Women in Islam
At a time when the rest of the world, from Greece and Rome to India and China, considered women as no better than children or even slaves, with no rights whatsoever, Islam acknowledged women’s equality with men in many respects. The Quran states:
“And among His signs is this: that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest and peace of mind in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Certainly, herein indeed are signs for people who reflect.” (Quran 30:21)
“The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in manners and kindest to his wife.” (Abu Dawud)
Muslims believe that Adam and Eve were created from the same soul. Both were equally guilty of their sin and fall from grace, and Allah forgave both. Many women in Islam have had high status; consider the fact that the first person to convert to Islam was Khadijah, the wife of Muhammad, whom he both loved and respected. His favorite wife after Khadijah’s death, Ayshah, became renowned as a scholar and one of the greatest sources of Hadith literature. Many of the female Companions accomplished great deeds and achieved fame, and throughout Islamic history there have been famous and influential scholars and jurists.
We might also mention that while many in the West criticize Islam with regard to the treatment of women, in fact a number of Muslim countries have had women rulers and presidents. To name a few: Turkey; Bangladesh and Pakistan.
“Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every believer.” (Ibn Majah)
This implies men and women.
A woman is to be treated as God has endowed her, with rights, such as to be treated as an individual, with the right to own and dispose of her own property and earnings, enter into contracts, even after marriage. She has the right to be educated and to work outside the home if she so chooses. She has the right to inherit from her father, mother, and husband. A very interesting point to note is that in Islam, unlike any other religion, a woman can be an imam, a leader of communal prayer, for a group of women.
A Muslim woman also has obligations. All the laws and regulations pertaining to prayer, fasting, charity, pilgrimage, doing good deeds, etc., apply to women, albeit with minor differences having mainly to do with female physiology.
Before marriage, a woman has the right to choose her husband. Islamic law is very strict regarding the necessity of having the woman’s consent for marriage. The groom gives a marriage dowry to the bride for her own personal use. She keeps her own family name, rather than taking her husband’s. As a wife, a woman has the right to be supported by her husband even if she is already rich. She also has the right to seek divorce and custody of young children. She does not return the dowry, except in a few unusual situations.
Despite the fact that in many places and times Muslim communities have not always adhered to all or even many of the foregoing in practice, the ideal has been there for 1,400 years, while virtually all other major civilizations did not begin to address these issues or change their negative attitudes until the 19th and 20th centuries, and there are still many contemporary civilizations which have yet to do so.
Women’s Rights in Islam
The issue of women in Islam, is topic of great misunderstanding and distortion due partly to a lack of understanding, but also partly due to misbehavior of some Muslims which has been taken to represent the teachings of Islam. We speak here about what Islam teaches, and that is that standard according to which Muslims are to be judged. As such, my basis and source is the Quran–the words of Allah, and the sayings of the Prophet, his deeds and his confirmation. Islamic laws are derived from these sources. To facilitate our discussion we can discuss the position of women from a spiritual, economic, social, and political standpoint.
From the spiritual aspect, there are seven points to remember:
According to the Quran, men and women have the same spirit, there is no superiority in the spiritual sense between men and women. (Quran 4:1, 7:189, 42:11)
The Quran makes it clear that all human beings (and the phraseology doesn’t apply to men or women alone, but to both) have what you might call a human; He
“breathed some of My spirit into divine touch. When God created him”(or her in this sense). (Quran 15:29 See also 32:9)
Some of His spirit here means not in the incarnational sense, but the pure, innate spiritual nature that God has endowed her or him with.
The Quran indicates again that one of the most honored positions of human, is that God created the human, and as I referred to Surah 17 earlier, it means both sexes, as His trustee and representative on earth. There are many references in the Quran that reaffirm this.
Nowhere in the Quran do we find any trace of any notion of blaming Eve for the first mistake or for eating from the forbidden tree. Nowhere, even though the Quran speaks about Adam, Eve, and the forbidden tree, but in a totally different spirit. The story is narrated in 7:19-27, and it speaks about both of them doing this, both of them are told that both of them disobeyed, both of them discovered the consequences of their disobedience, both of them seek repentance and both of them are forgiven. Nowhere in the Quran does it say woman is to be blamed for the fall of man. Furthermore, when the Quran speaks about the suffering of women during the period of pregnancy and childbirth, nowhere does it connect it with the concept of original sin, because there is no concept of original sin in Islam. The suffering is presented not as a reason to remind woman of the fall of man, but as a reason to adore and love woman or the mother. In the Quran, especially 31:14, 46:15, it makes it quite clear God has commanded upon mankind to be kind to parents and mentions,
“His mother bore him in difficulty or suffering upon suffering.” (Quran 31:14, 46:15)
The Quran makes it clear again to remove any notion of superiority and I refer you again to 49:13. I must caution you that there are some mistaken translations, but if you go to the original Arabic, there is no question of gender being involved.
In terms of moral, spiritual duties, acts of worship, the requirements of men and women are the same, except in some cases when women have certain concessions because of their feminine nature, or their health or the health of their babies.
The Quran explicitly, in more than one verse, 3:195, 4:124, specified that whoever does good deeds, and is a believer and then specifies “male or female” God will give them an abundant reward.
In the area of economic rights, we have to remember that in Europe until the 19th century, women did not have the right to own their own property. When they were married, either it would transfer to the husband or she would not be able to dispense of it without permission of her husband. In Britain, perhaps the first country to give women some property rights, laws were passed in the 1860’s known as “Married Women Property Act.” More than 1300 years earlier, that right was clearly established in Islamic law.
“Whatever men earn, they have a share of that and whatever women earn, they have a share in that.” (Quran 4:32]
Secondly, there is no restriction in Islamic law that says a woman cannot work or have a profession, that her only place is in the home. In fact, by definition, in a truly Islamic society, there must be women physicians, women nurses, women teachers, because it’s preferable also to separate teenagers in the volatile years in high school education. And if she chooses to work, or if she’s married with the consent of her husband, she’s entitled to equal pay, not for equal work, but for work of equal worth.
Thirdly, when it comes to financial security, Islamic law is more tilted in many respects towards women. These are seven examples:
During the period of engagement, a woman is to be on the receiving side of gifts.
At the time of marriage, it is the duty of the husband, not the bride’s family. He is supposed to pay for a marital gift. The Quran called it a gift, and it is exclusively the right of the woman. She doesn’t have to spend it on the household, she doesn’t have to give it to her father or anyone else.
If the woman happened to own any property prior to marriage, she retains that property after marriage. It remains under her control. Also, in most Muslim countries, the woman keeps her own last name, and her own identity.
If the woman has any earnings during her marital life, by way of investments of her property or as a result of work, she doesn’t have to spend one penny of that income on the household, it is entirely hers.
The full maintenance and support of a married woman is the entire responsibility of her husband, even though she might be richer than he is. She doesn’t have to spend a penny.
At the time of divorce, there are certain guarantees during the waiting period and even beyond for a woman’s support.
If the widow or divorcee has children, she’s entitled to child support.
In return for these listed securities, it is clear why the Islamic laws pertaining to inheritance give men a higher share. From the social standpoint, as a daughter we find that credit goes to Islam for stopping the barbaric practice of pre-Islamic Arabs of female infanticide. These ignorant people used to bury female daughters alive. The Quran forbade the practice, making it a crime. Surah 81 Additionally, the Quran condemned the chauvinistic attitudes of some people who used to greet the birth of a boy with gladness, but sadness in the case of a girl.
The duty, not the right, the duty of education, as the Prophet said, is a duty on every Muslim, male and female.
As far as treatment of daughters is concerned, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Anyone who has two daughters, and did not bury them, did not insult them and brought them up properly, he and I will be like this,” holding his two fingers close together. Another version adds, “And also did not favor his sons over daughters.” One time the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was seated. A companion was sitting with him. The companion’s son came. He kissed his son and put him on his lap. Then his daughter came, and he just sat her by his side. The Prophet told the man, “You did not do Justice,” meaning he should have treated the daughter equally, kissed her and put her in his lap also. Indeed, whenever the Prophet’s daughter Fatimah came to him, in front of everyone, he stood up, kissed her and let her sit in his favorite place where he’d been sitting.
From the marital standpoint, the Quran clearly indicates in Surahs 30:20 and 42:11 that marriage is not just an inevitable evil, marriage is not somebody getting married to his master or slave, but rather to his partner.
“Among His Signs is this, that he created for you mates from among yourselves, that they may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): Verily in that are signs for those who reflect.” (Quran 30:21)
There are numerous verses in the Quran to the same effect.
Secondly, the approval and consent of the girl to marriage is a prerequisite for the validity of marriage in Islam. She has the right to say yes or no.
Husbands’ and wives’ duties are mutual responsibilities. They might not be identical duties, but the totality of rights and responsibilities are balanced. The Quran says:
“Women have the same rights (in relation to their husbands) as are expected in all decency from them, while men stand a step above them.” (Quran 2:228)
This only specifies the degree of responsibility, not privilege, in man’s role as provider, protector, maintainer, and leader of the family. The same Surah speaks about divorce, about consultation between husband and wife, even in the case of divorce. When there are family disputes, first the Quran appeals to reason and the consideration of positive aspects of one’s spouse,
“Dwell with your wives in kindness for even if you hate them, you might be hating someone in whom God has placed so much good.” [Noble Quran 4:19]
If that appeal does not succeed, and problems between the husband and wife continue, there are measures that can be applied. Some of these measures are done privately between husband and wife. Some of them might appear harsh, but there are qualifications to restrict excessive or abusive use of these measures. These measures are considered an attempt to save a marriage rather than break a family apart. If the situation does not improve, even with the limitation and prevention of excesses, the next step is a family council. One arbiter from his family and one from her family should sit together with the couple and try to resolve the problems.
If a divorce becomes necessary, there are many detailed procedures in Islamic law that really knock down the common notion that divorce in Islam is very easy and that it is the sole right of man. It is not the sole right of man alone and neither is it true that all you have to say is: “I divorce you three times,” and that’s it. Islam also has laws regarding custody of children. I was very surprised to see newspapers making the false claim that in all cases custody goes to the father. Custody involves the interest of the child, and laws often favor the mother of young children.
Polygamyhas become so mythical in the minds of many people that they assume being Muslim means having four wives. This is a false notion, of course. A very renowned anthropologist, Edward Westermarck, in his two-volume work, “History of Human Marriage,” notes that there has been polygamy in virtually every culture and religion, including Judaism and Christianity. But the point here is not to say, “Why blame Islam?” Actually, Islam is the only religion even among Abrahamic faiths, that specifically limited the practice of polygamy that existed before Islam and established very strict conditions for guidance. The question, “How could any man have two wives? That’s terrible!” reflects ethnocentrism. We assume that because we’re living in the West and it seems strange, and we assume it must apply to all cultures, all times, under all circumstances. This simply isn’t true. Let me give you one current-day example. In the savage attack on Afghanistan, genocide was committed on the Afghani people. It is estimated that 1-1.5 million people lost their lives, a great majority of whom were men of a marriageable age. Now, with a great shortage of men, what will happen to their widows, their orphans and their daughters of marriageable age? Is it better to leave them in a camp, with a handout? Or better a man is willing to take care of his fallen comrade’s wife and children?
It is obvious that monogamy is the norm for Muslims. If we assume that having four wives is the norm, then we assume a population of 80% female and 20% male, which is an impossibility on the aggregate level. The only verse in the Quran that speaks about polygamy, speaks about limiting not instituting polygamy. The verse was revealed after the Battle of Uhud in which many Muslims were martyred, leaving behind wives and children in need of support. This verse shows the spirit and reason of the revelation.
The Quran placed obedience to parents immediately after worship of God.
“We commanded mankind to be kind to his parents” ( Quran 31:14)
And then speaks of the mother. In a very succinct statement, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Paradise is at the feet of mothers.” Once a man came to him and asked, “O, Messenger, who among mankind is worthy of my kindness and love?” The Prophet answered, “Your mother.” “Who next?” “Your mother.” “Who next?” “Your mother.” Only after the third time he said, “And your father.”
As a sister in faith, in blood, we find the Quran speaks about men and women, that they should cooperate and collaborate in goodness. Surah 9:71 speaks about men and women as supporters and helpers of each other, ordaining the good and forbidding the evil, establishing prayers and doing charity. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) echoed what the Quran said, “I command you to be kind to women.” In one of his last commands in his farewell pilgrimage before his death, he kept repeating, “I command you to be kind and considerate to women.” In another hadith, he said, “It is only the generous in character who is good to women, and only the evil one who insults them.”
On the question of attire, the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet did not say women must adopt a particular dress of a particular country. It only gives basic boundaries, and for a committed Muslim woman, she doesn’t follow this simply because her father or husband tells her, but because Allah already stated that as a requirement in the Quran, and was explained through revelation given to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) that this was not to restrict woman, but to provide a virtuous society where sexual attraction is not the main obsession of everyone. This forces everyone to respect the woman for what she is as a human being, as an intellectual and a spiritual being, rather than being diverted to her sexuality.
Finally, a few words about political involvement. The verse quoted earlier, Surah 9:71, which speaks about men and women being supporters and helpers of each other was taken by some jurists to mean that it involves also public life. How could they ordain the good and forbid the evil without women being active in the affairs of their society? According to the Quran, I’m not talking about the practices of Muslims, in Surah 60:12, we read about Muslim women making “bayy’ah” to the Prophet. Bayy’ah as an Islamic term is somewhat analogous, to a degree, to what we would call an election, or oath of allegiance. And that was given in his capacity not only as a Prophet, but as a head of state, as he was already the head of state in Medina.
During the rein of ‘Umar, women participated in law making. ‘Umar made a proposal of a certain regulation concerning marriage. A woman in the mosque stood up and said, “‘Umar, you can’t do that.” ‘Umar did not tell her, “Shut up, you are a woman, you have nothing to do with politics, etc.” He asked, “Why?” She made her argument on the basis of Quran. In front of everybody, he stood up and said, “The woman is right and ‘Umar is wrong,” and he withdrew his proposal. That was the spirit in the early days of Islam.
In the most authentic collection of Hadith, Hadith Bukhari, a section is devoted to the participation of women, not only in public affairs, but in the battlefield, too, and not only as logistical support. Women carried arms, and when there was great danger to the Muslims, they volunteered to participate even in the battlefield.
The problems presented here are not the problems of Islam. They are problems of a lack of commitment, lack of application, or misapplication of Islamic teachings by Muslims themselves. The topics I have tried to cover here represent and exemplify the big gap that exists between the true teachings of Islam as derived from its original sources and its projected image in the West and the way some Muslims behave in the disregard of those noble teachings.
There’s no question that the Western media has played an important role in perpetuating these misconceptions. But in fairness, we should not blame the media alone. Western culture, in writings about other religions, in particular Islam, have distorted images. From books, novels, even in the academic circle, and sermons from the pulpit in places of worship, these kinds of prejudices are perpetuated.
There are fair and honorable people in the media who are receptive to correction of inaccuracies, and who present the facts, when the facts become manifest, as we have seen in the coverage of the barbaric and cruel treatment of the Palestinians n the Occupied Territories. What I would suggest to the media is instead of depending on the distorted information about Islam, they should keep in touch with educated Muslims, and remember, the U.S. has between 5 and 6 million Muslims. Only through correct representation and open communication with Muslims in America can the media give a fair analysis of current events, given the background of those conflicts, and provide a great service to society.
Equality of Men and Women
My brothers and sisters everywhere! Islamic law [Shari’ah] – that Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) sent down to His Messenger Muhammad – came to announce that women (exactly like men) are full human beings. Women (like men) are therefore required to follow the way appointed by Allah.
Islam (outward submission to Allah)
It is thus required for every woman to testify that there is none deserving worship but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger; to pray; to give charity; to fast; and to make a pilgrimage to Allah’s House if she has the means.
Iman (inward faith in Allah and the unseen [Al Ghaib])
It is likewise required for every woman to believe in Allah, His angels, His scriptures, His messengers, the Last Day, and to believe in Allah’s decree (and that the good and evil consequences thereof are from Allah).
Ihsan (perfection of worship of Allah)
Women (exactly like men) have been commanded with these three levels of the religion (Islam, Iman, and Ihsan).
Women, like men, are also obligated to enjoin good and forbid evil; to strive and struggle by saying that which is truthful; and to adhere to all noble behavior, like: truthfulness, trustworthiness, courage, modesty, and self-respect.
Every Muslim woman, just like every Muslim man, is commanded to be steadfast in her religion and not to be negligent with her faith. It is not permissible for her – under any pressure or compulsion – to open her heart to accept the word of disbelief. Hence every Muslim woman, like every Muslim man, falls under Allah’s statement:
“Whose disbelieves in Allah, after he has believed – excepting him who has been compelled, and his heart is still at rest with the Faith – but whosoever’s breast is expanded in unbelief, upon them shall rest anger from Allah, and there awaits them a mighty chastisement.” [Noble Quran 16:106]
Clearly when Islam charged women with all these duties and in all these obligations made her equal to men, the intent was to honor her and permit her to reach the highest degree of perfection of her being.
The duties that Allah has obligated humanity with are but a means to honor us. Prayer, as well as fasting, is an honor for the servant and a means to raise his rank. To adhere to Allah’s straight path and the manners of Islam are, without doubt, a means to honor us and not to humiliate us as imagined by those who are ignorant of Allah and follow their desires.
Such people think and imagine that a human being who does not believe in Allah, does not uphold the trust of these duties, and does not perform what Allah has commanded him is of a higher standing than the believer who adheres to the obligations of Islam. Such an idea is ignorance and renders human beings on par with the animals.
Humans have been created to be tried by Allah and have been charged with fulfilling these duties to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and His creatures. As for animals, while they have been created by Allah, they have not been charged with this trust.
Whoever considers that a human being who does not uphold what Allah has obligated as equal to those who fulfill what Allah has obligated is like those who consider humans and animals to be equal. For this reason, Allah has said:
“Shall we treat that those who have surrendered (as Muslims) as We treat the guilty?” (Quran 68:35)
And He has said:
“We have crated for Hell many of the jinn and humanity; they have hearts, but understand not with them; they have eyes, but perceive not with them; and they have ears, but they hear not with them. These are like cattle; nay, rather they are further astray! Those – they are the heedless.” (Quran 7:179)
The disbeliever in Allah (whether a man or a woman) is a guilty criminal, for he or she does not know whom to worship, i.e., The Creator, The Protector, The Lord, and He Who created this universe in which he or she lives. The disbelievers enjoy what Allah has blessed them with and yet they forget the One Who blessed and preferred them with such blessings. As for the believers, they are the honorable servants who know their Lord and Creator, Allah, Whom they worship. They fulfill what Allah has obligated and travel upon the path that Allah has delineated for them.
Women in the Quran and the Sunnah
In Islam there is absolutely no difference between men and women as far as their relationship to Allah is concerned, as both are promised the same reward for good conduct and the same punishment for evil conduct. The Quran says:
“And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women.” (Quran 2:228)
The Quran, in addressing the believers, often uses the expression, ‘believing men and women’ to emphasize the equality of men and women in regard to their respective duties, rights, virtues and merits. It says:
“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.” (Quran 33:35)
This clearly contradicts the assertion of the Christian Fathers that women do not possess souls and that they will exist as sexless beings in the next life. The Quran says that women have souls in exactly the same way as men and will enter Paradise if they do good:
“Enter into Paradise, you and your wives, with delight.” (Quran 43:70)
“Who so does that which is right, and believes, whether male or female, him or her will We quicken to happy life.”( Quran 16:97)
The Quran admonishes those men who oppress or ill-treat women:
“O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the dowry you have given them – except when they have become guilty of open lewdness. On the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them, it may be that you dislike something and Allah will bring about through it a great deal of good.” (Quran 4:19)
Considering the fact that before the advent of Islam the pagan Arabs used to bury their female children alive, make women dance naked in the vicinity of the Ka’bah during their annual fairs, and treat women as mere chattels and objects of sexual pleasure possessing no rights or position whatsoever, these teachings of the Noble Quran were revolutionary. Unlike other religions, which regarded women as being possessed of inherent sin and wickedness and men as being possessed of inherent virtue and nobility, Islam regards men and women as being of the same essence created from a single soul. The Quran declares:
“O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from this pair scattered (like seeds) countless men and women. Reverence Allah, through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and reverence the wombs (that bore you); for Allah ever watches over you.” (Noble Quran 4:1)
The Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Women are the twin halves of men.” The Quran emphasizes the essential unity of men and women in a most beautiful simile:
“They (your wives) are your garment and you are a garment for them.” (Quran 2:187)
Just as a garment hides our nakedness, so do husband and wife, by entering into the relationship of marriage, secure each other’s chastity. The garment gives comfort to the body; so does the husband find comfort in his wife’s company and she in his. “The garment is the grace, the beauty, the embellishment of the body, so too are wives to their husbands as their husbands are to them.” Islam does not consider woman “an instrument of the Devil”, but rather the Quran calls her Muhsana – a fortress against Satan because a good woman, by marrying a man, helps him keep to the path of rectitude in his life. It is for this reason that marriage was considered by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) as a most virtuous act. He said: “When a man marries, he has completed one half of his religion.” He enjoined matrimony on Muslims by saying: “Marriage is part of my way and whoever keeps away from my way is not from me (i.e. is not my follower).” The Quran has given the raison d’être of marriage in the following words:
“And among His signs is this, that He has created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them; and He has put love and mercy between you. Verily in that are signs for those who reflect.” (Quran 30:21)
“The world and all things in the world are precious but the most precious thing in the world is a virtuous woman. He once told the future khalifah, ‘Umar: “Shall I not inform you about the best treasure a man can hoard? It is a virtuous wife who pleases him whenever he looks towards her, and who guards herself when he is absent from her.”
On other occasions the Prophet said:
“The best property a man can have is a remembering tongue (about Allah), a grateful heart and a believing wife who helps him in his faith.” And again: “The world, the whole of it, is a commodity and the best of the commodities of the world is a virtuous wife.”
Before the advent of Islam women were often treated worse than animals. The Prophet wanted to put a stop to all cruelties to women. He preached kindness towards them. He told the Muslims: “Fear Allah in respect of women.” And: “The best of you are they who behave best to their wives.” And: “A Muslim must not hate his wife, and if he be displeased with one bad quality in her, let him be pleased with one that is good.” And: “The more civil and kind a Muslim is to his wife, the more perfect in faith he is.”
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was most emphatic in enjoining upon Muslims to be kind to their women when he delivered his famous khutbah on the Mount of Mercy at Arafat in the presence of one hundred and twenty-four thousand of his Companions who had gathered there for the Hajj al-Wada (Farewell Pilgrimage). In it he ordered those present, and through them all those Muslims who were to come later, to be respectful and kind towards women. He said:
“Fear Allah regarding women. Verily you have married them with the trust of Allah, and made their bodies lawful with the word of Allah. You have got (rights) over them, and they have got (rights) over you in respect of their food and clothing according to your means.”
In Islam a woman is a completely independent personality. She can make any contract or bequest in her own name. She is entitled to inherit in her position as mother, as wife, as sister and as daughter. She has perfect liberty to choose her husband. The pagan society of pre-Islamic Arabia had an irrational prejudice against their female children whom they used to bury alive. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) was totally opposed to this practice. He showed them that supporting their female children would act as a screen for them against the fire of Hell:
It is narrated by the Prophet’s wife, Ayshah, that a woman entered her house with two of her daughters. She asked for charity but Ayshah could not find anything except a date, which was given to her. The woman divided it between her two daughters and did not eat any herself. Then she got up and left. When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) came to the house, Ayshah told him about what had happened and he declared that when the woman was brought to account (on the Day of Judgment) about her two daughters they would act as a screen for her from the fires of Hell.
The worst calamity for a woman is when her husband passes away and, as a widow, the responsibility of maintaining the children falls upon her. In the Eastern World, where a woman does not always go out to earn her living, the problems of widowhood are indescribable. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) upheld the cause of widows. Most of his wives were widows. In an age when widows were rarely permitted to remarry, the Prophet encouraged his followers to marry them. He was always ready to help widows and exhorted his followers to do the same. Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet said: “One who makes efforts (to help) the widow or a poor person is like a Mujahid (warrior) in the path of Allah, or like one who stands up for prayers in the night and fasts in the day.”
Woman as mother commands great respect in Islam. The Noble Quran speaks of the rights of the mother in a number of verses. It enjoins Muslims to show respect to their mothers and serve them well even if they are still unbelievers. The Prophet states emphatically that the rights of the mother are paramount. Abu Hurayrah reported that a man came to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) and asked: “O Messenger of Allah, who is the person who has the greatest right on me with regards to kindness and attention?” He replied, “Your mother.” “Then who?” He replied, “Your mother.” “Then who?” He replied, “Your mother.” “Then who?” He replied, “Your father.”
In another tradition, the Prophet advised a believer not to join the war against the Quraish in defense of Islam, but to look after his mother, saying that his service to his mother would be a cause of his salvation. Mu’awiyah, the son of Jahimah, reported that Jahimah came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and said, “Messenger of Allah! I want to join the fighting (in the path of Allah) and I have come to seek your advice.” He said, “Then remain in your mother’s service, because Paradise is under her feet.”
The Prophet’s followers accepted his teachings and brought about a revolution in their social attitude towards women. They no longer considered women as mere chattels, but as an integral part of society. For the first time women were given the right to have a share in inheritance. In the new social climate, women rediscovered themselves and became highly active members of society rendering useful service during the wars which the pagan Arabs forced on the emerging Muslim Ummah. They carried provisions for the soldiers, nursed them, and even fought alongside them if it was necessary. It became a common sight to see women helping their husbands in the fields, carrying on trade and business independently, and going out of their homes to satisfy their needs.
Ayshah reported that Saudah bint Zam’ah went out one night. ‘Umar saw her and recognized her and said, “By God, O Saudah, why do you not hide yourself from us?” She went back to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and told him about it while he was having supper in her room, and he said, “It is permitted by Allah for you to go out for your needs.” The predominant idea in the teachings of Islam with regard to men and women is that a husband and wife should be full-fledged partners in making their home a happy and prosperous place, that they should be loyal and faithful to one another, and genuinely interested in each other’s welfare and the welfare of their children. A woman is expected to exercise a humanizing influence over her husband and to soften the sternness inherent in his nature. A man is enjoined to educate the women in his care so that they cultivate the qualities in which they, by their very nature, excel.
These aspects were much emphasized by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). He exhorted men to marry women of piety and women to be faithful to their husbands and kind to their children. He said:
“Among my followers the best of men are those who are best to their wives, and the best of women are those who are best to their husbands. To each of such women is set down a reward equivalent to the reward of a thousand martyrs. Among my followers, again, the best of women are those who assist their husbands in their work, and love them dearly for everything, save what is a transgression of Allah’s laws.”
Once Mu’awiyah asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “What are the rights that a wife has over her husband?” The Prophet replied, “Feed her when you take your food, give her clothes to wear when you wear clothes, refrain from giving her a slap on the face or abusing her, and do not separate from your wife, except within the house.” Once a woman came to the Prophet with a complaint against her husband. He told her: “There is no woman who removes something to replace it in its proper place, with a view to tidying her husband’s house, but that Allah sets it down as a virtue for her. Nor is there a man who walks with his wife hand-in-hand, but that Allah sets it down as a virtue for him; and if he puts his arm round her shoulder in love, his virtue is increased tenfold.” Once he was heard praising the women of the tribe of Quraish, “…because they are the kindest to their children while they are infants and because they keep a careful watch over the belongings of their husbands.”
The Shari’ah regards women as the spiritual and intellectual equals of men. The main distinction it makes between them is in the physical realm based on the equitable principle of fair division of labor. It allots the more strenuous work to the man and makes him responsible for the maintenance of the family. It allots the work of managing the home and the upbringing and training of children to the woman, work which has the greatest importance in the task of building a healthy and prosperous society.
It is a fact, however, that sound administration within the domestic field is impossible without a unified policy. For this reason the Shari’ah requires a man, as head of the family, to consult with his family and then to have the final say in decisions concerning it. In doing so he must not abuse his prerogative to cause any injury to his wife. Any transgression of this principle involves for him the risk of losing the favor of Allah, because his wife is not his subordinate but she is, to use the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), ‘the queen of her house’, and this is the position a true believer is expected to give his wife. In contrast to these enlightened teachings of Islam in respect of women, Western talk of women’s liberation or emancipation is actually a disguised form of exploitation of her body, deprivation of her honor, and degradation of her soul!
The Question of Hijab: Suppression Or Liberation?
“Why do Muslim women have to cover their heads?” This question is one which is asked by Muslim and non-Muslim alike. For many women it is the truest test of being a Muslim.
The answer to the question is very simple – Muslim women observe HIJAB (covering the head and the body) because Allah has told them to do so.
“O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better in order that they may be known (to be Muslims) and not annoyed…”( Quran 33:59)
Other secondary reasons include the requirement for modesty in both men and women. Both will then be evaluated for intelligence and skills instead of looks and sexuality. An Iranian school girl is quoted as saying, “We want to stop men from treating us like sex objects, as they have always done. We want them to ignore our appearance and to be attentive to our personalities and mind. We want them to take us seriously and treat us as equals and not just chase us around for our bodies and physical looks.” A Muslim woman who covers her head is making a statement about her identity. Anyone who sees her will know that she is a Muslim and has a good moral character. Many Muslim women who cover are filled with dignity and self esteem; they are pleased to be identified as a Muslim woman. As a chaste, modest, pure woman, she does not want her sexuality to enter into interactions with men in the smallest degree. A woman who covers herself is concealing her sexuality but allowing her femininity to be brought out.
The question of Hijab for Muslim women has been a controversy for centuries and will probably continue for many more. Some learned people do not consider the subject open to discussion and consider that covering the face is required, while a majority are of the opinion that it is not required. A middle line position is taken by some who claim that the instructions are vague and open to individual discretion depending on the situation. The wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) were required to cover their faces so that men would not think of them in sexual terms since they were the “Mothers of the Believers,” but this requirement was not extended to other women.
The word “Hijab” comes from the Arabic word “hajaba” meaning to hide from view or conceal. In the present time, the context of Hijab is the modest covering of a Muslim woman. The question now is what is the extent of the covering? The Quran says:
“Say to the believing man that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands…” (Quran 24:30-31)
These verses from the Quran contain two main injunctions:
A woman should not show her beauty or adornments except what appears by uncontrolled factors such as the wind blowing her clothes, and
the head covers should be drawn so as to cover the hair, the neck and the bosom.
Islam has no fixed standard as to the style of dress or type of clothing that Muslims must wear. However, some requirements must be met. The first of these requirements is the parts of the body which must be covered. Islam has two sources for guidance and rulings: first, the Quran, the revealed word of Allah and secondly, the Hadith or the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) who was chosen by Allah to be the role model for mankind. The following is a Tradition of the Prophet:
“Ayshah reported that Asma’ the daughter of Abu Bakr came to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) while wearing thin clothing. He approached her and said: ‘O Asma’! When a girl reaches the menstrual age, it is not properthat anything should remain exposed except this and this. He pointed to theface and hands.” [Abu Dawud]
The second requirement is looseness. The clothing must be loose enough so as not to describe the shape of the woman’s body. One desirable way to hide the shape of the body is to wear a cloak over other clothes. However, if the clothing is loose enough, an outer garment is not necessary. Thickness is the third requirement. The clothing must be thick enough so as not to show the color of the skin it covers or the shape of the body. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) stated that in later generations of his Ummah there would be
“women who would be dressed but naked and on top of their heads (what looks like) camel humps. Curse them for they are truly cursed.” [Muslim]
Another requirement is an over-all dignified appearance. The clothing should not attract men’s attention to the woman. It should not be shiny and flashy so that everyone notices the dress and the woman. In addition there are other requirements:
Women must not dress so as to appear as men.
Women should not dress in a way similar to the unbelievers.
The clothing should be modest, not excessively fancy and also not excessively ragged to gain others admiration or sympathy.
Often forgotten is the fact that modern Western dress is a new invention. Looking at the clothing of women as recently as seventy years ago, we see clothing similar to Hijab. These active and hard-working women of the West were not inhibited by their clothing which consisted of long, full dresses and various types of head covering. Muslim women who wear Hijab do not find it impractical or interfering with their activities in all levels and walks of life. Hijab is not merely a covering dress but more importantly, it is behavior, manners, speech and appearance in public. Dress is only one facet of the total being. The basic requirement of the Muslim woman’s dress apply to the Muslim man’s clothing with the difference being mainly in degree. Modesty requires that the area between the navel and the knee be covered in front of all people except the wife. The clothing of men should not be like the dress of women, nor should it be tight or provocative. A Muslim should dress to show his identity as a Muslim. Men are not allowed to wear gold or silk. However, both are allowed for women.
For both men and women, clothing requirements are not meant to be a restriction but rather a way in which society will function in a proper, Islamic manner.
Please enjoy this video:
Women in Islam: Sheikh Yusuf Estes