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Women and Islam

Sunday, June 01, 2008

 

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

"Reciting Salawath on our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is an activity that will be accepted by Allah, even if we don't have Ikhlas (piety)".

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The complex relationship between women and Islam is defined by both Islamic texts and the history and culture of the Muslim world. Sharia (Islamic law) provides for differences between women's and men's roles, rights, and obligations. Muslim-majority countries give women varying degrees of rights with regards to marriage, divorce, civil rights, legal status, dress code, and education.

Even where these differences are acknowledged, scholars and other commentators vary as to whether they are unjust and whether they are a correct interpretation of religious imperatives. Conservatives argue that differences between men and women are due to different status and responsibilities, while liberal Muslims, Muslim feminists, and others argue that more progressive interpretations of the role of women are more just.

Sources of influence

Islamic law is the product of Quranic guidelines, as understood by Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), as well as of the interpretations derived from the traditions of Muhammad (hadith), which were also selected by a number of historical Islamic scholars. These interpretations and their application were shaped by the historical context of the Muslim world. Furthermore, whether or not Muslims tended to follow these rules was dependent on the prevailing culture, which differed between social classes, local conditions, and regions. Quranic reforms, which in many regions improved the position of women relative to their situation prior to Islam, have often been undermined by the reassertion of tribal customs, or the use of such customs under the name of Islamic law. The spirit of the Quranic reforms may also have been modified by historical or cultural interpretations, reaffirming male dominance and perpetuating gender inequality.

Early historical background

To evaluate the effect of Islam on the status of women, many writers have discussed the status of women in pre-Islamic Arabia, and their findings have been mixed. Some writers have argued that gender roles before Islam were relatively egalitarian, drawing on disparate evidence ranging from the marriage of Muhammad's parents to the worship of female idols at Mecca. Other writers, on the contrary, have argued that women's status in pre-Islamic Arabia was poor, citing practices of female infanticide, unlimited polygyny, and patrilineal marriage.

Islam changed the structure of Arab society and to a large degree unified the people, reforming and standardizing gender roles throughout the region. According to Islamic scholar William Montgomery Watt, Islam improved the status of women by "instituting rights of property ownership, inheritance, education and divorce."

In terms of women's rights, women generally had fewer legal restrictions under Islamic law than they did under certain Western legal systems until the 20th century. For example, restrictions on the legal capacity of married women under French law were not removed until 1965.

Early reforms under Islam

During the early reforms under Islam in the 7th century, reforms in women's rights affected marriage, divorce and inheritance. Women were not accorded with such legal status in other cultures, including the West, until centuries later. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam states that the general improvement of the status of Arab women included prohibition of female infanticide and recognizing women's full personhood. "The dowry, previously regarded as a bride-price paid to the father, became a nuptial gift retained by the wife as part of her personal property." Under Islamic law, marriage was no longer viewed as a "status" but rather as a "contract", in which the woman's consent was imperative. "Women were given inheritance rights in a patriarchal society that had previously restricted inheritance to male relatives." Annemarie Schimmel states that "compared to the pre-Islamic position of women, Islamic legislation meant an enormous progress; the woman has the right, at least according to the letter of the law, to administer the wealth she has brought into the family or has earned by her own work." William Montgomery Watt states that Muhammad, in the historical context of his time, can be seen as a figure who testified on behalf of women’s rights and improved things considerably. Watt explains: "At the time Islam began, the conditions of women were terrible - they had no right to own property, were supposed to be the property of the man, and if the man died everything went to his sons." Muhammad, however, by "instituting rights of property ownership, inheritance, education and divorce, gave women certain basic safeguards." Haddad and Esposito state that "Muhammad granted women rights and privileges in the sphere of family life, marriage, education, and economic endeavors, rights that help improve women's status in society."

Gender roles

In Islam, relations between the sexes are governed by the principle of complementarity rather than the principle of equality. In many Islamic societies, there is a division of roles creating a woman’s space in the private sphere of the home and a man’s in the public sphere. Because of this economic reliance of women on men, the Qur'an justifies that men should always be in charge over women. A woman's primary responsibility is usually interpreted as fulfilling her role as a wife and mother, whereas a man’s role is to work and be able to financially support his wife and family. The Qur'an also directs men to honour their mothers[Qur'an 4:1] and strongly disapproves of parents who feel ashamed over the birth of a daughter instead of a son. Islamic scholars maintain that the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, affirms women's religious and moral equality.

Sex segregation

Islam discourages social interaction between men and women when they are alone, but not all interaction between men and women. This is shown in the example of Khadijah, a rich, twice widowed businesswoman who employed Muhammad and met with him to conduct trade before they were married, and in the example set by his other wives, who taught and counseled the men and women of Medina.

In some Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia, sex segregation has been or is strictly enforced. The Taliban treatment of women in Afghanistan is an extreme example of this. Even in countries where the sexes mingle socially, they generally remain segregated within the mosque.

Financial matters

Islam gives women the right to own, which entitles them to have personal possessions. While women have fewer financial obligations than men, some of their financial rights are limited. Women's share of inheritance, as outlined in the Qur'an, is typically less than that of men. Women's right to work is also disputed.

According to Bernard Lewis, while Islam sanctions a social inequality between man and woman, Muslim women have historically had property rights unparalleled in the modern West until comparatively recently.

Financial obligations

A woman, when compared with her husband, is far less burdened with any claims on her possessions. Her possessions before marriage do not transfer to her husband and she is encouraged to keep her maiden name. She has no obligation to spend on her family out of such properties or out of her income after marriage. A woman also receives a mahr (dowry), which is given to her by her husband at the time of marriage. Women, unlike men, also have the right to be supported financially.

Inheritance

In Islam, women are entitled the right of inheritance, [Qur'an 4:7] but often a woman's share of inheritance is less than that of a man's. In general circumstances, Islam allows females half the inheritance share available to males who have the same degree of relation to the deceased. Some argue that this difference derives from men's obligation to support their wives financially, while the women's share would be entirely at her own disposal.

In most Muslim nations, the law of the state concerning inheritance is in accordance with this law.

The Qur'an guarantees women the right to inherit a proportion of their father's estate. A widowed woman inherits a portion of her husband's estate.

Employment

Women are allowed to work in Islam, subject to certain conditions, and even recommended to do so should they be in financial need. This is supported by the Quranic example of two female shepherds ([Qur'an 28:23]). Islam recognizes that the society needs women to work for the sake of development. In general, women's right to work is subject to certain conditions:

  • The work should not require the woman to violate Islamic law (e.g., serving alcohol), and be mindful of the woman's safety.

  • If the work requires the woman to leave her home, she must maintain her modesty.

  • Her work should not affect more important commitments, such as those towards her family.

Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the Muslim community to organize work for women, so that she can do so in a Muslim atmosphere, where her rights are respected.

However, the employment of women varies over fields in Islamic law. Whereas women may seek medical treatment from men, it is preferred that they do so from female physicians. It is also preferred that female schools, colleges, sports centers and ministries are staffed by women rather than men. On the contrary, there are disagreements between Islamic schools of thought about whether women should be able to hold the position of judge in a court. Shafi`ites claim that women may hold no judicial office, while Hanafites allow women to act as judges in civil cases only, not criminal ones. These interpretations are based on the above quoted Medinan sura (verse) [Qur'an 4:34].

Even when women have the right to work and are educated, women's job opportunities may in practice be unequal to those of men. In Egypt for example, women have limited opportunities to work in the private sector because women are still expected to put their role in the family first, which causes men to be seen as more reliable in the long term. Patterns of women's employment vary throughout the Muslim world: as of 2005, 16% of Pakistani women were "economically active" (either employed, or unemployed but available to furnish labor), whereas 52% of Indonesian women were. 

Legal and criminal matters

The status of women's testimony in Islam is disputed. Some jurists have held that certain types of testimony by women will not be accepted. In other cases, the testimony of two women can equal that of one man.[Qur'an 2:282] The reason for this disparity has been explained in various manners, including women's lack of intelligence, women's temperament and sphere of interest, and sparing women from the burden of testifying. In other areas, women's testimony may be accepted on an equal basis with men's.

Commentators on the status of women in Islam have often focused on disparities in diyyat, the fines paid by killers to victims' next of kin after either intentional or unintentional homicide, between men and women. Diyya has existed in Arabia since pre-Islamic times. While the practice of diyya was affirmed by Muhammed, Islam does not prescribe any specific amount for diyyat nor does it require discrimination between men and women; the Qur'an has left open its quantity, nature, and other related affairs to be defined by social custom and tradition. Traditionally, however, diyya for a woman is half that of a man; this is currently codified in the laws of some Muslim-majority countries such as Iran.

Rape

Islamic criminal jurisprudence does not discriminate between genders in punishments for crimes. In case of sexual crimes such as zina (fornication), however, women may be found guilty more easily than men, because of the visible evidence of pregnancy; without a pregnancy, four witnesses are required to file a zina case. The difficulty of prosecuting rapists and the possibility of prosecution for women who allege rape has been of special interest to activists for Muslim women's rights. In the past decades there have been several high profile cases of pregnant women prosecuted for zina who claim to have been raped.

The overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars believe that there is no punishment for a woman coerced into having sex. According to a Sunni hadith, the punishment for committing rape is death, there is no sin on the victim, nor is there any worldly punishment ascribed to her. However, the stringent requirements for proof of rape under some interpretations of Islamic law, combined with cultural attitudes regarding rape in some parts of the Muslim world, result in few rape cases being reported; even the cases brought forward typically result in minimal punishment for offenders or severe punishment for victims. It can be difficult to seek punishment against rapists, because a zina case cannot be brought without four witnesses, even for rape cases. Some scholars, however, treat rape instead as hiraba (disorder in the land), which does not require four witnesses. The form of punishment and interpretation of Islamic law in this case is highly dependent on the legislation of the nation in question, and/or of the judge.

Honor killings

So-called honor killings (murders, nearly exclusively of women, of persons who are perceived as having brought dishonor to their families) are often identified with Islam, though they predate the introduction of Islam into Arabia and are non-Quranic. However, honor killings are sanctioned in Iran's and Afghanistan's penal codes in which honor killing is legal or lightly punished. Honor killings are more common in Muslim-majority countries, though they occur in other countries as well. Many Muslim scholars and commentators say that honor killings are a cultural practice which is neither exclusive to, nor universal within, the Islamic world.

Marriage and sexuality

Who may be married?

According to Islamic law (sharia), marriage cannot be forced.

No age limits have been fixed by Islam for marriage. Children of the youngest age may be married or promised for marriage, although a girl is not handed across to her husband until she is fit for marital sexual relations.

Islamic jurists have traditionally held that Muslim women may only enter into marriage with Muslim men, although some contemporary jurists question the basis of this restriction. This is pursuant to the principle that Muslims may not place themselves in a position inferior to that of the followers of other religions. On the other hand, the Qur'an explicitly allows Muslim men to marry chaste women of the People of the Book, a term which includes Jews, Sabians, and Christians. However, fiqh law has held that it is makruh (reprehensible) for a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim woman in a non-Muslim country.

Polygamy is permitted under restricted conditions, but it is not widespread. Women are not allowed to engage in polyandry, whereas men are allowed to engage in polygyny.

Widow inheritance is about 1/8 of the property of her deceased husband. The widow woman is allowed to marry any non-mahram person, if she wishes. [Qur'an 4:19]

Marriage contract

The contract specifies the dowry (mahr) the groom gives to the bride upon their marriage. It may also specify where the couple will live, whether or not the first wife will allow the husband to take a second wife without her consent, whether or not the wife has the right to initiate divorce, and other such matters. The marriage contract somewhat resembles the marriage settlements once negotiated for upper-class Western brides, but can extend to non-financial matters usually ignored by marriage settlements or pre-nuptial agreements.

In practice, most Islamic marriages are entered into without a written contract, or with a "fill in the blanks" form supplied by the officiant. In such cases, Islamic law, influenced by custom and/or rulings by local courts based on local law, governs the treatment of a divorcee or widow, and is often, in the opinion of Islamic feminists, unfair or unkind. Islamic feminists have been active in informing Muslim women of their rights under Islamic law (sharia) and encouraging them to negotiate favorable contracts before marriage.

Behavior within marriage

The Qu'ran considers the love between men and women to be a Sign of God. [Qur'an 30:21] Islam advocates a harmonious relationship between husband and wife, and mandates that the will of the woman be honoured. It puts the main responsibility of earning over the husband. Both are asked to fulfill the other's sexual needs. Husbands are asked to be kind to their wives and wives are asked to be obedient to their husbands. The Qur'an also encourages discussion and mutual agreement regarding family decisions.

In case of "rebellious" behaviour, Verse 34 of an-Nisa says the husband should urge his wife to mend her ways, refuse to share her bed, and admonish her by beating. In particular, there is conflict about the proper severity of beatings, and whether the aforementioned remedies for rebellion must be taken in sequence. Some scholars say that beating should be used only as a last resort, and that not beating is preferable to beating. While many of the scholars allowing "beating" stress that it is a last resort, discountenanced, and must be done so as not to cause injury, women often face "extra pressure" in Muslim-majority cultures to submit to such violence.

Sexuality

More positively, some hold that Islam enjoins sexual pleasure within marriage; see Asra Nomani's polemic "Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Bedroom".

A high value is placed on chastity (not to be confused with celibacy) for both men and women. To protect women from accusations of unchaste behaviour, the scripture lays down severe punishments towards those who make false allegations about a woman's chastity. [Qur'an 24:4]

Female genital cutting has been associated with Islam and in certain areas has acquired a religious dimension; however, a UNICEF study of fourteen African countries found no correlation between religion and prevalence of FGM.

Though slavery is today widely viewed to be opposed to Islamic principles of justice and equality and has been outlawed in almost all of the Muslim world, the Qur'an permits sexual relations between a male master and his female slave outside of marriage. (The major juristic schools of Islam traditionally accepted the institution of slavery.)

Divorce

The rules for talaq (divorce) vary among the major Islamic schools. For both Shi'a and Sunni Muslims, the right to demand a divorce is primarily for men. Unless otherwise specified in the marriage contract, women can only seek divorce through court proceedings by convincing a qadi to grant a divorce. Shi'as and Sunnis believe that a wife can ask for a hula (also transliterated khulah) divorce.

Usually, assuming her husband demands a divorce, the divorced wife keeps her mahr (dowry), both the original gift and any supplementary property specified in the marriage contract. She is also given child support until the age of weaning, at which point the child's custody will be settled by the couple or by the courts.

Women’s right to divorce is often extremely limited compared with that of men in the Middle East. While men can divorce their wives easily, women face many legal and financial obstacles. For example, in Yemen, women usually can ask for divorce only when the husband’s inability to support her life is admitted, while men can divorce at will.

In practice in most of the Muslim world today divorce can be quite involved as there may be separate secular procedures to follow as well.

This contentious area of religious practice and tradition is being increasingly challenged by those promoting more liberal interpretations of Islam.

Movement and travel

Both husbands and wives are required to inform their spouses before leaving home. A woman needs her husband's permission to leave home, though general permission is sufficient for routine trips—with such permission, the wife need not seek permission for each individual trip.

Although no limitation or prohibition against women's travelling alone is mentioned in Quran, there is a debate in some Islamic sects, especially Salafis, regarding whether women may travel without a mahram (unmarriageable relative). Some scholars state that a woman may not travel by herself on a journey that takes longer than three days (equivalent to 48 miles in medieval Islam). According to the European Council for Fatwa and Research, this prohibition arose from fears for women's safety when travel was more dangerous. Some scholars relax this prohibition for journeys likely to be safe, such as travel with a trustworthy group of men or men and women, or travel via a modern train or plane when the woman will be met upon arrival. 

Sheikh Ayed Al-Qarni, a Saudi Islamic scholar known for his moderate views, has said that neither the Qur'an nor the sunnah prohibits women from driving and that it is better for a woman to drive herself than to be driven by a stranger without a legal escort. (He also stated, however, that he "personally will not allow [his] wife or daughters or sisters to drive.") Women are forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia per a 1990 fatwa (religious ruling); Saudi Arabia is currently the only Muslim country that bans women from driving. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they issued a 2001 decree that also banned women from driving. John Esposito, professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, has argued that these restrictions originate from cultural customs and not Islam.

Dress code

Hijab is the Quranic requirement that Muslims, both male and female, dress and behave modestly. The most important Quranic verse relating to hijab is sura 24:31, which says, "And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not to display their adornment except that which ordinarily appears thereof and to draw their headcovers over their chests and not to display their adornment except to their [maharim]..."

Scholars agree that a woman should act and dress in a way that does not draw sexual attention to her when she is in the presence of someone of the opposite sex. Some scholars specify which areas of the body must be covered; most of these require that everything besides the face and hands be covered, and some require all but the eyes to be covered, using garments such as chadors or burqas. Most mainstream scholars say that men, in contrast, should cover themselves from the navel to the knees.

Sartorial hijab as practiced varies throughout the Muslim world. In Iran, strict hijab requirements are enacted in law, while in Muslim-majority areas of India, social norms rather than law dictate the wearing of hijab. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Tunisia, where the government is actively discouraging women from wearing the veil.

Sartorial hijab, and the veil in particular, has often been viewed by Westerners as a sign of oppression of Muslim women. It has also been the cause of much debate, especially in Europe amid increasing immigration of Muslims; the 2006 United Kingdom debate over veils and the 2004 French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools are two notable examples.

Arab women often observe purdah. It is important to differentiate between purdah and hijab. Hijab is an Islamic tradition that is based on physical and psychological morality, while purdah does not necessarily conform to Islamic teachings.

Women in religious life

In Islam, there is no difference between men and women's relationship to God; they receive identical rewards and punishments for their conduct.

According to a saying attributed to Muhammad, women may not be forbidden to enter mosques. However, as Islam spread, it became unusual for women to worship in mosques because of fears of unchastity caused by interaction between sexes; this condition persisted until the late 1960s. Since then, women have become increasingly involved in the mosque, though men and women generally worship separately. (Muslims explain this by citing the need to avoid distraction during prayer prostrations that raise the buttocks while the forehead touches the ground.) Separation between sexes ranges from men and women on opposite sides of an aisle, to men in front of women (as was the case in the time of Muhammad), to women in second-floor balconies or separate rooms accessible by a door for women only. There is a growing movement of women who complain of second-class conditions in separate female sections of mosques. On the Hajj (the mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca) men and women pray side by side.

While in menstruation, women are considered unclean and therefore advised against praying.

In Islam's earlier history, female religious scholars were relatively common. Mohammad Akram Nadwi, a Sunni religious scholar, has compiled biographies of 8,000 female jurists, and orientalist Ignaz Goldziher earlier estimated that 15 percent of medieval hadith scholars were women. After the 1500s, however, female scholars became fewer, and today—while female activists and writers are relatively common—there has not been a significant female jurist in over 200 years. Opportunities for women's religious education exist, but cultural barriers often keep women from pursuing such a vocation.

Women's right to become imams, however, is disputed by many. A fundamental role of an imam (religious leader) in a mosque is to lead the salah (congregational prayers). Generally, women are not allowed to lead mixed prayers. However, some argue that Muhammad gave permission to Ume Warqa to lead a mixed prayer at the mosque of Dar.

Women and politics

The only hadith relating to female political leadership is Sahih Bukhari 5:59:709, in which Muhammad is recorded as saying that people with a female ruler will never be successful. (The al-Bukhari collection is generally regarded as authentic, though one Muslim feminist has questioned the reliability of the recorder of this particular hadith.) However, some classical Islamic scholars, such as al-Tabari, supported female leadership. In early Islamic history, women including Aisha, Ume Warqa, and Samra Binte Wahaib took part in political activities. Other historical Muslim female leaders include Razia Sultana, who ruled the Sultanate of Delhi from 1236 to 1239, and Shajarat ad-Durr, who ruled Egypt from 1250 to 1257. In the past several decades, many countries in which Muslims are a majority or a large minority, including Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey have been led by women.

According to Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi, Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston’s Southeast Mosque, nothing in Islam specifically allows or disallows voting by women. Until recently most Muslim nations were non-democratic, but most today allow their citizens to have some level of voting and control over their government. The disparate time at which women’s suffrage was granted in Muslim-majority countries is indicative of the varied traditions and values present within the Muslim world. Azerbaijan has had women's suffrage since 1918, but some Islamic states did not have women's suffrage until the last ten years. Today, aside from Brunei (where neither men nor women can vote) and Saudi Arabia (where only men can vote), all Muslim-majority nations allow women to vote. (Lebanon requires proof of education for women to vote.) It is to be noted that even where women's suffrage as a right is technically present, women may not as a practical matter be able to vote.

Modern debate on the status of women in Islam

Within the Muslim community, conservatives and Islamic feminists have used Islamic doctrine as the basis for discussion of women's rights, drawing on the Qur'an, the hadith (the sayings of Mohammed), and the lives of prominent women in the early period of Muslim history as evidence. Where conservatives have seen evidence that existing gender asymmetries are divinely ordained, feminists have seen more egalitarian ideals in early Islam. Still others have argued that this discourse is essentialist and a historical, and have urged that Islamic doctrine not be the only framework within which discussion occurs.

Whether perceived injustice is according to Islamic religious doctrine or culture is disputed.

Conservatives and the Islamist movement

Conservatives reject the assertion that different laws prescribed for men and women imply that men are more valuable than women, arguing that the only criterion of value before God is piety. Some Islamic scholars justify the different religious laws for men and women by referring to the biological and sociological differences between men and women. For example, regarding the inheritance law which states that women’s share of inheritance is half that of men, the imam Ali ibn Musa Al-reza reasoned that at the time of marriage a man has to pay something to his prospective bride, and that men are responsible for both their wives' and their own expenses but women have no such responsibility.

The nebulous revivalist movement termed Islamism is one of the most dynamic movements within Islam in the 20th and 21st centuries. The experience of women in Islamist states has been varied. Women in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan faced treatment condemned by the international community. Women were forced to wear the burqa in public, not allowed to work, not allowed to be educated after the age of eight, and faced public flogging and execution for violations of the Taliban's laws. The position of women in Iran, which has been a theocracy since its 1979 revolution, is more complex. While Iranian Islamists are ideologically committed to inequality for women in the civil code and to sex segregation, there are female legislators in Iran's parliament and 60% of university students are women.

Liberal Islam, Islamic feminism, and other progressive criticism

Liberal Muslims have urged that ijtihad, a form of critical thinking, be used to develop a more progressive form of Islam with respect to the status of women. In addition, Islamic feminists have advocated for women's rights, gender equality, and social justice grounded in an Islamic framework. Although rooted in Islam, pioneers of Islamic feminism have also used secular and western feminist discourses and have sought to include Islamic feminism in the larger global feminist movement. Islamic feminists seek to highlight the teachings of equality in Islam to question patriarchal interpretations of Islamic teachings.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, international attention was suddenly focused on the condition of women in the Muslim world. Critics asserted that women are not treated as equal members of Muslim societies and criticized Islam for condoning this treatment. Some critics have gone so far as to make allegations of gender apartheid due to women's status. At least one critic has alleged that Western academics, especially feminists, have ignored the plight of Muslim women to be "politically correct." 

Posted by Haseem at 19:43

 

http://haseembhai.blogspot.com/2008/06/women-and-islam.html 

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