Woman: Her position in Islam
By Shah Abdul Halim
The writer is the Chairman of Islamic
Information Bureau Bangladesh.
Tue, 29 Aug 2006, 09:46:00
In my article 'Islam and Democracy: How far Compatible' published in
The New Nation on 11 March 2006 I discussed, as a corollary of the
women's political participation and empowerment, the question whether it
is obligatory on the part of Muslim women to fully cover face or use
In response to my article Mr. Mohammad Sakhi in the every first
paragraph of his article under the heading 'Islam and Democracy'
published in The New Nation 0n 17 April 2006 pointed out that I have
written that 'veiled women are not required to lower down their gaze
when she faces opposite sex'. This statement does not correctly
represent the words as to what I have said in my article although some
might infer such a farfetched conclusion. I would request Mr. Mohammad
Sakhi to read my previous article. I shall however further explain here
at this stage my position on 'lowering of gaze' for the benefit of
The question that I discussed in my previous article is whether the
Muslim women shall have to fully cover the face or use nikab. Referring
verse to 24: 30-31 wherein both men and women have been asked to lower
their look when fall on the opposite sex I took up the position that
"the instruction of the verses quoted above is that both men and women
are required to keep their eye cast down, so that when they meet each
other, neither should men stare at women nor women at men. The natural
question that arises is why man should lower his gaze if the face of
woman is totally covered? From the text of the verses it is clearly
evident that the face of the woman is not to be covered and therefore
man has been advised to lower his look". My understanding of the Text of
the Quran is that women are not required to cover face or wear nikab.
Others might differ with me.
Imam Abu Hanifa and majority of the scholars support the view that women
need not cover their face although some other scholars hold different
Amazingly enough, the most important thing today is that the opinion
cited should be old; the writer's reputation or the work's value does
not matter. There is however no reason to think our earlier generations
have done all the research and investigation and we have nothing to add.
In this connection, the Farewell Pilgrimage message of the Prophet
Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is very pertinent in which he
called upon those who are present on the occasion to convey his message
to those who are not present adding that those who will come to know
about his message later might understand the inner meaning and
significance of his message more than who are present [Zahir Ahmed,
Muhammad: Glimpses of the Prophet's Life & Times, Royal Book Company,
Karachi, Pakistan, p 200. Also Prof. Syed Ali Asan, Muhammad: Seal of
the Prophets, Dhaka, p 345 and Dr. M. Said Ramadan Al Buti, The
Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography & A Brief History of the
Orthodox Caliphate, Dar Al Fikr, Damascus, pp 651-652]. It is no good to
conclude that 'modern Muslims influenced by western philosophy and
technology are inclined to imitate them at the cost of our culture and
civilization … have developed a mentality of western path' as Mr.
Mohammad Sakhi in his article has observed while making comments on my
position on Hijab.
We must not overlook the general practice of Hijab by women in
Indonesia, Malaysia, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Morocco where
they keep their face open and they do not cover their face with nikab.
Women in the Saudi Television also appear without nikab, without
covering the face. Even the women leaders of Ikhwan-al-Muslimin, Muslim
Brotherhood throughout Middle East, including eminent Ikhwan leader of
Egypt Zainab al Ghazali known for his monumental work "Return of the
Pharoah: Memoirs in Naser's Prison', do not cover their face. It is
obligatory that women must not cover their face during Hajj.
In this connection, it would be appropriate to quote Hadith of Prophet
Muhammad in which he said: Hazrat Ayesha reports a Tradition that her
sister Asma once came in thin clothes and Prophet Muhammad turned his
face away from her and remarked: O Asma when a girl attains maturity,
she is not permitted to expose any part of her body except face and
hand" [Abu Daud quoted in Muhammad Sharif Chaudhury's Women's Right in
Islam, Adam Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, 2003, pp 99, 104. Also
see Katherine Bullock, Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil: Challenging
Historical & Modern Stereotypes, IIIT, U. S. A., 2003, p 232].
Now let us discuss Mr. Mohammad Sakhi's observation that 'if husband
does not allow her (wife) to go for pilgrimage (Hajj) she cannot go'.
Hajj is a obligatory ibadah, prayer also for woman if she fulfills the
conditions for Hajj namely she is in good health, she has her own money,
wealth and resources to bear the expenses and a muharram- a brother or a
son and so on who is willing to accompany her during pilgrimage.
Husband cannot stop wife from performing Fard, obligatory prayer and
there is no obedience that contradicts obedience to Allah and His
Prophet and obedience is only on maruf and not on munkar [Bukhari Muslim
quoted in Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi's Islamic Law and Constitution.
Bengali tr Islami Rastro O Shongbidhan Dhaka, 1997, p 129], that means
we can expect obedience only lawful commands, on good things and we
cannot expect obedience when the command is on unlawful matter, on doing
evil [Bukhari, Muslim, Tabrani and Sharhus Sunnah quoted in ibid p 252].
Mr. Mohammad Sakhi's observation that 'woman cannot be summoned to the
court if she is prudah observing'. This is something not understandable.
Indeed some Muslim scholars have engrossed themselves in woman studies
emphasizing biological and psychological differences, thereby attempting
to derive evidence from Islam to support their attitude. Such a
decidedly un-Islamic bias has prevented Muslims scholars from
considering the issue of the woman's testimony in the light of broader
Quranic teachings of equality.
Shaykh Taha Jabir Al-Alwani, President of The Fiqh Council of North
America and Member of the OIC Islamic Fiqh Council observed: "In
essence, Muslim jurists and Quranic commentators allowed their cultural
prejudices to color their discussions on women" [The Testimony of Women
in Issues in Contemporary Islamic Thought, IIIT, U. S. A., 2005, p 166].
Imam Abu Hanifa is of the view that that "since the Quran indicated that
women may serve as witnesses in financial transactions, they may also
judge on financial and other matters" [Dr. Jamal Badawi, Islamic
Teachings Course, Islamic Schools Trust, 2 Digswell Street, London N7
8JX, England, vol. 3, p 50. Bengali tr. Islami Shikkha Series, BIIT,
Dhaka, 2006 p 328]. "Witnessing is mentioned seven times in the Quran,
and on only one occasion is there a requirement that if two men are not
present, a man and two women will suffice (2: 282). In verse 24: 6-9 it
is clear that the testimony of a woman is equated exactly with that of a
man in case of adultery: where one spouse accuses the other of
infidelity, the accusation by one spouse is held to be just as valid as
the denial by the other. In other five verses on witnessing (4:15.
5:106-107, 24: 4, 24: 13, 65: 2), the Quran does not specify whether
witnesses should be men, women or a combination of them" [Abdul Qadr
Auda, Criminal Law in Islam, p 315, quoted in Dr. Jamal Badawi's Islamic
Teachings Course, vol. 3, pp 51-54. Bengali tr. Islami Shikkha Series,
pp 330-333]. "Sayings from the prophetic tradition seem to contradict
the view that, as in financial matters, there must be two men or one man
and two women; for instance, according to tradition, the Prophet is
reported as having settled many disputes on the basis of one statement
under oath and one witness - there is no indication whether the witness
was a male or female i.e. it could have been either" [Dr. Jamal Badawi,
Islamic Teachings Course, vol. 3, p 52. Bengali tr. Islami Shikkha
Series, p 331]. If we fall back on history we find that woman as witness
appeared before the Qadi during the four rightly guided Caliphs and
afterwards during the Umayyad and the Abbasid period. Even today Muslim
women appear in the courts in Saudi Arabia and Iran not to speak of
other Muslim countries.
In this connection it would be appropriate to quote Hadith of Prophet
Muhammad: Wael-b-Hujr reported that a woman came out at the time of the
Messenger of Allah intending to say prayer. A man forced her and dragged
her and satisfied his lust with her. She raised alarm but he went away.
She passed by a host of the refugees and said: That man did with me such
and such thing. They over took him and came with him to the Messenger of
Allah. He said to her: Go back because Allah has forgiven you and he
said about the man: Stone him to death. [Tirmizi, Abu Daud quoted in
Women's Right in Islam, p 78]. Is this not a proof that a lady appeared
before the Court of Prophet Muhammad.
Mr. Mohammad Sakh observed: 'Our scripture never allows free mixing (of
men and women) and soft speech (by women) with unknown persons … how far
modern female is correct when she defies Allah's command in the public
hall meeting and Parliament House, when she speaks and announces in
radio and television and serves as a hostess in aircraft with smiling
face and sweet tone'. Prof. Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi is of opinion that
"Islam prohibits Khulwah between a man and a woman who are outside the
degree of mahrem relationship" [The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam,
American Trust Publications, U. S. A., p 150. Bengali tr. Islame Halal
Haramer Bidhan, Khairun Prokashani, Dhaka, 1999, p 200]. What is not
allowed in Islam is "meet in private" and "male and female should not be
alone together" [Islamic Teachings Course, vol. 3, p 71. Bengali tr.
Islami Shikkha Series, p 357]. As regards soft speech it appears in
verse 33: 32 of the Quran and the verse is "directed to the wives of the
Prophet … it applies only to them" [Maha Azzam, Gender and the Politics
of Religion in the Middle East in Mai Yamani ed. Feminism and Islam:
Legal and Literary Perspectives, New York University Press, U. S. A.,
1996, p 224]. We must not overlook the fact that Hazrat Ayesha, herself
a Fuqaha, taught Quran and Hadith to the Companions of the Prophet.
Women can go out when necessary and Prof. Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi is of
opinion that women can be a Member of Parliament and can serve as judge
[Dr. Zeenath Kausar, Political Participation of Women: Contemporary
Perspectives of Gender Feminists & Islamic Revivalists, published by A.
S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, 1997, p 31]. In Turkey only recently Marve
Kavaki, a woman Member of the Parliament from an Islamic Party entered
the House in decent dress, in proper Hijab - keeping the face open, and
she was expelled from the Parliament. People made uproar not because she
has become a Member of Parliament but why she was denied to stay in the
Parliament with Hijab.
Replying a question: 'Can it be said that the way in which a woman
overturned a proposal by Umar to limit the amount of mahr that is paid
resembles the modern parliamentary process' Dr. Jamal Badwi replied:
"There are six ways in which it is possible to draw a parallel between
what happened during the reign of Umar and what happens today in
parliament. (a) When Umar stood up in the mosque to propose a ceiling in
the amount that was payable for mahr, it was in fact the Government
producing a proposal to reform a particular aspect of marriage law. (b)
The venue for the discussion may not have been a parliamentary building,
(it was the mosque), but in Islam, the mosque is not just a place of
worship. The mosque has traditionally been used by Muslims to discuss
and decide on social issues, political issues etc. - armies were often
sent out from the mosque, foreign emissaries were received there and so
Although there were no official delegates serving as members of the
House, nevertheless it was similar to parliament because people would
gather there to hear what their ruler had to say and have discussion
with him. (c) The fact that Umar made his proposal in public suggests
that people were entitled to express their opinion about his decisions.
(d) People from all walks of life were present and could freely
criticize if they wished. (e) In the event it was a woman who voiced
criticism of the proposal, and the basis of her objection was that the
proposal violated the terms of the Constitution: for Muslims the Quran,
the word of Allah, is the Constitution and no human being can change any
aspect of its provisions. (f) Umar, on understanding the point that the
woman made, immediately withdrew his proposed law, conceding that it was
unconstitutional" [Islamic Teachings Course, vol. 3, p 49. Bengali
tr.Islami Shikkha Series, pp 326-327].
To sum up, I have tried in the three articles (Part 1, 2 and 3) to
answer some of the issues raised by Mr. Mohammad Sakhi which I thought
important and relevant. I did not however respond to some other problems
pertaining to Egypt and Turkey raised by Mr. Mohammad Sakhi though
important as the article has already become too big in size for
publication in newspaper.
I want to conclude with the observation that what has been discussed
here is not the last word and Allah knows the best. Allah hu A'alam.
[This article (Part - 3) has been written in response to Mr. Mohammad
Sakhi's article on Islam and Democracy.]