounded in addition to carrying water and food to the men who were fighting.
4- It is essential to differentiate between the laws of Islam which safeguard and protect the dignity and safety of women and the ancient Pre- Islamic traditions and customs which prevented women from being educated or taking part in any activities. Islam which honours women and granted them their due is concerned with the development of a woman’s character, since that enables her to be a more capable and efficient mother and wife who will accordingly be able to play her role in raising a strong generation capable of developing their society, thus increasing the welfare of the community.
(VII) Is the Islamic attire for women unsuitable for modern life?
1- Every nation has its own distinct character and way of life. It has its traditional meals, drinks, attire and architecture. All this reflects the nation's culture, civilization and beliefs. God has created people different from each other in many aspects, and nations also differ from each other, and this difference will continue until the end of the world. Furthermore what suits and pleases one nation might not suit or be accepted by another. For Example: Indian women wear the sari and this attire is not criticized by the western world although the sari is not practical in modern life. The sari is worn by all women in India and the late Mrs Indira Ghandi, former prime minister of India, also wore it and nobody ever objected to it and claimed that it prevented Indian women from pursuing their careers or that it hindered their ability to be productive citizens.
2- Most European women until the beginning of the twentieth century wore clothes that reached the ground and they all wore hats or some form of head- dress when they went outside the house, yet nobody ever criticized this. The style of women’s clothes developed year after year until it reached its current style, which is no longer subject to any rules of fashion and it will continue to change according to the ideas and whims of those responsible for the fashion of women's clothes.
3- Islam does not impose any particular style of attire on Muslim women, other than its being decorous so that she would not subject herself to the harassment of any irresponsible youth. Furthermore this decorous and respectable attire does not hinder the Muslim woman in any kind of post or work which she practises. Women in all walks of life wearing the Islamic attire are officials in factories, companies, departments of Ministries schools and colleges of the universities. They perform their duties just as efficiently as their colleagues who wear European fashioned clothes. The accusation is completely groundless and no study has ever been made to try and prove this ridiculous allegation. The fact is that the western world would like to prove that their way of life, customs, traditions and fashions are more suitable than all other customs and traditions and this in itself is against the law of nature since every nation has its own distinctive character. The Muslim woman has the right to be proud of her distinctive character which is reflected in her attire and her conduct in the same way that Indians and Europeans have that right.
4- Currently there are many Muslim women dressed in the Islamic attire who hold high ranking key positions in their countries and they execute their work in the best possible manner. Mrs Benazeer Buto the former prime Minister of Pakistan wears clothes similar to the Islamic attire and nobody ever accused her of not being efficient in performing her duties. The prime Minister of Bangladesh is another example of a Muslim woman who wears clothes similar to the Islamic attire.
(VIII) Why does Islam permit polygamy?
1- Islam was by no means the first religion to permit polygamy, nor did Islam introduce it. On the contrary Islam was the first religion to organize marriage and to limit the number of wives according to strict stipulations. In the Pre-Islamic era, polygamy was practised not only by the Arabs but also by many other nations all over the world.
The abolition of unjust and brutal customs practised for generations by issuing one command is an impossible thing. Islam took this into consideration and made a series of laws by which it was able to enforce a gradual abolition of the hitherto unlimited number of wives that men were allowed to marry.
2- Islam limited the number of wives to four:“ Marry women of your choice, two, or three or four. ” (4/3) There was however an important condition which had to be considered before marrying more than one wife, namely treating the wives equally. The prophet warned men against not treating wives equally by saying that he who has two wives and does not treat them equally will pay dearly for this sin on the Day of Judgement.
3- The following Quranic verse states that treating one’s wives equally is a very difficult matter and that however conscientiously a person tries to do so he will never be able to treat them equally:” You are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire.”(4/129)
Thus since equal treatment of wives is impossible, however hard a person tries, a man should marry only one wife and this is stated in the following Quranic verse: “But if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them) then only one.”(4/3)
It behoves us to note that religious law was enforced more than fourteen centuries ago. It is evident from the aforementioned facts that Islam neither introduced nor enforced polygamy, since it was a deeply rooted system which had existed before the advent of Islam. Islam dealt with the matter in a practical manner without causing a violent reaction among the community. This indicates that in Islam monogamy is the rule and polygamy is the exception. Islam permitted this exception in certain cases such as during and after battles in which many men were killed leaving widows and orphans without any means of support. Consequently marriage to such women is a virtue for it not only provides them with a decent life but it also prevents them from falling into sin.
If a woman is afflicted with a chronic disease which makes her unable to perform her marital obligations or if she is barren, the husband under these circumstances is permitted to marry another wife who will be entitled to the rights of the first wife. The Faith of Islam has permitted the exception of polygamy for the aforementioned justifiable reasons in order to prevent the possibility of sinful relationships and the disturbing consequences that ensue, whereas such illicit relationships are not condemned in the western world.
(IX) Is prohibiting a Muslim woman from marrying a non- Muslim a sign of discrimination between the sexes?
1- It is true that Islam permits Muslims to marry non-Muslim women (Jews or Christians) whereas Muslim women are not granted that right. This would seem to signify the lack of the principle of equality, but when one understands Islam's point of view in this respect, one realizes that all Islamic legislations are based upon the consideration of the welfare of all concerned.
2- Marriage in Islam is based upon affection and compassion as well as emotional well being. Islam aims at ensuring that this matrimonial union is built on a solid foundation that guarantees its continuity and success. Furthermore, the Faith of Islam respects other divine religions and commands Muslims to believe in all God's prophets as an integral element in the faith of Islam.
When a Muslim marries a Christian or a Jewish woman he is commanded by Islam to respect her religious beliefs and must not prevent her from performing her religious rites and prayers, nor is he permitted to prevent her from attending her religious observances in the church or the synagogue. This respect of the wife’s religion ensures the welfare of the family which is Islam’s everlasting aim.
3- Should a non – Muslim marry a Muslim woman the element of respect due to Islam would not exist, for although all Muslims respect the other divine faiths and believe in all the prophets of God, non- Muslims do not believe in Islam nor in the Prophet Muhammad and in most cases believe the false allegation against Islam and the prophet Muhammad. Even if the non- Muslim husband does not declare his opinion concerning these false allegations, his Muslim wife would live in an atmosphere that would be marred by her knowledge or even suspicion that her husband does not respect her Faith. The principle of mutual respect between husband and wife which is the basis of marriage would consequently not exist in such a situation and would lead either to divorce or an unhappy married life.
4- When Islam forbade marriage between Muslims and women who did not believe in God, namely infidels, pagans, Magians and the like this prohibition was based upon the same logical reason for which Islam prohibited a Muslim woman from marrying a non- Muslim.
A Muslim man believes in all the divine religions and respects them but he disdains all religions that do not believe in God. If he married a wife who followed one of these faiths that worshipped idols, he could not possibly respect his wife's faith and that would definitely lead to a strained atmosphere where the emotions of affection and compassion could not exist, thus destroying the foundation of the marriage.
1- The Bettered Women ,indentification and intervention. The female patient, Total Health Care for Women , vol.19,2, AMA /CM6 OB/GYN. Edition, February 1994 .
2- In the sixties of the century ,in the Province of Quebec ,Canda, aman could sell his wife’s property without her consent or power of attorny .
3- Sabeq, Sayed : Jurisprudence of the Traditions of the Prophet. vol. 9,p. 615, Beyrout.
4- Al Qardawi ,Yasuf, Ph . D. Contemporary opinions p.63, Dar Afaq Al Hgad,1978.
Ghazali , Mohammad. One Hundered Question about Islam vo.2, pages260, 262 and 276.
5- First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the CORINTHIANS, Chapter II.