Islam in relation to the women’s right in the society
Dr. Farhat Naz Rahman is a Research Scholar and Ph. D. in Islamic Learning from University of Karachi, Karachi, Pakistan. She can be contacted by writing to:
B-2/20, Al Ahram Plaza, Block 13- A, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi. 75300, Pakistan.)
Dr Farhat Naz Rahman
The views generally accepted regarding women's status and role considering them to be inferior and depriving them to be a human being had been emerged from the classical Islamic Thought and are now the challenge for the contemporary Muslim Intellectuals. Few of these views are:
1. God created woman from the rib of the Adam so her status cannot be equal to that of man.
2. The women were the primary agent of what is customarily described as "man's fall" hence she is a source of all evils.
3. Men are made governors over women; hence it is the duty of women to obey the men.
4. Her share in inheritance shall be half of that man.
5. Her blood money is half of that man.
6. The testimony of one man is equal to that of two women.
7. Men can beat their wives.
8. Beautiful companions (Hur) will reward righteous men but no such reward is promised to women.
9. A woman cannot be a judge, Imam or leader, because she is deficient in intellect and because she cannot be a full witness.
10. Women are less in prayer.
How does the Qur’an view the creation of woman? Is she just a part of Adam and an afterthought? This is what it says, in the first ayah (verse) of Surat an-Nisa - The Women:
O Mankind, be conscious of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate (of the same kind) and from them twain has spread a multitude of men and women.1
`A single soul' is neither male nor female, although it could be understood to mean Adam it is not necessarily so. In fact `soul' is feminine and `mate' is masculine! Not that I'm suggesting that women came first, because in other parts of the Qur'an creation theory is described. But the gender relationship here is ambivalent. And the mate was created from the `soul' not the humble `rib'. No Muslim scholar could ever argue, after reading this, as some Christians have done, that women do not have a soul! They are made of the same soul as men. Their capacity for good and evil is identical with that of men. Women and men are from the same species. Biologically speaking, women have not been extracted from the bodies of their male counterparts. Allah Almighty fashioned them according to His Will.
The Qur’an does not restrict the female from being in authority, either over other women or over both women and men. However, there is the implication that the Qur’an inclines towards seeing necessary tasks fulfilled in society in the most efficient manner. Neither male nor female will be equally beneficial in every situation.2 There are verses in the Qur'an concerning men and women that are controversial and have been the topic of discussion by various scholars through out the Islamic history. Different individuals have used these verses in order to discredit Islam. For example, in Sura 2 Verse 228 the Qur'an states: And women shall have rights similar to rights against them, according to what is equitable. But men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And Allah is exalted in Power, Wise. This verse has been interpreted in different ways. Some see it as a degree in intelligence, other view it as a degree in superiority. However, many Muslim scholars argue that the degree is related to qiwama, that is, maintenance of the family. A man is legally obligated for this responsibility.
Therefore, this "degree above them" has an economic base and has nothing to do with intelligence or superiority of men over women.
One of the widely propagated and largely accepted notions in today's Muslim world is that men are superior to women especially the husband is superior to wife. Basically this idea emerged from the famous Qur’anic verse 34 of Surah 4.
" Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more strength than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in the husband's absence. What Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them first, next, refuse to share their beds, and last beat them. But if they return to obedience, seek not against them. But if they return to obedience, seek not against them means of annoyance for Allah is most high Great above you all." 3
Defining Critical Words in 4.34
From root qawwâm: maintainer, caretaker, provider, supporter, somebody who stands firmly and upright, one who stands firm in another's business, protects his interests and looks after his affairs; standing firm in his own business, managing affairs, with a steady purpose, be in charge of, manage, run, tend, guard, keep up, preserve, take care of, attend to, watch over, look after, manager, director, superintendent, keeper, custodian, and guardian.
Mohammad Asad has translated this in "The Message of the Qur'an" as
Man shall take full care of woman with bounties which had been bestowed more abundantly…." He explains, "The expression "Qawwâm" is an intensive form of "Qaim" (one who is responsible for or takes care of a thing or a person). This "Qama alal mar'a" signifies "He undertook the maintenance of the woman" or "He maintains her". The grammatical form of Qawwâm is more comprehensive than Qaim and combines the concepts of physical maintenance and protection as well as moral responsibility. From this wide range of meanings, some interpolate that a husband is responsible for his wife, i.e.: her disciplining, teaching and guidance in all matters “As for the meaning of qawwâm, when I checked the lexical meanings of the root, there is (among many meanings) the meaning of 'be in charge of, manage, run, tend, guard, keep up, preserve, take care of, attend to, watch over, look after'. From this comes the definition of qawwâm as 'manager, director, superintendent, caretaker, keeper, custodian, and guardian’. This range of definitions might allow for a paternalistic interpretation if you were disposed to find one, but considered on the whole it carries the sense of, to take an analogy, stewardship over the environment as opposed to exploitation.
The key word in the first sentence of this verse is "qawwamun. " This word has been translated variously as "protectors and maintainers [of women], ""in charge [of women], " "having pre-eminence [above women]," and "sovereigns or masters [over women]," Linguistically, the word "qawwamun" means " breadwinners" or "those who provide a means of support or livelihood." A point of logic that must be made here is that the first sentence is not a descriptive one stating that all men as a matter of fact are providing for women, since obviously there are at least some men who do not provide for women. What the sentence is stating, rather, is that men ought to have the capability to provide (since "ought" implies "can"). In other words, this statement, which almost all Muslim societies have taken to be an actual description of all men, is infact a normative statement pertaining to the Islamic concept of division of labor in an ideal family or community structure. The fact that men are "qawwamun" does not mean that women cannot or should not provide for themselves, but simply that in view of the heavy burden that most women shoulder with regard to child bearing and rearing, they should not have the additional obligation of providing the means of living at the same time. What is outlined in the first part of this passage is a functional division of labor necessary for maintaining balance in any society. Men who do not have to fulfill the responsibility of childbearing are assigned the function of being breadwinners. Women are exempted from the responsibility of being breadwinners in order that they may fulfill their function as child bearers. The two functions are separate but complementary and neither is higher or lower than the other is. 4
Another consideration in contemporary discussion on the issue of Patriarchy in Islam focuses on the women as a potential witness.
"… And if two men be not found, then a man and two women, such as you choose, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her.." 5
Muslims usually take into consideration the verse in Sura al- Baqarah to claim that one man is equal to two women. They do not notice the context of the verse: (1) it was revealed early after the hijra to Madina. (2) it gives the reason for two women and one men " so that if one errs, the other can remind her." The very same rule applied to the men as in the verse the two male witnesses are mentioned while in the absence of another male witness two female witnesses has been added i.e. the evidence of a single man is not acceptable. Thus the rule in Sura al-Baqara does not have so much to do with gender as with experience.
In another verse it says:
.. And it shall avert the punishment from her if she bear witness before Allah four times that the thing he says is indeed false.6
Here one woman's witness is enough even in such a serious matter where, her husband accuses her of being of immoral character. The issue here is of much more serious nature than a commercial transaction and the Qur’an deems one woman's witness sufficient. In fact her witness overruled the man according to this verse.
Legal rights, including those of women, should be discussed in light of the Islamic principle of justice. The main areas of controversy in regards to women’s legal rights are in the areas of witnessing and inheritance. While acknowledging that further research by Islamic scholars is needed in these areas to address changing circumstances and, if necessary, to reformulate fiqh, the divine and permanent laws of sharia must be respected.
Inheritance rights of women
The attacks upon the Islamic inheritance law however concentrates on the issue of the "inequality" between the share inherited by a man and the share inherited by a woman, as stated via verse 11 and 12 of An-Nisa'. Looking at these verses in isolation, it is easy for the ignorant critics to conclude that while the Qur'an still protects the right of the women heirs, it is being done "unfairly" by giving lesser right than that enjoyed by men heirs (although this so-called "unfair" treatment only applies to the children, while parents and siblings are treated equally in both verses regardless of gender). Islam was revolutionary in regards to inheritance by women. Prior to the Qur’anic injunction, women not only did not inherit from their relatives, women themselves were bequeathed as if they were property to be distributed at the death of a husband, father, or brother. Thus, Islam, by giving women the right to inherit, changed the status of women in an unprecedented fashion. Moreover, this right was God given and not acquired as a result of political pressure. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the verses on inheritance are contained in Chapter 4 of the Qur’an, which is entitled "Women", perhaps signaling the importance of this area for women. The Qur’an states: "Men shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, and women shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind." 7 In terms of the right to inherit, women and men are equal legal entities; thus, whether women can inherit is not controversial. Rather, the dispute centers around the "share" that is to be inherited. The inheritance verses demonstrate God’s wisdom in detailing the rights of each family member where the society was tribal and patriarchal and where women generally had no financial security other than that provided by men; however, there may be hidden wisdom in these verses that is beneficial to other types of societies as well. Islamic scholars, while respecting the permanent divine law, must explore the application and inherent wisdom of these verses to ensure that the Islamic principle of justice prevails.
Islam encourages wife beating
This is a grave distortion of the Qur’anic teachings. On the contrary, Qur’an uses the best psychological approach to discourage this widespread abuse that is widespread in both Islamic and non-Islamic societies.
Following is the related Qur'anic text:
Men are the protectors and maintainers of women. Because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next) do not share their beds,(and last) beat (tap) them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all).8
In this verse, the Arabic word “Wazraboohuna’ root (Zaraba) has usually been translated as ‘to beat the wives’. But as this meaning of beating was against the general Islamic principles of equality of both the sexes and justice, hence a number of explanations of this translation were made, some of which were very funny. According to one such explanation, it is reported that the above-quoted verse actually revealed to repeal a decision of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). During the Jahilliah society before Islam, it was customary for the husband to beat their wives. But the equal right granted by Islam to women convinced the believers that this custom was against the teachings of Islam. It was due to this conviction that when an Ansari Companion slapped his wife, she complained against him in the court of the Prophet (PBUH). The Prophet (PBUH) then ordered that her husband should be treated in the same way. But according to a report Almighty Allah did not like this decision of the Prophet (PBUH) and the above mentioned verse 3:34 of Surah Al Nisa revealed. 9
This report contradicts itself as it presents the Prophet (PBUH) as a person who could not differentiate between the right and the wrong. The second report in this respect is from Hazrat Ibne Abbas (RA), a companion and the first exegesist of the Qur’an. He explains away this verse by observing that the wife should be beaten with a toothbrush and nothing else. This explanation renders the beating affair a funny one. Imam Shafie had his own explanation of this verse. He maintained that the injunction contained in this verse regarding the beating of the wives was a sort of permission but it is better not to beat them.10
Side by side with these explanations, there is hadith authenticated by Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim, which shows that the Prophet (PBUH) did not like the beating of wives at all. In this respect, he remarked that a person beats his wife and then expects conjugal relations with her?
Among his sayings are the following: "Do not beat the female servants of Allah;" "Some (women) visited my family complaining about their husbands (beating them). These (husbands) are not the best of you;" and"[It is not a shame that] one of you beats his wife like [an unscrupulous person] beats a slave and maybe he sleeps with her at the end of the day."11
In another hadith the Prophet (Pbuh) said; How does anyone of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion camel and then he may embrace (sleep with) her?12.
This observation of the Prophet (PBUH) points to the fact that beating of the wives, badly affects the matrimonial relations and the believers should avoid this exercise.
It may be interesting to mention here that this verse of Qur’an does not discuss the relations between a husband and wife as had been generally understood by the majority of the translators. In this verse and like many other similar verses on the subject, address is to Muslim society, which according to the Qur’an is responsible for the safeguarding the rights of both the genders in the society. The punishment of beating for indecency is concerned, it is not confined to women only but as mentioned in the following verse of the same chapter it applies to both sexes.
If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they repent and amend, leave them alone; for God is oft returning, most Merciful.13
This refers to the unnatural crime between men. As already mentioned this punishment is to be enforced by the Muslim society. In the above verse an appropriate word ‘Fa Azoohuma’ has been used for slight punishment. It literally means ‘to beat’. While the Arabic word ‘Zaraba’ used in verse 34 which is usually been translated as ‘to beat’ has several meanings. When this word is used in legal context, as is the case inverse under reference, it means ‘to prevent’. The great Arabic lexicographer Syed Murtaza Al-Husaini Al-Zubaidi in his famous Arabic dictionary Taj-ul-Urus has supported this meaning of the word. 14
According to the explanation, the translation of the relevant portion of verse 34 will be as under: -
‘And (as to) those on whose part you feel desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in beds and prevent them from going out of their houses’.
This meaning is also in accordance with the guilt of desertion mentioned in this verse. House confinement, it may be mentioned here, is the general rule of punishment prescribed in the Qur’an for the women. In addition to this verse, similar punishment has been prescribed for them in verse 15 of this Surah also. In this verse procedure for enforcing this punishment has also been prescribed. It will enforce by the society after fulfilling all the requirements of justice and not by husband. It is not necessary that the guilty woman may be a wife. She can be a daughter, a sister, and a mother also. 15
Islamic teachings are universal in nature. They respond to the needs and circumstances of diverse times, cultures and circumstances. Some measures may work in some cases and cultures or with certain persons but may not be effective in others.
Polygamy is strongly recommended:
If we read the Qur’anic texts we will find the preference for having one wife, and that Allah restricted Polygamy with several conditions such as mentioned in Surah al-Nisa:
And if you fear that you may cause the orphans injustice, then marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; But if you fear that you can not deal justly with them, then only one. That is more likely to keep you from committing injustice. (4:3). It is often propagated that Polygamy is strongly recommended in Islam. This is one of the most common misconceptions about Islam (Submission.) Qur’an strongly discourages polygamy. Polygamy was a way of life until the Qur’an was revealed 1400 years ago.
It was advocated and practiced by the followers of the previous scriptures. Qur’an came to put the first scriptural limit on polygamy and discourages it as much as possible. It is permitted with restrictions, exceptionally, and temporarily under the situation such as war when large number of women, widows, and orphans are left and they needed the support of the family system. In such cases the when nation feels this urgency to solve the problem of widows and orphans, the women shall also take equal part in this decision; men alone shall not decide it. Remember that Qur’an granted the permission for the purpose of accommodating destitute not for sexual purpose or for the sake of having children. Fairness in treating the co-wives is a pre-condition; otherwise one wife is the general rule in normal situation, “to keep you from committing injustice.”
Hence permission to polygamy is conditioned with justice and Qur’an says that you can never do justice. It is an obligation not right in exceptional situations/circumstances. It is related to an injustice suffered by the orphans, which may refer to after-war circumstances, when many women became widows who have to take care of their orphaned children, including girls in the age of marriage. This is a grave distortion of Qur’anic teaching and satanic logic as practiced and has been incorporated in law in many Muslim countries that if wife is barren or seriously ill and cannot fulfill the conjugal duties then husband is allowed to take another wife. Qur’an speaks of justice and such excuses do not fulfill the requirements of the justice. What if husband is impotent or seriously ill? Does Islam equally grant the right to woman to get divorce and marry another man? No, this is not the divine teaching of the Qur’an. The first and foremost condition for marriage is that man must have the ability to bear the burden of the family, physically, psychologically and socially. Polygamy was never meant to be abused for sexual pleasure or prove superiority.
If the family has to be model for the whole society in its harmonious relations and fulfillment of all responsibilities (25:74) One man and one woman only can establish such a strong and balanced nucleus that can represent the mutual relations within the family and with the whole society. 16
Regarding Prophets Marriages, well this is a long debate however I try to be brief in this regard.
The Prophet came to the world as an ideal model for mankind, and so he was in all aspects of his life. He contracted nine marriages in quick succession during the age of fifty six to sixty years.
The wives he took were all divorced and widows except Hazrat Ayesha who too had a broken engagement. Some were older than he was and others were above 40 years again except Hazrat Ayesha. Almost all of them sought his hand and shelter.
Most of his marriages were contracted in a period of five years, when he was passing the most difficult and trying stage in his mission. This was a time when Muslims were engaged indecisive battles and were facing endless trouble from all quarters. Hence his marriages were the outcome of sociopolitical situation and reasons. His principle concern was the future of Islam and the strengthening of Muslims by all bonds. It was his marriage to Juwariah that he gained the support for Islam of whole clan of Bani-mustaliq and their allied tribes. It was through marriage to Safiyah that he neutralized a great section of hostile Jews of Arabia. By accepting Mary the Copt from Egypt as his wife, he formed a political alliance with a king of great magnitude. It was also a gesture of friendship with a neighboring king that Prophet married to Zaynab.
Some of his marriages were for
legislative reasons and to abolish
By contracting most of these marriages, the Prophet meant to eliminate the cast system, all racial and national vanities and religious prejudice. He married some of the humblest and poorest women: a Coptic woman from Egypt, a Jewess of a different race, a negro woman from Abyssinia.
Given these historical and logical
reasons on the background of
While the provision for polygamy makes the social system flexible enough to deal with all kinds of conditions, it is not necessarily recommended or preferred by Islam. Islam wants people to be married and to develop a good family structure. Also Islam realizes the requirements of the society and the individual in special circumstances where polygamy can be one of the solutions to problems. Thus Islam does not require or even recommended polygamy.
So, to conclude, these are the ideals to which Muslim women can aspire and frequently have done in the past. In a truly Islamic society, they are guaranteed
- personal respect,
- respectable married status,
- legitimacy and maintenance for their children,
- the right to negotiate marriage terms of their choice,
- to refuse any marriage that does not please them,
- the right to obtain divorce from their husbands, even on the grounds that they can't stand them (Mawdudi),
- custody of their children after divorce,
- independent property of their own,
- the right and duty to obtain education,
- the right to work if they need or want it,
- equality of reward for equal deeds,
- the right to participate fully in public life and have their voices heard by those in power, and much more besides which no other religion, political theory, or philosophy has offered such a comprehensive package.
1 Qur’an 4:1
2 Dr Amina Wadud-Muhsin, Quran and Woman Kaula Lampur, Penerbit Fajar Bakti Sdn. Bhd. 1992, pp 89.
3 Qur’an 4:34
5 Qur’an : 2:282
6 Qur’an 24:8
7 Qur’an 4:7
8 Qur’an 4: 34
9 Allama Shaukani, Tafsir Fateh Al-Qadeer, Vol: 1 P-462.
10 Mohammad Shoaib Adil, Islam and wife beating, an article published in ‘La Dame’ the magazine of the Daily The Nation, in 1991,p-2.
11 Riyadh Al-Saliheen, p.p. 137-140.
12 Sahih Al-Bukhari, op. cit., vol.8. Hadith 68, pp.42-43.
13 Qur’an 4:16
14 Mohammad Shoaib Adil, Islam and wife beating, an article published in ‘La Dame’ the magazine of the Daily The Nation, in 1991,p-2.
16 Hammudah Abdalati, Islam in Focus, American Trust Publications, Indiana, 2004.
Please report any
broken links to
Copyright © 1988-2012 irfi.org. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer